So much is made of Christian involvement in politics, especially in the US. The Religious Right is a phrase that has gotten itself legs over the last decade or more, though I suspect that few people, journalists and political commentators in particular, actually have a really consistent definition of what makes you part of the Religious Right. For some, the idea of the Religious Right brings out chants of ‘Separation of Church and State’. For others, the Religious Right as they know it sounds like nothing they either are particularly interested in or find it totally incongruous with what Christianity means to them.
But what does the Bible have to say on politics? How do we frame an evangelical Christian political theology? Like any other theology, it begins with the gospel, God’s good news for the world. As Paul puts it in Romans 1:
1Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 1:1-4 NIV)
The message of the gospel, God’s good news, is about who Jesus is and what he has done. Jesus is God’s Son, equal with God and sharing his divine nature. Jesus is also a descendant of David, the promised King who would establish David’s throne forever (2 Sam 7:8-16). Jesus has been declared to be the powerful Son of God through his resurrection, demonstrating the effectiveness of his death on the cross over the forces of sin, death and the devil. The gospel tells us how Jesus is now Lord and Christ – the eternal King, with ultimate power, made possible through the cross.
In the gospel we find the culmination of thousands of years of God’s redemptive history, the bringing together of all of what God has been working towards in the person and work of Jesus. All of God’s plans and purposes, past, present and future, hinge on the cross of Jesus, the supreme expression of God’s love and justice.
So when Christians go to frame our approach to politics, it must be through the prism of the gospel. The gospel is God’s message to the world, the pinnacle of his revelation, and so our politics must be derived from the gospel. A truly Christian approach to politics will enshrine God’s gospel as the bedrock on which all of our political ideology will be shaped by. Any Christian political manifesto must begin with a sermon – they cannot be isolated from each other.
Unfortunately, I don’t see this dynamic at work within Christian political involvement in Australia. Much of the focus in overtly Christian political involvement revolves around three issues (abortion, euthanasia and homosexual marriage) and much of the analysis of these issues is independent of the analysis of the gospel. Martin Luther coined the phrase crux probat omnia – the cross probes (tests) everything. Sadly, I think much Christian political thinking, while not wrong, has lost sight of the fierce scrutiny that the gospel brings to bear on every issue.
But we must be careful when we start bring the gospel to bear on our lives and our thinking because it will challenge us at every turn. The gospel is a fundamentally radical message for all humans as it cuts away at the complacency and the human-centredness that often dominates our thinking. When we start bring the analysis of the cross to our political thinking, we will find a much more sweeping and far-reaching call to action than we are probably comfortable with. To bring the gospel to bear on our thinking is to see the world through God’s eyes and to share the priorities that God has.
I suspect that if we truly look at how the Big 3 (abortion, euthanasia, homosexual marriage) dominates Christian political discourse from the perspective of the gospel, we’ll find that important priorities have become all-consuming priorities. I personally have no idea what the political landscape in conservative Christian politics would look like but I think if the conservative Christian political movement wants to be truly God-honouring, we need to realign our priorities in accordance with gospel-thinking.