June 15, 2021

Review: American Political Theology

American Political Theology‘s main purpose, as stated in the conclusion, is “not only to examine emotion-charged issues dispassionately and objectively, but also to provide a framework for analyzing political and theological relationships” (180). It seeks to accomplish this goal through the major works of different time periods, including present thought.

The first period covered is the founding of the American government. Quickly, the different ideas of America’s founding are presented. The author makes a good point, after presenting both. He states the importance of knowing the America’s roots for “If America is a Christian nation as conservatives argue … we have created a government decidedly contrary to the Founders’ intentions” (11) It is either that, or religion has been given too much of a ground in the government. He then presents a series of documents, uncut, to show what the Founders thought from what they said. Included in such are a listing of the Massachusetts Body of Liberties (1641) which states that if any blaspheme the name of God, he shall be put to death.

The next period is the Civil War. In this chapter, the author discusses the sweeping perfectionism that came from “enlightened” thinking. Theologians began to preach the total sanctification and perfection of man on this earth. The sneaking in of the humanist ideas probably began here, where the conservatives of the day began to start thinking that man was, or could be perfect. Focusing too much on man and his accomplishments started to eat away at some of the Founder’s concepts put into the Constitution, such as the natural depravity of man.

The third section discusses the New Deal era and shows how the social gospel movement started. The social gospel’s main motive being to “establish ‘the kingdom of God on earth'” (47), the government took the programs the churches did for the community’s welfare and made it the state’s business. “Gradually, man became more important and God less important” (47). Man was the final authority on what was and was not God’s Word in the Bible.

The fourth section discusses contemporary American politics. In this chapter the author shows that the church has been asleep. Although it may have prospered in numbers, the church has not been as involved in politics and teaching as it has been in preparing people for the ministry. He goes on to state that the Christians have started to see how bad the government is getting, and finally deciding to do something about it. He does observe that whenever a church gets involved in politics it usually hurts the fundamentalism of the church.

Lastly, he discusses the leadership in America, specifically the Presidents. Showing through paradigms, the author concludes that from the beginning to the New Deal, the Presidents were of Conservative Ideology and Theology. As we grow towards the present, more turns toward the exact opposite. He observes that the economy does affect the way the Presidents are chosen.

His one proposition about leaders should encourage the Christian to get involved in politics, on whatever level: “Proposition 6. Presidents and other political leaders tend to reflect rather than direct theological influences on politics and public policy” (178). We must be willing to take this country back to the Scriptural basis on which it was founded.

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2 thoughts on “Review: American Political Theology

  1. Christians should not be spearated from politics, but I think there is a danger here. Individually we should be involved in our political systems just as much as we are involved in our communities, because the two are part of the same organism.

    But *churches* should stay out of politics. If, for instance, my minister thought to speak up on a political issue as a representative of a congregation of 500 people, then I would object. I would object because he does not necessarily represent my point of view, and his calling from God is to minister the gospel, not to be a politician.

    Tony Blair is aparently a devout Anglican. Gordon Brown, who will shortly succeed him is certainly a committed Christian with a sound social conscience. But neither of them represent my point of view – and Tony Blair has acted in a manner that I consider to be shameful.

    Let us pray for our political leaders. But let us be very careful of joining in the secular party political game. That way lies the marginalisation of Christianity as a mere voting lobby. That is not what Christ called us to be.

  2. I’m pretty much in agreement with you, Stephen. I think that there is a place for preaching about the issues (i.e. whether abortion is right, etc.) and I don’t think it’s wrong to say that candidate X supports Y. There are issues that the church should talk about.

    But I don’t know if churches should get into the habit of organizing busing, or any other political activism. People should be involved– and I think that this is where the author was heading– because many Christians decide to be detached.

    The biggest change we could make is in seeing souls saved and lives change by preaching the Gospel.

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