Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
May 7th, 2014 by Joel Watts

Review of @ivpacademic’s “Christian Political Witness”

With the plethora of Christians involved in politics at various levels, with the amount of conversations currently ongoing on social media about the level of political involvement by the Christian, and with the constant need to speak to how we as Christians should be involved, I am convinced we need more dialogue, more conservations amongst ourselves, and angles to examine. In Christian Political Witness, George Kalantzis and Gregory W. Lee assemble a who’s who list of authors and essayists who have, from time to time, tackled many of the issues plaguing this conversation.

The issue of Christians and politics is as varied as the people talking. It may begin with “Should we become involved?” but given the long history of Christendom, it doesn’t end there. Rather, there are issues of what involvement looks like, of what past involvement has done both to society and to the Church as a whole, and even how to define violence. Perhaps this is why we need a book of various essays by various authors based on a mutli-day conference at one of American Evangelicalism premier schools.

American Christians

American Christians (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Beginning with Stanley Hauerwas, we are introduced to just how much…patience, skill, and nuance is needed to converse about such an important topic. Hauerwas, as he is apt to do, rails about Enlightenment religious capitalism, or the privatization of religion from the public sphere. Here, I struggle immensely. I am an American, born in the Deep South, raised to believe in American Exceptionalism and public prayer, and yet a convert to political liberalism and a firm believer in the separation of Church and State. Hauerwas challenges us to use Barth and to explore the grounding of God in humanity through the Incarnation. Because of this, we must be involved and because of the end of Christian dominance in the West, we are more free to do so. Yet, he doesn’t really give us shape as to what this means.

While nearly all of the essays present something to ponder, there are truly standout essays. Timothy Gombis argues for the political witness in Paul’s letters. I note Gombis’ essay follows Scot McKnight, editor of Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not (IVP, 2013). Mentally, this made Gombis’ much more impactful. There is also Jennifer M. McBride‘s essay, “Repentance as Political Witness.” Again, I return to my Deep South roots while I explore this essay. Growing up, we bore an unapologetic witness to slavery and the bloodshed of the War Between the States. We still waved the Confederate flag. To apologize, to repent of past actions, was to debase and emasculate ourselves, our families, and our great illustrious forebearers (said in the longest Southern drawl). Yet, McBride challenges me to what real political repentance looks like and how it fits neatly into Christian atonement theology. Combined with Gombis’ essay, I cannot escape the notion that if our Church was more active in public repentance, we may actually be able to challenge our political system.

The conclusion of this book is simply an unworked beginning, as Hauerwas and Jana Marguerite Bennett remind us in their respective essays. While we are given insight and considerations to ponder, we are likewise given roadblocks and treacherous paths to follow. We are reminded that our Christendom is gone but this is sometimes freedom. We are told, albeit ever so roughly, that God and violence are often a misunderstood contradiction we must likewise attempt to figure out. The essays are set well, giving the reader a nice path to follow, but to what end? I know more than I did before reading this book, but now I have so many more questions!

But, isn’t that the mark of a truly great book?


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Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).


One Response to “Review of @ivpacademic’s “Christian Political Witness””
  1. We need more conversations, certainly, and perhaps more conservations as well.

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