For years, I have been waiting for someone to write a book on, Why the Religious Right is Neither Religious nor Right. Though Darryl never asked my advice on titling his book, this work appears to fit the bill. Like brother Howe, I am still in the opening chapters (just finished ch4), but I am appreciative of what I have read thus far. Thank you, Darryl, for putting together this much needed piece. Of course I have my critiques as do others; but notwithstanding any of those, I am extremely grateful to have this resource to use and recommend. Thanks.
Apart from some hints given in the Introduction, there is little said in what I have read thus far about what the church should be doing on political and social issues. The chapters I have read thus far (chs 1-4) seem to stop short of drawing such conclusions, preferring to focus on critiquing the stripped-down faith of current, American, political “evangelicalism”. On these pages where Darryl is thus challenging the current norm of “social faith”, I find myself in agreement. What I reserve some hesitation over is the big “so what?” question that Darryl has not yet answered in any detail. I trust those conclusions are coming in later chapters. In his Introduction, it sounds to me like Darryl is going to argue for an almost passivistic attitude by the church toward secular government, which is why I say I am waiting for his “so what?” conclusions with a sense of reserve.
Darryl is dead-on in his assessment of the huge problems behind the popular notions that “America = the kingdom” and “the Bible can be used for politics (or ethics) without reference to atonement.” He has done excellent work exposing this problem in America. But if he is therefore going to conclude that, as his Introduction puts it, “Christianity [rightly understood] … has very little to say about politics or the ordering of society,” then I am anxious to hear how he arrives at that as the necessary outcome (or at what he means by that statement). I agree (as do our church standards) that the Bible says nothing about what form of civil government ought to be in place (monarchy, democracy, etc.) But the Bible does have lots to say about social justice.
Social justice is, of course, a dominant cry in the OT prophets. If those cries for social justice in the OT prophets are addressed (1) to Israel as a State, then the Bible does clearly speak to the State and the Church has a duty to call the State to take God’s Word on social justice seriously. If, however, the OT prophets’ cries were (2) to Israel as the Church, then the Church has a clear and prominent duty to undertake a vigorous concern for social reforms in our society as part of her redemption mandate (even if a “lesser” part, in comparison with eternal issues). There is the third possibility: (3) that the OT prophets were for a past dispensation and are no longer relevant at all — but somehow I doubt Darryl holds such a dispensationalist attitude (and our reformed standards certainly do not).
Darryl is correctly demonstrating that America’s current mix of politics and religion is neither right nor religious. But we need a solution bigger than observing the problem; and simply saying that “the Church should ignore politics and get on with the Gospel” is simplistic and unhelpful. We need thinkers like Darryl to help us work out what the ideal interface of independent-but-mutually-respectful Church and State relations before the One-True-God ought to be. Will Darryl point us in that direction, or simply conclude that the Church should ignore any role in calling the State to biblical reform and explicit acknowledgement of the True God? Granted, the State’s role before God is distinct from that of the Church, and we must not confuse those roles (the State is not the Kingdom); but that the American church got the relationship wrong in the past does not mean we have to abandon the effort to get it right.
So, I continue reading with bated breath. If Darryl is going to call the church to minimize her attention to such social issues, and to neglect the political tools available to us to address those, then I will accept Darryl’s assessment of the problem but disagree with his conclusions (unless he has a very persuasive, biblical argument!) If, however, Darryl is going to call on the American church to continue her interest in national politics, but to do so with: a recovery of the call to atonement (not just to morality), a recognition that the Church is the Kingdom — not America (or Israel!); and that there is a biblical separation between Church and State (though both can and ought honor Christ in their distinct roles), then I will be nodding through to the end.
In either case, I’m extremely grateful already for the excellent assessment here being provided on, as I said, Why the Religious Right is Neither Religious nor Right.