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It is Election Year in the United States, and many Christians are heavily engaged in supporting candidates in their race to the White House. Naturally, on talk shows and in interviews, political pundits are pontificating about the role evangelicals will play in the political process this year.

I have a few questions of my own about evangelical engagement in politics:

  • How can we as Christians display our commitment to the flourishing of society and also demonstrate our higher allegiance to the kingdom of God?
  • What are evangelical Christians known for in politics? What aspects of this reputation are good? What aspects need to change?
  • Should Christians have high hopes and expectations from political candidates? Or should Christians be more chastened in hoping for cultural transformation through politics?

None of these questions can be answered in a sound bite. In fact, they can't be answered merely with words. The answers must be fleshed out in the actions of devoted Christians across this great land.

And so we find ourselves on the threshold of great opportunity, as well as danger. For, even though we may try to represent Christ well in the political sphere, we can unintentionally damage our witness to King Jesus through unthinking or unprincipled involvement.

  • What if we are formed more by what we watch on the news than by the good news of Jesus Christ?
  • What if a cause displaces the cross as the uniting factor for a church?
  • What if our perspective is more informed by today's pundits and commentators than by the theologians and thinkers who have reflected for centuries on how Christians can best serve in the public square?

To aid us in this task of enduring an Election year and engaging the political process well, I've selected five books as "recommended reading."

patrioticgrace1. Patriotic Grace

I don't know what Noonan's religious beliefs are, but I find her to be articulate and winsome, even when I disagree. Patriotic Grace appeared in 2008, while McCain and Obama were duking it out for the presidency. It is a brief book that calls Americans to courtesy and civility as a way of showing our respect for this remarkable Republic we have inherited.

Some writers force a dichotomy between partisanship and civility. Noonan does not. Instead, she warns that when politics replaces religion (whether for those on the right or the left), we are inclined to drive out the "heretics" who differ with us.

Eight years later, Noonan's call to patriotic grace is even more needed - "a grace that takes the long view, that apprehends the moment we're in, comes up with ways of dealing with it, and eschews the politically cheap and manipulative. That admits affection and respect. That encourages them."

5views2. Five Views on The Church and Politics

Throughout history, Christians have debated the appropriate posture toward the public square. This book includes representatives from five influential streams of Christian thought:

  1. The "separationist" view of the Anabaptists
  2. The "paradoxical" view of the Lutherans
  3. The "prophetic" view of the black church
  4. The "transformationist" view of the Reformed
  5. The "synthetic" view of the Roman Catholic Church.

This book serves as a worthwhile introduction to the major views of political engagement. I found myself nodding my head in agreement with much of the Anabaptist chapter (we need their emphasis on ethics and the political witness that comes from the church being the church!), and I'm inspired by the hurdles overcome by the prophetic witness of the black church. Overall, my position is closest to the one presented by James K. A. Smith (the transformationist view), which is why the next two books on my list build on that particular perspective.

politicaldisciple3. The Political Disciple

Vincent Bacote, professor at Wheaton College, has written a brief book on why and how Christians should be involved in politics.

I enjoyed The Political Disciple primarily because of its autobiographical dimension. Bacote is an African-American evangelical theologian, and this book includes both his story of migration between political parties and his discovery of Abraham Kuyper's theology of common grace.

I appreciate Bacote's call for Christians to pursue both private and public holiness, as well as his encouragement to Christians to persevere no matter how long it seems to take to achieve results.

onenationundergod4. One Nation Under God

Bruce Ashford and Chris Pappalardo take the Kuyperian approach to politics, explain it, and then apply a Christian worldview to some of the pressing issues of our day.

Even if you do not agree with all of Ashford and Pappalardo's prescriptions, you will benefit from the framework for political involvement that they provide.

Books like this one transcend the polarities of "right and left," or "conservative and liberal," which indicates that there is an appeal to biblical principle here, not just to a party platform.

onward5. Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel

Russell Moore's new book is a manifesto for Christian action as a distinct minority within an increasingly hostile culture. Moore cautions against dangers on both the right and the left, and he encourages evangelicals to not sacrifice our prophetic voice by aligning too visibly with any particular politician or political party.

Christianity Today named Onward their book of the year and the best representation of "beautiful orthodoxy." Read it, and you'll see why.

Your Picks

What about you?

What books on religion and politics would you recommend this election year?

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9 thoughts on “5 Books You Should Read This Election Year”

  1. Curt Day says:

    I appreciate the intent here, but the trouble with this post is that all of the books are the same. They are the same in that they focus on what a Christian’s response to the public square should be. None of the above books talk about the state of our nation or the world. And to intelligently participate in elections, one must pay attention to facts on the ground.

    Therefore, I am going to leave a short and incomplete list of books Christians should read to educate themselves on what is happening in the world. The list will be incomplete because of my limited exposure and my political perspective so I would hope others would add to the list.

    1. The New Threat by Jason Burke. Burke is an investigative journalist from England and his book on Al-Qaeda is an outstanding book that I used as a textbook one time while teaching a class on crime and terrorism. THis book includes the most current Islamic terrorist movements including ISIS.

    2. Because We Say So by Noam Chomsky. This book consists of commentaries of his from 2011 to 2015. What I have observed about Chomsky is that he has a passion for being fair in that he judges America by the same criteria America uses to judge other nations.

    3. Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt by Chris Hedges. Hedges describe 4 ‘sacrifice zones’ of American Capitalism. Disagree with his view of Capitalism if you like, one will have a problem disputing the facts on the ground

    4. An Israeli In Palestine by Jeff Halper. Halper is an American-Israeli activist whose organization attempts to aid Palestinians who are about lose or have lost their homes to Israeli bulldozers.

    5. From Cairo to Wall Street edited by Anya Schiffren and Eamon Kircher-Allen. This book includes writings from participants in the Global Spring from various nations. It shows that Occupy Wall Street was merely a part of a larger movement.

    6. Occupy the Economy by Richard Wolff. Wolff is a Socialist economist who provides some valid criticisms of Capitalism.

    Again, the above is an incomplete list. I hope others supplement that list with books representing other, including opposing, perspectives that also focus on the facts on the ground.

  2. Scott says:

    Peggy Noonan is a Roman Catholic.

  3. Scott Gordon says:

    I would add Prepare by J. Paul Nyquist. It is another book along the same line as Dr. Moore’s. His subtitle gets to his intent: “Living Your Faith in an Increasingly Hostile Culture.”

  4. Chris says:

    I like the book Politics According to the Bible by Wayne Grudem

  5. What about Gregory Boyd’s The Myth of A Christian Nation?

  6. Steve says:

    Noonan is Catholic. She was a speech writer for Regan. Her books and works on public speaking, speech writing and her political commentary and analysis are also worth the time

  7. Zac says:

    Though I didn’t agree with everything of course I found Miroslav Volf’s “A Public Faith” helpful and Amy E. Blacks’ “Beyond Right and Left” is helpful on many current issues as well as historical issues. It was challenging and informative. I always enjoy going back and reading Schaeffer’s “Christian Manifesto” as well. Ross Dothan’s columns and blog is helpful and finally James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom has helped me think through these issues much differently

  8. Zac says:

    Ross Douthat. Dang auto correct

  9. Zac says:

    Two more came to mind. Michael Gerson and Pete Wehner’s City of Man is a short primer from two veterans of the George W. Bush White House on religion and politics and Carl Truman’s Republocrat helps show some of the absurdity of American politics and the coopting of conservative theology with conservative politics in unhelpful ways.

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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