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When Donald Trump won the presidency, I asked my editor to hold the presses in case I needed to make some last-minute changes to This Is Our Time.

In one of the chapters, "Never 'at Home' in the City of Man," I offer counsel on how Christians can be faithful to Jesus in the political sphere. After the election, I reread every word of that chapter, considering what should be revised in light of Trump's victory. Two days later, I let my editor know: "I didn't change a thing." The truths in that chapter were just as applicable, if not more so, than they had been in the Obama era.

Falling Into Political Ruts

Five months later, I long more and more for a Christian witness that defies political categories.

Unfortunately, our attachments to political parties make it challenging to be truly prophetic. We fall back into politicized ruts. Our imaginations have been shaped by our partisan affiliations, to the point it becomes difficult to hear the Bible break in with a fresh word.

For example, some Christians are outraged about what they see as clear injustice in recent refugee restrictions, but will appeal to “complexity” when it comes to abortion. Other Christians do the opposite. Thankfully, some Christians defy party lines and in their local churches and communities demonstrate mercy and compassion to mothers in distress and refugees being resettled. But more frequently, these positions fall along party lines, even if human dignity is at stake in both. And even if we, of all people, should be intensely aware of the tendency to fall back into "complexity" as a way of asking "Who is my neighbor?"

Jonathan Haidt explains how it works: “People bind themselves into political teams that share moral narratives. Once they accept a particular narrative, they become blind to alternative moral worlds.”

What happens next? If our “moral world” is formed more by our political party than by Scripture, we will find it easier to overlook or explain away aspects of Christian conviction when people who are part of our political coalition take a different stance. We will be captive to imaginations shaped by the Republican or Democrat parties. We need the kingdom vision of Jesus Christ to break through and rattle the walls of our party politics.

A King Who Defied Categories

We represent a King who defied categories. He consistently raised the bar in how he applied the Old Testament laws, demanding righteousness that far exceeded the hypocritical Pharisees and religious leaders. And yet he demonstrated the utmost compassion for the sinner.

On the one hand, Jesus could take such a hard-line stance against divorce that even the disciples were shocked and wondered if it were better not to marry. On the other, he could speak openly and graciously with a many-times-married Samaritan woman, or act with compassion to the woman caught in adultery. Here is Someone who in one moment was turning over tables in the temple and driving people out with a whip, and in the next was welcoming the blind and the lame into the courts of God Almighty.

A Church That Defies Categories

Like Jesus, we should defy categories. Our witness through our churches and in our communities should defy stereotypes and shut down prejudices.

Christians are to be known for honor in a world that rewards insults. We are to be known for truth in a world that knows only spin. We are to be known for conviction in a world that falls for charisma.

To sacrifice conviction for political power is capitulation.

You may think I am calling for Christians to be "non-partisan" or "apolitical." I am not.

I am calling for Christians to engage in politics differently, as salt and light in multiple areas, not just in the ones that help us rise in the ranks of the party we belong to. For example, when Chuck Colson advocated for prison reform, he wasn't worried about being labeled "soft on crime" by those on the right. He took the position he did because his conscience was formed by Christian ethics.

Bold and Humble

I'm reading through C. S. Lewis's letters this year, and I've arrived at 1939 and the start of World War II. Lewis opposed a change to the Church of England's liturgy that would have asked for prayer for the Allies' cause as righteous. Lewis felt uncomfortable in presuming such a thing, even as his brother had just been called up for duty.

If there was ever a righteous cause, surely it was defending against the Nazi war machine, right? But even if that was the case, Lewis felt it was stepping into dangerous territory to assume to know the mind of the Almighty on the conflict. His hesitation reminds me of Abraham Lincoln, who once said, "My concern is not whether God is on our side, but whether I am on God's side, for God is always right."

There's humility in that hesitation. There's wisdom in that desire to be faithful without presumption, to act boldly even though we know we may get things wrong.

If we are going to defy the categories in the next generation, then we should always feel in the world but not of the world, in America but not of America, in a political party but not of a political party. Embracing that tension is not weakness, but faithfulness.

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11 thoughts on “Wanted: Christians Who Defy Categories”

  1. Thank you for this spot on reminder. It’s hard to remain prophetic if our imagination is skewed because of party loyalty. This applies to far more than politics! I’m definitely getting the book. Thanks.

  2. doug sayers says:

    Thanks Trevin, I’m sure that other Christian mis-fits appreciate the sentiments in this post, as do I.

    Vance Havner used to preach a sermon called “Why Not Just Be Christians”? ( I know, I know… but the idea does have some merit, doesn’t it?)

  3. David Miller says:

    Thank you for this article. It is refreshing to read. I feel quite sorrowful lately, as it seems the church has been co-opted by Trumpism very thoroughly and very swiftly. We must protect the unborn, but never excuse sin or evil, even in those who endorse crucial moral issues. Moral character is like gravity. It is always catches up with you sooner or later. I hope that Mr. Wax’s vision for a church protecting the unborn and caring for refugees (and many others in need) comes to fruition. It surely will here and there. The radiant beauty of Christ’s true church already does and will continue to shine in some local church bodies. But I still fear we are on the verge of a great many Christians falling away (or perhaps more precisely, having a lack of true faith exposed), due to a blindness and inability to see that Donald Trump and Jesus Christ are leading men in opposite directions.

  4. Trevin, thank you for articulating this. I believe this is what God has called us to. It’s amazing at the amount of “benefit of the doubt” I see on my social media feeds toward the President when that was never given to our past President. In my mind, the political side choosing completely undermines our ability to effectively speak to the culture.

  5. Steven says:

    “Embracing that tension is not weakness, but faithfulness.” – I’m sorry, but this is not faithfulness. Becoming a slave to God and His Word is faithfulness. It doesn’t matter what politics or culture is currently doing! The only embracing faithfulness requires is to God (and that to the death . . . deny self, take up cross daily, and follow Christ) and His Word. Period!

  6. Bill Bremer says:

    Your perspective goes well with patient ferment. Kreider shows that a key turning point in the church (in fact in all church history) was when, after the conversion of the Emperor Constantine, the focus of church life and catechesis shifted from Christian behavior to Christian doctrine. From actual living to theology. The catechetical process was shortened and the focus shifted from behavior to belief (274–77).

  7. Gregory Martha Herr Obl.S.B. says:

    ‘Like Jesus, we should defy categories.’

    Fav Quote: “I’m not liberal or conservative. I’m just Catholic – like the Pope.”

    Elsewhere: “Many of these young believers do not fall neatly into ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ political categories.”

    “Reporting on the ‘new faithful’ in America”

    By Colleen Carroll Campbell

  8. Daron Moore says:

    Mr. Wax is an author I go out of my way to read on The Gospel Coalition. He is insightful, caring, and has a heart I trust and appreciate. However, in this article he may have severely contradicted himself when compared to his article of January 23, 2017, when he stated “our party” in apparent reference to the Republican Party (the reference is in the second paragraph of the “Gullible Skeptics” section of the article).

    I was alarmed at Mr. Wax’s reference to “our party” when he published it; so much so that I still obviously remember it weeks later. Mr. Wax would, again apparently, put Christians into the Republican Party camp without exceptions and, perhaps, without disagreements even on issues of priority or beliefs. From a Christian perspective, and specifically from Christ’s teachings perspective, there is some to like in the Republican Party positions. But equally there is some to like in the Democratic Party positions. I am not here to discuss how we as Christians should weight these respective positions and perspectives versus Biblical teachings.

    I am cautioning, however, Christians against carte blanche aligning ourselves with human desires, beliefs, and politics. Mr. Wax’s comments in the article posted yesterday are very well taken, but they seem to disagree with his previously stated position of support for a human institution that does not, in every instance, reflect Christ’s teachings. Like yesterday’s article, I believe that we should view all issues, political and otherwise, through Christ’s eyes as best we can and take positions accordingly. Overly aligning my beliefs to a political party (“our party”), or aligning myself with a party absolutely, is not consistent with a Christ-like view.

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      Hi Daron,

      Just to clarify, in both of these cases, when I speak of “we” and “our party,” I am speaking generically, meaning “whatever party we belong to.” This could be Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, etc. I will try to be more clear in the future!

      Thanks for reading.

      1. Daron Moore says:

        Mr. Wax, thank you for the prompt reply, but I have one last comment on this topic, and then I will respectfully retire from the field. You state in your response that when you speak of “we” or “our” you are referring to “whatever party we belong to”. This is precisely what I was trying, apparently unsuccessfully, to discuss in my initial comment: we do not belong to a political party at all as Christians, and we should not align ourselves with same. We should align ourselves at all times with Christ’s teachings and Scriptural truths, and then influence, vote, and align ourselves as we can within those truths. But “belonging” to a party, with all the pros and particularly cons associated with each alternative, is not Christ-like, or close enough to Christ-like, in my opinion. I hope you can consider this position again, and I hope I have made this thought a bit more clear this time. Thanks again for your prompt and courteous reply.

  9. Vijay2u says:

    When 80% of white evangelicals vote for Donald Trump, I see a church that has seemingly lost its ability to discern. When we read the Old Testament, it is clear that God judged Israel for making alliances with the world for the sake of “expediency.” Yet I’ve not heard any minister present that principle to the body and apply it to the political decisions we make. We had an African American president for 8 years and rather than allow the Lord to expose our racial prejudices that jaundiced our view of everything he said and did, we slandered him as a Muslim, not a legitimate president, godless, etc. NEVER during those years did I hear a sermon on applying God’s word to our hearts as it relates to race. When Trump was exposed as a lecherous abuser of women in the infamous bus video, the lone Christian on his team did not direct Trump to repent and confess his sin as David did. Instead, that Christian told us what a fine man Trump was as Trump then sought to further slander Hillary Clinton with the appearance of Bill Clinton accusers at the next debate. We as Christians need to bring all of our cultural and political preconceived notions “to the obedience of Christ.” Until we start applying God’s word directly to every one of these “teachable moments” God is giving us in the news, we will never learn how to apply God’s word to our hearts and so use this word that “gives us everything pertaining to life and godliness.”

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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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