Ashford, Bruce and Chris Pappalardo. One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2015. 160 pp. $14.99.
Culture & Politics
Regardless of the array of disputes surrounding the American political process, what is agreed upon is the presidential political season has arrived. With the Iowa caucus now finished and the New Hampshire primary fast approaching, questions surrounding the relationship of politics and faith are increasingly present from the dinner table to the public square.
Unfortunately, serious thinking concerning the question of how to understand politics in relation to the Christian faith is often replaced by simply repeating the talking points of one’s favorite candidate or media outlet. In response to the present confusion on the topic, Bruce Ashford and Chris Pappalardo offer what they hope to be a clarifying voice in One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics.
The book seeks to offer a balance between those that see politics as an “insufferable necessity” and those that “conceive of politics as nigh unto salvation” (1). Is there a way between “political withdrawal” and “political salvation”? Ashford and Pappalardo argue there is, “We hope to share a perspective on politics that tempers the expectations of those with inflated hopes, empowers those with deflated hopes, and equips every Christian to apply Christ’s love in the muddied area of politics” (2).
There are several aspects that make this work unique among other political works. The foremost is Ashford and Pappalardo seek to frame their proposal of political involvement within the biblical narrative. They do this in the opening chapter by providing an overview of Biblical Theology based upon the Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration framework of outlining the biblical narrative. The goal here is “to locate politics within the true story of the whole world” (5). In doing this, the place of politics as it relates to society and the created order in general is provided.
With this foundation laid, the authors unpack other concepts of their political engagement framework over the next five chapters. In these chapters competing views are addressed, along with the tension of how one proclaims the truth of the gospel without arguing for a theodicy, and how the changing religious landscape in the United States changes things.
These chapters lay the foundation for chapters 7-13 where the authors provide practical examples of how the framework would be applied to specific current issues of debate within the political sphere. In these chapters Ashford and Pappalardo are likely equally opportunity offenders to Democrats and Republicans on some of the positions they stake out. However, this is in line with the goal of the book as it seeks to transcend the normal Democratic and Republican divide and offer and distinctly Christian way of understanding politics.
The temptation of many will be to jump to the final chapters that deal with the hot button issues. However, the final chapters will only make sense in the context of the framework that is provided in the first six chapters.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
This work is of significant benefit to any pastoral context. Whether you are laboring in Brooklyn, New York or Brooklyn, Mississippi, congregates are thinking and asking political questions. There are a several aspects that make this work beneficial across contexts.
First, the book is distinctly Christian, as opposed to attempting to argue for specific Democratic or Republican platforms under the guise of Christianity. No doubt, some of the positions taken are more at home within the Republican party and some within the Democratic party. However, a pastor should feel confident in recommending the book to the thoughtful Democrat or Republican in his congregation.
Second, the book is first foremost theological. For those familiar with the Dutch strand of Reformed theology the influence of the late Dutch Prime Minister and theologian Abraham Kuyper and the Scottish theologian Lesslie Newbign is clear throughout. Even for the person who is hesitant to identify with Reformed theology, there is much to gleam and learn from regarding comprehensive cultural engagement that is undergirded with the belief that Christ is King over all spheres of creation.
Third, the book is insightful and engaging, yet very accessible. It is a resource that can be easily shared and recommended to lay congregants. Additionally, the chapters in the second half of the book that deal with current issues each include recommended resources for the reader who hungers for more.
So, whether you are already sick of the presidential election season, anticipating your candidate to usher in the Kingdom of God, or just confused by the whole process, Ashford and Pappalardo provide a helpful resource for navigating the messy process of political engagement.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics is a helpful resource, regardless of one’s political persuasion, for navigating the messy and often confusing process of political engagement.