In this season of presidential primaries where the news is saturated with politics (and you haven’t seen it until you’ve lived in a swing state like Ohio!) it is easy to go to one extreme or the other. Either we become rabid partisans or we disengage. As someone committed to what I call Third Way thinking, I actually think it is worth thinking about how our first principles shape how we look at the political order and how we engage with politics.
So I thought I would share some of the books that I’ve read in recent years that may be helpful. Most are written by those who I would describe as thoughtful Christians. There are some who read this who might consider that an oxymoron. I hope if you peruse a few of these books, or even my reviews, you might think otherwise. And if you are a Christian, I hope you will consider taking the opportunity of this political season to re-examine your thinking about these matters. Is your mind shaped by media or by Christ?
Christian Political Witness, George Kalantzis and Gregory W. Lee, eds. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014. A collection of essays from a theology conference looking at ways the church has related to the political order. My review.
Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power, Andy Crouch. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013. This a broader question than politics, that of power and whether it is possible to use power redemptively. My review.
The Good of Politics, James W. Skillen. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014. He argues that our political life is rooted in creation rather than the fall and how this might shape our engagement in politics, with lots of examples from contemporary issues. My review.
To Change the World, James Davison Hunter. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Hunter argues that we often work from inadequate assumptions about the nature of change and place too great a stock in the political order as an agent of change. My review.
A Public Faith, Miroslav Volf. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2011. Volf also uses “third way” language in laying our four propositions for how Christians might work in a diverse public square. My review.
Allah: A Christian Response, Miroslav Volf. New York: Harper Collins, 2010. Not so much about politics but one of the contentious issues of this election–how we relate to Islam. Volf contends Christians and Muslims worship the same God, albeit with different understandings. Whether you agree with this contention or not, a thought-provoking read. My review.
The Religion of Democracy, Amy Kittelstrom. New York: Penguin Press, 2015. This book traces the “American Reformation” of Christianity through the lives of seven key figures spanning the late eighteenth to early twentieth century, in which adherence to creed shifted to the dictates of personal judgment and the focus shifted from eternal salvation to ethical conduct reflecting a quest for moral perfection and social benefit. Good for understanding our American civil religion. My review.
Immigration: Tough Questions, Direct Answers, Dale Hanson Bourke. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014. Third in “The Skeptics Guide Series” and like others in the series provides a concise overview of basic facts about immigration and discusses the challenges of immigration policy in the United States. My review.
The Politics of Jesus, John Howard Yoder. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, rev. ed. 1994. This is perhaps a classic Anabaptist statement that argues that the church, rather than becoming engaged with the political order, is one. A caveat comes with this book. Yoder, who died in 1997, was the object of numerous charges of sexual abuse of women both at Goshen Biblical Seminary, and later at Notre Dame. Yet, and probably before these allegations came to light, Christianity Today named it in the Top Ten Books of the Twentieth Century.
This is hardly an exhaustive list of good books out there. Nor does it reckon with classic works like Augustine’s City of God, Aristotle’s Politics, and Plato’s Republic just to name a few. What strikes me as I review this list, is that it emphasizes both the importance of and yet limited function of the political order. Politics matters, but it is not everything. That itself may be an important perspective in these upcoming months.
I’d love it if you would add your recommendations in the comments! I always love to hear of books I haven’t read, and I suspect other readers would enjoy that as well!