I recently did an interview with Dan Koch, who hosts a theology-oriented podcast.
The conversation covers a lot of ground -- my own journey of faith, how the Christian faith should (and should not) inform politics, the dangers of political seduction and political tribalism, the damage we're seeing during the Trump era to the Christian faith, why the case for Christianity finally depends on who Jesus was rather than how His followers act, the danger of politics informed by existential fear, how faith can be a piston of love and a piston of hate, and why whether one's heart and affections are with Christ is of central importance:
I think when there's a loss of intimacy with Christ, then we're left with some of the worst parts of [religion]... the people I've met in life, the ones whose walk is most intimate with Christ, they're the people whose lives are most transformed. They're the ones who are healing agents, who tend to be most merciful, show tenderness, care for the weak and the lost; they're the people who are aware of their own failures and their own blindspots. I think C.S. Lewis said somewhere that at some point, Christians have to stop defending Jesus long enough to rest in Him.
In thinking about how the church today can repair some of the damage that's been done, I pointed to history as a possible teacher:
The church has done best when it's not had political power but when it's been a community of care... When you had the explosive growth of the early church, up through the third and fourth century, what was it that explained that? It wasn't because they had political power, it wasn't because they were a political lobby. It was because of how they cared for the weak, the widows, the orphans, the way they treated women, the way they treated people outside the faith. It was really the Good Samaritan ethic being extended to wider communities. That can happen [again]. And of course American Christianity is facing a crisis, as is much ofChristianity in the Western world. But if you go to the global south, Africa and other nations, there's an explosive growth in Christianity. So it may be that American Christianity is hitting a low point, but that doesn't mean Christianity itself is.
On the issue of existential fear, being part of a human drama and the sovereignty of God:
One of the things I've sensed with a lot of Christians who are involved in politics is that they're being driven by a sense of fear which is often transmuted into anger. It's this feeling that we're at an existential moral moment, that almost everything that we know and love is under attack and may fall. And that's creating a lot of fear, white-knuckles of fear. And I've noticed over the decades a spirit that animates a lot of Christians who are involved in politics, and it basically says: "We've got to win, because if we don't win, God doesn't win. It all rests on us, and if we lose this piece of legislation, if we lose this Supreme Court ruling, if we lose this presidential election, the things we know and love will be crushed. And God can't recover from that."
And the response to that, and this goes back to some of my earliest intuitions about the Christian faith... it's the notion that we are part of a story. This is a story that has an author; it has a beginning, and a middle and an end. And we're actors in the drama. And the incarnation tells us that God is an actor in that drama. That doesn't mean that at any particular act in the play, that you don't face difficulties and fears in an individual life or in a corporate sense. There can be real tragedy, real grief, real sorrow, and that has to be known and people have to be able to walk that journey. But those acts aren't the full play... If you think of this as a book, there are new chapters. I have this deep conviction -- it's not a logical proposition -- it's just a view of my faith, and I think it's true of what the Bible tells us. I think it's part of the arc of the Christian story, which is that there is a purpose to history, there's an arc to history, there's meaning to it, there's an author behind it, and in the end, God's will and ways will prevail.
It doesn't rest on all of us, and I think that's that thing I would caution a lot of Christians who are involved in politics to be wary of, which is we're called to befaithful; we're not called to be successful. God can handle this. We have to do the best we can with the gifts that we have at any given moment in time. But we really don't need to fear that this whole enterprise will come crumbling down. One of the most frequent injunctions and statements in the Bible, both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, is "Fear not", "Be not afraid." I get the sense for a lot of... Christians today that there's just a lot of fear, and I think that's leading them to a lot of dark places.
During the podcast we also talk about justice and why one shouldn't be cynical about politics; the upside of American global leadership and what some on the progressive left often overlook; the conservatism of Madison, Burke, and Oakeshott; and Dietrich Bonhoeffer's example in the context of pacifism and the "confessing church." If you're interested, you can listen to the full interview here.