Whatever your reaction to the results of the Iowa caucus may be, there’s good reason to temper them as a Christian.
While our social media feeds and news programs may be obsessed with the political now, our focus should remain on the more extensive cultural future and the more important Kingdom future.
This one vote will not save (or doom) our nation or our society. Believers must have a better understanding of politics’ scope and effectiveness.
In a section titled “Politics is Not Enough” from her book Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey makes it clear Christians wanting to change culture need to do much more than get involved at Washington, some of which looks a lot like being a faithful Christian right where God has placed you.
For example, in recent decades many Christians have responded to the moral and social decline in American society by embracing political activism. Believers are running for office in growing numbers; churches are organizing voter registration; public policy groups are proliferating; scores of Christian publications and radio programs offer commentary on public affairs. This heightened activism has yielded good results in many areas of public life, yet the impact remains far less than most had hoped. Why? Because evangelicals often put all their eggs in one basket: They leaped into political activism as the quickest, surest way to make a difference in the public area—failing to realize that politics tends to reflect culture, not the other way around.
Nothing illustrates evangelicals’ infatuation with politics more clearly than a story related by a Christian lawyer. Considering whether to take a job in the nation’s capital, he consulted with the leader of a Washington-area ministry, who told him, “You can either stay where you are and keep practicing law, or you can come to Washington and change the culture.” The implication was that the only way to effect cultural change was through national politics. Today, the battle-weary political warriors have grown more realistic about the limits of that strategy. We have learned that “politics is downstream from culture, not the other way around,” says Bill Wichterman, policy advisor to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. “Real change has to start with the culture. All we can do on Capitol Hill is try to find ways government can nurture healthy cultural trends.”
On a similar note, a member of Congress once told me, “I got involved in politics after the 1973 abortion decision because I thought that was the fastest route to moral reform. Well, we’ve won some legislative victories, but we’ve lost the culture.” The most effective work, he had come to realize, is done by ordinary Christians fulfilling God’s calling to reform culture within their local spheres of influence—their families, churches, schools, neighborhoods, workplaces, professional organizations, and civic institutions.
That doesn’t mean politics is evil or an unfit place for Christians to serve. Quite the opposite. Politics are part of God’s good creation, as shocking as that may sound.
In their book, One Nation Under God, Bruce Ashford and Chris Pappalardo seek to present politics within its proper framework. And they go, as all good explanations do, to the beginning.
One of the ways humanity is meant to exercise God’s loving domin- ion is through bringing out the latent potentials of God’s created order, what is often called “culture work.” Culture work entails cultivating the earth to produce food, cultivating relationships to produce flourishing families, cultivating legal systems to create order and peace, and cultivating financial systems to produce justice and equity. Whenever God’s image bearers work to bring out the hidden potentials of God’s creation, we are fulfilling God’s plan for humanity, “tilling the earth” so that it might bear fruit.
One significant sphere of culture is politics. Because God commanded humanity to be fruitful and multiply, we know he intended the human race to grow, and anytime humans exist together in community, there is the need for government of some type. Before the fall, government would have consisted of some sort of collective ordering of human life—setting schedules, making policies, and so forth.
We work in politics like we should work in every other aspect of culture—for the glory of God. It is not a savior, nor is it our identity. Like our job or our hobbies, our hometown or our past, the arts or education, or any other aspect that makes us who we are, politics does not define us, but provides a way in which we can glorify Christ.
Politics is not enough. It will never be enough because it is only part of our call to expand the Kingdom of God. Our hope must not rest in a full ballot box, but an empty tomb.