Political engagement should start in the church, say Mohler and Leeman at Southern Seminary Late Night event during TGC

Communications Staff — April 8, 2019

The local church should be the starting place for Christian engagement in political thinking and involvement, said Jonathan Leeman at Late Night event sponsored by The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary during The Gospel Coalition national conference, April 2. The event was a conversation with R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, for a the first-ever recording of Thinking in Public, Mohler’s interview series with notable scholars and thinkers about their work.

More than 500 people gathered for the Late night after a full day of events at the national conference to hear from Mohler and Leeman, who is the editorial director for 9Marks and author of How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age.

Leeman said he wrote his book hoping it would help Christians wrestle with their role in an increasingly complex political landscape. His primary goal, he said, was a pastoral one — to help Christians understand that true justice begins in congregational life. The United States of America is not a “city on a hill,” Leeman said, the church is. It is also the place where believers should first learn how to engage in politics.

While secular people in the West tend to divide politics into a two-party system (the rulers and the ruled), Christians recognize a three-party system by adding God to the equation as the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” This distinction is essential for Christian political thought, Leeman said.

Leeman referenced the conclusion of Abraham Lincoln’s famous Second Inaugural Address: to “strive … to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” This beautiful sentiment, Leeman said, first happens in a Christian congregation.

“Friends, where do we first ‘achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations’? Where is it that we beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks? Well, the local church,” he said. “That’s where it should be!”

This understanding should transform the way the church engages the political process, they said. Mohler noted that the older way for evangelicals to be active politically is largely a “list of wrong ways” to do so. This generation, he said, should seek to learn from those previous attempts and no longer allow themselves to accept the “status quo” engagement of previous generations. This problem, which American Roman Catholics have dealt with for decades, is a new one for Protestant Christians, Mohler said.

“This conversation [about their role in politics] has been forced upon Catholics, at least in the United States, because of the confrontation between historic Catholic dogma and American democracy,” he said. “Protestants in general, and evangelical Protestants in particular, are late to this discussion because we felt really at home here. The society was, until recently, pretty much ordered the way we thought it should be. The conversations and debates were kind of intramural. But now we’re in a different situation entirely.”

Leeman wrote his book soon after the 2016 presidential election — a time during which American Christians were forced to reevaluate their view of Christianity and the United States government. During that election, evangelicals expressed significant disagreements with both major presidential candidates, and American political discourse began to fray at the seams, divided in more ways than the Founding Fathers ever envisioned.

“Think about Washington and Adams, who both had a very acute sense that this form of government was only going to work in a virtuous and religious society, and it’s not going to work in a non-virtuous society,” Leeman said. “I would say that, in many ways, history is proving those two correct.”

Politics are the ‘domain of wisdom’

Human rulers are accountable to God, their creator and judge, for how they govern, said Leeman, who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science. Politics is the “domain of wisdom,” he said, which rulers need in order to rule justly.

Drawing much of his political theory and the tile of his recent book, How the Nations Rage, from Psalm 2, Leeman said the famous Messianic psalm is also political. While the nations rage against the Lord and his anointed, rulers and the ruling class must bow before Jesus to rule well. In a democracy like the United States, that not only applies to elected officials, but everyone who votes in an election.

“The political accountability of the nations depends on the fact that God is judge,” Leeman said. “They are accountable for everything they do in the jury box, voting booth, and Senate floor.”

Audio and video from this event will soon be available at Southern Equip.

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