God’s Politics: A New Vision for Faith and Politics in America – Jim Wallis, Harper, 2005
It is a challenge, in this day, to stand against the distortions of the Gospel that are endemic in conservative political discussions today without falling just as far off the beam on the liberal side. Both the Cultural Christianity of the United States in 2005 and the Liberal Christianity of so many mainline Christians miss the Gospel by wide margins.
Jim Wallis hits both question and answer dead center.
In God’s Politics (I like the supertitle better, “Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It.) Wallis names with unerring accuracy the failure of the Right to take its own Bible seriously, and the failure of the Left to look to the Bible for guidance at all. He is no less critical of “liberal theologians whose cultural conformity and creedal modernity serve to erode the foundations of historic biblical faith” than he is of the Right, which, “gets the public meaning of religion mostly wrong – preferring to focus only on sexual and cultural issues while ignoring the weightier matters of justice.”
Still, it is the Right that is in the ascendancy at the moment and so, apart from castigating the left from time to time for a faith so empty of hope that all it can do is blame their counterparts for the problems we face, Wallis devotes the majority of his book to his critiques of the theologies that lie behind and implicitly or explicitly support the program of our current administration.
What is refreshing is that Wallis is not content to whine about the abuses of power by the dominant political party of our day, but offers real, concrete suggestions for alternatives. In his words, “Protest is good, alternatives are better!” His arguments are sound and thoroughly biblical, drawing heavily on the prophetic tradition that was so important to Jesus.
Wallis does not limit himself, either, to the easy subjects. He might easily have confined his comments to criticisms of a war that most of America now believes has dubious value. (As I write, the news announces that there have been 290 deaths in Iraq in the ten days since the installation of the last of the new government.) Instead, Wallis tackles also the issues of race, poverty, sexual identity, abortion and capital punishment. In each case, he demonstrates that real evangelical Christianity, that is, Christianity determined to spread the euangellion of God’s Kingdom, can and indeed must place the powerless first among its priorities.
If there were one place that I wondered about, it was the unquestioned confidence that Wallis seems to have in governmental solutions to spiritual problems. While I agree that compassionate government is a lesser evil than the “devil take the hindmost” philosophy of the current administration, I wonder if the threat of force (“If you don’t pay the taxes I demand so that we can feed these poor, you’ll go to jail…”) can ever bring about the Kingdom of God, or even get us closer.
Finally, though, Wallis’ last section, on a politics of hope versus that of cynicism, may provide the answer to my concern. As Walter Wink has said, “The Powers are good, the Powers are fallen, the Powers will be redeemed.” This hope seems to lie behind Wallis’ confidence, and behind his gentleness, even as he dismantles the theological foundations for the heedless behavior of the United States government
It is our sincere hope at Preaching Peace that every reader of our site will read this timely book.