I saw a bumper sticker the other day that declared, "The bigger the government the smaller the people." Like much bumper sticker ideology it is only skin deep. Having visited Haiti on a mission trip, I can say rather conclusively that the smaller the government in no way results in people that are more responsible and of higher character. There is a need for government and Charles (Chuck) Gutenson's book Christians and the Common Good aids Christians in thinking through how we engage politically for the benefit of all God's people.
I feel the need to begin with full disclosure. I am an independent politically speaking. Despite what Rush Limbaugh asserts about moderates as fence sitters, being moderate can mean getting shot at by both sides and feeling isolated without a predominate home base in either political camp. I am a moderate because I see complexity and gray areas. As well I see the need to preserve the best of the past. I say that to give my perspective in reading Chuck Gutenson's book. I must also disclose that Gutenson was my professor and Sunday School teacher for a short time.
With all that out of the way, I whole heartedly recommend this book for all Christian thinkers wherever you fall on the political spectrum. Whether you are like my liberal cousins to my other rigidly conservative cousins to even my libertarian uncles, all claiming a "Christian" perspective. (Perhaps that explains a lot about me.) Chances are good you know people with similarly diverse opinions. Perhaps you too have heard someone justify their position by citing a Bible passage as a proof text for their position. What is needed today is less politically rhetoric and far more rigorously intellectual and Scripture based discussions about complex issues that involve real people who face real difficulties.
As a pastor I hear people use Christian jargon unquestioningly and cite Bible verses uncritically. Whether it is immigration arguments that bypass direct commands against oppressing aliens or healthcare debates that begin with fiscal issues before, if ever, surveying Jesus own ministry to the lowest, least, and lost, not near enough Christians think through issues such as the role of government or grasp how biblical themes like the call to self sacrifice and social holiness might impact their politic ideology.
Readable and challenging, Gutenson's book is a great place for anyone to begin. While Christians too often seek to legislate morality or at the other extreme see politics as dealing with unspiritual matters, Gutenson challenges those who claim to follow the God of love, by asserting that to "love someone is to desire their long-term well-being and to be willing to engage in acts of self-sacrifice to bring it about." (p. 61) Gutenson also helps his reads work through key issues like hermeneutics, relevant Scriptures passages, all the way to giving biblical and theological reasons for the role of government and tax credits.
Gutenson aims not so much to sway opinions as much as to help his readers think through their own political positions biblically and theologically. He is certainly to be commended for encouraging us to go beyond bumper sticker theology and exhorting us to, "'think Christianly' about public institutions and their role in developing communities that live out God’s intentions." (p. 170). As a whole, the book made me think of John Wesley's aim for the Methodist movement, "to reform the nation and to spread scriptural holiness across the land."
Link to Christians and the Common Good
Questions:What do you see as God's vision for humanity?
How do you believe the government has a role in that? How is it different/same from the church?
How does your theology shape your political ideology?