We come now to the end of the last chapter in John Stackhouse’s Making the Best of It. We left off in the middle of the section dealing with “Behaving in Public,” having dealt with the subsections of “Show” and “Tell.” Today we skim over “Campaign” and “The Fundamental Move.” Then we will wrap up with final section on “Governing Motifs.”
While there should be Christians involved in politics (beyond voting and the occasional contribution) it is not true that all Christians should be politically active. Stackhouse returns to the issue of individual call. He is particularly concerned about pastors.
Pastors who too closely identify with candidates and regimes get brought into the sin and failure that inevitably is part of a regime. Their prophetic voice is compromised.
One of the things I really appreciated was Stackhouse’s position that church institutions and their leaders should be less prominent in their political action. They should focus on shaping culture through the formation of individuals who are at work in their various spheres of life. Christians should form partnerships and campaign with folks based on common cause, not necessarily religious affiliation. We are to be ever searching the political landscape in search of what will bring the greatest shalom, trusting God to lead the way … all the time recognizing that God does not simultaneously move on all fronts. Some important things will need to be placed on the back burner to accomplish even more important things. We keep working at making the best of it as we seek God’s leadership.
There is a real danger here. This approach … with all its ambiguity and paradox … can morph into rationalization:
But he also adds:
The Fundamental Move
Stackhouse challenges the desperate political agitation by some Christians to preserve things from a by-gone era of Christian consensus that are no longer representative of our society (say, school prayer, putting “God” on our money and in our anthems, or trying to make Easter a national holiday).
Stackhouse closes this section with some good comments about “representative democracy” versus “direct democracy” and what that means for electing candidates. He suggests we need to elect candidates that will pursue shalom and free space for the church to function. I will not dwell on that here.
In this closing section Stackhouse writes:
Our path of discernment is complex and there are dangers if we don’t do our work well. Here are motifs Stackhouse suggests help us avoid the dangers
Dialectic Without Capitulation
We are neither to capitulate to nature nor to pursue total dominance.
Neither are we to capitulate to the powers of human institutions like government, commerce, or entertainment. We are not to withdraw from the cultural mandate. Nor are we to seek total domination of the culture. We make alliances and pursue shalom but we will not accept, “… the cessation of evangelism , our complicity in wrongdoing, our silence in the face of injustice, and our basic allegiance above all.” (352)
Another dialectic is to withdraw from the church in disillusionment versus esteeming the church as more righteous in its actions than it is. We have to be realistic about what the church is in this era prior to the consummation of the new creation.
Transformation Without Imperialism
Quoting Lesslie Newbigin:
Plurality Without Relativism
Here he reflects on the challenges of extending pluralism while also using our voice to speak out against evil and injustice.
Conviction Without Hubris
We walk in confidence that Jesus is Lord and we have been assigned mission that includes “cultivating the earth.” We have confidence God will bring about the new creation he promised.
But we can’t succeed without others and without Christian community. We recognize here that we (individually and as communities) are certainly wrong about some things. But which ones? Our best efforts and best intentions are going to fall short. Yet we dare not go forward in timidity as we engage the world. We have been given a mandate. That is the tension into which God calls us. Even as we go forward in boldness we have to be open to being reformed by God.
This concludes the last subsection of the last section of the last chapter of the book. I’ll have one more post that offers some final remarks.