Review of Honoring God in Red or Blue: Approaching Politics with Humility, Grace and Reason


Honoring God in Red or Blue

Author: Dr. Amy E. Black

Recommended for: Anyone wanting a well-rounded view of American politics / politics & faith
Read from September 29 to October 05, 2012
208 pages

What got me into this book was my concern over the lacuna of Christian voices showing civility in American public discourse. It is easy to find examples of strident, unloving and even damaging rhetoric parroted by people of faith who genuinely care about the direction of the country. Christians seem to have little trouble stating convictions on issues, but we rarely articulate those convictions effectively. We often sound our victim-whines, complaining that we feel shut out from political power. And we are, too often, silenced by our own ignorance or clumsiness. After a quick scan, I judged that Honoring God in Red or Blue would echo my concerns and address them.

Amy Black, a Wheaton professor with an M.I.T. doctorate in political science and experience as a Congressional Fellow, speaks directly to fellow Christians in an encouraging tone, educating and informing her audience on the basics of American government and politics without condescending. Though much of the book covers what we should have learned in Civics 101, Dr. Black’s explanations target adults who need not just reminding, but refocusing. Part 1 reviews the reasons for political involvement, the relationship between religion and politics and the purpose and limits of government. This section alone makes the book worth reading, especially for those who may be expecting too much from a system that was designed to work slowly, through compromise rather than through tyranny of anyone’s platform or party.

“Black and white” may be helpful stereotypes for categorizing moral issues, but those absolute categories do not realistically reflect the process of politics. Dr. Black counsels, “It is possible to stand on Christian convictions and still make compromises.” Honoring God in Red or Blue advocates active political involvement, but as a means of demonstrating love in action rather than sanctioning lust for power in the name of Christ. Listening, humility, respect and informed action are the means through which Christians may pursue a better society.

After giving a primer on the roles of local,state and federal government in Part 2, which also features a helpful discussion of the relationship between church and state, the book explores the question of how faith and politics may interact. (Part 3 is the “how to” section.) How have various faith traditions interacted with the state? How do we disagree peacefully, and what if Christians have serious political disagreements? The author unpacks her core premise here–that humility and respect are necessary for fruitfulness in political involvement–and applies it to how we tackle debate and disagreement over the “hard issues,” things about which we may have a common goal but a different solution than our opponents. The book highlights the issue of poverty as an illustration, offering several plausible solutions that may differ, yet be acceptable within a Christian worldview.

The final few chapters offer a helpful analysis of political campaigning and informed voting.

Throughout Honoring God in Red or Black, the author speaks with a voice that is as non-partisan and ideologically dispassionate. This stance results in a guide that is practical and informative. Sidebars on how to understand statistics, how to fact-check, the rise of the Tea Party, separation of church and state, etc. add to the book’s value. Yet for all these strengths, a significant weakness of Honoring God in Red or Black is its failure to build a strong enough biblical and theological foundation to support a positive Christian vision, one that does not detract from the author’s core assumptions, but takes them and goes farther and deeper in seeking to redeem what is broken in American society and politics. The principle of love is too broad. Even humility and respect are not enough.

While American Christians need Christian character if we are to effectively engage in the political sphere, we also need a philosophy that embraces and applies the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) as discipleship of “the nations,” the Great Commandment (Luke 10:27) as loving God as well as neighbor,and the cultural mandate (Gen. 1:26-28). Core biblical assumptions like these have implications for respecting life AND the environment, for upholding the design of marriage AND not hating or fearing others who do not agree but are also made in God’s image–moral and societal issues that require a greater prophetic voice from the church, yet not absent love and respect. Such a developed, positive political philosophy may be beyond the scope of this book. Still, Honoring God in Red or Blue provides sane, useful and faithful counsel and wisdom for those who want to be involved and make a difference in a pluralistic culture that is desperate for clarity and sanity.

The Definitive Christian Review of The Hunger Games


When you get a second, read The Definitive Christian Review of The Hunger Games. Written by a pastor in Canada, it makes a nice complement to my previous post on The Hunger Games . Of course, he didn’t intend to complement anything I wrote. He doesn’t even know I exist.

Correspondingly, I didn’t set out to be an apologist for The Hunger Games series, whole-cloth. I would never hold up the series to Christians as exemplary literature. Give me Milton, Tolkien, Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, Walter Miller, even Rowling (That’ll start a new controversy!). Each of these authors sub-creates worlds imbued with super-nature and the Sacred. There is no such category in The Hunger Games. No God, no prayer, no Providence–nothing beyond the world of human good and evil. So, why defend it to Christian audiences?

The “Definitive Review” (which means he’s tired of arguing the point) gives several good answers to that question. For me, it’s what my partner, Carmen, calls “a teachable moment.” Christian audiences, in my opinion, need to learn the difference between discernment and censorship. Have you read The Hunger Games (hereafer, HG)? With all the gut reactions to the series now in print on various blogs and websites, is it obvious to you which comments betray a basic ignorance? Strong opinions stated in the absence of having read for oneself opens him or her up to the charge of credulity. When someone equates violence in HG for the endorsement of youth violence, no different than violent video games or the worst gangsta rap, or death metal, they are not making the obvious distinction between portraying something and endorsing it.

I say “obvious” not to be arrogant, but because if you actually read HG (my review is limited to the first book in the trilogy), you’ll quickly see how the story frames violence: as the tragic consequence of an immoral government and societal decline. If you want to oppose HG on the grounds that it portrays a world totally devoid of the Sacred, be my guest. But don’t oppose it because it “glorifies kids killing each other.”

My goal in these posts is to help my fellow evangelical Christians be quick to think, slow to speak, slow to post angry comments (to borrow from James 1:19). So often, we go with the opinion stated the loudest in our camp. And so often, it is an opinion stated without sufficient ground, reasoning or biblical discernment.

Living in the world redemptively (our mission in Matthew 28:20) requires that we see and affirm truth, goodness and beauty in the midst of fallen, broken and sinful conditions. Otherwise we are noisy gongs and clanging cymbals.

Promising Reads for 2012


Each year I set out to read books from a variety of categories. 2012 is no different, with an ambitious goal (for me, given the life I lead) of FINISHING at least a dozen books. Last year, it was eight, cover to cover, along with plenty of partial reads for research, study and teaching. A couple of my hope-to titles this year include Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading by Eugene Peterson and Poets Thinking: Pope, Whitman, Dickinson, Yeats by Helen Vendler. Both are loaded on the Kindle and sampled. But I can’t devour them until I finish this:

I ran across this book, All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age by Hubert Dreyfus (Berkeley) and Sean Dorrance Kelly (Harvard), while browsing the philosophy section at Barnes & Noble. It grabbed my attention by quickly calling out the exhausting meaninglessness of modern life and the hopelessness of nihilism. Admitting that a loss of the sacred is the source of both maladies, the authors propose. . .ahem!. . .a re-appropriation of polytheism, based in the ancient Greeks’ openness to the world as a gift of the gods. The central source for the re-sacralization of postmodern life is Homer, whose attributed writings provide, admittedly, a fountain for Western culture. So far, I have found the Dreyfus-Kelly analysis of the emptiness of existentialism and its legacy to be incisive. Their narrative analysis of decline since the Enlightenment resonates with what I learned under the best seminary profs. Of course, their prescription is no cure, in my view. Neo-paganism provides no more of a moral compass for the future than did paganism in the ancient past.

I’m only about 30 percent in to All Things Shining, but I am committed to finishing it before I pick up something else. . .except for this book: Wayfaring: Essays Pleasant and UnpleasantWayfaring: Essays Pleasant and UnpleasantIn a recent post, I admitted my newfound-old-love for the essay. Alan Jacobs has provided a collection of thoughtful short pieces that muse on such subjects as “the usefulness and dangers of blogging, the art of dictionary making, the world of Harry Potter, and an appreciation of trees” (Amazon.com). I hope to follow Alan’s Christian mind on a journey that will help me organize my own thought life and writing.

I have a few other books I absolutely want to read in various categories: science fiction (The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven); theology (Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth by Alister McGrath) and biography (Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas). But by far, the best find of 2011 and most promising read of 2012 is a tome by newly-appointed professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, G.K. Beale.

Beale: A New Testament Biblical Theology

One thousand pages of pure fun! And a bit of redundancy.

I pre-ordered the hardcover premier of A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New based on my prior exposure to Dr. Beale’s teaching. I knew this would be his magnum opus. I was not disappointed. Two of his previously published works, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry and The Temple and the Church’s Mission are substantially summarized, applied and/or reproduced in this book, along with more of his writings including scholarly articles, and lectures. The groundbreaking (and painstaking) work of bringing the disciplines of biblical studies and biblical theology together with previously uncharted territory in New Testament theology makes this book the ONE that people with my bent–a love of the Bible-as-canon and dissatisfaction with the logical categories and proof-texting of systematic theology–absolutely must acquire and devour.

I plan to literally (figuratively) soak in this book all year long, hauling it along as a companion for Bible devotion and teaching prep as well as carefully reading key chapters and summarizing them. I’m about 80 pages in, with several other relevant sections highlighted and cross-referenced.  I could gush more–about Dr. Beale’s unassuming style, his love for the biblical text and its Author, his plain-spoken weaving of eschatalogical themes into a practical reading and application of the New Testament–but I’d better shut up until I’ve read more. If you want a better idea of the scope and significance of this book, check out the synopsis and comments at Reformation Heritage Books, where you can still get the pre-order price, I think. One critical observation: there is quite a bit of redundancy in this thousand page monster, but I’m choosing to view it as reiteration. Repetition is pedagogically (and theologically) sound, even if stylistically annoying.


Alvin Plantinga’s New Book on God and Science – NYTimes.com


Alvin Plantinga’s New Book on God and Science – NYTimes.com.  If you can still get to this link (NYT is pretty proprietary), this is definitely worth the read. Plantinga has taken off the gloves in his sparring with the New Atheists. And he thinks science not only is compatible with faith, but actually fits a theistic worldview better than a naturalistic one. This debate–or the long running debate at this level–is just heating up!