The *Believe Me* Book Tour Comes to Mechanicsburg Church of the Brethren

Church of Brethren

I had a great visit yesterday with an adult education class at Mechanicsburg (PA) Church of the Brethren.  The class is reading Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump and it was a privilege to be present to answer questions and talk more about the book.

We spent a lot of time exploring theological, political, and historical factors that led so many evangelical to support Trump in 2016, but we also talked about a vision for Christian politics defined by hope, humility, and an informed understanding of American history.  Class members had questions about abortion, “end times” theology, environmentalism, the 2020 election, and how to think more Christianly about political engagement.

As Christian political scientist Glenn Tinder explains, politics requires “attentiveness” and “availability.”  Attentive people are aware of what others are “doing, suffering, [and] saying.” But they also make themselves available.  They see the needs of the world and ask: “Is there anything I can do about it?”  If we think about politics this way, then churches are always engaged in political activity.  And if churches are always engaged in political activity, then it also has a responsibility to think deeply about how to exercise such engagement in accordance with scripture.

Thanks to Warren Eshbach for the invitation.

The Fabric Of Hope

TinderIn the process of writing Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump I read a lot of good books on the subject of hope.  One of my favorite reflections on the subject is Glenn Tinder‘s The Fabric of Hope: An Essay.  Anyone who reads Believe Me (released on June 28, 2018) will see Tinder’s influence on my work.

Yesterday I  reread The Fabric of Hope for the third or fourth time.  It is one of those books that I see myself returning to regularly.  I get something new out of it every time I read it.

Over on Twitter (@johnfea1) today, I will be tweeting some of my favorite lines from the book.  I will use the hashtag #tinderonhope

Not All “Two Kingdom” Christians Ignore the Government’s Unethical Behavior

Tinder 2People like Robert Jeffress give “two-kingdom” theologians a bad name.  (Get up to speed here).

Even if one embraces the idea that the Sermon on the Mount or the Great Commission should not dictate government policy, Christians are still required to speak and act when the government exerts itself in unjust, untruthful, and hateful ways.

My favorite two-kingdom thinker is retired University of Massachusetts political scientist Glenn Tinder.  Here is what Tinder says in the “Social Transformation” chapter (4) of The Political Meaning of Christianity:

…if Christians are even more pessimistic about human beings than are conservatives how can they favor reform?  How can they do anything but cling to all institutions, however unjust, that counteract the chaotic potentialities of  human beings and achieve a degree of order?  There are three interconnected answers to these questions.

First of all, Christian principles place one in a radical–that is, critical and adverse–relationship to established institutions.  The Kingdom of God is a judgment on the existing society; the imminence of the Kingdom of God symbolizes its impermanence.  Jesus was crucified because his presence and preaching were unsettling to reigning religious and political groups.  Jesus did not seek the violent overthrow of these groups, but neihter did he show much concern for their stability…

The second answer to the foregoing questions is that these basic attitudes have to be acted on.  This is a matter of spiritual integrity.  To be opposed to the established order in principle, but in favor of keeping it exactly as it is, is an incongruity necessarily destructive of prophetic faith.  Beliefs are not genuine unless they affect one’s conduct as well as one’s mind.  To anticipate the coming of the Kingdom of God is merely sentimental, a private frivolity, unless one seeks ways of reshaping society according to the form of the imminent community.  The Christian universe is not, as we have seen, an eternal and changeless order; it is a universe moving, under the impetus of the Word of God, toward radical re-creation…

Finally, however, it must be said that Christianity forbids us to assume the inevitability of failure.  It requires hope, and hope pertains to the immediate, as well as the eschatological, future…It is reasonable to be skeptical concerning the possibilities of social transformation.  But human beings have no warrant for holding fixed opinions in this matter, for they cannot know the kind or degree of change God intends to effect in history.  And those who accept Christian principles do know, through Christ, that all things move toward the Kingdom of God, however humanly incomprehensible the movement may be…

A Christian Nation or a Nation of Liberty? (You Can’t Have it Both Ways)

More from Glenn Tinder:

When Christians accept liberty they accept the possibility–a possibility that is almost certain to become a reality–of a world unformed and ungoverned by faith.  The natural inclination of faith is to build a sacred order–to reconstruct the world in its own image.  In granting liberty, it abandons that spontaneous project  It acquiesces in secularism–life unrelated to God and unstructured by faith.  Acknowledging the right of human beings to be free, it allows for a repudiation of faith…Granting liberty is making way for sin.

The Political Meaning of Christianity, p. 102.

ADDENDUM:  Several readers who are not familiar with my work here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home seem to think that Tinder is arguing on behalf of a Christian nation.  Actually, Tinder is arguing for liberty rooted in the human dignity of all human beings and, as a result, a kind of pluralism.

Here is more context:

…when Christians commit themselves to liberty there follows an enormous complication of Christian morality; they deliberately refrain, in some measure, from resisting evil.  They allow the tares to grow with the wheat.

Watch and Pray

TinderI have recently been reading some of the work of Christian political philosopher Glenn Tinder.   In his wonderful essay, The Fabric of HopeTinder argues that good politics requires patience.

He writes:

A politics of sobriety would take the form sometimes of a stance seldom adopted in so impatient and restless a society as America.  The stance is that of waiting.  As we have seen, the idea of waiting for God is strongly emphasized both in the Old Testament and in the words of Jesus (“Watch and pray”).  There is such a think as waiting for God in a political situation.  It comes about when the demands of a situation are contradictory or obscure.  Hence we hesitate, hoping for clarity of mind and conscience.  We wait for the leadership of God.  In such circumstances, the waiting is itself a form of obedience–an act taken, so to speak, in anticipation of further instructions.  In an age beguiled by unrealistic hope, waiting is a repellent notion, darkened by a consciousness of human limitations.  But neglect of those limitations, in our time, has been calamitous.  A realization of their inescapable reality would be one of the benefits of a true understanding of hope.

In an age when bills are passed quickly and legislative decisions are rushed through Congress with little dialogue, deliberation, feedback, or conversation, Tinder’s words are sobering.