What does responsible citizenship look like?

It’s not easy to find well-balanced (accessible) statements on the role of Christians in government, especially of the representative form in the USA. Part of the problem is that we simply have no explicit parallels in Scripture to believers living in democracy. 

What does responsible citizenship look like for Christians when they are part of “We the people….”?

This morning, I read a very helpful article that looked at this question from the perspective of civil disobedience. Written by Mark Coppenger, (professor of Christian apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), the article answers the question, “When should Christians engage in civil disobedience?

I appreciated how Coppenger summarized Christian engagement: 

“As we make our case for liberty, we need to show our logic, expose the illogicality of our foes, link arms with co-belligerents, exhibit dignity in the face of indignities, and make it very clear that there are limits to our flexibility.”

Following this prescription will require humble and mature wisdom. One of our aims is to help people understand the very wise words of David B. Hart: 

“We are free not merely because we can choose, but only when we choose well. For to choose poorly, through folly or malice, in a way that thwarts our nature and distorts our proper form, is to enslave ourselves to the transitory, the irrational, the purposeless, the (to be precise) subhuman” (David B. Hart).

The words of Alexis de Tocqueville are equally compelling:

“The very dynamism of modern democracy has contributed to profound short-term thinking that devolved into forms of self-serving individualism. Increasingly unable to discern how our liberated actions impacted others—neither recognizing our debts to the past nor our obligations to the future—we see ourselves as wholly free agents shorn of history or future.” (Alexis de Tocqueville)

Steve Cornell 

For other helpful discussions on this topic: We Dare Not Defend Our Rights and Should Christians Really be Standing up for their Rights? 

Radical love? Who lives this way?

Radical love for enemies? Lending without expecting payment? Kindness to ungrateful and wicked people? Non-retaliation? Who lives like this? What would happen to the world if the Church deeply embraced radical love? Is it possible to overcoming evil with good?

In the clip below, you’ll see an example of this kind of radical love. Before watching it, prayerfully read the following three passages: 

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36).

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. … But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:38-40, 44-48).

“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:19-21).

Reflect on this song

Blaming Religion for violence

The Twin Towers

Old myths die slowly.

Such is the case with the notion that religion is the primary cause of violence and oppression. Atheistic like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are well-known for promoting this myth.

After 9/11, a British reporter echoed the myth stating that, “The real axis of evil is Judaism, Christianity and Islam.” In A Devil’s Chaplin, Dawkins wrote,

“Only the willfully blind fail to implicate the divisive force of religion in most, if not all, of the violent enmities of the world today.”

The old myth gained momentum on September 11 when Islamic extremists inflicted terror in the name of Allah. But is religion to blame for the worst atrocities of history? The fact is that anti-religious tyranny has been the most frightening source of evil in the world.

In Unspeakable: Facing up to Evil in an Age of Genocide and Terror,” Os Guinness noted that,

“It is a widely held and largely unquestioned belief in educated circles today that religion is the main cause of repression and violence in our world and an essentially divisive and explosive force in public life that we would be wise to exclude from the public square altogether. For example, one New York Times reporter argued after September 11 that our main problem is not terrorism but ‘religious totalitarianism’ and that the danger of religious totalitarianism was represented not just by Islam but by Judaism and the Christian faith as well—in fact, by all faiths that have ‘absolute’ or ‘exclusive’ claims.”

This is simply wrong. Guinness demonstrates that, “The worst modern atrocities were perpetrated by secularist regimes, led by secularist intellectuals, and in the name of secularist beliefs.”

Those who believe that more wars have been waged and more people killed in the name of religion than by any other institutional force in human history are factually wrong. And Guinness is rightly concerned that the lazy repetition of this myth, “seriously distorts public debate and endangers democratic freedom.”

Contrary to widespread opinion, he notes that, “September 11 was a break with the worst twentieth-century massacres because the atrocity was done in the name of Allah” (Emphasis mine).

This is not to deny the horrific massacres in the name of religion. Yet the fact remains,

“More people were killed by secularist regimes in the twentieth century than in all the religious persecutions in Western history, and perhaps in all history. More than one hundred million human beings were killed by secularist regimes and ideologies in the last century” (Guinness).

The examples are staggering, the Ottoman massacre of more than a million Armenians, the slaughtered of nearly two million people by Cambodia’s communist leader Pol Pot, the murder of an estimated thirty million Russians by Stalin and Mao ZeDong’s unimaginable destruction of sixty-five million Chinese. Add to this Hitler and the extermination of millions of Jews. Guinness rightly notes,

“Hitler and the Nazis are something of a special case. Hitler was implacably hostile to the Christian faith, but not an advocate of atheism. Almost to a person, as the history of Nazism and the record of the Nuremberg trials attest, the Nazi leaders were ex-Christians and ex-Catholics. Those, including Hitler, who had Christian backgrounds vehemently rejected them. Hitler said, “Our epoch will certainly see the end of the disease of Christianity.”

The point must not be missed. The dictators behind the most horrific carnage of human history were not motivated by religion. These atrocities were inflicted by secular regimes for secular reasons. “The full story of the evils of Stalin and Mao is yet to be unearthed and told with anything like the completeness accorded to Hitler and the Nazis, but the secularist commitments are clear beyond dispute” (Guinness).

Don’t be misguided, 

“Secularist philosophies such as atheism are just as ‘totalitarian’ as the three ‘religions of the Book.’ What secularists believe is so total, or all-encompassing, that it excludes what the religious believer believes.” The most notable recent example of this was Communism. Guinness correctly identifies Communism as, “…the most dangerous delusion in history so far.” The era of Communism has been accurately described as “an atheistic millennialism.”

The persistent inclination to blame religion is rooted in

“…an unexamined Enlightenment prejudice that simultaneously reduces faith to its functions and recognizes only the worst contributions of faith, not the best—such as the rise of the universities, the development of modern science, the abolition of slavery, and the promotion of human rights” (Guinness).

“In his magisterial moral history of the twentieth century, Humanity, Jonathan Glover points out that even those who do not believe in a religious moral law should be troubled by its fading. ‘It’s striking how many protest against and acts of resistance to atrocity have also come from principled religious commitment.’”

“Contrary to what is commonly argued,” Guinness concludes, “our problem in the public square is not ‘religious totalitarianism,’ and the solution is not a ‘multilingual relativism’ that bans all absolute and exclusive claims. In a day of exploding diversity, the real question is: how do we live with our deepest differences when many of those differences are absolute, including those of secularism?”

Steven W. Cornell

See also: The Most Violent Century of Human History

Key to ministry in postmodern times

Times have changed and churches must be aware of those changes if they desire to be faithful to the mission of Christ.  A generation has come up that doesn’t see the world the same way their predecessors see it. But how much should the church adjust?  And, at what point does adjustment become misguided accommodation or a betrayal of the gospel?

A needed warning: “It is good to be willing to innovate and adapt for the sake of the gospel, but when sociological reality is taken as the given to which church strategy and tactics must adjust, the church is in danger of becoming market-driven in an attempt to create a particularly attractive religious boutique within which a variety of goods and services must be offered for personal choice.”  (Joseph Small)

What is this sociological reality? Three areas of cultural expectation affect Churches in relation to three aspects of Church life:

1. Building: Creature comforts are expected in affluent cultures.

2. Program: Entertainment-driven (the wow factor!)

3. Message: Mitigating absolute truths and morals

Postmodern times involve these cultural realities but also include some other issues. I plan to frame out a broad description of these issues but first I offer what I believe to be the key alternative for postmodern times.

It is to be humble, loving, truth-telling Christians in community.

“If the Biblical story is told truly, it will subvert the alternative stories. But to tell it truly, you have to be living it” (N. T. Wright). Or, to tell it with effect, you must be living it.

And the church is a community that cannot be deconstructed when it is a community of love. Jesus’ words in John 13:34-35 take on powerful meaning in postmodern times. And Jesus’ words followed His example (John 13:1-5 and 12-17). Jesus set the tone for what a community of Christ followers should look like. When lived, it is a community filled with mutual affection and honor.

We’ll come back to this but let’s review the path to postmodernity and some prominent features of it.

I. Pre-modern era – religion is the reigning voice of authority for truth and reality.

(God is a given of pre-modern culture.)

II. Modern era – science is the reigning voice of authority for truth and reality.

(God is pushed to the outside in modern culture.)

III. Postmodern era – rejection of any single defining source for truth and reality.

(God is accepted in all variations equally in postmodernity)


Modernity enthroned science and dethroned religion.

Modernity adopted a grand story of human progress based on measurable realities of scientific, technological and social advances for the good of humanity.

Modernity became an assault against all things supernatural with humanistic naturalism as the reigning ideology.

The old grand story of religion was no longer needed and actually considered unsustainable in the face of scientific progress. Sweeping and rapid changes seemed bound to make the world a better place as mankind took over and human reason reigned. But hopes of the utopian dream of modernity soon became a human nightmare as the 20th century became the most violent one of human history—-without religion to blame (see: The Most violent Century).

“The supposed objectivism of science easily became a cloak for political and social power and control.”

The transition:

“The growing skepticism in regards to anything supernatural was matched by growing faith in human ability to know the world, control it, and reap the inevitable benefits. The “Big Story” of the world was not given by revelation; rather, it was to be discovered and perhaps even determined by science, reason and technology. This major transition was at the heart of the modern period.”

“However, from our 21st -century perspective, it is clear that the predictions of utopia guaranteed in the modern period never materialized. Instead, modernists became disillusioned as military increase brought world wars, failed development policies led to class oppression and colonialism, economic idealism resulted in communism and the Cold War, and our best science created nuclear weapons and the threat of global devastation.”

“Postmodern writers, beginning with Nietzsche, began to question the integrity of modernism’s metanarrative of progress. In fact, the main casualty of a postmodern perspective is the very idea of a metanarrative.  Postmoderns are skeptical of any and all claims to an authoritative comprehensive worldview, absolute truth about reality, and an overarching purpose to the human story.”

Why? Because of a basic untrustworthiness of humans—a tendency to manipulate, control and oppress.

“…postmodernism has cast a large shadow of skepticism (and has offered a strong dose of humility) on the modern belief in the efficacy and near inerrancy of human reason. As was seen during the modern period, human reason can be quite productive, especially in the arenas of science, medicine, and technology. However, human reason can also be manipulative and destructive, especially when it produces the totalizing ideologies (e.g. communism, Nazism, colonialism, etc.) that characterized the modern period.”

“…postmodernism has demonstrated that objectivity and certainty are not exclusive to the realm of science as was claimed during the modern period. In fact, science is often quite biased and agenda- driven, and is therefore in no place to claim to be the final arbiter on all matters of knowledge.”

Note: The overreaching use of evolution as a philosophy or religion doesn’t settle well with postmoderns.

Finally, “…postmodernism rightly reminds us of the power of our culture, and especially the language of our culture, in creating our frames of reference.  The modern period demonstrated that this power can be used to marginalize and oppress others at the personal and the systemic level. For the Christian, then, care should be taken to distinguish scriptural teaching from our cultural perceptions.”

(Quotes above compliments of John Stonestreet at Summit Ministries. This is a revised excerpt from Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview, co-authored by William E. Brown, W. Gary Phillips, and John Stonestreet.  Used with permission)

Be sure of this:

Legalistic churches won’t make it because of their use manipulation and control. Loving and truth-telling churches will flourish.

The Christian or Biblical worldview agrees with important major concerns of postmodern thinkers:

  1. limitations of unaided human reason
  2. effect of the fall on objectivity and certainty
  3. the human tendency toward evil and oppression.

But the Christian worldview clearly offers one overarching story for all people.  And on this, N. T. Wright noted:

“Postmodernity is bound to object: metanarratives are controlling, dominating, and we all know the ways in which this story too has been used politically, socially and personally to bolster this or that power-trip. But the Biblical metanarrative itself resists being abused in this fashion, because it is the story of love.  The Biblical metanarrative offers itself as the one story which cannot be deconstructed, to which the criticisms of Marx, Nietzsche and Freud are not relevant.  (Look at Jesus on the cross-was he doing that for money?  Was he doing that for power? Was he doing it for sex? It was an act of love.)  The story speaks from first to last of a God who did not need to create, but who did so out of overflowing and generous love.  It speaks of a God who did not need to redeem and recreate, but did so as the greatest possible act of self-giving love.”

“Somehow if we are to address contemporary culture with the message of the Bible we must get used to combining two things which are normally at opposite poles—humility and truthtelling.”

“Somehow we have to tell the truth but to tell it as the liberating story, the healing sory, the true story.  And of course… the best way we can do this is by telling, again and again, in story and symbol and acted drama, the biblical story, focused on the story of Jesus himself, the true story of the Word made flesh.  (That is why the great symbol at the heart of Christianity is the symbol of the eucharist; it is the symbol of that story.” 

Local Churches must remember that, “it is our task not just to tell but to live out the story—the model of God’s self-giving love in Christ must be the basis for our self-understanding, our life, and our vocation.” (N. T. Wright)

We must be humble, loving, truth-telling Christians in community – communities where believers show mutual affection and honor, where we, “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:10, NLT).

When our places of fellowship are filled with people who treat each other with honor, esteem, deference and humble service (foot washing love), we will offer the needed alternative to the uncertainty, anxiety, and angst of postmodern times.

Steve Cornell