Book Review: Five Views on the Church and Politics, by Amy E. Black, editor

Five Views on the Church and PoliticsPart of Zondervan’s Counterpoints series, Five Views on the Church and Politics includes perspectives on the church and politics from five traditions, as well as an introduction and conclusion by editor Amy E. Black. Views and authors include the following (as labeled in the text): Anabaptist (Separationist) – Thomas W. Heilke; Lutheran (Paradoxical) – Robert Benne; Black Church (Prophetic) – Bruce L. Fields; Reformed (Transformationist) – James K. A. Smith; and Catholic (Synthetic) – J. Brian Benestad. The authors were asked to provide the following for their respective tradition’s view of the relationship between the church and governmental politics: a brief historical development, it’s view of the role of government; how Christians should engage and participate in government, and a short case study illustrating the latter. A response from the other authors follows each of the main essays.

This book really is about tradition. There is little to no biblical reasoning for these positions (the Anabaptist tradition does point back to Jesus, his example, and his words in the Sermon on the Mount). The essays may be summed up as follows: Anabaptist: because Jesus via Yoder; Lutheran: because Luther; Black Church: because oppression(?); Reformed: because Calvin via Kuyper; Catholic: because popes and unquestioned documents. Responses are hardly engaging with respective essays, usually boiling down to something akin to, “I read it, and now here’s what my tradition says.” Heilke and Smith do appear to be more honest and sincere in their essays and responses and engage better than their peers.

Black misses the mark altogether, introducing the text with extreme bias and poor exegesis. On the first page, she quotes a 1994 commentary on Jesus’s response to paying taxes (Matthew 22:21), stating, “With this reply, Jesus refused to take a side in the fierce political debate of his day over the poll tax and ‘implied that loyalty to a pagan government was not incompatible with loyalty to God’”(7). What?! Jesus implies nothing of the sort—he does, however, say something to the contrary concerning two masters (Matthew 6:24). In fact, we couldn’t even substitute “fealty” for “loyalty” in the quote and come out any better. Black’s skewed perspective comes out in the conclusion when she misattributes commonalities among all represented traditions, seemingly ignoring or misrepresenting that for which she is not in favor, and promotes the perpetuation of a two party system (Democratic & Republican) in American government as if those parties are all that matter.

This is a very disappointing addition to the Counterpoints series. I cannot recommend the whole of this book for any worthwhile purpose.

 

*I received a temporary digital copy for review from Zondervan via NetGalley.

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