Christians are sometimes known as “people of the book.” What this means is that our starting point for everything in life isn’t our own opinion, or our parent’s opinions, what we learned in school, or what our friends think. No, with everything we face — life, family, work, decisions, suffering, the future, and yes, even politics — we begin by going to “the book.”
And which book is that? The only one it could be: The holy, inspired, inerrant, and authoritative Word of God — the Bible.
Now, I know that just about every serious Christian understands that when it comes to matters of the faith, such as theology, church practice, doctrine, and spiritual disciplines, you, of course, start with the Bible.
“But what about other-than-faith issues? Should Christians start with scripture on general life issues — even politics?”
In his book, Well Versed: Biblical Answers to Today’s Tough Questions, pastor and theologian James Garlow answers this question. He writes,
“I am the type of evangelical who believes that the Bible is totally authoritative. I believe that the Bible speaks not merely to personal, family, and church issues, but also to national, community, and governmental issues, if we would take the time to listen.”
Garlow is right. God’s Word, the Bible, has something to say about everything in life. This is, of course, what the Apostle Paul argued in 1 Timothy 3:16-17, reminding us that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Look closely at what God is telling us here, because it is a very important point for American Christians and pastors. Scripture is both 1) “breathed out by God,” which means it is totally true and trustworthy, and 2) it “equips” Christians for “every good work.”
Don’t you think that your political engagement, your voting, issue-based activism, and civic involvement fall under this category of “good works”? I certainly do. If it does, then you know that the Bible both can and will equip you to do this work faithfully.
The reason why it is important to remind Christians to “begin with the Bible” when it comes to politics is that we are, by nature, both forgetful and bombarded by conflicting messages in our rapidly secularizing culture. We forget that all of life must begin and end at the foot of the Cross and before the open pages of God’s Word. And we are bombarded by a world that demands we isolate our faith to our homes, churches, or families — and to never bring it to the public square (unless, of course, you believe Jesus was a socialist, in which case your faith is welcome.)
But Christian, don’t forget that your personal Lord and Savior is also the public Lord and Judge. The God of the Bible is the God of Times Square, just as much as He is God over the local Baptist church on Main Street, USA. We have every right, commissioned by King Jesus and guaranteed by the First Amendment, to boldly walk into the public arena — Bible in one hand and Constitution in the other — and argue for good politics and policy based on God’s Word. No apologies required.
In fact, in our current cultural moment, beset by deep confusion about what it means to do justice, value life, or even what it means to be human, we must come back to the Bible, now more than ever. Garlow explains that he sees the political division in our culture and country as deeper than most people realize. He argues,
“I do not believe that the real separation in America is Right versus Left, but rather right versus wrong. Some principles are right. Some are not. The ones found in the Bible are always right. When followed, they bring great blessings.”
This is a crucial point for Christians to remember: What the Bible has to say about morals, ethics, good and evil, the role and limits of civil government, what truly leads to human flourishing, etc., isn’t ultimately a matter of Republican versus Democrat but rather right versus wrong. We must always be willing to take God’s side on any issue, regardless of who else is on it.
As the Scottish preacher John Knox once wonderfully noted, “A man with God is always in the majority.”
Still, even though God’s truth transcends partisan politics, we live in a country with only two main political parties that hold largely antithetical positions on some of the most important issues of our day, such as abortion, freedom of religion, marriage, and gender. Given what I argued above, this means that Christians must also be comfortable aligning with the party that adheres most closely to the Bible on these major questions. To that end, all Christians should know what the Bible actually teaches, and then compare that to the political platforms of our major parties. Such an exercise will be both profitable and eye-opening.
Practically speaking, in order to begin with the Bible, you should begin at the beginning. What I mean is that Christians must know, and believe, all the truth taught in Genesis 1-3 if we are going to approach politics from a biblical perspective.
These are some of the most important chapters in all of Scripture because they teach us the most fundamental truth about all of reality, particularly humanity. What we learn about mankind is that we are created beings, accountable to our Good Creator. Genesis 1-3 reminds us, forever, that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
The existence of God must ground everything for the Christian and for good politics. For without God, mankind is nothing more than an organic machine — which means anything goes. Without God, man tries to play God over men. Without God, the state tries to play God over many other men — always with disastrous and deadly results.
Why does beginning with the Bible for politics matter so much? Ultimately it is an act of love. Garlow explains,
“My calling is to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ (Luke 10:27). Yet part of loving my God and loving my neighbor is to attempt to connect the dots between how things are and how things could be if we would embrace scriptural principles. It is an act of love to my neighbor to make known what blessings could be ours if we would understand government from the One who thought of government, and who even spoke of it as something that would be shouldered by His Son (Isaiah 9:6).”
So “take up and read,” people of the book. Begin with the Bible, build from the Bible, and always let God’s Word have the final say over your political beliefs and actions.
And when asked why you believe what you do, and vote how you do, as a bold and active Christian in our public square, never be afraid to say, “Because the Bible tells me so.” It’s the best answer you could ever give.
Follow William on Twitter! @William_E_Wolfe
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.