“If there’s one book I should read about faith and politics, what should it be?” Who could really provide an adequate answer to such a question? Should it be voluminous classics like Augustine’s City of God or Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica? What about Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism or Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and other writings? Or perhaps we should look toward more recent contributions such as Oliver O’ Donovan’s The Desire of the Nations or Richard John Neuhaus’ The Naked Public Square. Finding the one right book would be at best a project of great difficulty, and at worst an exercise in futility.
That being said, if you are looking for one brief book to help you find direction for Christian engagement in the public sphere at this moment in the United States, let me turn your attention to the recent work by Justin Giboney, Michael Wear, and Chris Butler, Compassion & Conviction: The AND Campaign’s Guide to Faithful Civic Engagement (IVP 2020). In contrast to Augustine’s mammoth work in City of God, the authors here provide a crash course in basic civics and Christian political engagement in under 150 pages.
Helpfully rooted in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) and the Great Requirement (Micah 6:8), Giboney, Wear, and Butler outline a political engagement for Christians that holds simultaneously to love (including justice) and truth (including moral order). It is from this framework that the book takes its name; that is, Christian political engagement involves compassion and conviction.
Building out from the framework constructed in the first chapters, the authors carry forward by exploring a range of topics: how we approach partnerships with those who do not hold our belief system, understanding and utilizing rhetoric in a Christian manner, the thorny topic of politics and race, appropriate advocacy and protest, and the need for civility in the public sphere. Each chapter brings together well-considered biblical and historical thought on the topic with a series of very practical ways to step forward practically in relation to that topic.
Underlying the entire book is the belief that as Christians we can meaningfully engage in the public sphere, even in politics, for the glory of God in a way that does not either forego compassion for others or surrender biblical convictions. While it may not be the first book to recommend from all time on faith and politics, it is certainly an extraordinarily helpful book for our time in the United States as we approach the November election.