How can theology inform our
political thinking and engagement?
As Christians we are called, wherever we are – whether the public or
private sphere – to be informed and
to live according to what we know
to be God’s purposes for human
creation. Theology helps us understand – through its articulation of
what Scripture tells us and how it
applies to our lives – what God’s
purposes are for us as human beings. That’s fundamental. Theology
can inform anything we do.
How do we decide which goals and
values should shape our political
We live in a society in which [Chris-tians] are a minority. The question
“THERE ARE TIMES THAT NEED THEOLOGY
SO URGENTLY THAT ONE MIGHT SAY
THAT…I T IS THE HUMAN AFFAIR.”
– KARL BARTH, WORLD WAR II–ERA THEOLOGIAN
Any Canadian with a social media account and a handful of opinionated friends may remember 2016 as the year when political discourse sank to a whole new low. Yet 2017 was only days old when our country’s
public broadcaster offered a not-so-subtle reminder
that this reality is not just an American one.
A national morning radio program presented a dis-
cussion about the upcoming Conservative Party
leadership election, featuring a team of political
strategists. A few minutes in, one of the strategists
disclosed, “The two most important emotions in pol-
itics are hate and fear. And if you can harness those
emotions . . . it can take you a long way.”
Hate and fear are powerful, and recognizing that
party strategists may deliberately try to manipulate
them explains a great deal about contemporary pol-
itics. But feelings shaped by politicians, feelings that
come and go, should not be the primary guide to any
thinking Christian’s political engagement.
The New Testament clearly teaches the only thing
we are to hate is evil, and the only thing we need fear
is God Himself. It also teaches us that we should allow
God to transform us by renewing our minds.
So how do we co-operate to allow God to direct our
political choices and activities?
One of the best resources is theology – the critical
study of ideas that have to do with God, and with what
God has to do with our world. Faith Today senior
writer Patricia Paddey spoke with four theologians and
learned sound theology isn’t just important for pastors
and professors. It’s important for every Christian’s
every concern – including political ones. Following are
highlights from those conversations.
is, What kind of a society is going
to allow us to hold our values, pri-
vately and publicly, with the least
amount of pushback? Are Chris-
tians going to be permitted to order
their lives according to their faith?
Who is going to let us do that?
The primary power Christians
have in the political sphere is that
of witness. The way we live and
order our lives witnesses to the
transcendent God revealed in Jesus
Christ. Our ability to do this will
make a difference in the larger
public sphere, so our capacity to
witness is important.
The early Church changed the
political order of the world that
way. How Christians treated one
another, the whole reorganizing of
life together among rich and poor,
widows, slaves – these were social
realities, driven by deep gospel
commitments and understandings, and people noticed it. That’s
where conversion came. So our
freedom is for the sake of our witness, not for the sake of our safety.
Christians should have no interest
in their safety.
One of the key political acts of
the Christian should be aimed at
the integrity of the Church’s life,
not at the larger society. We really
should be concerned about whether the Church itself has a coherent
life, so that over time and across
geography there is such a thing as a
Christian point of view. We ob-
PROFESSOR OF HISTORICAL
THEOLOGY AT WYCLIFFE COLLEGE
(UNIVERSI T Y OF TORON TO)
Author of A Brutal Unity: The
Spiritual Politics of the Christian
Church (Baylor University Press, 2012)