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The Good of Politics: A Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Introduction (Engaging Culture)

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In this addition to the acclaimed Engaging Culture series, a highly respected author and Christian thinker offers a principled, biblical perspective on engaging political culture as part of one's calling. James Skillen believes that constructive Christian engagement depends on the belief that those made in the image of God are created not only for family life, agriculture, In this addition to the acclaimed Engaging Culture series, a highly respected author and Christian thinker offers a principled, biblical perspective on engaging political culture as part of one's calling. James Skillen believes that constructive Christian engagement depends on the belief that those made in the image of God are created not only for family life, agriculture, education, science, industry, and the arts but also for building political communities, justly ordered for the common good. He argues that God made us to be royal stewards of public governance from the outset and that the biblical story of God's creation, judgment, and redemption of all things in Jesus Christ has everything to do with politics and government. In this irenic, nonpartisan treatment of an oft-debated topic, Skillen critically assesses current political realities and helps readers view responsibility in the political arena as a crucial dimension of the Christian faith.


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In this addition to the acclaimed Engaging Culture series, a highly respected author and Christian thinker offers a principled, biblical perspective on engaging political culture as part of one's calling. James Skillen believes that constructive Christian engagement depends on the belief that those made in the image of God are created not only for family life, agriculture, In this addition to the acclaimed Engaging Culture series, a highly respected author and Christian thinker offers a principled, biblical perspective on engaging political culture as part of one's calling. James Skillen believes that constructive Christian engagement depends on the belief that those made in the image of God are created not only for family life, agriculture, education, science, industry, and the arts but also for building political communities, justly ordered for the common good. He argues that God made us to be royal stewards of public governance from the outset and that the biblical story of God's creation, judgment, and redemption of all things in Jesus Christ has everything to do with politics and government. In this irenic, nonpartisan treatment of an oft-debated topic, Skillen critically assesses current political realities and helps readers view responsibility in the political arena as a crucial dimension of the Christian faith.

30 review for The Good of Politics: A Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Introduction (Engaging Culture)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    In our current toxic political climate one might ask the question, "can anything good come of politics?" James W. Skillen would answer that affirmatively. His main contention is that to be created in the image of God means, among other things, that we are political creatures and that political life, along with things like work and family, is part of God's creation intention for us. It is not a consequence of the fall. Like other aspects of the human condition, political life certainly has been d In our current toxic political climate one might ask the question, "can anything good come of politics?" James W. Skillen would answer that affirmatively. His main contention is that to be created in the image of God means, among other things, that we are political creatures and that political life, along with things like work and family, is part of God's creation intention for us. It is not a consequence of the fall. Like other aspects of the human condition, political life certainly has been distorted by the fall but part of our call as the redeemed is to bring a redemptive influence into political life. After laying out the biblical basis for this position in Part One, Skillen goes on in Part Two to survey how the church through history has addressed itself to this question. He covers Augustine's two cities, the ascendancy of the church over civil government, and the splintering of authority and the two kingdom approach of the Reformers, particularly Luther. Finally he moves to the contemporary scene and the influences of Hobbes and Locke on the American Experiment. Along the way, he engages the Anabaptist alternative of Hauerwas and Yoder and others that advocates for the kingdom of God as its own political entity and that the church, which is called to peace, should abstain from political engagement which inevitably requires the use of force in restraining evil, including lethal force. He argues that while this may allow the church to maintain its purity, it raises questions about the character of a God who ordains government to restrain evil through the power of the sword. My difficulty with this contention is that these questions are unavoidable no matter whether you are Anabaptist or not and go back to the question of why God permits evil at all. However, like those who would ascribe to some form of just war theory and who take this seriously, he argues that many instances of warfare do not meet this test and should be opposed by Christians. This last is covered significantly in the third part of the book where Skillen engages the questions of how Christians engage in politics. He explores hot button issues like marriage, family, economics, and the environment. Because this book is an "introduction" he covers a lot of ground. His most interesting sections to me were his discussions of citizenship and the responsibilities all of us have in a republic, and his thoughts on politics in a globalized setting--avoiding nationalism and one world government options while allowing for various regional and other international regimes to deal with the international issues that are inevitable. In this discussion he argues that our situation is not one of a clash of civilizations between country blocks but rather competing claims within many of our countries: secularism, Christianity, capitalism, Islam to name a few. The one thing I found most impractical was his proposal for "proportional representation" in the House of Representatives of national parties based on voting percentages for each party in elections. What he is trying to do is create a context where parties address national concerns rather than simply being split into electoral base politics. What seems to have a better (though still a long shot to me) chance is redistricting reform that requires districts to make geographic sense and to be demographically representative of a state's population as far as that is geographically possible. The current gerrymandering of political districts means that one only need cater to one's base to get elected rather than representing all the people. At least both Skillen and I agree on the problem that makes the House so dysfunctional. On balance, this is a helpful proposal for how Christians might think about political life and exercise redemptive influence in politics. The most important part of this book is his argument for politics as a result, not of the fall, but the creation. His survey of historical positions is also helpful. His exploration of contemporary issues seemed somewhat cursory, even though he is thoughtful and nuanced. Yet he shows some of the directions Christians might go in pursuing these issues in greater depth.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tim Hoiland

    For decades, James Skillen has been thinking deeply and carefully about politics and public policy from an evangelical perspective. Despite the culture wars raging to his right and to his left, he has managed to maintain a degree of nuance and sanity that is all too rare among political commentators, Christian or otherwise. Needless to say, he’s someone I’m committed to learning from. The founder and former executive director of the Center for Public Justice, a non-partisan think tank that seeks For decades, James Skillen has been thinking deeply and carefully about politics and public policy from an evangelical perspective. Despite the culture wars raging to his right and to his left, he has managed to maintain a degree of nuance and sanity that is all too rare among political commentators, Christian or otherwise. Needless to say, he’s someone I’m committed to learning from. The founder and former executive director of the Center for Public Justice, a non-partisan think tank that seeks to apply Christian principles to public policy issues, Skillen has long advocated a robust view of civic responsibility, believing that Christians are called to collaborate with others for the sake of the common good. He has written a number of books, including Recharging the American Experiment: Principled Pluralism for Genuine Civic Community and The Scattered Voice: Christians at Odds in the Public Square. His latest work, The Good of Politics: A Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Introduction, can best be understood as a natural continuation of his life’s work. Skillen begins the book by situating his exploration of political engagement in the story of God’s redemptive work in scripture. He emphasizes a theology of the kingdom in which Jesus, who is Lord over all, is not out to obliterate kings and kingdoms but rather to establish true justice in their midst. He goes on to reflect on the political significance of the biblical teaching that all people are created in the image of God. As image bearers, we experience blessings and assume responsibilities, including political ones. The second part of the book provides a sweeping historical perspective on political thought, spanning from Polycarp, Constantine, Augustine, and Aquinas, all the way to Calvin, Luther, and the Anabaptist Reformers. The book concludes with a section of reflections on what it looks like for Christians to engage politics today. Skillen pays some attention to particular political issues—like marriage, family, economics, and the environment—but rather than prescribing political solutions, he’s far more interested in providing a framework for thinking about civic engagement and public policy. Skillen structures the book in this way for a very clear reason. He wants to show that despite everything that has changed in human society over thousands of years, certain principles remain constant: "In the course of history, from the time of God’s covenant with Israel at Sinai until today, many things have changed, for better and for worse: the responsibilities of governing officials, the structure of states, the patterns of economic life, the obligations of family members, and most other conditions and institutions of human society. Nevertheless, the normative precepts of God still stand: love your neighbor, do justice, be merciful, be good stewards, walk humbly with God. The questions for us today are essentially the same as those of ancient times, but we must try to answer them in circumstances of greater societal differentiation, a shrinking globe, and a rapidly expanding world population." Unfortunately, though the book checks in at around 200 pages, it tries to do too much. Its three sections—identified in the subtitle as “biblical, historical, and contemporary”—probably belong to three separate books. While it’s important to consider how the Bible’s teachings should inform our civic engagement, large portions of the first section seem tangential. And though there is much to learn from the ways political thought has developed across time and space, attempting to summarize two millennia of world history in a little under 70 pages is inevitably going to be problematic. The third section, in which we turn to contemporary applications, likely gets closest to what readers would have anticipated from the beginning in a book framed as an “introduction” to thoughtful political engagement. Those already familiar with Skillen will be familiar with the distinctly Kuyperian perspective that frames the concepts in this book—concepts that draw heavily on the thinking of the Dutch politician, journalist, and theologian Abraham Kuyper. At times the influence is overt, but more often it’s implied, as for instance when he makes a case for “principled pluralism” and when he argues for different institutions to be able to do what only they can without other institutions unnecessarily intruding—what Kuyper and his followers refer to as “sphere sovereignty.” At certain points he pits his own Kuyperian views in contrast to both the libertarian and liberal inheritors of John Locke’s political paradigm (loosely representing Republicans and Democrats in the contemporary United States). He also writes in contrast to the Anabaptist political vision of John Howard Yoder, as well as Yoder’s contemporary heirs like Stanley Hauerwas and Richard Hays. Like Skillen, I believe that there is a good side to politics, despite all the evidence to the contrary. And sharing the broad strokes of the Kuyperian view, I believe that political life is a legitimate Christian calling. Though there are ways that The Good of Politics could have been better, I have no doubt that this book will help many as they seek to navigate the messiness of political engagement as followers of Jesus and citizens of his already-but-not-yet kingdom. - See more at: http://timhoiland.com/2014/07/the-goo...

  3. 4 out of 5

    April

    The first few pages seemed promising. Then came his bizarre theory regarding the seven days of creation(pg.22) and how it relates to everything else. By page 37 this creation view of his is getting weirder and weirder. I'm not sure I'm gonna be able to stomach reading the rest of the book. I'm gonna try but it's gonna be slow. The first few pages seemed promising. Then came his bizarre theory regarding the seven days of creation(pg.22) and how it relates to everything else. By page 37 this creation view of his is getting weirder and weirder. I'm not sure I'm gonna be able to stomach reading the rest of the book. I'm gonna try but it's gonna be slow.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Christine

  5. 5 out of 5

    Steve

  6. 5 out of 5

    Terry Feix

  7. 4 out of 5

    Julie

  8. 4 out of 5

    Brooks Robinson

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lakeisha verly flore

  10. 4 out of 5

    cyrise Brown

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ayub

  12. 4 out of 5

    Colette Matarese

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jason Huether

  14. 4 out of 5

    Payton

  15. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Harris

  16. 5 out of 5

    Brandon Blake

  17. 4 out of 5

    Frankline Kamenju

  18. 5 out of 5

    Timothy Deaton

  19. 4 out of 5

    PEDRO PAULO HAMILTON

  20. 4 out of 5

    Clinton Stockwell

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Hwang

  22. 5 out of 5

    Antonio T.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mathenge Joseph

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mary Alex

  25. 5 out of 5

    James Smith

    Watch for my review in Comment magazine: http://cardus.ca/comment Watch for my review in Comment magazine: http://cardus.ca/comment

  26. 4 out of 5

    Chelsea

  27. 4 out of 5

    ANDREA DANGA

  28. 4 out of 5

    David

  29. 5 out of 5

    Charles

  30. 5 out of 5

    Thiago Almeida

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