An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Review of Bruce Ashford's Letters to an American Christian

Letters to an American Christian
Bruce Riley Ashford
ISBN 978-1535905138
Pbk, 256 pp, £12.85

In Letters to an American Christian, Ashford, professor of Professor of Theology and Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has done the Christian world a great service. He has, in a clear accessible way, provided an excellent introduction to many contemporary political and ethical issues from a broadly kuyperian perspective. I say broadly because not all kuyperians (me included) would agree with all of his positions (and I’m not sure Kuyper would either).

The letter format, which Ashford adopts, is a well recognised literary trope from Diego de San Pedro’s Prison of Love in 1845 to C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape and more recently, Jamie Smith’s Letters to a Young Calvinist. Ashford has utilised this approach to great effect. Ashford’s letters are written to Christian, a (fictional) new Christian studying political science and journalism at the (left-leaning) university of DuPont. He is also an intern at a conservative news outlet. 

The book has three parts thee parts. The first deals with ‘A Christian view of politics and public life’. The second with ‘A Christian view of hot-button issues’, this includes letters on religious liberty, free speech, racism, gun regulation and transgender. The final section, part three, deals with ‘A Christian hope for American politics’.

The first part is an excellent introduction to a Christian view of politics and culture. I have mapped this part: 

Here Ashford poses and answers some important questions. Questions such as such religion and politics mix? Is politics good? Does the gospel affect political policies? Does Christianity have anything to do with culture? Does the church have a role to play in politics?  He answers all in the affirmative. He draws upon Kuyper’s sphere sovereignty and Kuyper’s distinction between the church as organism (scattered) and organisation (gathered). This section concludes with a discussion and critique of the ideologies of liberalism, conservatism, nationalism and socialism.

In Part 2 he looks at several important hot-potato issues. These include free speech, political correctness, abortion, racism, small and big government, gun legislation, homosexuality, transgender, immigration, global warming, war and fake news - the contents itemised below show the range of topics covered. Inevitably, in such a short space justice can’t be done to all these issues, nevertheless, Ashford makes as an excellent attempt at mapping the options and alternative approaches. I wouldn’t agree with all his points, particular his approach to gun legislation and to his slight reservation about global warming, for example. 

Ashford is sensitive to both the scriptures and to culture - his approach is well grounded. There is, for example, no trite biblicism, such as cities had walls in the Bible, so we should build a wall across the Mexican border. Ashford’s approach is far more nuanced. For those who want to know what a Christian approach to many contemporary issues, this book will be a great place to begin.

Part 1: A Christian View of Politics and Public Life
Chapter 1: No Public Nudity, Please 
What is the relationship between religion and politics? 
Chapter 2: The Good of Politics 
Is politics a necessary evil or a positive good? 
Chapter 3: Jesus Is Lord and Congress Is Not 
What does the gospel have to do with politics? 
Chapter 4: Christianity Is Not Our Side Hustle 
What does Christianity have to do with culture? 
Chapter 5: The One Political Rally American Christians Shouldn’t Skip 
Where can I go to learn to be a good citizen? 
Chapter 6: Swim in Your Own Lane, Please
What is the best way to think of the relationship between church and state? 
Chapter 7: Let God Be True and Every Ideology a Liar 
To which political ideology should I subscribe? 

Part 2: A Christian View on Hot-Button Issues
Chapter 8: If You Can Keep It 
What is so important about religious liberty? 
Chapter 9: There Are No Safe Spaces in the Real World
Why should I value free speech? 
Chapter 10: Unborn Lives Matter 
Why shouldn’t a woman have the right to choose? 
Chapter 11: Black Lives Matter
What should I think of the Black Lives Matter movement? 
Chapter 12: Nobody Throws a Tantrum like a Politically Correct American
What’s so wrong with political correctness? 
Chapter 13: Beware the Giant Octopus 
Which is better: “small government” or “big government”? 
Chapter 14: No Need for Mullahs at 1 First Street
What is all the ruckus about Supreme Court interpretation? 
Chapter 15: Hitting the Bull’s-Eye on Gun Legislation 
How do I navigate the debate about restrictions on gun ownership? 
Chapter 16: The Best Education for a Twenty-First-Century American 
What’s so “great” about the great books? 
Chapter 17: One Man and One Woman 
How should I respond to Obergefell? 
Chapter 18: To Shave a Yak 
Should I be concerned about the environment? 
Chapter 19: What Hath Justice to Do with Mercy?
Why are Christians so divided about immigration reform? 
Chapter 20: I Pledge Allegiance
What should I think about the surge of “nationalism” in the United States? 
Chapter 21: Pray for Peace, Prepare for War 
What does it mean to engage in a “just war”? 
Chapter 22: Restoring the Self 
What is a Christian view of gender dysphoria and the transgender movement? 
Chapter 23: Fake News and Alternative Facts
How can I orient myself in a posttruth political environment? 

Part 3: A Christian Hope for American Politics
Chapter 24: If You Can Keep It (Reprise) 
If “Christian” is my primary identity, does “American” even matter? 
Chapter 25: Recovering the Lost Art of Christian Persuasion 
How should we relate to people who believe differently from us? 
Chapter 26: Public Witness from the Political Margins
How should we respond to the marginalization of historic Christianity?