The Gospel Coalition

When it comes to engaging and influencing culture too many Christians think too highly of political activism. As Vern Poythress has pointed out, the political arena is not the most strategic arena for cultural influence:
Bible-believing Christians have not achieved much in politics because they have not devoted themselves to the larger arena of cultural conflict. Politics mostly follows culture rather than leading it. A temporary victory in the voting booth does not reverse a downward moral trend driven by cultural gatekeepers in news media, entertainment, art, and education. Politics is not a cure-all.

After decades of political activism on the part of Evangelical Christians (so much so that the average person in our country now thinks Evangelicalism is primarily a social and moral movement with no connection to the Evangel--good news) we're beginning to understand that the dynamics and complexities of cultural change differ radically from political mobilization. Even political insiders recognize that years of political effort on behalf of Evangelical Christians have generated little cultural gain. In an article entitled "Religious Right, R.I.P.," columnist Cal Thomas, himself an Evangelical Christian, wrote, "Thirty years of trying to use government to stop abortion, preserve opposite-sex marriage, improve television and movie content and transform culture into the conservative Evangelical image has failed." American culture continues its steep moral and cultural decline into hedonism and materialism. Why? As Richard John Neuhaus once observed, "Christianity in America is not challenging the 'habits of the heart' and 'habits of the mind' that dominate American culture."

Virtually every social scientist that I've ever talked to agrees that what happens in New York (finance), Hollywood (entertainment), Silicon Valley (technology), and Miami (fashion) has a far greater impact on how our culture thinks about reality than what happens in Washington, DC (politics). It's important for us to understand that politics are reflective, not directive. That is, the political arena is the place where policies are made which reflect the values of our culture---the habits of heart and mind---that are being shaped by these other, more strategic arenas. As the Scottish politician Andrew Fletcher said, "Let me write the songs of a nation; I don't care who writes its laws."

One poignant example of this fact is that Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Brittany Spears, Oprah Winfrey, Shakira, Kim Kardashian, and Nicki Minaj combine for just over 200,000,000 twitter followers compared to Barack Obama's and Mitt Romney's combined 23,000,000. Haha! Funny...not really. Interesting and telling, though.

So, as important as this political season is, and as important as it is to be interested and involved as a citizen of this country, let's keep some perspective. "Politics is not a cure all."


Comments:

Charlie Johnson

October 28, 2012 at 11:56 PM

Some concerning comments here... I feel like too many people view the decision between politics and evangelism as an "either/or" scenario... I believe we should vigorously be involved in both!

Charlie Johnson, CPC
http://www.nabpc.org

Paul ST Jean

October 27, 2012 at 11:06 AM

ditto steve

John Thomson

October 26, 2012 at 03:48 PM

amen.

Matthew Morizio

October 25, 2012 at 12:27 PM

Well said, Tullian! Sadly, politicians are actors too. Maybe not on Broadway or Hollywood, but actors just the same. However, the show that they put on isn't as entertaining as Iron Man or Captain America.

David Arthur

October 25, 2012 at 09:30 AM

I thought we were in trouble with DC leading the way - but now that I realize is Hollywood - I realize we are in further trouble... I wonder what the connection is between these two powers? Is there a common denominator? To quote Dana Carvey as the church lady on SNL - "Could it be..... SATAN??"

Jim Chandler

October 25, 2012 at 07:07 AM

While I agree to a point, it appears we do need to show what we as Christians believe and stand for. We must reject the idea of tolerance. In the end, on the judgment day God will not be judging on the issue of tolerance, but on our relationship with Christ and that should affect our culture around us and our political standings.

Steve Martin

October 25, 2012 at 03:29 PM

We are in trouble.

Things aren't that bad...they are a lot WORSE than that.

We are going to need a Savior. Not a self-help guru or well-meaning politician.

mike t

October 25, 2012 at 01:33 PM

sad...i agree with the concept of this article and love the ideas presented. but why do you need to use bad math to prove the point?

adding the twitter followers of nine people and contrasting them to the followers of two people just isn't fair.

9 vs 2...why did you do that?

barack obama has the 6th most followers (21,310,515) on twitter per friendorfollow.com. romney on the other hand only has 1,582,905 followers...and doesn't crack the top 100.

the only 5 people ahead of obama are lady gaga (30,627,007), justin bieber (29,382,038), katy perry (28,185,206), rihanna (26,393,775) and britney spears (21,352,389). which that in and of itself proves your point and is sad...without bad math.

of course adding the followers of 9 of the top 10 twitter accounts and comparing them to 1 member of the top 10 and anyone else not in the top 10 will result in a very skewed equation. using this line of reasoning in your argument does more to discredit the argument than it does to resolve the issue.

please avoid the hyper-sensational approach.

Mike Erich The Mad Theologian

October 24, 2012 at 11:19 PM

I agree that we can put too much trust in political action. I like Luther's description of civil law. It is like a muzzle on a wild animal, it does not change the nature of the animal, it only keeps it from biting you. It has its use but it is limited.

Rob

October 24, 2012 at 05:05 PM

Although politics is generally downstream of culture, there is also some flow the other way. Civil laws can have the effect of shifting the baseline of what is considered morally normative. For example, race equality legislation can influence, over time, a society's perception of what is acceptable and what is not with regards to discrimination. On the other hand, no amount of law will produce the love in an individual's heart to combat deep-set racism.

Steve Martin

October 24, 2012 at 04:04 PM

All that we do (politically) is merely temporal.

But we do it. And we certainly ought never hook the gospel to it, as so many churches do.

NO POLITICAL GOSPELS!

Paul St Jean

October 24, 2012 at 01:55 PM

Pastor
I am more interested in the politics of our country more than ever and have a better understanding of what is actually going on which is a little depressing.

sean carlson

November 3, 2012 at 02:26 PM

Agree. Has Evangelical's particular approach to Politics in the last couple of decades been a case of "penny wise, pound foolish?". Did we inadvertently veil the gospel to our contemporaries? Has our public witness (whatever it may have been)been further diminished?

Christianity & Politics | Bondage Of Will

April 4, 2014 at 03:39 PM

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