First great new books of the New Year on Faith and Politics

We’ve been waiting–well, some of us have—for some really thoughtful, readable, balanced, new books on thebeyond left and right.jpg relationship of faith and political life.  You know I’ve got a short list of our favorites over at the “Vocation” list at the website (along with helpful suggestions for books on most other vocations–science, art, business, education, counseling, etc.)  There are some standards that we most always recommend (like Paul Marshall, Alan Storkey, for more serious thinkers, David Koyzis.)  Now, though, there are fresh new ones, and we’re eager to tell you about them.  Not everybody cares about this stuff, so we’re glad for this extended circle of Hearts & Minds readers.

Baker Books continues to put out extraordinary books within the evangelical tradition, books that are a far cry from the simplistic, and too often mean, approach of the Christian right, but yet seemed rooted more firmly in the Biblical worldview than many anti-Christian-right books, that are often reactionary, shallow and more aligned with the secular left than serious Christian thinking.  Baker has done it again!

Want a balanced, thoughtful, non-aligned guide that not only argues for an independent, Biblical alternative but one that also explains American politics, examines the practices of good citizenship and could serve as a primer for renewed commitment to being good citizens?  Look no further than the brand new book by Amy E. Black, Beyond Left and Right: Helping Christians Make Sense of American Politics (Baker; $15.99.)  With endorsements from the likes of Mark Noll, Books & Culture’s John Wilson, The Christian Century’s Jason Byasee, and congressman both red and blue, the rave reviews themselves will make you happy to have this.  It explains all sorts of things that basic journalists and pundits and preachers too often do not;  for instance, the difference between a theological conservative and a political conservative.  What the Constitution says about church and state.  Why some people say that the U.S. is, or isn’t, a Christian nation.  There are bunches of side-bars, charts, boxes and quotes, making it a treasure trove of information and very useful as a study book.

This is an inspiring book, a call to take part in the process as Christians.  As Byasee puts it, “This call to temper political zealotry with love of God, neighbor, and enemy will be of use to churches and academics alike.”  It is clear, easily understood, and humble.  Ms Black is a professor of politics at Wheaton, and has written widely in her field.  Get this book.  Let people see the title.  I’ll bet that alone will generate some conversations, and maybe could be the inspiration to start a book club or study group.

Two more have come last over the last weeks, apparently being marketed together, rather a point and counter-point.  They both look good, although I’ve only read in the first:  Tony Campolo’s new Red Letter Christians : A Citizen’s Guide to Faith & Politics  (Regal; $19.99) sports an endorsing quote from his friend President Bill Clinton, and blurbs on the back from Shane Claiborne, Jim Wallis, and other “red letter” types.  You can imagine it’s basic perspective, and I applaud Tony for his gracious call to be faithful to Christ where it counts, following his ways in care for the poor.  He weighs in with powerful stories and good Bible study on all sorts of political issues and it is surprisingly moving at times.  The companion volume is called A New Kind of Conservative (Regal; $19.99) by Joel C. Hunter.  With a forward by Steve Brown, you can gather that this is a vibrantly evangelical approach, centrist and thoughtful, offering a traditional perspective that is both ethically conservative, Republican, and yet firmly committed to concern for the poor and policies that protect the Earth.  Ronald Sider observes that Hunter’s view is indicative of a shift to the political center among evangelicals, and that this moving towards a consistent ethic of life, while not pacifist, is similar to the  traditional Catholic social teaching.

There will soon be blockbuster books on this stuff;  Jim Wallis and Ron Sider and Os Guinness all have books coming soon.  These books which I’ve mentioned today may not be as well publicized, but I am confident that they will serve you well.   Ms  Black’s is very important and balanced and the other too are very nicely done, handsome, not toooo long, laden with Biblical insight, stories of public life, and passionate invitations to think and care and act.

We want to encourage political discourse of a uniquely Christian sort this season, so we now offer a good discount incentive to purchase them, now, through our mail order services here at Hearts & Minds.  Basically, you guy two, and get the third completely free.  God bless America and good ‘ol capitalism.  Just ask for the red white & blue blog special.

buy all three books
$15.99 savings


Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street Dallastown, PA 17313   717.246.3333

8 thoughts on “First great new books of the New Year on Faith and Politics

  1. Awesome! I’d wonder how you might suggest that Red Letter Christians contrasts with Beyond Left and Right…
    I always value your insights. Thank you much, my brother.

  2. Thanks so much for this great question…I sorta hinted at it, I guess, but I will say it more directly.
    This is an oversimplification, but, basically, Tony is (politically speaking) a liberal democrat and Joel Hunter is a moderate republican. Tony looks at everything from minimum wage legislation (for) and militarism (fair-minded, as he explains various views, but shares his own bias towards peacemaking), gay rights, gun control, Palestine, AIDS, immigration, etc, etc. It is pretty comprehensive, the first time he’s given advice about all these various policy matters. He is strong on a radical critique of injustice and is eager to offers views on all sorts of issues. Even though he makes it clear that he wants to extrapolate from a Biblical view, drawing on theological prinicples–esp the red letters of Jesus—and he says he’s neither liberal or conservative, he ends up with policies that sound pretty much like the standard line of the dems. (With a few exceptions; he’s against abortion, for instance.)
    Hunter is, as is often typical of the more thoughtful conservatives, more philosophical, working out of a consistent and coherent framework and perspective on the role of the individual, the nature of authority, the task and limits of the state. He, too, looks at issues, but while Tony’s is arranged, chapter by chapter, on issues and topics, Hunter is more thematic. He’s no far right zealot, but he’s clearly in the conservative tradition, and sees the Biblical framework leading us towards more typically republican stances. It is interesting, though, that he is a new kind of conservative, not a market-driven neo-con, with the Biblical teaching about justice for the poor in view. As former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson has written, the “compassionate conservative” slogan never really materialized in this recent White House…
    I think that most political conservatives will find Campolo a bit too blunt, a bit skeptical of his liberal politics, although I sure wish they’d take him seriously and hear him out. His is a great book even if I have some quibbles, but even the Clinton quote on the cover will turn some people off and they won’t give him a chance. (Of course some folks, like the fans of Shane C. may think he’s too traditional and not edgy enough!)
    I think that many who see themselves as a part of the “Christian right” will be stretched by the thoughtful, moderate and civil tone or Rev. Hunter’s book, who I hope they’d respect. Neither author allows the standard far right view of Falwell or Robertson or Dobson stand unchallenged. Tony is much more prophetic in his call for justice and critical of their role; Hunter seems more thoughtful in his call for a coherent framework that offers something other than the secular left and the religious right and while he is critical of some of the Christian right, it seems he’s addressing them as a fellow-conservative.
    So,while there is some overlap, they really are coming at things from different places and end up with somewhat different solutions. They both agree that we should be intentionally Christian, consistently guided by Biblical principles, and remain humble and gracious. And that is pretty great.

  3. There are another couple of books coming out soon on this topic, Byron. E.J. Dionne’s book is called Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics After the Religious Right. Randall Balmer’s book is God In the White House: A History. How Faith Shaped the Presidency from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush
    See you at Jubilee.
    Howard Wilson

  4. Byron,
    What about Ron Sider’s new book, _The Scandal of Evangelical Politics: Why Are Christians Missing the Chance to Really Change the World?_
    Have you not received it yet? I’m looking forward to this one too!

  5. Hey, Bob (and anybody else following this): I replied to you here right away, but somehow did’nt “approve” my own comment. Ha.
    You know I’m friends with Ron and a big booster of his good stuff. I’ve always had close ties with the Anabaptist tradition—-there are a few of us reformational pacifists around, serving King Jesus as citizens, trying to develop a Christian mind for political philosophy, and take Christ’s specific commands seriously as part of that. So, yep, we will be promoting his forthcoming and eagerly awaited work on politics I hope it will be more than a critique of the Christian right, and will serve as a follow up to the NAE document he helped write, “For the Health of the Nation.” The book he edited with Diane Knippers about that was both ecumenical and thoughtfully evangelical, theologically rich, and weighed in on various issues and topic. A great anthology!
    You know Jim Wallis has a new book coming any day, too; I’ve read some of it already. Ron’s, though, will be more intentionally evangelical and explicitly Biblical, and will ask the question the Kuyperians (and influences like Stott and Schaeffer, even) taught him to ask so well, about political theory, the presuppositions that guide our view of the State, a comprehensive worldview that relates faith and citizenship in ways that get beyond rhetoric.
    I love Jim W, especially in this one, writing more as a preacher, but fear that his engagement with the ecumenical movements and the democratic party, helpful as it is as a reaction to the “Christian right”, has driven him to lofty (and helpful and good) moral rhetoric (“getting to higher ground”) but has removed him from some of the distinctively evangelical and thoroughly Biblical thinking of guys like Sider or Skillen.
    So, anyway, yes, yes, we know about the forthcoming Sider, but it isn’t due out for a few weeks. ESA is hosting a conference in Philly on faithful political thinking and action, mid-March stay tuned from more info…
    Thanks for all you do, your faithful efforts, your blog and your activism. And your book-buying! See ya soon.

Comments are closed.