"One Nation Under God" by Ashford and Pappalardo. A Review.

One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics
Bruce E. Ashford and Chris Pappalardo
B&H Publishing Group
One LifeWay Plaza
Nashville, TN. 37234

ISBN: 9781433690693; December 2015; $14.99
Reviewed by Rev. Dr. Michael Philliber for Deus Misereatur

5 Stars out of 5

It’s that time! It happens every couple of years when the American blood pressure spikes, the nation grabs it’s communal chest, staggers and stumbles, all red-faced and in cold-sweats. It’s called election season, and by all reports on social media, news accounts, video feeds, journal articles, coffee shop chats and blog posts, it’s the end of America once again! The sun is about to turn black, the moon blood red, stars are on the verge of falling out of the sky to crash into the earth. Into this national apocalyptic and apoplectic ailment steps a new, 176 page hardback, “One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics” that seeks to bring sensibility and solidity. Bruce Riley Ashford, professor of Theology and Culture, provost and dean of faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Chris Pappalardo, lead researcher and writer at The Summit Church, have banded together to present this easy-to-read guide into the hands of Christians from all walks of life. Their aim is “to share a perspective on politics that tempers the expectations of those with inflated hopes, empowers those with deflated hopes, and equips every Christian to apply Christ’s love in the muddied arena of politics” (2).

The book unfolds into two sections. The first six chapters work out the biblical, and Christian, backstory of our world and politics, and then move forward to the sane, stable and sound reasons Christians can engage with politics. The authors recognize that there will be tensions in the political arena because of where we are in human and philosophical history; “The gospel story is deeply at odds with modern political narratives because each looks to a different place for history’s true meaning” (32). Therefore, wisely, they remind us that we “should not expect more from politics and public life than can be had in this time between times” because infusing “politics with majestic hopes will only lead to crushing disappointment” (56). This means that as Christians involve themselves in statecraft we exercise a public righteousness and civility where we “hold our convictions, but out of love for our neighbor and concern for our witness, we hold them in a gracious and kind manner” (58). Ashford and Pappalardo rightly see the importance of civility in our public discourse, and describe it as “not spinelessness but self-control; it is the capacity to show love and grace particularly when we disagree with others and even when we dislike them.” And this civility has two sides, civil speech and civil attitude (58-9).

The second segment of “One Nation Under God” attempts to address seven hot subjects, and how Christians might persuasively speak to their fellow citizens. The topics include life and death issues, sexuality, economics, the environment, race, immigration and war. The authors workout their thoughts from Scripture and Christian convictions (thick reasoning) and then imagine ways to bridge into the secular square to speak insightfully to those who reject both sources of authority (thin reasoning).Though some readers may find the directions and conclusions more conventional, or less rigid, than they like, nevertheless they will be helped by the mental exercise presented in these chapters. The concluding pages bring in Augustine and his approach in The City of God and how this can be an astute model for Christian participation in the civic arena, because we “Christians should be, without qualification, the heart and strength of every good social effort” (139).

 “One Nation Under God” is a perceptive and peaceable volume. Throughout the material the authors thoughtfully interact with several thinkers, to include Lesslie Newbigin, N.T. Wright, Martin Luther King Jr., Richard John Neuhaus, Abraham Kuyper, and Richard Mouw; and have crafted a handy, useable resource for Christians as we think sanely about our Nation, elections, and our public responsibilities. The book would be ideal for discussion groups, church leadership, and even Adult Christian Education classes (it doesn’t support or promote any candidate or party). It would also be worth passing a copy along to Christian friends and family. I salute Ashford and Pappalardo for their excellent work.

Thanks to B&H Publishing Group for providing, upon my request, the free copy of “One Nation Under God” used for this review. The assessments are mine given without restrictions or requirements (as per Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255).


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