When I look at the comments section here, in the channel of The Christian Post that focuses on business, finance and economics, I note that often, instead of attempting to apply the Bible to these topics, commenters deny that Christianity has anything to say about them at all. Or they deny that Christians should apply their faith in the broader culture. Or sometimes they even deny that a Christian publication should publish any content about culture, politics, economics or finance at all, but should rather stick to "the Gospel."
For example, look at this fascinating article by Bible scholar, Mark Horne, who has written important commentaries on the Gospel of Mark and more recently on the Book of Proverbs. Pastor Horne argues that as Christians engage with our nation, we should heed Solomon's warnings about the tendency for anger to be counterproductive. We should not fight political tyranny with anger, because anger itself is a kind of tyranny. This analysis is fascinating in a good way, but what is fascinating in a not-good way is how much of the comments section is filled by people who simply deny that Christians should have any political goals. This world-flight cultural surrender is quite common and it is one of the reasons our culture is declining so rapidly.
This idea that Christians should be interested in something they call "the Gospel" - and not politics - shows a highly truncated concept of what the word "Gospel" means. A gospel, an euangelion (the Greek word in the New Testament translated as "Gospel" or "good news"), is the announcement of a new emperor. In the pagan context in which the New Testament was written, it would have referred to the announcement that a new Caesar has ascended to power. In the Jewish context in which the New Testament was written, it referred to the coming of the Messiah, who was both a religious and political figure, particularly as prophesied in Isaiah. The word translated as Gospel has clear political implications within its semantic range, and the fact that the English word we use to translate it no longer carries those implications is so much the worse for our understanding of the Bible.
I'm increasingly seeing conservative ministers play down or deny any political or cultural content in the Gospel. A friend who is a conservative Christian journalist recently tweeted out a reference to something that Pastor Alistair Begg has said:
"The gospel was not preached in order that the culture of Ephesus might be changed. The gospel was not preached so that the temple of Diana would be pulled down. The gospel was not preached so that Christian people could have a kind of better lifestyle for themselves as a result of the benefits of the gospel message spilling out into the culture. No, the gospel was preached for no other reason than that men and women might be saved."TruthForLife
While I admire Pastor Begg a great deal, I think this statement involves a false dichotomy. Is not bondage to false gods like Diana one of the things we are saved from? After all, Paul says they are truly demons. The pagan religion of Diana was economically oppressive, which is why idol makers were a major force behind the pagan riots against Paul. Is that not one of the things we are saved from—bondage to exploitative superstitions?
When I responded to this journalist, suggesting that this Gospel vs. Culture approach is a false dichotomy, one of her followers weighed in on her side, writing, "In 1 Cor 15:1ff, Paul lists out what is most important (his words) he then defines the gospel he preached, nowhere is cultural transformation mentioned or even hinted."
But it seems to me that the whole passage is rife with cultural transformation, culminating in,
"For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. For He has put all things in subjection under His feet…"1 Corinthians 15:25-27
It doesn't list cultural transformation as a separate category because it is in the "all things in subjection under His feet."
John says that "The son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil." (1 John 3:8) Are not pornography, abortion, debauchery, Communism, Fascism, etc. among the works of the devil? If so, then preaching the Gospel of the Son directly confronts those evils, and changing them is part of that preaching. Culture is one of the things either clean or defiled which comes out of the heart (Mark 7:14 and following.)
The Fruit of the Spirit, the Beatitudes, the Decalogue, all of that is cultural transformation. As Tom Wright, who knows a thing or two about Greek grammar, keeps saying: If Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not.
The irony is that these people who deny the cultural mandate are highly engaged in politics. The two Twitter people I mentioned are almost constantly tweeting about politics... attacks on never-Trumpers, attacks on mask and vaccine mandates, attacks on President Biden, it's almost all politics for them. But it is a certain very specific kind of populist conservatism, not the whole counsel of God.
What I'm increasingly seeing among a large segment of conservative Christians is simultaneously a denial of any political content to the Bible in sync with greater and greater political obsession. What that amounts to is that we remove the Gospel's influence from our politics at the moment when we are most politically engaged.
Remember that interview that Jerry Falwell Jr. did (Jerry Falwell Jr.: 'I do believe Trump is a Christian' - CNN Video) in which he denied that the Bible should inform politics? He said that if we apply the bible to politics, we're liable to support the welfare state and unlimited immigration... so let's leave the Bible out of it. I remember watching Tucker Carlson on Fox News a few years ago responding to someone who quoted the Bible about the compassionate treatment of immigrants, and he waved the quote away, saying, "We're not a theocracy."
Now, I don't think allowing the Bible to govern our politics necessarily or even probably leads to unlimited immigration or a welfare state, but if it did, then we should have unlimited immigration and a welfare state, because Jesus is Lord. We don't wave away the Bible because a certain reading of it contradicts the current political mood of our core demographic group. The Gospel means Jesus is the new Lord of all Creation. Our job is to do the work, study His word, follow what He taught and teach it to individuals and nations.
Jerry Bowyer is financial economist, president of Bowyer Research, and author of “The Maker Versus the Takers: What Jesus Really Said About Social Justice and Economics.”