Here is the introduction to the collection of WORLD magazine columns that I thought suitable for providing citizen-wisdom in the months leading up to the 2016 general election.
I was recently interviewed by a Brooklyn media outfit on how evangelicals see the current election. Several times I was asked, “So who is God’s candidate?” I didn’t give a straight answer because it’s a complicated question. Nonetheless, it’s one that Christians are required to ponder.
On one level, “God’s candidate” means the one who intentionally and perfectly conforms his policies and judgments to the mind of God. But there is not, and cannot be, such a candidate. Only King Jesus fits that description. On another, quite unavoidable level, God’s candidate is the one he will raise up by our democratic republican system to govern us. But that, of course, is his business. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).
The question can also be asking, however, which of the candidates—given what God has revealed of himself—does God want us to select. In the past, that question has seemed deceptively easy to answer. I say deceptively easy because it is never as easy as we think it is, as though in a given contest no serious examination of the candidates were necessary and no careful investigation of Christian principles and sober anticipation of natural consequences were in order. And as though that itself were easy.
In 1976, the Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter seemed to be the evangelical choice. In 1980, his opponent, the Moral Majority backed Ronald Reagan seemed an equally clear choice, despite his divorce and irregular church attendance. Or perhaps just looking back it seems that way. In 2000, it seemed to be George W. Bush, the born again Reaganite. And yet today many conservative evangelicals are lamenting—this side of their humiliating defeat in the culture wars, from fighting the feminist ERA to defending the DOMA citadel—how those battles and devotion to those champions distorted the gospel not only in the public eye but even in their own understanding.
Yet the Christian is inescapably a citizen not only of Christ’s heavenly kingdom but also of this earthly republic of laws. And by God’s great mercy, government in America is not just something other people do in faraway places and impose on us, though sadly that is increasingly so. It is still the beauty of what Lincoln described at Gettysburg as “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
If a Christian people is to govern itself and choose wisely those who will represent them in their decision-making responsibilities, then Christians need to be properly informed. They need godly wisdom. They certainly need to understand, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism says (Question 3), what the Scriptures principally teach, i.e., “what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.” But the Book of Proverbs teaches us,
I, wisdom, dwell with prudence.
And I find knowledge and discretion
The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.
Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
and perverted speech I hate.
I have counsel and sound wisdom;
I have insight; I have strength.
By me kings reign,
and rulers decree what is just;
by me princes rule,
and nobles, all who govern justly. (8:12-16)
Christians in their capacity as free citizens have a responsibility to seek and grow in civic wisdom. This wisdom fits them to participate helpfully in the tasks of self-government for the common good and the glory of God. Though this certainly begins in the fear of the Lord, it culminates in making wise and prudent judgments concerning difficult matters that confront us in a world clouded and twisted by sin. This wisdom requires us to clear our heads, inform our minds, and chasten our hearts for distinguishing Christ from the world and the love of God from infatuation with the world, the flesh, and the devil—the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life, as the old King James Version rendered the beloved disciple’s warning (I John 2:16).
This book is far from sufficient for that task. Ideally it calls for a life’s worth of learning in the Scriptures, the insights of those greater than I, and as complete a knowledge of current affairs as one can reasonably muster. But if the reader is urgently occupied with family, business, church, and community and needs a handy help for understanding the times, perhaps this book will do.