Book Review: How the Nations Rage

Summary:

How the Nations Rage begins by explaining how the present political climate did not happen suddenly. Rather, this is the culmination of decades of strife that has taken place amongst Christians that feel they were being pushed to the margins of culture. Leeman explains how cultural and legislative changes around moral issues started in the 1960s around the legalization of abortion and the sexual revolution, has only grown in the ensuing decades. The culmination of this can be most clearly seen with the passing of same-sex marriage laws being passed by the supreme court decision in Obergfell v Hodges in 2015.

In addition to this recent cultural shift, there is a longer history around racial injustice that has existed for centuries both within the wider culture and the Evangelical church. Regarding the ecclesiological, as well as, political divide across ethnicities Leeman explains, “It’s my sense that one of Satan’s greatest victories in contemporary America has been to divide majority and minority Christians along partisan lines. White Christians lean heavily right. Black Christians lean heavily left. And this partisan divide hurts trust and breaks down Christian unity even further.”(Pg. 9)

Chapter 2 focuses on how the public square is not religiously neutral but a battleground of gods. This argument is rooted in the fact that our worship is bigger than whatever we do at church on a Sunday, everything we do is a form of worship. The second piece is understanding that our politics is more than what takes place in the public square. Like our worship, our politics involves everything we do. What is also worth noting from the chapter is how Leeman explains the relevance in the separation of church and state. “Biblically understood, the separation of church and state isn’t about who gets to decide what morals will bind a nation. It’s about the fact that God has given the state one kind of authority and churches another kind.” (Pg.41)

Chapter 3 discusses, in detail, how our heart posture must be against self-exaltation. The problem is that ,apart from the gospel, people will always naturally gravitate toward a group identity that leads them to “being like God” as Genesis 3:4 describes. This reality is seen uniquely in the public square because our political group gives us a sense of identity that is tied to our family, nation, class, and ethnicity. Our desire to be like God is a response to our desire to self-rule, which means we must also be self-justified. Politics uniquely brings to the forefront the “laws” we use to justify ourselves.

In order to walk away from self-justification and toward selflessness we first need a new heart. How we receive that new heart is through the following 4 steps. First, accept our condemnation. Self-justification must end and we must admit our guilt. Second, seek God’s Forgiveness and Righteousness. After admitting our guilt we must seek God’s forgiveness and the righteousness that comes only through Jesus. Third, show Mercy and Seek Peace. It is only after we have stopped seeking our own justification and rely on God’s justification and righteousness can we begin to show mercy and seek peace. Finally, expect Persecution and Praise. In one sense persecution will come because people spend their entire lives trying to justify themselves. When confronted with the truth of the gospel and the only true justification coming through Christ rage ensues. At the same time, praise comes as people see the light of the kingdom through our good works. The reality of our “new-heart” politics is that people will both like it and dislike it swaying between the two depending on times and places.

Chapter 4 “Bible: Not Case Law, but a Constitution” explains that Christians must approach the Scriptures being able to distinguish between what is law and what is wisdom. As history has shown, Christianity cannot be legislated and hearts cannot be changed through law. Christians, especially pastors, must be able to distinguish between Biblical mandates and Christian freedom. Leeman explains, “A pastor’s job is to teach a church what to believe about the Bible. He lays out the path of biblical obedience, even binding consciences with it… “Christian Freedom” is what we call those places where pastors and Christians might have biblically informed convictions, but where they agree they can disagree and still be members of the same church.” (Pg. 76) The chapter concludes with 3 principles on “how then do we read the Bible politically?”

Chapter 5 describes the role government plays as a platform builder and not a savior. In explaining what he means by the government as a platform builder Leeman shares, “And apart from good governments that establish peace, order, and flourishing through the work of doing justice, Christians won’t have the opportunity to point people to the way of salvation…. Good government matters. More than that, the Bible teaches churches need good governments in order for them to do their work.” (Pg.98-99) The chapter goes on to contrast the Biblical version of where government authority comes from vs. the American version of where government comes from. Christians should care about the government because through good government Christians are able to fulfill God’s commands.

Chapter 6, which focuses on the Church, explains practically what it means to be an embassy of Heaven. As an embassy of God’s kingdom the church is political. We represent one nation residing in another nation. Churches represent heaven’s rule as it will be revealed in the end times. Because we represent God’s kingdom churches should not be partisan, but should maintain a bipartisan prophetic voice in both parties. However, the church should not seek to influence policy directly because we do not have the God given authority to wield the sword like government does. Finally, the church is multiethnic and multinational. Leeman emphasizes this point when he says, “To divide the body of Christ ethnically, downplay those divisions, or ignore those divisions undermines the gospel.” (Pg. 155)

Staying on the theme of the church being an embassy of God’s kingdom and Christians being ambassadors, chapter 7 unpacks specifically what the role of ambassador looks like. The three errors Christians can fall in as ambassadors are disengagement, capitulation, and worldliness. According to Leeman how we fight these three errors is by understanding the heart of being an ambassador. “Ambassadors know how to fight, but they also know how to be diplomatic. They’re not just trying to win a war; they’re trying to represent a whole other kingdom.” (Pg.165) The chapter ends with 12 lessons for Christians on how to engage politically and live as ambassadors, not a culture warriors.

In the concluding chapter the topic turns to justice. Leeman explains, “Pick any point of division you want (abortion, immigration, race politics, or others), and behind that division you’ll find at least two sides with different versions of what justice requires.” (Pg.203) The majority of the chapter focuses on the comparison of two forms of justice and the gods behind them. One form of justice is called, “respecting rights,” which means to respect and affirm rights so long as they don’t interfere with someone else’s rights. This view of justice leads to “identity politics,” which is where a “post-religion, post-philosophy, post-truth, postmodern world goes to find its source of all belief and morality. Secular identity politics tells us our beliefs and morality are all socially constructed.” (Pg. 209) The other view of justice focuses on God’s justice, which can be defined as, “the application of God’s righteous moral standards to the conduct of man.”

In the end when it comes to pursuing true biblical justice the world’s greatest hope is the work of Christ and the Spirit in the church. Leeman concludes by explaining, “The church’s work, finally, is in no way contingent on the favor of the nation toward Christianity. We might be popular or unpopular. But our political task is the same: love your neighbor, share the gospel, do justice.” (Pg. 234)

 

CRITICAL INTERACTION:

How the Nations Rage is the fruit of a Sunday school class that Leeman taught at Capital Hill Bible Church on politics. A few times in the book he mentions the response of the class participants as not being quite what he hoped for. However, the resulting book that has come from that content is the most comprehensive popular resource equipping Christians to engage the public square. Leeman does an incredible job of rooting each of the 8 chapters in the word of God and more specifically in Jesus’ church. How the Nations Rage provides a comprehensive view of the true battle between gods that takes place in the public square. Finally, the book does a great job of clearly laying out goals, steps, and principles Christians should follow in a very clear and concise way.

Something that struck this reader after finishing the book was how focused it is in discussing the Church’s role in political engagement. From cover to cover Leeman paints a masterpiece showing how the fuller view of biblical justice will always be seen through the church fulfilling the commands of God, rather than legislation passed in the public square. For anyone familiar with the Nine Marks “Building Healthy Churches” series you will already be familiar with the analogy of the church as an embassy. This analogy works perfectly within the context of political engagement because it so clearly articulates how churches represent the kingdom of God within the existing nations of the world. Furthermore, the illustration of Christians as ambassadors is life giving and empowering as it encourages believers to engage in the public square primarily as kingdom citizens, not republicans, democrats, or even Americans.

Furthermore, by rooting the Christian’s political engagement in the church Leeman is able to bring political involvement back to the grassroots level. In chapter 6 Leeman shares, “Real politics begins not with your political opinions but with your everyday decisions, not with public advocacy, but with personal affections, not all by your lonesome but with people.” (Pg.135) In a social media age where there are videos, memes, and talking head pieces in abundance it is easy for people to hide behind their computer screens and be “digital activists.” Yet, as Leeman explained true political engagement begins with everyday decisions with people in the real world. Even from a “policy” perspective this rings true in the church. Leeman explains earlier in the chapter how local churches who have a benevolence ministry or include in their membership covenants that the church “care for one another,” have a welfare policy on the books. Does your church seek to pursue racial justice or reconciliation within its body? Then it has a policy on race. Issue after issue, churches demonstrate their policies on various political issues.

Along the same lines, as the church playing a significant role in politics is the reality, politics carries with it significant religious implications. How the Nations Rage brings a scalpel to the reality that behind every political policy in the public square is a god seeking to self-justify the group it represents. In many ways the public square is the frontline battleground of opposing gods in society. It is key for Christians to understand the fact that our worship goes well beyond what happens on Sundays, it impacts every aspect of our lives, including the public square. At the same time politics goes beyond the public square and involves everything we do, because at its core is a desire for worship. The biggest difference between the church’s role in politics is that the worship we seek is not of the self but of the triune God of the universe who alone is able to bring about true justice and righteousness. Every other political attempt whether conservative or liberal finds its ultimate hope in self-justifying means. The church must be willing to accept its role as persecuted and praised in society and speak prophetically where political agendas emphasize salvation through legislation.

In order for Christians to actually live in this tension and speak prophetically we must be a people deeply rooted in our identity as Christians and not republicans, democrats, capitalists, socialists, or even Americans. Leeman does a great job of contextualizing into the political sphere what the Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:12, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against that authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens.” (CSB)

How the Nations Rage is incredibly practical as each chapter lays out clear goals, steps, and principles. This may be due to the fact that the book originated as a class curriculum but each chapter leaves the reader with tangible next steps to live out lives as ambassadors of God’s kingdom.

Two areas that the book could be improved upon are: taking a deeper dive into the dangers of partisan Christianity and unpacking in greater detail what political involvement looks like within a party. Leeman clearly and repeatedly warns against the error of capitulation, worldliness, and the church playing partisan politics. However, what is lacking are historical examples demonstrating how these errors lead to a loss of witness for the church and a misrepresentation of Jesus, especially in our current political climate where some places see Christian and Republican as interchangeable terms. The same way the opening chapter laid out a context for how we find ourselves in such a polarizing place politically, a section describing the tangible loss of witness would have strengthened the authors warnings.

The tension of this second critique is that it is a result of one of the strengths of the book. Because the book focuses so heavily on the church as an embassy analogy and furthermore Christians as ambassadors, it tends to be thin on practical ways to engage within a political party. There definitely were principles such as remaining in the two party system and learning to find common ground and speak prophetically when needed. However, practical examples of Christians who have done this well would have added tremendous value, especially for Christians who don’t engage politically because they feel ill equipped for the task.

In conclusion, How the Nations Rage is the best popular level and most comprehensive book on the topic of Christians engaging in the public square. This book should be read by Christians in all walks of life. This resource is incredibly useful especially for young believers, college students, and young professionals engaging in the public square for the first time. It is also a great resource for Pastors, Elders, Deacons, and Small Group leaders as a way to grow in their leadership, as well as walk with their people in being equipped to engage a culture where Evangelicalism is quickly losing its seat at the table.

 

2 thoughts on “Book Review: How the Nations Rage

  1. The author talks about group identity in the first part of the review. I have read some other authors who write that because of this group identity, even within the church, it makes it hard to avoid racist attitudes. If it is a white only church, because of group loyalty it will be hard to break through that and become more multiethnic. It sounds like the author is encouraging believers to be independent. It seems to me that is the best course of action. Believers should be in a position to speak to both parties and offer something distinctive. I like that he mentions the warning to identify with one party or even being American. Ultimately, our identity as believers is with the kingdom and not a particular ethnic group or country. By the way, if a person votes in a primary, that party identifies that person as being with their party, and they can expect a constant barrage of information from that particular party. It sounds like a good book that illustrates a lot of points that I agree with.

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