Even in today’s political climate these books are still a relevant read as they both critically expound on the positions of their opponents views (as well as their own) which have not changed since the time they were written (though some political situations have changed). One may try to package things differently and or say it slightly afresh today (we see this with regard to Marxist class theory from the working class to “identity politics” ie., the working class based butt hurt has shifted towards the sexual arena or racism) and yes, in some cases, the intent to do this is to deceive those who are not aware that these ideas have been around for quite some time now (the younger folk). Why they would do so has to do with political power. That is, they would like to get their way enshrined not only in law but the minds of the aforementioned un-informed or the gullible (which can impact law).
For me, one of the most important ideas that I understood, prior to ever reading it in Nash’s book, was that it is not that both Left and Right wing Christians don’t love their neighbour but that they both have different solutions or answers to social and political problems that exist in society. It really is a sad state of affairs that uncivilized national discourse has crept into the Christian community as a whole where one or both sides is either claiming who is loving as Jesus did or claims God’s answer to a particular social ill is “the Christian response.” One use to see this from the right back in the day but now one sees it from the left. This is not to make a judgment on the rightness or wrongness of left/right policy positions but rather to mention the bad faith between Christian brothers and sisters.
So politics divides Christians.
(As an aside, I’m OK with that, for I’ve usually been comfortable with tribalism. Tribalism in the Church, in politics and in society. I’m not completely against openness to other people, groups, nations, churches, etc, as long as others are open to each other “naturally,” (James Kalb) where the feeling is mutual and it is not forced whether by government or one another and where the goal is not to change the other. End of aside)
But to the point above, let me be a little more precise about the civil discourse (not so much the uncivilized aspect as much as the argument itself).
Basically it goes something like this:
Progressive Christian: Jesus said, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
Me: This is a broad neutral statement. For me the important question is, “What does this look like in the concrete reality of life?” If, say, we wanted to improve the economic standing of the poor (which is a loving thing to do), how would we do that? Would we do that via a socialist scheme or a free market capitalist one? The answer doesn’t reside in the raw theology of the Bible for the Bible is not a comprehensive economic guide. Like science. It doesn’t tell us which way to go on these things. It only gives us the raw data, broad neutral statement of “loving our neighbour.” We need to go “beyond the Bible” if you will to economic theory.
(As an aside, what I mean when I say the above concerns “full fledge” free-market capitalism as opposed to a simple base line one. That is, I believe the Bible does provide the “seeds” of a capitalist economic system, ie., ownership of property, free buying and selling of goods, etc, and not the seeds of a socialist one. For me, socialist interpretations of scripture are rather strained. End of aside)
That alone should be enough for us to bring up our level of discourse. The problem is not in theology. The problem is in reality. The “facts” if you will. What we have is basically two parties wedding economic theory to the Bible. Even if you wanted to say that the Bible supported a democratic socialism or socialism or communism (as we understand them today) one would still have to contend with the individual economic theories. Here is a quote by Ronald Nash on all of this:
Is There a Religious Left?
Why Should We Care
Years ago, I supposed conservative Christians would have been surprised—even shocked—that self-professed evangelicals were supporting and even actively promoting liberal causes But those were the days when evangelicals—better known as fundamentalists—separated themselves from societal affairs at large. On still encounters people like this. But most evangelicals themselves care deeply about what is happening in America’s schools, government, and abortion clinics. They also care about racial justice, the environment, the poor, the elderly, and the homeless. As indicated by the charities they support, they also care about poor, sick, and starving people in other nations. For most of my lifetime, liberals have been telling this nation that caring in these ways **must translate**into voting for liberal politicians and supporting liberal social policies. The evangelical liberals have been part of this liberal establishment. But I contend that liberalism is an exercise in fraud and deceit. The more than five trillion dollars of taxpayers’ money the federal government spent in the vain hope that it would put an end to poverty in America did not simply fall short of the goal. It actually made the situation worse. We now have more poor people in the United States than there were before the start of the War on Poverty pr-grams in the mid-sixties—and they are also worse off today. Some in the evangelical Left now tell us they no longer support the liberal welfare state. They admit that it has failed, and they propose to provide new leadership and direction in the next decade. The past record of these people needs to be known so we can better judge their claims about the present and their promises for the future. Why do they attack evangelical conservatives? What do they believe? Are they really centrists, and if not, why do they claim they are.
A WORD ABOUT RELIGIOUS CONSERVATIVES
The secular and religious Left find it convenient to demonize politically conservative Christians. It is true that many evangelicals were unconscionably inattentive thirty or forty years ago; of course, the world was a different place back then.
Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., observes:
It is strange that twentieth-century evangelical Christian, would have ever needed to be convinced that they should be concerned about social problems. Many of their spiritual forebears always were. Their compassion and fervor animated the campaigns against the slave trade and child labor in England and, one could argue, was the basis of most reform initiatives of the early nineteenth century. The claims that the faith of American Christians should always be an intensely private affair between the individual and Cod would have been news to such diverse persons as the Pilgrims, from John Winthrop to Jonathan Edwards, Abraham Lincoln and the abolitionists of slavery.
Whatever their shortcomings may have been back then, Michael Cromartie observes, “Evangelicals of every perspective no longer need convincing that political and social concern is an important part of Christian discipleship. It is a settled issue that `the least of these’ among us should be treated with both charity and justice. The debates now revolve around prudential questions regarding which policies are in fact the most effective in meeting the normative standards of justice.” The members of the evangelical Left are wrong to claim that they hold the monopoly on concern for peace and justice. The more central issue for evangelicals today is what those terms mean. The evangelical Left has appeared to some to have simply assumed the standard liberal understanding of the words and then discredited anyone (including their politically conservative brethren) who understood the terms differently and who pursued the objectives of peace and justice in a different way. There is no evidence to support liberal insinuations that being a conservative entails opposition to racial and social justice means being unconcerned about unjust social structures. What the Left does is simply assume, for example, that concern for poverty **must manifest itself in unqualified support for misguided liberal social programs.** They simply take it for granted that concern for racial justice **must translate into support for so-called Affirmative Action programs** that turn out to be exercises in reverse discrimination. It is time to strip away the false front that the evangelical Left has hidden behind and see what they really stand for.”
This is a most important point that colours everything you read in these volumes and for me personally, it colours my view of politics as a whole. Even if one were to disagree, why the name calling or ad hominem, especially from Christians is beyond me. For all they are really doing, it seems to me, is arguing over political philosophy not theology. And it is the theology that holds them together as brothers and sisters.