FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, an organization that examines and challenges the political witness of America’s churches, spoke at Southwestern’s Land Center luncheon, Jan. 29, communicating principles regarding how Christians should engage the world politically.
Issues facing Christian political witness today, Tooley said, include the ongoing collapse of denominational loyalty in America.
“It used to be that if you wanted to affect how Christians or how churches speak politically,” Tooley said, “it was a matter of going through these denominational structures—go to a church convention to get resolutions passed. But with the collapse of the denominational loyalties, that is less and less possible.”
Other issues Tooley noted include despair over political culture and the fact that more and more Christians are privatizing their faith and focusing on their own spirituality. In response to these issues, Tooley provided principles that could guide Christians and churches as they seek to apply their faith politically and socially in America.
Tooley’s first principle was that “we should be Augustinian in our understanding of the limitations of fallen humanity. … We always have to assume even the very best of people in the best of times would be imperfect and simple.”
Second, Tooley encouraged confidence in the Holy Spirit's power to redeem not just individual persons but also whole communities and nations.
“No matter how dark the situation,” Tooley said, “the Holy Spirit can provide the means for redeeming and reclaiming society.”
In addition, Tooley also stressed the centrality of God's Word for guidance, explaining that Christians need to prioritize issues about which the Scriptures speak directly and be more modest about the other issues.
Other principles included appreciating the church's universality and avoiding strictly private judgment.
“And that's hard for Americans, especially for Protestants, especially for evangelicals,” Tooley said. “[We’re] very tempted just to take the Bible on our own and think that we can figure it out unilaterally.
“But of course, we're not alone. We're part of the universal body of Christ that's been around for 2,000 years and has accumulated a wonderful body of moral guidance and ethics and teachings, and so we really need to think through these issues together as a community, as the body of Christ. And that'll spare us from a lot of the fads and trends that so much of the Christian world often succumbs to.”
Tooley’s final principle was maintaining an appreciation for providence working mysteriously through many actors on different sides of the same issue, “even some issues [about which] we know there should be absolute clarity and we know where God has placed us and what we need to say and do.”
“We also have to understand,” Tooley said, “that God's purposes are so wide and so mysterious that He may be using the people on the other sides for some purpose that we don't yet understand.”
Tooley concluded by asking the question, “Who will pick up the torch of leadership for constructive, redemptive, Christian social political witness in the future years?”
“The answer,” Tooley said, “is known only by God himself, but I think the answer also likely includes many of us here in this room, many who are being called to change politics and cultures of our nation today; to apply our faith in an effective way.”