Notable Speech – James Forsyth

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, January 28th. You’re listening to The World and Everything in It and we are so glad you are! Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next, another in our occasional series: Notable Speeches, Past and Present. 

Today, an excerpt of a recent message from James Forsyth, senior pastor of McLean Presbyterian Church, outside Washington.

REICHARD: Pastor Forsyth recently spoke to staffers on Capitol Hill during a regular meeting called Faith and Law. That’s where public servants gather to think about how faith informs the public square. 

Forsyth’s message is titled: “The Pitfalls of a Political Faith.” He identifies three mistakes Christians make when considering the role of politics in their lives. Let’s listen.

JAMES FORSYTH: C.S. Lewis, you’ve heard of him. Famous Oxbridge professor, most famous for writing the Chronicles of Narnia also wrote a great little book called The Screwtape Letters. He imagines the advice that a senior demon would pass on to a junior demon. If the goal was to make Christianity completely ineffectual, how would you go about doing that? 

In one section, the senior demon addresses the connection between Christianity and politics and this is what he says: “Certainly we do not want men to allow their Christianity to flow over into their political life for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster. On the other hand, we do want and want very much to make men treat Christianity as a means, preferably of course as a means to their own advancement, but failing that, as a means to anything—even to social justice.”

Now, I love this section because it captures the tension because on one hand, our faith gives us unbelievable resources, unbelievable resources to make a profound difference in this world. On the other hand, as the demon points out, if we don’t understand the relationship between our faith and our politics, we actually end up neutering both of them.

We have to understand how these two things relate together and so for the sake of our faithfulness to God and indeed our fruitfulness in the world, we’re going to talk about some of the dangers, the pitfalls of a political faith. Looking forward to sharing three of them with you. 

Number one: underestimating the importance of politics. According to a 2019 Pew Research study, only 17 percent of Americans say they trust the government in Washington to do what is right, even most of the time. This contempt, this cultural milieu that we are in, has also bred a kind of cynicism in our churches where you’ll now have a contingent that would suggest that what the church should really do is simply transcend politics and, and preach the gospel. That the church and Christians shouldn’t get all that much involved in, in the swamp, but this would be a terrible pitfall for us to fall into. To underestimate the importance of politics. Governments, we believe, are a good thing. 

In fact, we even believe that they were God’s idea. So we don’t think of government, and we don’t think of politics as a kind of necessary evil. We think of them as as a positive good that has been created by God. And I hope that that’s an encouragement to us and an encouragement to you as we do our work. God has ordained your work for the welfare of humanity and the opposition, the stress, the problems, are worth it. They’re worth it. Don’t give up. Where politics has done poorly, the answer is to do it better. Not to give up. Pitfall number one is underestimating the importance of politics. 

Now, pitfall number two: overestimating the importance of politics. Politics has what we call a totalizing temptation. It makes you feel like everything depends on it. It’s just not true. It’s not true practically. And it’s certainly not true theologically. 

Listen, we step back and think about theological framework of our engagement here, we understand that God has created a beautiful economy where our lives actually matter.The lives that we lead actually matter. And actually, through our lives, he brings about his purposes here on earth. It’s an incredible privilege to be used by the God of the universe. 

And yet at the same time we remember, you know, he’s still in control. He’s not hurrying and scurrying around, worried about how he can hold his world together and hold all things together at the seams. 

And so we, we recognize that whether our candidate wins or loses, God still rules and reigns. And this is really freeing. It’s a really freeing thing because it enables us to attack our work with vigor because our work matters. And yet also to trust it all to the Lord of history. 

Pitfall one: underestimate the importance politics. Pitfall two: overestimating the importance of politics. Pitfall three: tying Jesus to your political party. 

We’ve said that individual Christians can and should be engaged in politics, that our faith will inform the issues that we’re passionate about and not just that, our faith will all even inform the kind of solutions we think should be pursued. We should also say that it’s right for a Christian to align themselves with a political party. They are the vehicles through which good work can be done and progress can be made. 

But, we must be very careful not to conflate the two. As Christians, we don’t ask: “Who’s side is Jesus on?” We ask, “Are we on Jesus side?” We don’t ask, “Oh, does Jesus align with my party?” We ask, “Do I align with, with Jesus?” And then we follow him. We follow him into politics. We allow our faith to overflow into our life. Jesus drives our political action, not the other way around. 

C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters, friends don’t make the demons happy, right? Don’t make the demons happy. Avoid these pitfalls. Allow your Christianity to flow over into your political life. It’ll make us more faithful to God, more fruitful in his world.

(Photo/Twitter, James Forsyth)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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