The seas of political and cultural engagement have proved treacherous for the Christian soul. If it sails too close to the shore of faith, it can run aground upon the reefs of non-involvement. But if it sails into the depths of secular thinking, it can drown in a whirlpool of political partisanship. Both a lack of involvement in the world and an over preoccupation with politics can harm both the Christian and his or her witness to this lost and dying world.
In the span of 322 pages, Doctor Martyn Lloyd-Jones charts a path through these dangerous waters that is guided by his exegesis of Romans 13. The passage serves as a compass for his view of limited cultural engagement, a view that both promotes Christian involvement in the secular world and protects the believer from being consumed by political platforms.
Lloyd-Jones or the Doctor (he was an MD prior to entering the pulpit and happily would look after one’s physical body as well as one’s soul when asked) believed Christians should engage the political and secular world because God had instituted both culture and government and remained involved in the workings of men and women. Since God had ordained the state to promote human flourishing and to restrain evil, Christians could vote, serve in parliament, and overthrow unjust political institutions that used their power to abuse and harm citizens.
But such political and social involvement was never to become the believer’s guiding star. All governments remained concerned with the limitation of sin. The State could not positively legislate the Sermon on the Mount because gospel change flowed through the channel of the church in accordance with the faithful preaching of the gospel. Membership in the Church and the expansion of God’s kingdom depended upon one’s spiritual birth. Rebirth remained untethered to that person’s earthly citizenship and family heritage. After providing a somewhat oversimplified history of how the Church and state have interacted through the ages, the Doctor rightfully concluded that the state should not dominate the doctrines of the Church nor should the Church control the politics of the state. When the separate spheres of the state and the church were foraged into one distorted circle, the witness of the Church would begin to rot.
Because of sin, the Church could never advance through the state, protests, or cultural institutions. Though the Christian was to care for his or her neighbors, he or she was always to remember that only the gospel could overcome sin and bring lasting change. The local pastor was not to tell politicians how to best care for their citizens. The Church had no special insights into how to best regulate speed limits, drainage problems, or international trade. But she did possess the gospel of Jesus Christ which showed men and women their sin, pointed them to salvation, and then laid out the principles by which Christians could live loving and just lives. Instead of organizing marches, Lloyd-Jones called the local church to declare the “principles” that governed life. As the Doctor concluded,
“It is always wrong to talk about Christianizing anything. No such thing is possible.”
Instead of campaigning, preach.
The Doctor spent the second half of the book discussing the second coming of Christ. He showed readers the necessity of Christian suffering, the predictableness of human failure, and the hope of Jesus’s return. The Christian was not to think in terms of political cycles or sports seasons but in terms of eternity. Jesus would one day return to liberate the world from the curse of the fall. All other efforts to establish world peace and to final reform society would fail. Only the gospel could change the soul. And only the return of Christ would bring the gospel to bear on the entire universe. The Christian lived for eternity!
The Doctor first shared the thoughts that became this book in a series of lectures that ran from November 1966 to May 1967 in his church located in London. Though Lloyd-Jones’s words are more than 50 years old, they prove ever relevant because they direct the reader’s soul back to the gospel. Moreover, like a good bottle of port stashed in a ship’s hull, the Doctor’s words have become sweeter and more poignant with age. Lloyd-Jones’s ideas reside in the realms of principle and cannot be dragged down into the particulars of any modern political debate. Readers do not have to fear that the Doctor has some hidden agenda or favorite candidate to prop up. In an age of rushed opinions and unrelenting political fury, Lloyd-Jones’s books serves as a harbor of refuge where readers may safely consider how to best bring the gospel to bear upon their political and cultural system. Even if you reject the Doctor’s view of limited political engagement, his arguments will undoubtedly help you chart your own voyage through these shifting waters.
If you only read one book this year, I encourage you to make it the The Exposition of Chapter 13: Life in Two Kingdoms.
May we all make it safely to Jordan’s Sunny shores.