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Strangers in America: How Faith Guides Our Politics

Political Engagement from a Christian Perspective

Curated by Bruce Ashford
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Course Introduction

About the Course

How should a Christian think about political engagement?

This introductory course is designed to give a basic answer to a complex problem. Bruce Ashford, Provost and Professor of Theology & Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, will be the lecturer throughout the course. Each section is only meant to provide a way into the wider discussion about whether and how Christians should engage in politics.

Both the lectures and the Q&A were done in a Facebook Live event, and have been adapted to this course outline.

There will be reading assignments and discussion questions throughout the course that are designed to help each learner get the most out of the lectures.

About the Instructor

Dr. Ashford has been teaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary since 2003 and became the provost in 2013.  His goal in teaching is to encourage his students to bear witness to the truth, goodness and beauty of the gospel and to work out its implications in all facets of their lives and in all dimensions of culture.

Ashford is the co-author of One Nation under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics (B&H, 2015), the author Every Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians (Lexham, 2015), the author of Letters to an American Christian (B&H, 2018), and is the editor of Theology and Practice of Mission (B&H, 2011). He is a regular contributor for Fox News Opinion, and he has also been featured at NPR, the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal, and other outlets. Follow Ashford on Twitter or discover more of his resources on his blog, BruceAshford.net.

He is married to Lauren, with whom he has two daughters (Riley Noelle, Anna Katherine) and a son (John Paul Kuyper). He is an elder at The Summit Church (Raleigh-Durham, NC).


Course Textbook
  • PurchaseLetters to an American ChristianBruce AshfordReviewPurchase

    In Letters to an American Christian, Bruce Riley Ashford addresses overarching issues of the relationship of Christianity and politics, speaks to the way historic Christian belief informs specific hot-button political issues, and challenges readers to take seriously both our heavenly and earthly citizenships. Written as a series of letters to "Christian"—a young college student who is a new believer—Letters to an American Christian will help every reader think carefully about how Christianity informs what it means to be an American.

    In Letters to an American Christian, Bruce Riley Ashford addresses overarching issues of the relationship of Christianity and politics, speaks to the way historic Christian belief informs specific hot-button political issues, and challenges readers to take seriously both our heavenly and earthly citizenships. Written as a series of letters to "Christian"—a young college student who is a new believer—Letters to an American Christian will help every reader think carefully about how Christianity informs what it means to be an American.


Envisioning Christianity & Politics for a Secular Age

The present era is one which has attempted to achieve the historically unprecedented feat of severing the sacred order from the social order. As believers witness these efforts within Western culture, they are required to re-evaluate and reconstruct a theology and philosophy of political engagement. Watch the first installment below, and answer the questions that follow.

  • Lecture

  • Q&A

Reading Assignment

Review Questions
What are the two approaches that Christians often take with politics?
  1. Withdrawal
  2. Short-term activism
What are the three aspects of Jesus' ministry that inform our view of politics?
  1. Jesus spoke prophetically–speaking without hesitation to the problems of the day.
  2. Jesus lived sacrificially–giving up everything, including his very life.
  3. Jesus ministered confidently–engaging with bold confidence in God’s plan.
What were the two aspects of Jesus' teaching? What happens when one is missing?

Truth and grace were both present in his teaching.

If we have truth without grace, we become bullies.

If we have grace without truth, we become wimps.

Discussion Questions
  • What has been the result of trying to sever sacred order from social order?
  • What are the good and the bad ways to bring religion into politics?

Building a Whole-Life Pro-Life Ethic

Is life valuable? How do we determine the value of life? Is life less valuable in a mother’s womb, or in a retirement home? What about if it has a certain color skin, or is from somewhere that we are not? Do these forms of life make someone less than a person, and therefore expendable?

These are some of  the questions surrounding the topic of “life” in the political arena. In this lecture Bruce Ashford attempts to give us some introductory considerations for how to think Christianly about this issue.

Watch the lecture, read the chapter from Letters to an American Christian, and then interact with the questions below.

  • Lecture

  • Q&A

Reading Assignment

Review Questions
What were the four passages that Ashford used to make the biblical case against abortion?
  1. Genesis 1:27 – All humans are made in God’s image.
  2. Exodus 20:13 – We are forbidden to take innocent life, without any limitation or that person’s age or state of development.
  3. Luke 1:41 – God knows and sets apart people from the womb.
  4. John 3:16 – Jesus’ love, demonstrated by his death, extends to the unborn.
What are the seven ways abortion is harmful?
  1. It harms the baby. Babies feel pain.
  2. It harms women. Men are encouraged to be irresponsible and to prey on women.
  3. It harms men. Women can abort their babies without the father’s say.
  4. It harms families. Problems in the home can be solved with lethal violence.
  5. It harms our law-governed society. The unborn are viewed as property of another.
  6. It harms our system checks and balances. The will of the people was not involved.
  7. It harms our society at large. Our right impulses have been damaged and twisted.
Discussion Questions
  • As Christians, can we passionately advocate for unborn lives while ignoring the cries of black lives and immigrant lives?
  • What is the tension between loving illegal immigrants and tightening our borders and immigration policies?

A Christian Hope for American Politics

How should we navigate the loss of Christian political influence in America? This is the question of the hour. As highlighted earlier, the answer for many has been to withdraw from public life and politics. Others have given themselves to short-term political activism under the impression that fixing the current political situation would save America. Yet still others who engage in the political process from a place of anger and fear.

If all of these are poor responses to eroding Christian influence in politics, then what is the way forward? In this lecture Bruce Ashford attempts to give us some introductory considerations for how to think Christianly about this issue.

Watch the lecture, read the chapter from Letters to an American Christian, and then interact with the questions below.

  • Lecture

  • Q&A

Reading Assignment

Review Questions
What are the four ways for Christians to have public witness from the margins?
  1. Re-center God
  2. De-center self
  3. Reframe issues
  4. Revitalize cultural institutions
What are the three questions we should ask about our cultural engagement?
  1. What is God’s creational design for this type of cultural activity?
  2. How has it been twisted by sin and sin’s consequences?
  3. How can we enter in and speak Gospel truth and breathe new life into what has been damaged by sin?
Discussion Questions
  • Where are we most likely to pick up false narratives about our wold, country, neighbors?
  • What are some ways that we can de-center ourselves to enact positive change in our current political climate?
  • How can we “make Christianity interesting” again?

Conclusion

This series of short lectures with Q&A is designed to jump-start biblically informed political engagement on the part of every Christian. But this course, like the course textbook, is only a brief overview of the complex issues facing believers who engage with the secular world around them. If you’ve enjoyed this short course and would like to continue your study of politics and culture, the courses below will continue to expand your horizons.