The One Book Everyone Needs To Read in 2020

Compassion-and-Conviction-1

The AND (&) Campaign‘s Compassion (&) Conviction

This is both a review and a summary (with lots of quotes!), so if you can’t get your hands on this book right now, I hope you can still benefit from it & wrestle with what it says.

This is one of those books I want to bring up in every conversation, hound my friends about until they read it, and be rich enough to buy a copy for every Christian in America. I’m a little amazed it exists because its tone and content are so counter to the blind partisanship and childish vitriol that fill social media and headlines. I am so thankful it does.

The blurb on the back asks, “Have you ever felt too progressive for conservatives, but too conservative for progressives?” When I saw that, I knew I had to buy it. I had said something like that to my dad a few days before I heard about this book, and I’d felt discouraged, wondering if anyone felt the same way—and if they did, would they have a large enough platform to speak about it meaningfully and enough wisdom to do so in a winsome way?

It turns out, yes, there are others who feel the same way. There are in fact a lot of them, and they are able to reach a lot of people, as this book’s ranking as #1 in Amazon’s list of History of Religion and Politics indicates. Best of all, this book is winsome, balanced, and wise in how it approaches the subject of Christian engagement in American politics.

I appreciated the slim size—as much as I love big books, I love that I can recommend this one the people who don’t. Plus, it avoids redundancy, long-windedness, and any rabbit trails that detract from the main message. I also appreciated the clear layout—eight chapters focused on an area that requires a balance of two perspectives or traits. Here’s what they are:

Christians (&) Politics

Church (&) State

Compassion (&) Conviction

Partnerships (&) Partisanship

Messaging (&) Rhetoric

Politics (&) Race

Advocacy (&) Protest

Civility (&) Political Culture

Each chapter (generally) does three important things: 1) It brings the issue or idea under the guidance of Scripture, going to the Bible first to find principles that should drive Christians as they think about the topic. 2) It discusses how both conservatives and progressives tend to approach the issue and the benefits and shortcomings of each. 3) It provides practical questions, guidelines, and/or examples of how to implement the idea in a Christian, balanced way.

I could end my review right there, because those three qualities are absolutely essential but so often missing from how Christians think about politics. But I wanted to highlight a few points that stuck out to me in each chapter and, of course, some of my favorite quotes.

Chapter 1: Christians (&) Politics

The first chapter is such a breath of fresh air: It asserts that the Great Commission is the Christian’s highest and primary goal. If political engagement supersedes sharing the gospel, it is wrong. I was not expecting such a strong statement but I appreciate it so much. It’s something that I feel many American Christians (including myself many times) have forgotten, to the detriment of our witness.

At the same time, the authors emphasize the importance and value of Christians engaging in politics. They avoid the other extreme of seclusion or apathy or condemnation of participating in politics. They argue that politics provides one of the most impactful ways to love our neighbors and bring about God’s kingdom in the world (without ever confusing an earthly nation with that kingdom!).

Politics is a limited but essential forum for pursuing the well-being of our neighbors. It is limited in both its scope and its effectiveness. Politics can and should only reach so much and so far because political solutions will never approach the perfect justice that Jesus brings. Our hope in all things is in him.

Chapter 2: Church (&) State

Chapter two provides a much-needed, well-articulated overview of what the separation between church and state really means. I wish everyone in America, Christians and non-Christians, would read it. It also provides a nice summary of how the U.S. government works, in case anyone has forgotten their high school government class.

On the one hand:

Someone might say, “We shouldn’t restrict abortion because the pro-life perspective is based on religious values. It’s a violation of the separation of church and state to impose those views on others.” This is a gross misrepresentation of this constitutional principle. If it were the case, then stealing wouldn’t be penalized because that too is based on a value judgment. Whether political views derive from religious tenets or secular philosophy, invoking values to influence the legislative process violates neither the constitution nor the spirit of the deliberative process.

On the other:

[N]ot every tenet of Christianity should become the law of the state. We are not called to create a government that simply enforces our religion. Christianity is not about  coercing people into agreeing with us. When the faith has been misrepresented that way in the past, it has caused great atrocities. We see this in the excesses of the Christian Crusades, when many non-believers were killed at the direction of religious leaders. A religion with a history of being persecuted should know better than to become the persecutor.

Chapter 3: Compassion (&) Conviction

Chapter 3 is my favorite, applying the biblical concept of love and truth to politics. Its title is also the title of the book, and it sums up so well the thin line Christians must walk when we engage in the public square. We must always consider those who are less fortunate and always be working for the good of everyone in our country. But we must remember that the biblical moral order is what contributes most to that good and that we cannot compromise on it. Of course, it’s so much harder to apply this concept than it is to say it, but it’s a powerful and refreshing reminder all the same.

For those who lean more conservative:

As we assess policies, we should pay special attention to how they will affect people, particularly those who are less fortunate, rather than treating public policy as a way to advance ideas without any regard for their practical impact.

~

Conservatism can assume an equal playing field that doesn’t exist between different demographics, and it can be so focused on principles and systems—such as unfettered markets and an antagonism toward the federal government— that it overlooks how people actually doing under those systems and principles.

For those who lean more progressive:  

We hurt ourselves and others when our politics deny this moral order. God’s ways are not our ways, and we deceive ourselves when we think we know better than God (Isaiah 55:8-9).

~

When it comes to abortion and the Christian family and sexual ethics, progressivism tries to place an expiration date that doesn’t exist on truth.

Chapter 4: Partnerships (&) Partisanship

Chapter 4 is fascinating and instructive because I haven’t thought much about partnerships and how Christians should approach allyship with various organizations and groups. As always, it offers a good balance between sacrificing your values to get along with another group for a common cause and rejecting any partnership with a group that does not agree with you on every belief. It offers five points to consider when “evaluating a cultural or political partnership” that I found illuminating and helpful.

Our partners often try to convince us that our opponents are so evil—and the moment is so urgent—that to question the group’s tactics or refuse to endorse its strategies is to do a great disservice to the cause. This is “ends justify the means” thinking that we as Christians cannot accept. Under no circumstances should Christians blindly follow our partners or overlook immorality and bad tactics or strategies for the sake of the movement. We must never surrender our values or forgo critical thinking in our partnerships.

Chapter 5: Messaging (&) Rhetoric

Chapter 5 discusses how we use and consume messaging. It warns against relying on slogans and soundbites to make decisions, and it urges Christians to combine skillful rhetoric with honesty and graciousness. Christians should be able to articulately, knowledgeably, and truthfully speak about their causes, and they should demand the same from the politicians they support. The authors list eight guidelines for effective, beneficial communication that I found convicting. In the age of Twitter, where it’s easy to hide behind passion and buzzwords, this chapter is vitally important.

It also addresses how we should think about religious rhetoric—for example, when politicians talk about the Bible (usually to win support from a certain base)—and it uses the example of framing the campaign against crack  as “a war on drugs” to show how language can have unintended and deeply harmful consequences.

Christians should understand the subject matter and articulate biblical principles in terms that resonate with the audience. It’s unfortunate when believers are passionate about their opinions yet aren’t informed or able to clearly articulate their point of view. This is not how Christians should conduct themselves when they go about the Father’s business in the public square. Well-prepared believers can do great work for Christ with words.

~

Jesus listened to the weak and marginalized (John 4:1-42). Accordingly, Christian political engagement shouldn’t be all about what Christians have to say. We should go out of our way to make sure the voiceless are heard and respected. 

Chapter 6: Politics (&) Race

Chapter 6 addresses the (sadly) relevant issue of race in politics and offers four steps to racial reconciliation with a description and practical action for each. I don’t have a lot to say on this chapter except that it’s a solid start but there are also many resources that dig deeper into this issue that Christians should also read at this time. (Two that I want to read are The Color of Compromise and What Lies Between Us.)

Our capacity to move beyond racism to true unity should be one of the greatest testament to the reality that God is at work among us (John 13:35).

Chapter 7: Advocacy (&) Protest

Chapter 7 is also very relevant and addresses a topic I haven’t thought much about in terms of how to approach it biblically. It differentiates between advocacy and protest, which I found interesting and helpful, and provides Scriptural examples of both.

I will note here that sometimes I was a little wary of the way the authors interpret biblical stories—just because characters in the Bible do something doesn’t always mean it’s right, and we definitely need to keep in mind the vastly different historical and cultural contexts between our time and the Bible’s. For example, Jesus cleansing the temple was a protest, yes, but not against the state but against religious leadership, which is an important distinction. Nevertheless, the point stands that Jesus was not afraid to perform a disruptive public act that moved people toward a holier way of living.

This chapter has an excellent guide to forming strategies to make the change we want politically. It applies four questions (What do we want? Who is the decision-maker? Who is on the team? What do we have?) to a potential scenario ( a city where young people are struggling to get jobs) and shows how Christians could effectively think through each step. Again, I love the combination of worldview and application, thinking through why we should protest or advocate and then how to do so practically.

Like any other field of endeavor, effective political engagement requires a range of skills, and as Christians we must never make the mistake of thinking that the right motives are a substitute for strategic precision and skill. 

Chapter 8: Civility (&) Political Culture

The last chapter is my second favorite. Civility is so important—both for public life in general and for Christians specifically— and it is so lacking from most political discourse today. It disturbs me greatly how Christians on both sides do not seem to make civility a factor in their decision-making. This chapter does not at all support softening our words, diluting our convictions, or compromising our values— but it argues that civility actually accomplishes our ends better than incivility and that it is fundamental to a strong and healthy society. The authors say it best:

In the face of great injustice, civility seems impractical. Yet we should be careful before we discard it. We might find that what we could accomplish with incivility is much better accomplished with civility, and that once civility is discarded it is very difficult to reinstitute.

~

We should commit to civility in our own behavior and then hold our political allies to a standard of civility. Only after we’ve done that should we consider it appropriate to request the same from political opponents.

~

People who are proponents of civility that quietest on everything else are, in fact, a great threat to civility. They are silent on voter disenfranchisement, but quick to urge the disenfranchised to be civil in how they express their disagreement. They are silent on the inequities and injustices in our criminal justice system, but are more than happy to retweet videos of protesters blocking highways or cursing at pedestrians. We can hardly encourage civility if we undermine a healthy civic life.

The chapter ends with this convicting truth:

Our responsibility to one another as Christians rises above civility. Civility is the baseline for how we treat strangers, yet no Christian is a stranger to us but is, instead, our brother or sister in Christ.

In Conclusion …

This book will make almost everyone uncomfortable at times because it critiques both conservatism and progressivism. I’m sure some people will wish it was more clear about which issues to support and which to condemn, but that is not its goal— it wants to give to give us the foundation and tools to think through for ourselves what is most in line with the Bible’s principle of love and truth.

Other people may feel uncomfortable with the issues it does explicitly address, like abortion, sexuality, criminalization, and drugs. For me, it was a refreshing acknowledgement that “in a broken world, neither side is completely good.” I do not fool myself into believing that if everyone read this book they would agree on how to handle every issue. (I wish!) But I hope that it will lead to more humility, civility in discourse, and agreement among Christians about what to care about even if we come to different conclusions about how to do so practically.

In the end, we are called to love God and love our neighbor, and this book is an excellent, timely guide to do both in the era and nation God has placed us.

Hey friends—have you heard about this book? Do you feel like I do—too progressive for conservatives, but too conservative for progressives? Which quotes resonated with you? I’d love to talk about this!

3 comments

  1. “Politics is a limited but essential forum for pursuing the well-being of our neighbors. It is limited in both its scope and its effectiveness. Politics can and should only reach so much and so far because political solutions will never approach the perfect justice that Jesus brings. Our hope in all things is in him.” That’s… that just expressed my political views overall. Wow. This sounds like an absolutely awesome book. Thanks for sharing, Liv! I’ll have to try and read this.

    Liked by 1 person

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