Acton Institute Powerblog

Politics, Ideology, and the Gospel

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

Earlier this week the Christian Post published an article with some statements from me about evangelical (and more broadly Christian) debates about the federal budget proposals. In the piece, “Evangelical Christians Agree, Disagree on Budget Priorities,” I said that

The Church, the Christian faith, is not to identify with a single political order, or structure, party or platform. It does show something of the dynamism and vitality of the Christian faith that, in the midst of what the world thinks are the most important things, like politics, in the midst of disagreements about those things, Christians come together and worship every Sunday and say the same Lord’s prayer and in many cases cite the same creed, engage in the same sacramental practices, and so on.

This conviction is one of the things that animated my thinking when I wrote Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness.

One of the driving figures in the case made in that book is Paul Ramsey, who wrote that “the specific solution of urgent problems is the work of political prudence and worldly wisdom. In this there is room for legitimate disagreement among Christians and among other people as well in the public domain—which disagreement ought to be welcomed and not led one way toward specific conclusions.”

I was reminded of this perspective again when listening to the interview Gabe Lyons did with Chuck Colson back in 2007. At one point in the interview, Gabe asks Chuck about younger evangelicals’ disenchantment with the politicization of evangelical Christianity. One of the things Chuck says is,

I do a very unscientific poll myself whenever I talk to young people and I know exactly the kind of answers you’re getting. They’re turned off by what they regard as right wing politics. Which is unfortunate. I wrote a book about this called “Kingdoms and Conflicts,” recently re-released and updated by Zondervan as “God and Government.” It says Christians shouldn’t be [in the hip pocket] of any political party. It’s a mistake when we are looked upon as marrying an ideology.

On the danger of ideology, he continues: “The greatest enemy of the gospel is ideology. Ideology is a manmade formulation about [how] world [ought to] work. We don’t believe in that. We believe in the revelation of truth in Scripture.”

In returning to my comment cited above, I think we can see corporate worship as a kind of litmus test for what does and does not inspire us, ideologically, confessionally, and otherwise. Perhaps there are churches or parishes or even denominations and ecumenical bodies that we deem unfaithful, or at least distasteful, for the way they have integrated a social or political ideology into the corporate life of the church. But even so:

Would you be comfortable worshiping next to someone at church on Sunday morning whose political convictions are diametrically opposed to yours? If so, why? And if not, why not?

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Yes. If the word of God is what forms us and reforms our minds, then through the discipline and obedience of the Scriptures we will fundamentally converge, whatever our political differences.

    At the same time, I do have a hard time worshipping with professing Christians who are unrepentant in adultery or in support thereof.

  • Bennett

    Depends what you consider a political conviction. I have no issue with worshipping alongside people who have different views on a range of issues, but support for, say, abortion, goes beyond a mere political stance and into theological and moral teaching. On the other hand, if they’re in favor of redistricting and I think it’s mere gerrymandering, that’s just water under the bridge when it comes time for communion.

  • TriciaLynnH

    Absolutely! We are gathered together not based on consumer preferences or political affiliations, but the things that we confess in the Apostles Creed (and for me the Three Forms of Unity–Reformed Confessional standards). If I was uncomfortable with someone next to me with different political affiliations, it would either stem from my own exultation of this political order over the kingdom of God or theirs, for which I must repent or forgive. It has no place in the worship service. Thanks for the great post!

  • Roger McKinney

    Has anyone at Acton looked into the controversy over the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR)? Jim Wallis has a disturbing take on it:
    “The Vatican’s approach to its concerns is, to say the least, quite regrettable. Condemnation and control were chosen over conversation and dialogue. Quite honestly, do most of us believe, or do even most Catholics believe, that the bishops are the only “authentic teachers of faith and morals?”
    Another article on the site, Taking ‘Jesus Christ’ Out of the Bible” was written by Christian Piatt, a man who clearly is not an evangelical, which reinforces my claim that Wallis is not evangelical but a “liberal” unbeliever.

  • Pingback: Pulpit not for politics – Malaysia Star | News Room()