My favorite academic Christian book I read in 2016 was John Stackhouse’s Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World, in which he delves deep into the relationship between Christ and culture and makes an argument for something he calls New Realism. I read a story that stuck out to me in the book:
I heard of a faculty meeting at a Christian college in which one professor announced his impending resignation in order to pursue a calling among the poor of that city. It was a moving address, and afterward little knots of conversation formed in the faculty offices. In one such conversation, a distinguished senior professor was overcome by such admiration for his younger colleague’s ministry that he openly doubted the worth of his own career. Yet, as a friend pointed out, this senior colleague had blessed the Body of Christ with decades of fruitful Biblical scholarship, while the younger professor leaving to work with the poor had not been inclined to that form of edification of the Body. Serving the poor is good and teaching the Scripture is good (cf. Acts 6:2-5). Few can do both. We should be content to be mere members of a Body that collectively does many things.
Stackhouse’s words are very apt for our present situation. 2016 was a year of a contentious and surprising election, showcasing very visible signs of our nation’s division. This division is still with us, and everyone wants to be a political talking head, to tell us which way the wind will blow and what our nation must do. I’ve done it myself.
Politics is important—it affects our healthcare, our schools, our businesses, our infrastructure, and a whole lot of other stuff. But it is not the most important thing about being human. Our political persuasions are not our core identity marker, and they cannot meet all our spiritual, relational, and emotional needs, though some politicians would love to promise us they can. And not everyone is called to work in politics. Since so many people are talking about politics, the temptation is that all of us should throw ourselves wholeheartedly into it. But that isn’t true. Only some of us should. Knowing God’s calling on our lives and who we are in Christ helps us know the paths we should follow. If we take the Lordship of Christ over our lives and our governments seriously, then we should take the calling of Christ on our lives seriously too. Sometimes we can be envious of other people’s callings while not recognizing our own and the value it brings. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12, the Body of Christ has many members with different gifts, talents, and vocations. We are not all the same, and that’s a good thing. Because our different gifts and callings all serve to build up the common good.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t care about politics, just that some of us will be gifted, graced, and called to go heavy into it while some of us will not. And that’s ok. Because serving with integrity in politics is good. Teaching is good. Serving the church is good. Raising a family is good. Metalwork is good. Science is good. And a whole lot of other things are good. And this is why I love Stackhouse’s book. In the midst of his thoughtful musings on the relationship between Christian faith and politics, he challenges us to look at politics and every other worthwhile endeavor through the lens of Christ’s calling on our lives. We must ask, “Who is Jesus Christ for us today?” and then follow it with “Who am I for Jesus Christ today?”
In the midst of a swirl of opinions and the unnerving chaos of change, don’t forget whose you are and his call on your life. Because in a world of competing voices and priorities, his voice is most important.