With cynicism about politics widespread, it’s good to have James Skillen’s seasoned, balanced reminder of The Good of Politics. A few excerpts.
At the outset, Skillen questions the common separation of politics and culture: “can political really be distinguished as a realm separate from culture? Isn’t political life one of many dimensions of culture? If there is reason to distinguish the two, is the same thing true of business and commerce, science and education? Are they also distinct from culture? If every expression of human life is considered distinct from culture, then what remains of culture?” (xi).
Following Raymond Van Leeuwen, he argues that the creation account of Genesis 1 is crucial for setting the terms of the Bible’s teaching concerning politics. The Creator models what it means to rule, as He forms a “well-ordered, well-governed kingdom, which honors and delights the ruler.” Though Genesis 1 doesn’t mention legislatures or judiciaries, it shows that humanity is created to “build up the earth . . . through productive development and the fruits of their sociocultural creativity so that those who image God can achieve all that God has given them to do” (23).
Skillen agrees with Richard Hays that Christians in public life should not rule over one another, but insists that this doesn’t mean Christians must withdraw from every office that requires the use of force: “the office of government and the meaning of political community must be reconceived in the light of Christ’s coming. Holding such a position of public authority does not have to mean, and should not mean, ‘lording it over others.’ To the contrary, in keeping with the law, it should mean acting as a servant of all civic neighbors in recognition that everyone, Christians included, stand equally before God, the Lord and judge of all” (29).