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45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Primer for Christian Political Activism
Younger generations of evangelicals are wrestling with the proper way to engage in the political arena. As a one-time political activist and now a pastor, I have personally felt the tension between radical engagement and radical withdrawal. At times I have felt Christians have been too passive and at times (lately), I have felt that Christians have been far too...
Published on October 2, 2010 by Daniel Darling

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Only half-formed ideas but on a strong trajectory
Gerson and Wehner engage in a political discussion with Christians at the national level. By the end, I began to feel like they were trying to save their political careers or legacy before risking any controversial spiritual insight or truth. The book begins by confirming the need for Christians to be involved in politics. Apolitical Christians were on watch when WWII...
Published on August 6, 2011 by C P Slayton


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45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Primer for Christian Political Activism, October 2, 2010
This review is from: City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (Hardcover)
Younger generations of evangelicals are wrestling with the proper way to engage in the political arena. As a one-time political activist and now a pastor, I have personally felt the tension between radical engagement and radical withdrawal. At times I have felt Christians have been too passive and at times (lately), I have felt that Christians have been far too active.

Plus, American Christians have been afforded a rare historical stewardship. Few if any civilizations have had the opportunity to shape, change, and move their government in a way that we have. But just what is the biblical blueprint for involvement?

History has shown that when the church is too cozy with political power, it has abandoned its Christian witness and influence and has at times actually been the oppressor instead of the protector of the oppressed. GK. Chesterson said, "The coziness between the church and the state is good for the state and bad for the church."

We've also seen the moral vacuum left when the church withdraws into itself. Slightly more than half a century ago, the Christian witness in Germany was so weak that Hitler was largely able to co-opt the Church for his own diabolical purposes.

So what is the proper balance? How can Christians engage their world?

This week I was delighted to receive a review copy of City of Man by Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner. Its part of a new series called, Cultural Renewal, by Moody Publishers. This series will be edited by Tim Keller and Collin Hansen.

If this first offering by Gerson and Wehner is any indication, this series promises to offer believers a robust, winsome, and scripturally sound basis for engagement.

City of Man is a short read, but it is well-written, thoughtful, and honest. The authors explore the depths and difficulties of civic engagement. They peruse history, flesh out the Scriptures, and ultimately provide a working outline for believers who seek to shape the world. What I most love is that it calls Christians to resolute action, but also discernment, integrity, and above all, a winsomeness that opposes policies, but not people.

In my experience with politically active Christians, I have found these traits to be largely lacking. We seem more content with filtering our worldviews through entertainment-based talk shows, ideologically-driven blogs, and snarky pundits. We're tuned in more to Rush than the book of Romans, we've got more Hannity in us than Heaven, and we're quick to generalize, stereotype, and alienate.

This book suggests Christians do not retreat, that they remain firmly active in shaping government and culture, but adjust their tone for greater effectiveness. I think this is an important book, a must-read for every believer. Here's hoping it gets wide distribution and is accepted into the mainstream of conservative Christian political activism.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How Should Christians Engage Today's Political World?, October 19, 2010
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Gerson and Wehner are two former White House staff members under the presidency of George W. Bush. These men were staff writers who helped to craft policy and the statements to the public about those policies. They are both conservative and they are both Evangelical Christians.

Their book is unapologetically Evangelical and Conservative. Their goal is to give Evangelical Christians a wake up call to their need to become involved in the political and moral life of the communities and the country that they live in.

In their conclusion of the book they state that they hope they have providing three broad propositions to the Evangelical Christian Community. Those are;
1. Politics is the realm of necessity
2. Politics is the realm of hope and possibility
3. Politics can be the realm of nobility

It is their premise that Christians should be decided vocal about politics and become more involved in helping form and shape the political landscape of our country.

Chapter 1 of the book takes us on an exploration of Religion and Politics and whether they are friends or enemies. I think they do a good job of addressing the Biblical aspects of why we need governments and that God is not opposed to the formation of governments. They explore also how governments ought not be formed with an absence of religious thought, but should give consideration to the moral values that religion brings to society.

Chapter 2 gives a history of the Religious Right and does a good job, I think, of showing the good and the bad inherent in what happened with the Religious Right. The movement wasn't bad, but it did birth some individuals who tended to take more pleasure in their power than what was prudent, Biblical or necessary. But the movement itself was not poor.

Chapter 3 gives their view of what "A New Approach" ought to be now that the Religious Right has had it's moment in the sun.

The final chapters are very good in regards to Human Rights, Morality and the Role and Purpose of the State. I specifically enjoyed Chapter 5. I felt it had the most nuggets of gold for what I was looking for. The following quote was my favorite from the book, "A wise government, constructed around a true view of human nature, thus creates the conditions necessary to allow the great mass of the people to live well and to flourish, the enjoy both order and liberty, to live under the protection of the state without being suffocated by it."

This book gave a good introduction to the need for us to be aware of our politic culture and able to articulate our beliefs and disagreements.

I think a good reference tool for Christians looking for a Biblical answer to the social questions and political questions we face today will be found in Wayne Grudem's book on "Politics".

But I think thoughtful Evangelicals will enjoy this book for the concepts that it promotes for us.

Enjoy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars To engage or not to engage?, June 12, 2011
By 
NoVAReader (Northern Virginia, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (Hardcover)
To engage or not to engage? That is the question for many Christians regarding politics. Are we to only submit to the authorities, but otherwise lead apolitical lives largely out of the public square? Or, are we to actively engage in the political process?

Gerson and Wehner, two former White House staffers, suggest the latter. In this book, they explain that it is our responsibility to engage in politics. But, then, how do we do it without compromising our integrity or without crossing the line between what is good for us personally and what is good for the Kingdom? In this short book, they give their ideas on our responsibility to engage and some approaches we might take. For example, they suggest that we maintain self-awareness, maintain a spiritual grounding, maintain perspective, maintain community and maintain a spirit of grace and reconciliation. I think we would all agree politics could use a lot more of that last one in particular.

City of Man is a short book at just 140 pages. There are six chapters and an Epilogue - Religion and Politics: Friends or Enemies, The Religious Right, A New Approach, The Morality of Human Rights, The Role and Purpose of the State, Persuasion and the Public Square. For me, by far, the most compelling chapter was The Morality of Human Rights. The authors eloquently explain that Christians have an obligation to work for and promote human rights because we are all made in the image of God and therefore have inherent worth. They point out that this concept is clearly part of America's founding documents. It is also consistent with Tim Keller's (who wrote the forward for City of Man) ideas on mercy and justice in his book, Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just, which I also recommend.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Only half-formed ideas but on a strong trajectory, August 6, 2011
By 
C P Slayton (Fort Walton Beach, FL) - See all my reviews
This review is from: City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (Hardcover)
Gerson and Wehner engage in a political discussion with Christians at the national level. By the end, I began to feel like they were trying to save their political careers or legacy before risking any controversial spiritual insight or truth. The book begins by confirming the need for Christians to be involved in politics. Apolitical Christians were on watch when WWII Germany went unchecked.

Political 'big men' like Kuyper, Barth, Augustine, Luther and Niebuhr have started our political discussions, progressed them through the ages and applied them to the cultural evolutions of our political times. But more recently there has been a backlash against the political christian right movements. The authors claim that Christians and non-Christians alike are searching for a less bitter political christian. Does the church have to endorse political actions? Might it be better only to speak out against certain morally wrong institutions?

There is a chapter on international relations and it is formed around the question of human rights. The authors examine IR in a little more detail when questioning the role if the individual verses the role of the nation. In IR terms, do the different levels of analysis require a different moral map? Do Jesus' words to the individual apply to the national level, ever? A country that 'turns the other cheek' in IR terms may be easily taken advantage of. So does God still honor this 'loser'? The authors' analysis on these items is lacking.

In the 'anarchy' of world affairs are the first still last and shall the last be first? The theme of personal and national application of Jesus' words is not the theme of the whole book but I give credit to these authors for bringing up the question; a question that strikes at the core of IR from a christian perspective. Niebuhr's words are no longer taken as gospel. Gerson and Wehner's 'City of Man' suggests there are options outside of christian realism, it takes a godly wisdom to know where and how to apply it.

Saldy, these authors don't go out on any political limbs here at all. They bring up the questions that everyone has heard of and then don't offer any semblance of possible action, Biblical or not. They only hint at opposing the status quo but don't put any strength behind their critiques.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Much Needed Read, December 13, 2011
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This review is from: City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (Hardcover)
This is a much needed book for America today. After hearing Gerson speak at an event in NY in which he simply hit the high points in a brief summary of the book, I just had to read it. I'm so glad I did. These guys have their fingers on the pulse of American conservatism, its history, its demise, and what will enable it to have a stake in the future. City of Man takes a look at what a balanced view of politics in light of one's faith might look. During a time in which the rhetoric from both sides tends to demonize, criticize, and polarize, this easy read takes a hard look at what's needed in the political landscape.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brief and somewhat weak arguments, July 31, 2011
By 
JustinHoca (Kentucky, Turkey) - See all my reviews
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Since I've been working through various presentations of Christian interaction with society, particularly in the economic sphere, I thought it useful to read some modern takes on Christian involvement in politics. I thought Gerson/Wehner would be a good contrast with Jim Wallis. Gerson is a former speech writer in the G.W. Bush White House and current Washington Post pundit (and occasional NewsHour fill-in for David Brooks) and Wehner was also involved in policy strategy for Bush. Both are professing evangelicals.

As Tim Keller writes in the foreword:

"(A)ny simplistic Christian response to politics--the claim that we shouldn't be involved in politics, or that we should "take back our country for Jesus"--is inadequate. In each society, time, and place, the form of political involvement has to be worked out differently, with the utmost faithfulness to the Scripture, but also the greatest sensitivity to culture, time, and place."

The authors quickly gloss over a few historical strains of Christian views on politics, comparing the extremes of isolationism and efforts to create theocracy. There is a lot of room between poles on the continuum for a Christians to be.

Engaging in politics as a career can, in the strain of A.W. Tozer, be just as holy an act as sewing a tent, preparing an accounting audit, writing a sermon, or bagging groceries. So long as Christians do the work with a view to glorify God, it is holy, and none of the above are more holy than the other.

The authors look at a proper role of the state that (they hope) all Christians can agree upon while also looking at the proper role of the church within the state. They offer five precepts:
1. Moral duties of individuals and the state are different. Don't confuse Matthew 5 with Romans 13.
2. The Church as a body has different roles and obligations than individual Christians.
3. Scripture doesn't provide a blueprint for government and public policy.
(Emphasis mine):

"(T)he role of the church, at least as we interpret it, is to provide individual Christians with a moral framework through which they can work out their duties as citizens and engage the world in a thoughtful way, even as it resists the temptation to instruct them on how to do their job or on which specific public policies they ought to embrace."

Hence, the church should stand for liberty, justice, and human rights but not endorse specific bills on the floor. As C.S. Lewis believed, it's the role of the layperson and not the clergy to help the Church understand and work through certain issues of expertise. "This is where we want the Christian economist," as Lewis gave as one example that I have posted on my office door.

In stronger language:

"Identification of Christian social ethics with specific partisan proposals that clearly are not the only ones that may be characterized as Christian and as morally acceptable comes close to the original New Testament meaning of heresy."

What is "clearly Christian" is debatable, but I would argue that a pastor endorsing specific budget bills that contain a complex array of complicated items is problematic (more on this tomorrow).

I sent this quote to my congressman (Tea Party):

"Yet to govern is to choose--and those in public life have a duty to develop, as best they can, a sound political philosophy, to engage in rigorous moral reasoning, and to make sure they do not become so captive to ideology that they ignore empirical evidence."

4. Political involvement of Christians depends on the context they live in. New Testament Christians accepted their non-democratic governments as given, and submitted to authorities. Through democracy, we have the ability to peacefully pursue changes in our society that they didn't have, and perhaps this obligates us to different action.

5. God doesn't deal with nations as He did with Israel. (America is not Israel. But step into your average Southern Baptist church on a 4th of July service or "God and Country Day," and you might get confused about that).

Gerson and Wehner summarize the emergence of the evangelical Christian Right and the decline of the mainline denominations, for better or worse. They are clearly not fans of Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson.

They then shift to what they see as the proper role of government:

"There are, we believe, four categories--order, justice, virtue, and prosperity--that can help Christians think through the proper role of government in our lives...A wise government, constructed around a true view of human nature, thus creates the conditions necessary to allow the great mass of the people to live well and to flourish, to enjoy both order and liberty, to live under the protection of the state without being suffocated by it...We count ourselves conservatives in the tradition of Edmund Burke, who averred that God instituted government as a means of human improvement."

Basically, the classical liberal view of man's dignity but supported by a belief in man being created in God's image and undergirded by the ultimate belief in an ultimate source of Truth to provide a basis for our laws. Gerson and Wehner agree that democratic capitalism is the system that best allows man to be free and have the best opportunity to fulfill his God-given potential and creativity. "Judging by its fruit," democratic capitalism has never produced a famine and has provided the highest standard of living in terms of material wealth, liberty, and religious freedom, therefore it makes sense for Christians to promote it as a good way to order society.

The authors conclude the book with a look at rhetoric, how important it is for members of a society to have the freedom to be persuaded:

"(B)ecause human beings are created in God's image, they are morally autonomous and free to choose. They are capable of reason, and of being reasoned with. What most separates human beings from animals is a moral conscience, the ability to engage in private and public conversations about the human condition."

They conclude with some advice for Christian "persuaders" from the viewpoint of people who were responsible for crafting Bush speeches and op-eds.

There are some real weaknesses in the book, so I give it 3 stars out of 5. It's brief, so they don't contain well-defended arguments of either political or moral philosophy. The sources they draw from are also fairly few. I'm reminded that Christians have been dealing with this for thousands of years, so it'd be better to read something written 1,000 years ago than something written last year. They also ascribe certain economic outcomes to policy they see guided by Christian ethical principles, which I find problematic as economists disagree with them based on the data. Examples: Was it welfare reform that reduced poverty or the 1990s technology boom? Was it Rudy Giuliani's policies that caused crime to decrease in New York, or did he simply benefit from a nation-wide phenomenon of widely debated causes? Economists doubt the effects of policy in these examples, but Gerson and Wehner seem unaware of that. Obviously, the Bush Administration pushing through billions for AIDS-related medicine to Africa had some great outcomes we would not have seen otherwise but other examples they give are not that clean-cut.

Major issues like taxing and redistribution are completely bypassed in this book. They recognize that Christians will debate these issues and that Scripture doesn't give us clear-cut prescriptions. If you're looking for something in-depth, this isn't your book.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thoughtful, wise balance of action and prudence, December 28, 2010
By 
This review is from: City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (Hardcover)
To be a Christian engaged in the political sphere is challenging business these days. The "separation of church and state at all costs" perspective says Christians should stay out of politics -- or somehow suppress beliefs held within them that would motivate them to act based on faith. At the other end of the spectrum are Christians (e.g. James Davison Hunter), who advocate responding to our current polarized climate by being "silent for a season."

With a foreword by Tim Keller, City of Man counters these extremes with thoughtful, balanced, actionable perspectives that both critique past missteps and offer insight into how Christians can, and should, do it better. Stay silent, and you are failing to live out the Christian calling of being salt and light. Operate with the tone and posture of everyday politics, and you become indistinguishable from those of the world.

If you have ever pondered or wrestled with the delicate living out your faith in a political context, City of Man provides a framework to help you live out -- not set aside (which is impossible anyway) -- your faith. To quote the authors: "As all human activity -- from the mundane to the profound, from personal lives to professional careers -- falls under God's domain, so authentic Christian faith should be relevant to the whole of life; it ought not to be segregated from worldly affairs."

For those who aspire to see all aspects of their life through the context of their faith, including politics, City of Man delivers worthy thinking for you to grapple with.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lacks Content and Argument, May 25, 2012
This review is from: City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (Hardcover)
Apart from any disagreement (or agreement) I have with Gerson and Wehner in their book City of Man, I have to give this book a low rating and largely negative review. The chapters are, on average, 10-15 pages long, with little content. Much of what they say is agreeable but trivial, such as their "tips" for Christian political engagement--trivial in the sense that you don't need to read a book to come to such conclusions as "be humble" in your engagement with others in politics.

As neither of the authors are either biblical scholars nor versed very deeply in political philosophy, they don't offer much by way of argument or critical, scholarly analysis of their views or positions. In fact, they don't exactly lay out a theory, nor do theory engage (actual) competing political theories. They do, for instance, discuss "utilitarianism" briefly, misrepresenting it as it appears in moral and political philosophy, and it doesn't help that they cite no actual proponents of the theory.

The authors seem to be experts in pop-politics and current issues, and that is what you get in this short book, even though the authors give the impression that they are doing something new, something ground-breaking in Christian political philosophy and engagement in the book. I don't see it.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good reading, regardless of your political views, August 7, 2013
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This book is written by two conservative (evangelical) Christians, and aimed at 1) presenting the case for active Christian involvement in American politics, and 2) warning conservative Christians against the extremes and very unchristian attitudes rampant in politics. Both these tasks they accomplish admirably. I do think that at times they were kinder in their analysis of the failings of conservative politicians than in their analysis of liberal politicians, but this only underscores one of their main points: that no one comes to politics without an agenda, whether moral, spiritual, or political.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful Primer for Effective Christian Political Engagement, February 21, 2013
This short book is well reasoned. It does not encourage blind, rabid, angry engagement. Instead the authors want well reasoned engagement that is arrived at through spiritual depth and discernment. They caution against foolishly becoming a useful tool for another's agenda.

The most useful thing I will take away is the grid they provide for considering political positions.
1 Does it encourage order?
2. Does it promote justice?
3. Will it raise the level of virtue?
4. Will it make life better for those it affects?
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City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era
City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era by Michael J. Gerson (Hardcover - September 27, 2010)
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