Book Review – City of Man

October 2, 2010

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.