Ten Diagnostic Questions for the Potential Ideologue
Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacificism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part . . . in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce . . . Once you made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing . . . and the more „religious” (on those terms) the more securely ours. – C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 1942
Jesus commands us to obey him in every domain of life, including in our politics. Yet not every political position or strategy amounts to “Thus saith the Lord.”
The above admonition of C.S. Lewis also reminds us that an “all or nothingism,” over-attachment to a political viewpoint is a perennial temptation for the Christian. While boiling political positions and strategies down to binary choices may make for effective political campaigns, biblical faithfulness may not be so easily reduced.
How do you know when you’ve become too attached to your political perspectives on debatable matters and that you’re more of an ideologue than a biblical theologue? Here are ten diagnostic questions to help you know if you’ve become too attached to your political views.
- Do you present opposing viewpoints in ways that your opponent would agree with?
This is much harder to do in short bursts on social media, but whether in person or online, Christians must rightly characterize others’ views. To do otherwise is a form of bearing false witness. Unfortunately, many are quick to accuse others of not representing them fairly, but very few actively correct their misstatements.
- Do you resort to personal attacks, either directly or subtly and indirectly? Do you call into question the legitimacy of someone’s faith if they disagree with you on how to approach some political matters?
Be very careful to throw around terms like “heretic,” “woke,” “anti-woke,” “radical,” “Marxist,” or “fundamentalist.” Some of the derogatory terms thrown around on social media are only meant to signal your political tribe; they are rarely helpful beyond that.
- Are you able to assume the best about someone else’s approach even if you disagree with their conclusions?
Christians should always be marked by charity, gentleness, self-control, integrity, and courage. Speaking the truth in love is an inseparable directive, and many matters are merely downstream applications from this truth. Jesus didn’t give a “politics exception” for loving our neighbors . . . or our enemies.
- Do you deploy logical fallacies to make your case?
If you don’t know many logical fallacies, read Exegetical Fallacies. Any time you are relying on grandstanding or strawman arguments, you are potentially moving towards idolizing your viewpoint. Carson’s book is meant first for preachers, but his chapter on logical fallacies is a useful guide to any Christian speaking truth or trying to be a more discerning learner.
- Do you ignore or justify character flaws and historical difficulties because acknowledging them would undermine your political viewpoint?
We see this all over the spectrum politically and religiously. It is far easier to uncover and highlight discrepancies or less flattering qualities of those who are not part of our “tribe.” The Bible encourages us not to believe slander, but also that justice should not be bent because of personal relationships.
- Do you seek to make theological claims about every matter that comes up in your culture and community?
Hot takes garner social media acclaim but often disregard the wisdom of Proverbs: “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (18:13; see also verse 17). This is one of the cancers of social media. The medium itself compels participants to offer and consume immediate reactions to everything happening in the world. Believers must recognize the spiritual dangers that accompany the desire either to give or consume immediate reactions to too many things.
- Do you rarely point out your opponent’s positive views, and are you remiss to speak critically of those who mostly agree with you?
This is especially true in politics, but we see it in the church broadly as well. If you cannot sincerely and charitably identify positive views or character qualities of someone you disagree with, then that’s a good indicator you may be taking your political allegiance too far.
- Are you more eager to engage in political debate and controversy than to engage in the regular means of grace God gives his people?
Specifically, what makes you more excited: worshiping with God’s people, reading your Bible, praying, and engaging in acts of service; or making your political views known and engaging in the current moment’s public debates and controversies?
- Would your fellow church members who know you best characterize you as proud and quarrelsome or humble, gentle, and charitable?
This applies in all contexts. Jesus was a truth speaker. He was the epitome of courage and the pinnacle of gentleness, kindness, and love. These are not competing or mutually exclusive qualities.
- Do your political statements make it more or less difficult to have fellowship with Christians of varying perspectives in your local church?
Proverbs 10:12 says, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.” Do you enjoy stirring up strife and controversy, or is your posture one that looks to absorb and unify?
Politics can be a messy and uncomfortable endeavor. It rarely involves strategic approaches that are either clearly right or flatly wrong. This is true even when biblical principles inform our policies.
Be wary of anyone who casts their political strategy and positions on less clear matters with a “thus saith the Lord” level of certainty.
Christians have engaged in politics in many different contexts throughout the centuries. It’s important to learn how to develop principles and political strategies that fit your particular context. Yet remember we are all on the threshold of eternity. We are, after all, Christians. How surprised will many of us be at the various political approaches of those who, like us, are eternally united to Christ, of those with whom we’ll spend an eternity together in glory?