Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

How the Nations Rage BOOK CLUB

How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age by Jonathan Leeman.  Thomas Nelson, 272 pages. 2018

We are going to be reading through an important and timely new book from Jonathan Leeman, editorial director at the ministry 9Marks, which helps Christians discover the most effective path forward amid battling worldviews: living as citizens of another kingdom and offering the world a totally new kind of politics.

This week we look at Chapter 1: A Nation Raging, a Church Unchanging  

  • What has been difficult for me over the last decade or two, however, has been to watch a growing divide between America and my Christianity. I might even say the relationship is becoming downright contentious.
  • Pew Research shows that Democrats are more left-leaning and Republicans more right-leaning than they were two decades ago. And both increasingly see each other as an existential threat to the nation.
  • One thing is certainly true: America is in the middle of an identity crisis.
  • The elections especially divided Christians by ethnicity. Whites leaned hard toward Trump, nonwhites marginally toward Clinton. After the election, African American friends of mine wanted to be “done” with evangelicalism.
  • Little by little Christians have felt pushed to the outskirts of whatever America is becoming.
  • It’s my sense that one of Satan’s greatest victories in contemporary America has been to divide majority and minority Christians along partisan lines.
  • This is one of the first goals of this book: to rethink faith and politics from a biblical perspective.
  • What might a biblically driven vision of politics look like? What are the biblical principles that we must hold with a firm grip? What are the matters of wisdom and judgment to hold with a loose grip? And what should we discard altogether?
  • We should strive to stop from time to time and say, “Wait a second. Is this biblical?” and be willing to throw anything and everything off the boat if necessary. And we should do this even with the things that our nation, our tribe, and our people regard as most precious.
  • I am concerned that sometimes we let principles of Americanism determine the way we read Scripture, rather than letting Scripture determine how we evaluate principles of Americanism.
  • The second goal of the book is to encourage us all to invest our political hopes first and foremost in our local churches.
  • This brings us to the third goal of this book. If our political hopes should rest first in our churches, we must learn to be before we do.
  • First be, then do. Don’t tell me you’re interested in politics if you are not pursuing a just, righteous, peace-producing life with everyone in your immediate circles.
  • As the church moves outward and into the public square, we must be prepared for battle. That’s the fourth goal of this book.
  • The division and contention of our present cultural moment is just one more illustration of the nations’ rage against the Lord.
  • I want to help us be less American so that we might be more patriotic. To put it another way, I want to help you and me identify with Christ more so that we might love our fellow citizens more, no matter the name of our nation.
  • The primary goal of this book is not to help Christians make an impact in the public square. It is not to help the world be something. It is to help Christians and churches be something.
  • A Christian’s political posture, in a word, must never be withdraw. Nor should it be dominate. It must always be represent, and we must do this when the world loves us and when it despises us.


  • Governments serve gods. This is true of every government in every place ever since God gave governments to the world.
  • Our gods are whatever we cannot imagine living without, whatever we most love, whatever we most trust, rely on, and believe in, and whatever is our final refuge.
  • Our hearts are battlegrounds of gods.
  • Step one for understanding my claim that governments serve gods is seeing that our religion is bigger than what happens at church. Step two is seeing that our politics are bigger than what happens in the public square. In fact, our politics involve everything we do.
  • The story of politics is the story of how you and I arrange our days, arrange our relationships, and arrange our neighborhoods and nations to get what we most want—to get what we worship.
  • Politics serves worship. Governments serve gods.
  • Just as our hearts are battlegrounds of gods, so the public square is a battleground of gods, the turf of our religious wars.
  • Most Christians think of themselves not as hard separationists, but as soft separationists. They believe that politics and religion should overlap in a few places but mostly remain separate.
  • The American Experiment is the idea that people of many religions can join together and establish a government based on certain shared universal principles. Think of it as a contract with at least five principles. Principle one of this contract is that governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed,” says the Declaration of Independence. Principle two is religious freedom. Three is other forms of freedom and equality. Four is the idea of justice as rights. And five is the separation of church and state.
  • The first result of pretending we can separate politics and religion is that we ideologically tilt the public square floor against our Christian moral heritage and organized religion generally. The second result is that it makes some elements of Christian speech—especially related to the family, sexuality, and religion—sound irrational and therefore unjust.
  • In the public square, people fear the irrational and become angry toward injustice. Irrationality and injustice are linked because the first often leads to the second.
  • The only moral vocabulary that is permitted in the public square today is the language of rights, equality, and freedom.
  • That brings us to a second paradox for this chapter. The first, you may recall, is that the logic of “religious freedom,” if not the language itself, will be used against God’s people in an unvirtuous society. The second is this: nearly every American today affirms the separation of church and state, but that institutional distinction is a Christian one, and it applies uniquely to Christians
  • Biblically understood, the separation of church and state isn’t about who gets to decide what morals will bind a nation. It’s about the fact that God has given the state one kind of authority and churches another kind.
  • Public schools, as agents of the state, participate in the religious indoctrination of their students. Through the classroom, the legislator, and the courtroom, today’s secular progressive is only too happy to use the state to enforce his moral and religious codes.
  • There is no doubt about it: Americans today remain as religious as ever. I don’t mean they identify as Methodists, Mormons, or Muslims. I mean they worship something. And that worship shows up in their politics.
  • Our entire lives are fundamentally political because our entire lives are measured in relation to King Jesus and his claim on our whole person. This is true for Christians and non-Christians. We live in either submission or rebellion. The mechanisms of the state are merely one tool we use in this larger political contest.
  • Becoming a Christian, however, means we change our worship and our politics. We submit to King Jesus in all things. We acknowledge that he is praiseworthy and worthy to rule all things. Our politics and worship unite around him.

Chapter 3: Heart: Not Self-Exalting, But Born Again and Justified

  • Politics usually involves feeling defensive about the groups to which we belong, whether a family, nation, political party, economic class, ethnicity, team, gang, even workplace. Why? Because our groups give us a sense of identity.
  • History’s greatest political rivalry, it would seem, is between the nations of the earth and the Messiah.
  • The politics of creation began with hearts seeking the glory and fame of God. The politics of the fall, however, began with hearts seeking their own fame and glory.
  • We have to start with the heart if there is to be hope of true political change.
  • The goal of this chapter is to consider what Christ’s redemption offers us politically.
  • Self-justification is the throne on which self-rule and worship sit. Self-rule depends on self-justification. And self-justification leads to oppression, discrimination, violence, and rage.
  • The first step toward a new-heart politics begins when the self-justifying arguments end, when we say from the heart, “Yes, I am wrong.” It begins when we acknowledge our sin and that we have forfeited the right to rule, because we have not proven worthy.
  • The second step toward a new-heart politics is part and parcel of the first: when we accept our inadequacy before God’s law, we then must seek God’s forgiveness and the righteousness only God can give.
  • When we recognize that we are justified by faith alone, we know we have no right to rule over others or to oppress them. We know we have gained acceptance purely as a gift of God’s mercy. The political standing we have in God’s throne room and the worth we possess before all creation is not of us. It’s a gift.
  • When a heart stops arguing for its own righteousness and right to rule but relies on God’s righteousness instead, it takes another step: it shows mercy and seeks peace.
  • The only true, long-term solution to our political contempt, rivalry, and rage is a born-again heart.
  • A new-heart politics begins by laying down the weapons of war. It recognizes that it has received mercy, and so it extends mercy.
  • For a Christian, the political life must begin inside the church—in our new-creation life together as local congregations.
  • This brings us to the fourth step for our new-heart politics: expect persecution and sometimes praise.
  • Politics always starts in the heart.
  • People will commit themselves to fighting fervently according to the politics of the fall.
  • Good governments and righteous civil societies are good things, just like marriages and jobs are good things. Still, at the risk of sounding clichéd, you have to let America go. Give it back to God. He might take it away. He might give it back. You will be okay either way if you have him. That doesn’t mean you stop working for the nation’s good.

Chapter 4: Bible: Not Case Law, but a Constitution

  • How do we maintain unity with one another inside the church when we disagree on what the Bible teaches on important political matters?
  • Christians often disagree on what the Bible does or does not “say” on different political issues.
  • Should a pastor endorse or denounce a political candidate? Should he share his position on various policy matters like immigration or health care? Tax policy or global warming? Same-sex marriage or abortion?
  • The first question is how to interpret the Bible politically. The second is whether we should work to “impose” biblical teaching on non-Christians through our political activity. The third is how much room we should leave for Christians in a church to disagree. The fourth is the pastor’s role in all this. And on and on the questions collide.
  • When it comes to thinking about politics, the Bible is less like a book of case law and more like a constitution. A constitution does not provide a country with the rules of daily life. It provides the rules for making the rules. It establishes who the rule makers are and what the purpose of rule is.
  • First, the Bible is the book by which all our political activity will be judged. This is true for Christians and non-Christians.
  • It doesn’t matter if a majority of the American public, the justices of the Supreme Court, and the US Congress do not acknowledge God or God’s Word. He is their God, and he will judge them by his standards, not theirs.
  • Most of the Bible’s emphasis, in other words, is on the people of God, not on principles for good government.
  • Distinguishing between law and wisdom is absolutely critical for knowing how to read the Bible politically.
  • The relationship between law and wisdom can be likened to the relationship between the rules of a game and the strategy you employ to win a game.
  • Most of the political questions citizens face day to day are biblically unscripted. Instead, they occur in wisdom’s territory.
  • The Bible cares more about whether a government pursues justice by the wisdom of God than it cares about what form of government a nation possesses.
  • Party membership remains an area of Christian freedom.
  • Most political issues are jagged-line issues. There are only a few topics that we can put on the straight end of the spectrum, specifically, those issues pertaining to life, family, and religious freedom.
  • Christians should unite around straight-line issues while leaving room for Christian freedom around jagged-line issues.
  • When something is clear in the Bible, let’s be explicit and clear. But when the Bible isn’t explicit and clear, let’s leave room for Christian freedom.
  • Christian liberty is crucial to church unity. When we speak beyond where Scripture authorizes us to go, we risk dividing the church where the Bible does not, and one day we will have to give an account to King Jesus for that.

Chapter 5: Government: Not a Savior, But a Platform Builder

  • The Bible teaches churches need good governments in order for them to do their work. Indeed, this is why God gave authority to human beings to establish governments in the first place.
  • No governments are all good or all bad. God employs both the best and the worst for his sovereign purposes.
  • The Bible says a government’s authority comes from God.
  • Government represents God. Governments are his servant, his minister. No governing institution exists outside of the larger institutional realities of God’s law.
  • We obey government out of obedience to God. To resist it is to resist him.
  • The first and most immediate purpose of government is to render judgment for the sake of justice.
  • Governments don’t possess the authority to render judgment and establish justice for their own sake. The goal is to build a platform of peace, order, and even flourishing on which humans can live their lives.
  • Order must be established for people to flourish.
  • A good government sets the stage for God’s plan of redemption. It clears a way for the people of God to do their work of calling the nations to God.
  • Governments possess no authority to exercise the keys of the kingdom, and no ability to coerce true worship.
  • The Bible evaluates every historical government according to whether or not it accomplishes the task that God set for civil governments in Genesis 9:5–6.
  • The Bible also never says anything about how governments should be formed.
  • God’s authorizing words in Genesis 9:5–6 apply to all of us. We are all responsible for fulfilling this basic requirement of justice, each for his or her part, whether through playing a role in government or through supporting the government.
  • We don’t want a government that thinks it can offer redemption, but a government that views its work as a prerequisite of redemption for all its citizens.

Chapter 6 – Churches: Not Lobbying Organizations, But Embassies of Heaven

  • Inside the local church is where a Christian politics becomes complicated, authentic, credible, not ideologically enslaved, real. It’s in these real-life situations where you’re forced to think about what righteousness truly is, what justice truly requires, what obligations you possess toward your fellow God-imagers, and what you yourself are made of.
  • Christians learn politics, in particular, as we work for unity amid all the reasons we give one another not to be united.
  • One reason people don’t recognize the political nature of the church is because of the time delay between the church’s promise of judgment and its fulfillment.
  • Churches both are and are not a political threat to the civic order. Since no government is free of idols, churches preaching the gospel will always pose some threat.
  • Christianity, by nature, is political. It requires righteous deeds and just lives, but righteousness and justice are measured, in large part, by our loving lives together.
  • Every church is political. Every church is an embassy of heaven. But no church is competent to wield the sword. Therefore, churches should ordinarily not seek to influence government policy directly.
  • The church’s most powerful political word is the gospel. And the church’s most powerful political testimony is being the church. There is more political power in the gospel and in being the church than there is in electing a president, installing a Supreme Court justice, or even changing a constitution.
  • Churches can sin and prove faithless by not speaking up in matters of government policy when they should.
  • Once in a great while churches should speak directly to government policy or to particular candidates.
  • American Christians need to work harder at promoting Christian freedom when it comes to candidates, causes, and policy.
  • Just as a church should not seek to wield the sword and influence government policy directly, so a church should ordinarily not be partisan. That is, it should not identify itself with one political party or another.
  • Unless you are ready to deny or remove church membership to someone for his or her party membership, a pastor or church generally should not endorse or denounce one party or another or candidates from said party. When a church does, it effectively ties the name of Jesus to that party and subverts the mission of the church to being a branch of that party. Non-Christians will begin to view that church as a lobbying wing of a party and Christians as political operatives for that party.
  • A pastor’s occupation is conscience-binding. And he should only bind the conscience of his hearers with the Word of God.
  • The prophetic power of the gospel and the church will grow as we disciple one another toward being a just and righteous people. So, teach biblical principles. But don’t wade into public policy tactics and then bind the conscience.
  • Individual churches will come and go. Yet Christ’s church—the church—will remain. It will prevail against partisan politics, the rage of the nations, and hell itself.

Chapter 7 – Christians: Not Cultural Warriors, But Ambassadors

  • There are at least three wrong paths Christians in America might take today in their approach to politics and the public square.
  • Wrong path number one is disengagement. Here Christians isolate themselves from civic life and focus only on their lives together. They tell themselves this is the “spiritual” thing to do. Wrong path number two is capitulation. This is not the path of neutrality but of positively endorsing the world and its ways. Wrong path number three is worldly engagement. There is a way of engaging that’s right on the substance but wrong on the strategy or tone.
  • Respect and honor the legitimate institutions of this present age. Let them do their jobs and work for their good. But realize that they are passing, and do not give them your ultimate allegiance and hope.
  • I want it to inspire you to get involved wherever you live: in a school, in a city council, in writing letters to the editor, in a crisis pregnancy shelter, in a homeless shelter, in a neighborhood revitalization project, or in any number of other ways to honor the institutions in place, and, in so doing, do good.
  • Work to do good while you’re here, but know that nothing lasts. This isn’t heaven.
  • Recognize that political success for a Christian equals faithfulness, not results.
  • The person who fears the Lord will put a career on the line in order to do the right thing. She knows there is something greater than a career.
  • A failure to vote, if one is capable, is arguably a failure to love one’s neighbor and, therefore, God.
  • A Christian’s supreme political value should always be justice.
  • One sign that you identify more with your ideological tribe than you do with Jesus is that you cannot hear what’s good when it comes from another tribe. You assume that everything that people on the other side of the aisle say must be wrong.
  • Our arguments should seek to persuade rather than to score points.
  • When we claim to know what God is doing in history, speaking where Scripture does not, we risk projecting our own ideological and partisan preferences onto God. In effect, we substitute our wisdom for God’s, and thus become idolaters.
  • Whether you identify with the Democrats or the Republicans, the gospel frees us from being over-identified with either. Instead, it equips you to enter either party as an ambassador. It enables you to be a better party member by affirming the good, denouncing the bad, and pushing your party toward justice.
  • Any action you take against a government will be judged by God’s final government on the Last Day. Make sure you’re ready to give that account.
  • We should pray not only for the governments we like, but for the ones we don’t like.

Chapter 8 – Justice: Not Just Rights, But Right. Here are some good quotes from that chapter:

  • Behind every political division in the nation is a different view of justice.
  • Identity politics, broadly speaking, begins with the common-sense observation that our lives and beliefs are shaped by the groups we occupy—whether those groups are based on gender, race, class, sexual orientation, or something else. And then it makes moral and political claims based on those group
  • When you remove the God of glory and the God of judgment who created all humanity in his image, this is where the story of freedom, rights, and equality culminates.
  • The American Experiment, divorced from God, makes same-sex marriage, transgender-bathroom debates, and the end of religious tolerance inevitable.
  • If God is not judge and I am not created in his image, then, yes, I have every right to define my gender, my existence, my everything. The only moral categories that come to predominate are a belief in liberty, proportional fairness, and not harming others—the three values that animate social justice.
  • People have rights because God created them in his image. Governments should respect people’s rights because people are made in God’s image and are of inestimable worth.
  • True justice doesn’t start with our rights. It starts with God’s righteousness and his understanding of what’s right. We do justice by doing what’s right, which includes respecting people’s rights. First right, then rights. The order is crucial.
  • When we disregard what God says is right, then anyone can say which rights are right and which aren’t. There is no rebuttal. There is no public and accepted righteousness or standard of right.
  • If you would be just, build meaningful friendships with people who don’t look like you, sound like you, or shop in the same kinds of stores.
  • Apart from meaningful relationships with people from different groups that involve your heart, your affections, and your love, you will most likely possess an incomplete picture of that group. And, as such, your calculations about “what’s just” will more than likely be skewed, partial, and unjust.
  • Christians do justice by caring for the materially disenfranchised and the spiritually downtrodden in every way—physically, socially, emotionally. Yet we do justice most of all by pointing people to their Judge and would-be Redeemer and calling them to repent and believe.
  • A more robust vision of justice starts inside of the life of the congregation. Then it spills outward. And it spills outward, first, with evangelistic impulse and purposefulness.

Final Thoughts:

  • None of us knows what’s ahead for the nation. We should not be naïve about the forces of darkness arrayed against us. But fear and withdrawal make no sense for the church. We press on as we always have.
  • God’s common grace grants many a nation better than it deserves, but I have little confidence that America will long remain strong, prosperous, and free without any concept of God’s righteousness and justice somewhere in the background.
  • If there is hope for the nation, it’s through the witness and work of churches.
  • Our congregations have the opportunity to live transformed lives as a transformed culture through a transformed politics in their own fellowships right now—all for God’s glory and our neighbors’ good.