Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Book review: How Would Jesus Vote? by D. James Kennedy

I have to confess, I was skeptical from the outset of the new Waterbrook Press title How Would Jesus Vote? by D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe. In my view, this could have (and maybe should have) been the shortest book Waterbrook has ever published, with a single page declaring, “He wouldn’t.” And I feared that this would be one more piece of Christianized political propaganda in a time when the church really needs solid, biblical wisdom.

Was I right? Yes and no-- but, sadly, mostly yes.

The book is divided into three sections-- Jesus and Politics, The Issues, and Final Thoughts. The first section is very good, with good rationale for why a Christian ought to be concerned with the political process, a check on the notion that all of the answers are found in political solutions, and an encouragement toward a well-considered “World and Life View.” Though Kennedy’s political views are present in the three opening chapters, it isn’t
offensively present. I found my skepticism being challenged, and I began to have hope that this book may be exactly the resource the church needs.

Let me take a moment to say what I mean by “offensive” in this context. Everyone has political opinions, even if their opinions are simply, “I don’t care.” But when someone who is influential in a non-political arena-- such as the church or an educational context-- utilizes their position to advance their personal political preferences and opinions, they are abusing their position and deceiving those under their leadership. I find this offensive, especially in the case of a pastor or other church leader.

Which leads me to the second section, The Issues. There are 10 important and considerable issues discussed here, and in spite of my initial skepticism I had hopes that Dr. Kennedy would handle them fairly and biblically, based on the general appreciation I had for the first section.

I was wrong. In almost every case, Dr. Kennedy presents only scant biblical support for the views and opinions he proffers in The Issues. Instead, he puts forth his opinions and biases, sometimes with Scriptural support and sometimes without much biblical input at all. Worst of all, he concludes each chapter in the section with a “How would Jesus Vote?” summary of his opinions.

Take the environment as an example. Are there biblical texts that speak to the environment and the Christian’s view of it? Absolutely. Can a believer extract a balanced understanding of how he or she ought to view matters (especially political matters) of environmental conscience? I think so. Does Dr. Kennedy expose us to these texts, and explain how we might derive a biblical worldview about the environment? No-- what he offers amounts to an attack on the current positions of the political liberals, especially the Democratic party, and pronounces arguments and evidence against them that is little different from any other Republican attack. There is little biblical support, and no consideration for a number of biblical texts that speak to the issue.

By and large, that is the case for all of the issues. In some of them, Dr. Kennedy does better, in others worse, with drawing out a full sense of the biblical position on a topic. The chief exception for that is the issue of immigration, where Dr. Kennedy actually does a very good job of working through the biblical words on the issue, and a good job of applying them (in general terms) to our context.

Other than that, though, much of what counts for biblical support is often Dr. Kennedy declaring his opinion, then searching for a proof-text to back it up. I cannot recommend the second section at all, and would urge readers to simply skip over it.

The closing section is something of a mixture of the other two, in terms of approach. The content in the final section is hit-or-miss, but largely it is acceptably good. I do appreciate the general tenor of it, proclaiming that there is something more important than politics.

Dr. D. James Kennedy is a dyed-in-the-wool, straight-ticket Republican. There is no denying that having read this book, and there’s nothing wrong with that, either-- he certainly has the right to hold whatever political convictions are his. But in
How Would Jesus Vote? he draws a direct equation between his Republican positions and biblical Christianity. And there IS something wrong with that.

There is no doubt that a book that looks at each of the issues from a strictly biblical perspective is a needed tool and guide for Christians today. Make no mistake, though:
How Would Jesus Vote? isn’t it. Such a book would need to at least straddle the various parties and where they are closer to a biblical perspective, or at best transcend the parties and consider only the biblical views-- NOT baptize a particular party’s platform under the auspices of biblical support.

I rate this book as a whole as a 5. (If Waterbrook were to cut out the middle section and just publish the first and last sections as a book (about 88 pages), I would probably rate it as an 8.)

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