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Episode 19 - Our First Great Commission as Citizens


Date: October 17, 2018
Run Time: 14:52
Host: Dr. Gregory R. Perry
Guest: Dr. Vincent Bacote
From the Series: The Image of God

Program Notes

Should we only attend to politics when the fire alarm is going off? In this episode, we talk with Dr. Vincent Bacote about:

  • Politics and the image of God
  • How deep convictions and deep compassion aren't mutually exclusive
  • The positive and negative example of Abraham Kuyper

Sponsors this Month: Center for Applied Christian Ethics and the Center for Public Justice

To help us explore the remarkable, biblical description of human identity, 4 the World welcomes Dr. Vincent Bacote to our conversation. Vince is Associate Professor of Theology at Wheaton College and the Director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics. He is also the host for our newly revised series, Building Your Theology. Vince has contributed to numerous theological works and has authored two books: The Political Disciple: A Theology of Public Life, published by Zondervan, and The Spirit in Public Theology: Appropriating the Legacy of Abraham Kuyper, published by Wipf & Stock. Vince resides in the Chicago area with his family.

Episode 19

Podcast Transcript

EPISODE 19: Our First Great Commission as Citizens
Guest: Dr. Vincent Bacote

4 the World is a production of Third Millennium Ministries where we believe every Christian deserves a well-trained pastor. To study Scripture deeply or to learn more about how you can partner with us to provide Biblical Education. For the World. For Free. download our App to your phone or visit our online classroom at Thirdmill.org. And now, your host 4 the World, Dr. Greg Perry.

Welcome back to 4 the World where we’re continuing a conversation with Dr. Vincent Bacote of Wheaton College about the job of being human, a series on the doctrine of the image of God. Vince is the host for our series “Building Your Theology” and is the author of several books including The Political Disciple. Can religion and politics be talked about together? Let’s hope so. We’re going to talk about it this time on 4 the World.


Would you say that God has made us political beings, that the image of God gives us political responsibilities?

Dr. Bacote: At the most basic level, I think politics is how we are together managing our life in God’s world, and government is one of the things that helps us to manage life, helps us to have an orderly society, helps us to take care of things so we don’t have to think about certain things. And there are governments that facilitate, enable greater participation of citizens in political life, and there are others that make people more like responders to what happens in political life. If you are in a country like the United States, which is a republic where, if you’re a citizen and you’re of age, you can vote, you can run for office, then, in my view, this is an environment where this management of life is one expression of that first Great Commission that I talked about in a prior episode, because it’s part of what it is to be stewarding life in God’s world. For many people that are Bible-believing Christians, their approach to politics is politics by crisis management. So, they only attend to political life or pay attention to political life if, you know, the fire alarm has gone off.

There’s a big problem.

Dr. Bacote: Right. And now they start to turn their attention to putting this fire out. In political life, a lot of it is, you know, what could appear to be the very mundane management of all kinds of details that make our lives better for us, like good roads, schools, making sure the power lines are … or where the power lines are; where they’re not. What about your public transportation? What about your police force? How many people are on your police force? How much you can fund your police force, how much you can pay those people. All those types of things are things that are matters of political stewardship. So, to me, to disengage presumes that my life is pretty good as it is, and I can just trust people that I don’t really see to just take care of everything. But, I think if we’re thinking about a world where we’re seeking the flourishing of all others, then we can’t really look away from political life, because even if I’m comfortable, that doesn’t mean that everybody else is or that everybody else is in the context of flourishing.

How do Christians engage a pluralistic context for the common good? How important is this idea of the common good for our political action, our political involvement?

Dr. Bacote: If Christians take seriously the second greatest commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself,” there is no asterisk by that, which means that neighbors are only people that I like, or people that I agree with, or that the scope and the scale of loving my neighbor is only as local as my family or my immediate community. Part of the pursuit of the common good is dignifying other people by even letting them speak their opinion, by even considering how they want to seek the good of others. Now, it’s true, as you said, that I think there are some Christians, and certainly there are people who aren’t Christian, when they’re thinking about the goals of politics, they are very particular, and therefore their people, their neighborhood, whatever. We have to be thinking about the fact that if we want the best for ourselves, that also includes really wanting the best for the world. Now, people have differing ideas of what that means. None of that means that anything about a particular political position is just simply a Christian disposition that emerges out of the obligation to love the neighbor. If I have an obligation to love the neighbor, I can’t say my politics doesn’t allow me to do this, because if I’m doing that, then I’ve made my politics an idol.


There you go. And it’s interesting, you’ve brought up the issue of political speech or just creating room for people to speak and how we treat our neighbors by listening to them. There are some pastors maybe listening who are maybe worried about how their own parishioners are talking to each other on Facebook or social media, or maybe they have a lobbyist for one particular type of organization in their congregation and another political party represented by someone else in government in their congregation, but the truth is, is that most congregations tend to be of one political stripe. How important is it for Christians to model civil discourse and the way we treat one another and how we talk about politics and how we listen to each other. What are some of the things that are making you maybe a little more hopeful in that area that is helpful?

Dr. Bacote: I think one of the challenges that people have now is not knowing that you can have deep convictions and deep compassion at the same time. But I think part of what helps us to have deep conviction and deep compassion is to remember that we’re engaging other human beings. We’re not engaging people that are non-human representations of political ideas, of cultural ideas or particular policies. So, you may think that someone’s policies are legitimately harmful to the greater good of society. None of that is reason to dehumanize that person. You can speak forcefully, you can speak passionately about that concern, but we need to do that mindful of the fact that we’re talking to others who are also image bearers. If you’re a Christian, your ultimate faith can’t be in politics alone. Some of the listeners may be familiar with Michael Wear who used to work in the Obama White House and is writing and speaking now about Christians in politics, and one of the things he says that he thinks the way that politics has gone wrong is that people are putting more faith in their politics in a way almost like it’s a religious kind of faith in politics. So they’re wanting politics to do more than just what politics does, right? So we need to have the right political emphasis and give it its right weight. For some people, it means just actually attending to it and participating in it. Others need to step back from treating their political commitments at the same level as their religious commitments.


Now, Vince, I know that you have studied deeply and written about a famous Christian politician, Abraham Kuyper, a Reformed Christian theologian that served as the prime minister of the Netherlands at the beginning of the twentieth century. Does Kuyper offer us some guidance about how to engage politically with integrity as a Christian? I’m sure there are some positive and maybe some negative examples from his life.

Dr. Bacote: Yes. So, among the positive examples, actually, are the surprise to many that, though he was prime minister, Kuyper was not after some idea of a totalitarian Christian society. I think there are people who think that because he was prime minister it must have meant, “Oh, I get it. Christians taking over.” Or sometimes that word that winds up being really a slur to get people to think that you’re trying to take over the world: “Oh, a theocracy.” You can’t read him and ever think that that’s the case. So, what Kuyper was after was certainly the view that Christians uphold the ordinances of creation, that these things when put into practice led to a society that was the best for everyone, but there was nothing about coercing people who were different from him, excluding or coercing them into having the same beliefs. So, really, what he wanted to say was that Christians ought to be participating, participating distinctively in politics, but also being willing to work with other people. So, he never would have become, for example, prime minister if he’s not … He was a part of a Christian political party in the Netherlands at the time called the Anti-Revolutionary Party, which was anti-French Revolution. Well, he’s not going to become prime minister if he doesn’t make a coalition with the Catholic political party. And you’ve got to understand this was way before Vatican II, so it’s not like Catholics and Protestants were always going out to dinner or something. So, I think we have to keep in mind that he recognized that you have to make these coalitions to make things happen. It doesn’t mean that you agree about everything, but you perhaps agree about enough where you have enough common goals. And I think there has to be that kind of willingness to work with others when we’re thinking about accomplishing political ends or political goods.

Listening to their views.

Dr. Bacote: Yes.

Now, I know, as an African-American man — I’ve read Kuyper, I know that he has some views of race that are not in accord with Scripture — and yet you chose to study his life. You chose to stay engaged with his views, to listen to his views. Could you just share a little bit about that on a personal level?

Dr. Bacote: Yes, even his picture is framed and in my office, actually, which may really sound amazing. But he’s how I became a critical thinker because I had to deal with language of his that was clearly showing that he had nothing positive really to say about people of African descent. I had to ask myself, were the things that were attractive to me about his thought intimately tied to, intimately connected to the judgments that he’s making, the value judgments he’s making about people of African descent? My conclusion was then, and is now, that that’s not the case. In fact, I think those are reflective of the fact that he could not overcome what I like to call “the gravitational pull of his cultural assumptions.” He couldn’t live up to where his theological commitment should have taken him. Right? Because even in his theology, there’s this way he’s talking about how Calvinistic Reformation theology emphasizes all of us as a priesthood of believers and all people are made in the image of God, how this elevates people and how this, you know, means you can’t have slavery and a caste system and so forth.

So he’s inconsistent.

Dr. Bacote: Exactly. But he doesn’t live up to that when you see some of the value judgments that he makes. So, to me he’s just a great example of a person with clay feet, but a person who had a lot to say that I think is helpful about Christians engaging public life. For me, I think it was the gateway to saying, look, whatever figure you deal with who’s not Jesus, it’s only a matter of time before the day of reckoning happens and you have to deal with the failures of that person. And sometimes those failures will be things that you find really lamentable.

So it goes back to what Calvin said about human beings that were glorious ruins, right?

Dr. Bacote: Yeah, that’s a good way to put it.

If we know about ourselves and our own sinfulness, we can expect to find these things about our heroes.

Dr. Bacote: Exactly. Exactly. And so I think with any figure you’ve got to basically always be in an act of discernment and decide, alright, I can find these things helpful and these other things not so helpful, and I’m just willing to be truthful about those things. It’s hard for people to do that when they want to make people into heroes. We have to be careful about what it means to make people into heroes, and then we can admire them without making them heroic.

Vince, thanks for sharing so personally. And we’re looking forward to continuing this conversation. We’ve kind of opened the barrel regarding whether or not God cares about our politics, and we’re going to continue the conversation next week when we talk about evangelicals. Do evangelicals have an identity crisis? Tune in next week on 4 the World.

4 the World is a production of Third Millennium Ministries where we are reimagining biblical education for Christian leaders in a global church. Each week we bring you conversations to cultivate your curiosity about God’s word, to inform your intercessions for God's people, and to equip your efforts in God's mission for the world. Our host is Dr. Greg Perry. Our sound engineer and editor is Christopher Russell. Our web designer is Ra McLaughlin. And our director of communications is Darlene Perry. Production assistance is provided by David Zoeller and John Cook. And I’m your announcer, Cindy Sawyer. Our guest for this series is Dr. Vincent Bacote, the author of The Political Disciple: A Theology of Public Life published by Zondervan, and the host of our newly revised series “Building Your Theology.”