The Spirit of Our Politics: Spiritual Formation and the Renovation of Public Life releases on January 23, 2024. We talked with the author of the book, Michael Wear, president of the Center for Christianity and Public Life, about the book and the constructive, faithful vision and practical advice it offers to pastors, leaders, and all Christians.
Q: With all of the challenges facing pastors today, why should a book on spiritual formation and politics garner their limited time and attention?
A: As America heads toward another presidential election, it is easy to understand why many pastors want to keep politics out of the life of the local church—when politics gets in, it’s often destructive to community and a burden on pastors themselves.
I am profoundly concerned about the pressure and harm—spiritual harm—politics is instigating in so many churches and in the lives of so many pastors. This concern is largely based in a belief I share with Dallas Willard, who wrote: “The most important thing that is happening in your community,” said Willard, “is what is happening there under the administration of true pastors for Christ.”
In The Spirit of Our Politics, I apply Willard’s ideas to politics and public life in a way that I think will be empowering and paradigm-shifting for Christians, including pastors, who too often feel exhausted and embattled by our politics. This book offers a different vernacular, one native to our faith, with which we can have healthier and more contributive conversations about politics both within the church and in public.
Q: Our political conversations typically don’t involve much discussion of spiritual formation. Why do you think putting the two topics in conversation is important?
A: It is important for a number of reasons. First, I believe spiritual formation is central to civic renewal. Many of the public challenges we have now are a result of a lack of spiritual formation. Our public life, our politics, needs Christians who have put on the things of Christ.
More importantly, I think, whole-life discipleship to Jesus is simply not possible without an attentiveness to the social and, therefore, political aspects of the lives that we live and the social contexts in which we are located. To ignore politics is to leave a major area of life to other masters and influences, and it implicitly communicates a lack of confidence that Christianity “holds up” when it comes to that area of life. When that is communicated, intentionally or not, it leads people to wonder where else it fails to hold up, where else Jesus cannot be trusted.
Q: So what is your approach in this book? How do you think Christians should approach politics?
A: The central challenge is not that Christians hold the “wrong” political views, whatever that is intended to mean, but that, for a number of reasons, much of American Christianity has cordoned off God and the Christian life from what is “required” in politics. The challenges we face in this arena fundamentally amount to a crisis of discipleship.
When we understand that, we understand that the local church and pastors should not feel as though they are ill-equipped to helpfully address these issues, because what your congregants need is not for you to pretend to be a political pundit. Pastors are called to be what Willard referred to as “spokespeople for Christ,” those in the position of offering knowledge of reality based in lived experience as an apprentice to Jesus.
Pastors must choose to occupy this role with intelligence, gentleness, and humility, to be sure, but they—you!—must choose it. It is a calling of great dignity and purpose to which you have been called by God. It is this positioning that will allow pastors to be joyfully confident in what can be a disorienting world. This is what the church needs. It’s what the nation needs.
Pastors are not obliged to issue pronouncements and orders regarding every political decision that has to be made. In fact, part of Christian discipleship regarding politics is understanding the nature of what Christianity offers to our politics, and an irrefutable, singular “biblical” policy agenda is not included. Sometimes Christianity is relevant to our politics because we learn from it what politics is not and what politics cannot and will not accomplish.
How to Use This Book
This book can be used in the context of small groups and might be especially helpful for church leadership to read and discuss together. The book will also serve as a helpful jumping-off point or reference for sermons as pastors seek to prepare and equip their congregants in advance of the presidential election.
Michael Wear is the founder, president, and CEO of the Center for Christianity and Public Life. He is the author of The Spirit of Our Politics: Spiritual Formation and the Renovation of Public Life.