Listen here for my interview with Mark Dever on his recent book God and Politics:
The common advice is to not talk about religion or politics to keep peaceable company. Yet in God and Politics, this is exactly what Mark Dever undertakes. And after nearly a quarter of a century of pastoring on Capitol Hill, his comments are concise, biblical, and helpful.
A short 57 pages, God and Politics is the book version of a sermon Dever preached in 2010 entitled ‘Jesus Paid Taxes‘, as an exposition of Mark 12:13-17. The sermon mainly dwells upon Jesus’ words “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (v.17).
The highlights of Dever’s book include his commentary on the legitimacy of pagan political authority, that Christians should be good citizens, and that “Christians are international”. While God’s purposes were always international (Genesis 12:3), in Christ these purposes are most explicitly global. Reflecting on Jesus’ response to the religious leaders, Dever notes, “Jesus unhitches His followers from any particular nation” (27). Unlike theocratic Israel, this new dispensation of God’s grace has his people all over the globe in all kinds of political environments. Christians are not tethered to any particular city for hope, but they look to the heavenly city for their salvation (Hebrews 13:13).
And this hope reorients a Christian’s view of political involvement. As Dever mentions in our interview, much of his pastoral work on Capitol Hill is deconstructing utopian dreams. Even as we seek to love our neighbors and live as productive citizens, we remember that our ultimate citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). This tempers both idealistic triumphalism and hopeless defeatism.
Dever concludes the book by considering what it means to render “to God the things that are God’s”. In this Dever helpfully guards against basing Christian political involvement on anything other than the gospel. Our service to Caesar is ultimately rooted in our service to God, which is rooted in Christ’s service in giving his life as a ransom. More important than smart Christian political engagement is repenting of one’s sins and trusting in Christ for salvation. Reflecting on the entirety of verse 17 he writes, “Pay your taxes but even more, trust in Christ” (51).
So I heartily commend God and Politics. To those tempted to withdraw from political involvement (think Yoder and Hauerwas), Dever points to the legitimacy of the state. And to those tempted to make political or societal transformation the essence of Christianity (think of liberal liberation theology and the conservative Moral Majority), Dever helpfully reminds the reader to believe on the Lord Jesus and keep allegiance to Christ alone supreme.