The online journal of Luke Dockery

Category: Christianity (Page 1 of 44)

Politics From A Christian Perspective: Voting Strategies

In this post, the last in this series, I want to take the principles we talked about in the last post and see how they might be practically applied. I will certainly not attempt to tell you who to vote for, but I will take a look at various voting strategies employed by Christians, and attempt to briefly evaluate them. This post is very much built upon the ideas of the last one and assumes you are familiar with them, so you should really read that post first.

I’ll go ahead and tip my hand at the beginning: I don’t think there is a single, correct Christian voting strategy. If there were, Scripture would teach it to us. Instead, Scripture gives us an abundance of biblical principles and it is a matter of wisdom and conscience as to how best to apply those principles in a voting booth. As long as Christians are doing their best to operate as citizens of God’s kingdom in all things—including voting—I think this is a clear Romans 14 issue.

Having said that, I do think it is worth reflecting on the wisdom of various voting strategies, and that is what this post is about. As with the post on biblical principles, this post will not be exhaustive, and I am sure there are other Christian voting strategies that I will overlook, but I believe this is still a helpful exercise. For each voting perspective, I will offer what I see as worthy of praise about it, but also, what gives me pause about fully endorsing it. Furthermore, there are a couple of strategies I hear from Christians that I don’t actually believe meet the litmus test of “operating as citizens of God’s kingdom” and, thus, need to be rejected. I’ll talk about those last.



Abstaining from Voting

As we discussed in the last post, Christians declare that Jesus is Lord, which is a political claim. Furthermore, Christians are, first and foremost, citizens of God’s kingdom, and owe their primary allegiance to that kingdom rather than to earthly kingdoms or nations. With those perspectives firmly in mind, some Christians abstain from voting altogether. In Churches of Christ, this perspective was perhaps best represented by David Lipscomb, the longtime Gospel Advocate editor and a major leader in Southern churches in the decades following the Civil War. Lipscomb was a pacifist who didn’t think Christians should serve in the military or even vote.

  • Praise: Honestly, there’s a lot about this view that is appealing to me. Since I believe that the Bible teaches that earthly kingdoms are different versions of Babylon under the influence of “the ruler of this world”, it makes a lot of sense to me to keep politics and voting at arm’s length. Everytime I hear a Christian (from one political persuasion or the other) encourage fellow believers to “choose the lesser evil”, this is driven home to me again: as a Christian, I’m not supposed to choose evil at all, in greater or lesser varieties! Instead, this perspective allows you to wash your hands of the entire process.[1]
  • Pause: This strategy can easily come across as indifferent to the problems and issues of the world and the suffering of others. People with this apolitical perspective can also sometimes be judgmental toward those who do engage with the political process.

Ultimately, Scripture never demands that followers of God be actively involved in world politics, and there are other ways (and I would say, better ways) in which we can “seek the welfare of our cities” besides the voting booth. As long as those who abstain from voting do not judge fellow Christians who are politically active,[2] I think this is a legitimate political strategy.

Protecting the Least of These

A key biblical principle for followers of Jesus is the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves, and Jesus extends this particularly to the “least of these”: people who, for a variety of reasons, find themselves on the margins of society and unable to speak up for themselves. I have heard from Christians who employ this strategy and actually vote against their own best interests to instead seek to benefit those who are struggling and who, for whatever reason, are lacking in political voice or representation.

  • Praise: The desire to protect and help the least of these is certainly praiseworthy: Jesus says that when we do this, it is as if we are protecting and helping Jesus Himself! Furthermore, the willingness to ignore one’s own self-interests in order to help others is close to the heart of the gospel.
  • Pause: The least of these is not a monolithic group; what do you do when the needs and interests of different oppressed groups come in conflict with one another?  For example, two “least of these” groups are the poor and the unborn. Unfortunately, the political party that pays most attention (or, at least, lip service) to the poor is also pretty unconcerned with the rights of unborn infants (the opposite argument could be made as well). Also, how do you determine what is in the best interest of a given group?[3] For example, I know religious conservatives and religious liberals who both care about the poor and want to help them, but are widely divided in their views of how best to do that.

Despite my own struggles to discern how to apply this strategy consistently, I want to affirm the importance of its central value. I would hope that Christians would always be concerned with protecting the least of these, even if we disagree over how to do that.

Religious Freedom

The practice of Christianity and obedience to the Great Commission (preaching Jesus to people throughout the world and making disciples) is greatly aided by religious freedoms that we sometimes take for granted in the United States. However, we appear to be living at a hinge of history: the US, like countries in Western Europe, is increasingly a post-Christian society, and with that comes a loss of the privileged position that Christianity has so long enjoyed in the West.[4] In response to that reality, a prevailing political strategy for many Christians is to vote in such a way that religious freedom is upheld.

  • Praise: I really enjoy religious freedom. There are believers in many parts of the globe who are persecuted for exercising their Christian beliefs and who pray for the freedoms that we enjoy and often take for granted. Although we can see times in the history of Christianity where persecution brought about the spread of the faith and the refining of the church, it seems clear to me that spreading the Gospel is more easily done when governing authorities are not antagonistic to those efforts.
  • Pause: I am concerned that the strategy of seeking religious freedom can sometimes make Christians too cozy to human governments and to place their trust in them rather than in God. For example, the Trump administration has been very friendly toward Christian groups, but this benevolence has led to many Christians being hesitant to critique other aspects of the administration that are decidedly unChristian. Furthermore, this perspective easily leans into fear: what will happen if a different administration comes and takes away all of our religious freedoms? Christians are not to be fearful people, however, and we are to place our confidence in the provision and care of our Heavenly Father: if He be for us, who can be against us?

Religious freedom is important (though not essential) to the mission of God, and is, therefore, worth pursuing. But let us not do so in isolation of other biblical principles, and, from a kingdom perspective, let us make sure that we are actually taking advantage of our religious freedoms to be about God’s business of evangelizing the world, rather than just basking in the comfort of a privileged status in society.

Good for the Most People

Recently, I have repeatedly heard Christians (on both sides of the American political spectrum) urge others to “vote for policies rather than personalities” or to focus on the total vision of a political party rather than the specific shortcomings of that party’s chief representative. People using this line of argumentation (in addition to acknowledging the basic indefensibility of their chosen candidate) are really arguing for a form of utilitarianism: which candidate or party will enact policies that will bring about the most good for the most people?

  • Praise: This strategy, with its desire to look at the big picture and bring blessing to as many people as possible, can easily reflect the biblical principles of seeking the welfare of the communities in which we live and striving to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
  • Pause: Policies that seek what is best for most people can easily lead to an environment of majority rule where the wealthy and powerful are benefitted while the least of these (see above) are marginalized and ignored. For example, severely disabled individuals represent an extreme minority in our society that presents a massive economic burden to those who are healthy. From a purely utilitarian perspective, it makes no sense to provide care for individuals in this category.

It seems self-evident that good governments should seek to bless as many people as they can, and this is a value that Christians should be able to get behind. It is essential, however, that this value be balanced with special concern for the least of these (a special concern that Jesus commands) rather than taken to utilitarian extremes.

Kingdom Principles

A central biblical teaching is that we are to glorify God in all that we do, with all the talents that we have, and in all the opportunities that we are given. In ways that have not been possible in many nations throughout history, Christians in the United States are given a political voice, and proponents of this strategy argue that Christians should use their political voice to reflect kingdom principles. In some ways, this strategy is related to the utilitarian strategy above, but more specifically holds that kingdom principles reflect the wisdom that God built into the very fabric of the universe, and that we, as a society, will be blessed when we uphold them. Imagine: in a society that held to the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, murder, rape, and poverty would be no more! It is to our own detriment to ignore God’s instruction and seek to go our own way.

  • Praise: Obviously, those who walk in the way of the Lord will be blessed. When given the opportunity to reinforce kingdom values, it seems wise and appropriate for Christians to do so.
  • Pause: If we are not careful, however, this strategy can easily devolve into waging culture wars (see below), where we see our primary kingdom mission as “winning our nation back for God” through political power. We must remember that, while earthly nations are blessed when they follow godly principles, they will not consistently and ultimately do this because they are inherent rivals to God’s kingdom and His governance.

By all means, may Christian voters reflect kingdom principles with our vote. But as we do this, let us remember that all we are really doing is slowing down the decline and decay that inevitably comes to human nations, and that this is not the mission that Jesus left to His disciples.


There are two voting strategies I have heard Christians use that I think must be rejected as Christian strategies:

Waging Culture Wars

As I mentioned above, I think it is good and appropriate for Christians to reflect kingdom values with our political voice when given the opporutnity, but attempts to win culture wars so that we can “win our nation back for God” are misguided and, I believe, antibiblical.

Such attempts are rooted in a failure to properly distinguish between the United States and the Kingdom of God. Remember, if we want a biblical parallel for the US, it’s not Israel; it’s Babylon, so it should not surprise us that the nation in which we live doesn’t look like the Kingdom of God, because it is fundamentally not that. As Christians, our task is not to remake the kingdoms of this world into the Kingdom of God, but rather, to call people out of the world and into the Kingdom of God.

On a related note, this strategy also fails to take into account that the means that Jesus gave His disciples to influence the world was the leaven of our personal examples as salt and light in a dark and decaying world; it was not coercive political power. There are many examples throughout history of Christian authorities using their power in an attempt to force those around them to be Christian; this is not what Jesus told His followers to do, and it doesn’t work.

Kingdom Disengagement

I mentioned earlier that the inherent tension between God’s kingdom and earthly nations makes disengagement from earthly politics appealing to me (although I have not, yet, truly adopted that strategy). I do not understand, however, what I occasionally hear from Christians that seems to stem from the opposite motivation.

This is sometimes hinted at when someone makes the claim that “we are electing a president, not a preacher/pastor/Pope.” This statement generally is meant to suggest that we shouldn’t expect political candidates to be especially virtuous, but more subtly, it suggests the impropriety of comingling Christian virtues with politics in general.

I heard it more flatly stated recently (by a preacher of all people!): “The vote is not a religious action, it is a civil action.”

I was floored. Although this gentleman correctly discerned the difference between faith and politics, the Kingdom of God and the United States of America, he incorrectly concluded that this difference meant that his faith and his citizenship in God’s kingdom had no bearing on his actions as a US citizen! Effectively, his allegiance to King Jesus and His principles waited patiently outside the voting booth.

Truly, there is no place for this sort of compartmentalization in our lives. On the contrary, our entire lives are to be a living sacrifice, which leaves no place for certain areas of life where we are free to disregard kingdom principles in favor of other concerns and desires.


As you can see, I don’t actually believe that any of the voting strategies used by Christians are foolproof. With the exception of the two strategies I rejected at the end, I believe all of them have strengths, but, alongside those strengths, also possess other characteristics that bring me pause. Reflecting on these different strategies for the last few weeks has helped me to see that I use a combination of them in my own approach to voting, but that, too, requires wisdom and discernment.

I will close this post by echoing something I said at the beginning. I truly believe that voting is an area of Christian freedom. As in many areas of life, we are not given explicit biblical instructions on how (or whether) to vote. Instead, we are given a variety of biblical principles and, with wisdom and discernment, in accordance with the dictates of our conscience, and as citizens of God’s kingdom, we must seek to apply those principles as we vote (or not vote).

In this series, I have not tried to tell you which candidate you should vote for. I have, however, tried to reflect on how we should vote as Christians. The reality is that Scripture provides us with an abundance of principles that should influence the way we approach earthly politics, but how we apply those principles still comes down to discernment.

May God grant us wisdom as we seek to discern His will, humility as we recognize our own limitations in doing so, and a lack of judgment for fellow believers who arrive at different conclusions.


Read the entire series:


[1] This may be a good time to quickly refute claims such as, “Not voting is the same as voting for _________.” That is nonsense. A non-vote is quite literally not the same as a vote. Although this post is not about third party voting, the same response could be given to those who claim, “A vote for a third party is the same as voting for ___________.” Again, that is nonsense, and it is largely this sort of uncreative (and manipulative) thinking that keeps our country locked in unproductive, binary choices.

[2] As mentioned in the last post, we have positive biblical examples of people like Daniel, Esther, and Joseph who faithfully served God through their political positions. With this being the case, I do not believe it is justified to categorize voting as an inherently inappropriate action for God’s people.

[3] Some would suggest that my question—how do you determine what is in the best interest of a given group—is stupid: just ask them! I don’t think it is that simple, however. After all, I routinely do not know what is best for me. I don’t think that is because I am particularly unwise or unintelligent, but because I am human. Scripture is pretty clear that we are not reliable when it comes to knowing what is best for us.

[4] From where I sit, this seems like an unquestionable reality. You don’t have to be an alarmist who sees the spectre of persecution lurking everywhere to notice significant cultural shifts in how Christianity and certain Christian beliefs are perceived, especially in the fields of higher education, politics, and business. For example, the level of scrutiny that a Supreme Court Justice nominee recently received for her religious beliefs would have been unthinkable a few decades ago.

Politics From A Christian Perspective: Biblical Principles

As I mentioned in the introductory post to this series, I am working on ironing out some of my thoughts on Christian faith and political engagement. I laid out several reasons why I think this is a complicated issue, but ultimately, I do believe that Scripture has much to say that should inform the way that Christians view and interact with politics. My goal is to briefly review several biblical principles that should influence Christian political views and, when appropriate, discuss these how principles interact with our current political situation.



Jesus Is Lord

I touched on this in the last post, but I believe that all Christian interaction with politics must begin here, with what is, perhaps, the central statement of Christianity: Jesus is Lord. This is an inherently political claim, and if we miss that truth, we not only start off on the wrong foot politically, but we are also disconnected theologically from the story of Christianity and the church that we read about in the New Testament.

“Lord” is an interesting word; to us, it is almost exclusively a religious term. We tend to think of it as a synonym for “God”, but really, “Lord” was a favorite title of Jesus in the early church. And it’s not primarily a religious title, either; it was a title with distinctly political overtones. “Lord” was the official title for the Roman Emperor: laws, edicts and decrees were signed “Lord Caesar.” This means that when early Christians called Jesus “Lord”, they were making a political statement: by saying that Jesus was Lord, they were simultaneously saying that Caesar was not.[1] Jesus was the One who had absolute authority over their lives, He set the standards by which they were to live, He was the One to whom they owed primary allegiance, and it was He who sat on the throne of the universe.

As a Christian, it is really important that I remember that, regardless of who claims worldly positions of power—Nero in Rome, Napoleon in France, Hitler in Germany, or whoever wins the US Presidential election—Jesus is still Lord. His reign is secure, His victory is certain, and it is to Him that I pledge my primary allegiance, and in Him that I place my hope and trust. All of this may sound like a no-brainer to Christians, but it is easily forgotten anytime a well-meaning Christian suggests that “This is the most important election in history because X” or “If X wins the election we are in trouble because Y.”

Jesus is Lord. That reality helps me to view the human political arena in a different light, and should free me from the hysteria that plagues it.

Citizens of the Kingdom

If Jesus is Lord, that means that He has rule and authority, and the Bible describes this in terms of a “kingdom.” Jesus came preaching about His kingdom, describing what it is like and how citizens of His kingdom should live. The kingdom of God is not bound by place, time, or ethnicity, but rather, encompasses all those who have submitted to His Lordship and seek to live according to His will. It is a multi-ethnic, supra-national reality that confounds the sovereignty of earthly nation-states.

That means that Christians—citizens of God’s kingdom—living in earthly nation-states occupy a peculiar position. One ancient Christian describes it this way:

“[Christians] live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country.”[2]

In other words, Christians live all over the world, and while they may hold citizenship in any nation, their core identity should be as citizens of God’s kingdom.

I am an American, and I value my American citizenship, but my citizenship in God’s kingdom should be more central to my identity than my American-ness. That means that I should feel more kinship with a fellow Christian living in Russia, China, or Iraq than an unbelieving fellow American who lives on my own street. It also means that, from a Christian perspective, American values are not inherently good, and must be weighed against the standards of God’s kingdom.

So, for example, from a Christian perspective, “America first” policies—while they may be politically expedient and bring blessing to those residing within the borders of the United States—must inherently be viewed with skepticism. Also, the American love for (obsession with?) freedom and rights must be tempered by the kingdom value that the exercise of our rights must not come at the expense of our neighbors (1 Corinthians 8); love is more important than liberty.

As a Christian, I must seek first God’s kingdom, and apply myself to live by the values of that kingdom. When I do so, I can rest content in the knowledge that I am living as salt and light in the world and bringing glory to my Father who is in Heaven.

Love Of Neighbor

The previous value leads naturally to this one, that Christians are called to love our neighbors. Jesus says that the greatest commandment is that we love God with all that we have,[3] and the second is like it, that we love our neighbors as ourselves. In further teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus makes clear that all people count as our neighbors (even our enemies!). Of course, the importance of loving our neighbors is not an idea that was novel to Christianity; it was taught in the Hebrew Bible as well. As Paul says in Galatians 5.14, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Furthermore, while we are called to love everyone, the Bible teaches repeatedly that we are to give special care and attention to those who are marginalized and oppressed. The Hebrew Bible frequently discusses the need to make special provision for the triad of the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner/stranger. Israelite farmers were to tend their land in such a way that they left some of their harvest for the poor. Jesus tells His followers that they will be judged for the way they treat the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, and the prisoner. Paul tells Corinthian Christians that those without honor should be treated with special honor.

This is all closely related to the idea of justice. Justice has become a charged word in our current cultural climate, but that’s too bad, because it is an important biblical concept. In both Hebrew and Greek, the word justice is closely related to the word righteousness, and a simple (but, I believe, accurate) way to understand these words is that righteousness refers to us having a right relationship with God (characterized by loving God with all that we have) and justice refers to us having a right relationship with others (characterized by loving our neighbors as ourselves).

While there may be a host of disagreements about how best to show our love for neighbor and bring about justice through good policy, Christians should absolutely be able to agree on the principle of neighborly love.

Love of neighbor and showing special concern for the marginalized and oppressed should absolutely cause us to oppose abortion and work for that tragic practice to be ended. But it should also cause us to apply the “Pro-Life” label more broadly than it often is: Christians don’t care for babies only when they are in the womb![4] We care for infants who need adopting. We care for children who need healthcare. We care for families living in poverty who consider abortion to be their only option. We care for men and women from poor backgrounds (or, from any backgrounds) who make bad decisions and end up in prison. We care for men, women, and children from other nations who yearn to enter our nation in search of a better life. We care for people of all races and ethnicities and lament when some suffer from inequities. We care for elderly adults who want to live dignified and valued lives.

And—don’t miss this!—we care for those who disagree with us, whether about this, or any other biblical principle.


We have already established that, as Christians, we are fundamentally citizens of a different sort of kingdom, and that Jesus is our Lord. As kingdom citizens, we live out kingdom values, and a primary kingdom value as we live in a society and interact with other people is love of neighbor.

At the same time, the reality is that I am also a citizen of the United States, and with that comes certain opportunities and responsibilities. The next several principles reflect that reality and relate to how we are to view the nation(s) in which we live and our role as “dual citizens”.


Character of Leaders

The moral perfection, abounding love, and abiding wisdom of Jesus means that Christians do not have to worry about the character of our King, but when it comes to earthly leaders, all of them have their failings and shortcomings. That doesn’t mean, however, that the moral character of leaders does not matter or should not be taken into account.

In the Hebrew Bible, we can think of men like Pharaoh in the days of Moses who, in addition to his wickedness in oppressing the Israelites in slavery, also brought untold suffering upon his own people through his pride and stubbornness. Pharaoh’s lack of moral character certainly mattered; a leader with a more pliant heart would have spared his people much pain.

But we can see even clearer examples when we look at the kings of Israel.[5] Repeatedly, kings are evaluated in Scripture based on their faithfulness to God and whether or not they led their people toward devotion to Yahweh, or toward the worship of pagan idols. A few kings received sterling marks, others were a mixed bag, and others were condemned for their wickedness. Jeroboam receives special notoriety: as the first king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, Jeroboam was given special opportunity by God but squandered it. He was known as the king who “made Israel to sin”, and became the standard by which other bad kings were measured. The principle seems clear: the Bible does not shy away from evaluating the character of kings, and associates bad moral character with bad results for the nation.

From a Christian perspective, the character of our leaders should matter, because it matters to God.

My first formative political memories came at a time when Bill Clinton was the President of the United States. While in office, President Clinton was involved in a sex scandal, and the resounding cry from conservative Christians was that Clinton’s moral failings had negative effects upon the entire nation, and rendered him unfit for office. The argument went: If this sort of thing is winked at in the White House, what message does it send our children? I was a young teenager at the time, but the argument totally made sense to me. It seemed valid.

Imagine my feelings of whiplash when 20 years later, a candidate with similar moral failings came to prominence, but now represented the opposite party. Instead of repeating the argument that had been made two decades earlier, many of the same conservative Christians were now singing a different tune: Everyone is a sinner; who are you to judge? We are electing a President, not a preacher/pastor/Pope! 

This blatant hypocrisy has done so much damage to the esteem and moral authority of religious conservatives (especially in the eyes of people of my generation and younger), but beyond that, it is biblically false. The Bible simply doesn’t teach that we are powerless to evaluate moral character since everyone sins! In fact, not only does the Bible not teach that all sins are the same in God’s eyes, Jesus tells us that, while it is not our place to judge the eternal destinies of people, we are to evaluate people’s character, which can be known by their fruits.

Now, it’s certainly possible that there are times when we may find ourselves in a position where we look at two candidates and simply cannot discern any significant difference in their character.[6] But the notion that policies matter while personal character does not is not a biblical principle.

Babylon, Not Israel

In the Hebrew Bible, God called a man name Abraham to follow Him, made a covenant with him, and promised him that his descendants would become a great nation and that all peoples of the earth would be blessed through him. Abraham’s descendants—the Israelites—are God’s chosen people, and much of the story of the Old Testament is God’s faithful love for His people despite their own faithlessness. In the New Testament, God does not abandon His people, but the story of Israel does take an exciting plot twist. Jesus—the descendant of Abraham and God in the flesh—bursts onto the scene, a King from the line of David who fulfills the law and shows just how it is that all peoples of the earth will be blessed through Abraham’s descendants: Israel itself is renewed and restored, but no longer will the identity of God’s people be determined by ethnicity, but rather by faithful allegiance to Lord Jesus.

Since it is Abraham’s spiritual descendants who comprise God’s people, in plain terms, this means that the United States of America is not the heir of the Kingdom of Israel. It is not the Kingdom of God. In fact, if we want a biblical parallel for the US, it’s not Israel; it’s Babylon. This statement, though perhaps shocking to some, is a well-known and often repeated teaching of Scripture: the kingdoms of men, which rise and fall, are distinct from God’s kingdom, which will never be destroyed. This is the point of prophecies in Daniel where one great nation after another topples into oblivion. This is the point of the Revelation of John, which, though dripping with anti-Roman imagery and sentiment, refers to “Babylon” as a way of saying here we go again: earthly kingdoms are oppressive, are in opposition to God’s kingdom, and are corrupted by the influence of the ruler of this world.

That doesn’t mean that all earthly kingdoms are equally bad, or that it is wrong to care about the nation in which you live, or that it is inherently wrong to serve in government or the armed forces. In my view, the United States of America is one of the kindest and most benevolent forms of Babylon that has ever existed; but it is still Babylon.

This realization, in addition to tempering whatever loyalty or allegiance we feel to our earthly nations (see “Citizens of the Kingdom” above), should also help us to observe those nations at arm’s length, and evaluate their history and current practices from a Christian perspective. In my case, I should not feel the need to defend everything the US does or has done; if a practice is just and brings blessing to people, I should feel free to praise it. On the other hand, if a practice is oppressive and brings harm, I should feel free to critique it.

And more than that, realizing that America is not the Kingdom of God frees me from a great deal of anxiety. As I look around in the country in which I live, I am struck by how un-Christian it is in all sorts of ways, but that’s what I should expect, because I live in Babylon. Why should I expect the country in which I live to look like the Kingdom of God? Because it’s not that. As Christians, we need to quit being surprised when lost people act like they’re lost. How else are they going to act? 

Once we realize this, we can quit wringing our hands about how bad things are and get busy doing God’s business: living as part of a counter-culture kingdom and spreading it throughout the world as we introduce people to Jesus.

Seek The Welfare of the City

The fact that our primary allegiance is to another King and another kingdom does not mean that we are to disdain the “Babylons” in which we sojourn during our earthly lives. In Jeremiah 29, Jeremiah delivers a message from God to Israelites who have been taken into captivity in Babylon. He does not tell them to foment rebellion or withdraw from society and isolate themselves. Instead, he says:

4 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

(Jeremiah 29.4-7)

While living in Exile, God’s people were to put down roots and do what they could to benefit the city in which they lived. We see this principle lived out in the lives of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who served as government officials in Babylon. We see it in the life of Queen Esther, who used her royal position to save her people. And although he lived in a different time period, we see the same principle lived out in the life of Joseph, who in his high position in Pharaoh’s administration served his country, saved his family, and enriched his master.

This principle is important to keep in mind, especially for people who tend to be cynical about politics (like me!). Perhaps because I see political systems as so tainted and imperfect and because I seek to place my hope in Jesus instead, it can be easy for me to disdain politics altogether, forgetting that political policies actually impact people’s lives for better or worse. The biblical testimony is that we are to seek the welfare of the society in which we live and the neighbors who live around us, and that God’s people sometimes are called to do this through political involvement. 

Render to Caesar

In Matthew 22, Jesus’ enemies sought to entrap Him by asking whether or not it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. After Jesus pointed out that it was Caesar’s image that appears on coins, he said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

This response indicates that, while our ultimate allegiance belongs to God, we are still obligated to the state in a lesser sense. In addition to paying taxes, this means that we are to “be subject to governing authorities”, that we are to “honor the emperor”, and that we are to pray for “kings and those in authority” (Romans 13.1-7; 1 Peter 2.13-17; 1 Timothy 2.1-2).

Although there are challenging aspects to these passages,[7] taken together, they suggest that our allegiance to Christ and His kingdom doesn’t mean that Christians are bad citizens of the nations in which we live. On the contrary, as people who love our neighbors, seek the welfare of our communities, live in subjection to our governments, and pray for and honor our leaders, Christians are ideal citizens. We live that way, though, not in blind allegiance to the state, but rather because our King tells us to do so.


As I said in the opening paragraph of this post, Scripture has much to say that should inform the way that Christians view and interact with politics, and in this post, I have tried to briefly review several relevant biblical principles.[8] Here’s the problem, though: in the US, neither of our two major political parties consistently upholds these biblical principles, so how do we take a Christian perspective with us into the voting booth? In the final post of this series, I won’t try to give a  definitive answer to that question, but I will seek to provide a brief overview and evaluation of several different voting strategies that Christians often use.

At the end of the day, voting is a matter of conscience, but I believe that thoughtful reflection on biblical principles can help us to be more confident that we are engaging in politics from a Christian perspective.


Read the entire series:


[1] Some may want to push back against the notion of some sort of rivalry between Jesus and earthly rulers, but it is clearly present in the biblical text. Herod the Great wanted Jesus killed as an infant because He saw the prophesied “King of the Jews” as a rival. It was ultimately the accusation hurled at Pontius Pilate by Jewish leaders that if he released Jesus he was “no friend of Caesar” that motivated him to sign off on Jesus’ crucifixion. “King of the Jews” was written on Jesus’ cross as He was crucified—the charge for which He was executed.

Certainly, Jesus was and is a different sort of King than earthly rulers, but that doesn’t mean that there is no conflict between their respective claims of authority.

[2]  Epistle to Diognetus 5.5. This anonymous, early Christian document likely dates to the second or third century AD.

[3] The declaration that “Jesus is Lord”—properly lived out—is a reflection of the greatest commandment.

[4] Republicans (including Christians) often come under fire for being “Anti-Abortion” rather than truly being “Pro-Life”. I think there is some validity to that claim, and I think Christians would do well to consciously and vocally support a consistent Pro-Life ethic, “from womb to tomb”. Having said that, I have very little patience for Democrats who lecture Republicans about their inconsistency on this point while still supporting the practice of abortion themselves. Put differently, “Pro-Life” must mean more than “Anti-Abortion”, but it cannot mean less than that.

[5] As I mentioned in the first post, the Kingdom of Israel represents a context distinct from our own (it was a theocracy, and Israel represented God’s chosen people), but through the lens of Israel, I think we can still learn about how God views human leadership.

[6] In fact, that’s where I found myself in 2016.

[7] For example, as the Book of Acts makes clear, our obligation to the state is always held in relative position to our allegiance to God. When there is a conflict between the two, “we must obey God rather than men.”

[8] By no means is this intended to be an exhaustive list. As I was finishing up this post, it occurred to me that I could have also included creation care or generosity or stewardship—all of these are also biblical principles that interact with politics as well. And, surely, there are many other relevant biblical principles besides these. The point of this post was not to attempt to discern every biblical principle that might inform a Christian’s political perspective, but rather to prompt some reflection on a few major principles, and also to illustrate the fact that Scripture has much light to aid us before we enter into the murkiness of the political realm, if we will just avail ourselves to it.

Ranking The Chronicles of Narnia, Part 8: Concluding Thoughts

Way back in April, I mentioned that I had begun reading The Chronicles of Narnia during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was a great choice for several reasons. The familiar stories provided comfort in a time of anxiety, the imaginative world of Narnia provided helpful distraction from reality, and the series’s central focus on Aslan helped to re-orient me from fear to trust.

As I read through the books, I enjoyed them so much that I decided to write about them. I had actually wanted to do so for years, and I thought it would be a lot of fun to rank the different books and write a post or two to summarize my thoughts.

It turned into a much larger project than I first intended.

The first post was about 1,500 words, but each subsequent post grew longer and longer, like the books in the Harry Potter series. The post reviewing The Last Battle was over 4,000 words long, and the entire series is some 22,000 words. The posts got longer because I began to focus more on details of the books, and especially on the theology presented in each one. That also meant that to took me much longer to write the different posts: while there was a gap of about a week between Part 1 and Part 2, Part 7 came about six weeks after Part 6 (which was ridiculous).

Summarizing all of those posts, my rankings basically break the Narnia books down into three tiers:

The Masterpieces

For my money, LWWVDTand HHB represent the top three Narnia books, in that order. But, they are so close that I have a hard time being dogmatic about that. The next time I read through the series, they could easily shuffle places.

LWW is so good, and has no real weaknesses; it had the highest or tied-for-highest sub-score in three of the four rubric categories (Story, Characters, Theology). VDT didn’t peak as highly, but similarly had no weaknesses. HHB was the best book in the series for the first three categories (Story, Characters, Worldcraft), but was a notch below in Theology, which moved it from first to third.

Solidly Great

LB is really good as well. It doesn’t have any real weak points, but its highs are not quite as high as the top tier, and the lows are a little lower. I would disagree with anyone who argued that it is the best book of the series, but still, it represents a fitting and satisfying end to the Narnia chronicles.

Good But Flawed

According to my rubric, PC and SC scored very similarly, with only a half-point separating the two. Both books have good elements, but are also flawed. The stories are somewhat slow, the theology is not as good as several of the other books, and neither book is truly excellent in any category.

But again, these books suffer from being compared unfavorably to some truly brilliant books; they are still worth reading.

The Unnecessary Prequel

There’s no way around it: I am not a big fan of MNThe story really drags, the characters aren’t very compelling, and even though the creation account prompts some good theological reflection, overall, this book is a big step below all others in the series.

It’s not a terrible book, but as I said in the review for MN:

It is a classic prequel in the negative sense: you care about the story because you are already invested in the world in which it exists; if you actually read the prequel first, you wouldn’t understand what was so great about the series and may not even be inclined to continue.”

Thankfully, Lewis didn’t write this one first.

Here are the scores for all the books; highest scores in a given category are in yellow.


This concludes our Ranking Narnia series; I hope you have enjoyed it! Although I had not originally planned to review the books at this level, this series turned out to be a lot of fun to write, and the theological reflection it prompted for me was meaningful and encouraging.

These reviews have helped me develop an even deeper fondness for the Narnia series; I expect that I will be reading them again!


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Politics From A Christian Perspective: Introduction

I tend to process my thoughts by writing, and for some time now, I have wanted to hash out my thinking related to the Christian faith and political engagement. It is not my goal in this (short) series to get at the who of voting (“As a Christian, which candidates should I be supporting?”), but rather, at the how of voting (“As a Christian, how should I interact with politics in general?”).

I should acknowledge at the outset that this is a complicated issue. There are some, for example, who would suggest that it is improper to even suggest that there is such a thing as a “Christian perspective” on politics. From Christian people, you will sometimes hear demands to, “Just teach what the Bible says and stay out of politics.”[1] Frankly, though, this is nonsense. The gospel message is fundamentally political because “Jesus is Lord” is an explicitly political statement. In the first century, Lord was a title used for Caesar, and the declaration that “Jesus is Lord” was simultaneously a declaration that Caesar was not. That is a political statement, and it had consequences for early believers.[2]




However, while the gospel of Jesus Christ is inherently political, it is not partisan. In the United States, we have a two-party system, and the reality is that there are aspects of both party platforms that are problematic from a biblical perspective. Of course, it should not surprise us in the least that worldly political parties look, well, worldly, but it does complicate things: preaching that Jesus is Lord has political ramifications, but we live in a context in which the political arena is gridlocked by opposing parties, neither of which adequately represents the Christian message.[3] This already complicated situation becomes even more problematic when Christians throw their support in with one party or the other and suggest that it is the Christian party.

Further complicating matters is the fact that we have to be careful about ripping biblical principles and policies out of their original context and applying them, wholesale, to our own. The reality is that when we examine this issue from a biblical perspective, we basically find principles that we can glean in three distinct contexts:

  • Theocracy: This is the situation we find in the Historical Books of the Hebrew Bible. God’s covenant people, the Israelites, were governed by Torah and its accompanying laws. This was true whether led by Moses, Joshua, one of the Judges, or monarchs. Human leaders were viewed to be leading God’s people under God’s own leadership, and the laws in place were put there by God Himself.
  • Exile: This describes the situation of God’s people living in a foreign land. When we hear “Exile” we especially think of the fall of Judah to the Babylonian Empire and the books of Daniel and Esther, but we could also think of people like Joseph in Egypt. In this context, God’s people are seeking to be faithful to His laws despite living in a land that is not governed by those laws.
  • Oppression by Foreign Power: This situation was true at various points in biblical history, but was certainly true of Jews (and early Christians) in the days of the New Testament, living under Roman authority. This context has some similarities to Exile; God’s people should live according to God’s law, but there is no pretense that God’s law is the dominant civil authority.

Really, none of these biblical contexts reflect our own context in the United States, where we are part of a free, self-governing civil society where citizens are given a legislative voice in who our leaders and, to a lesser extent, what our laws, will be. Still, though, if we are careful, there are principles from biblical contexts that we can use to inform our practices in our own context:

  • We may not live in a theocracy, but surely we can learn something about the way that God would govern by looking at the laws He put into place.
  • We may not live in literal exile in a foreign land, but in a very real sense, Christians are citizens of God’s kingdom living in a foreign land. What does it look like to live according to God’s principles in a land where those principles may not be valued?
  • We may not live as people who are oppressed by some foreign power, but if Jesus and the apostles gave instruction on how Christians should submit and respect even the barbarity of Rome, shouldn’t that have some implication for how we respond to our own government (which, riddled with problems as it may be, is no Rome)?

These are questions we will try to get to in our next post, as we look at biblical principles that can help us to construct a Christian perspective on politics.

Obviously, political discussions can be very divisive, and it is certainly not my goal in these posts to promote division. I do want to promote biblical principles, however, and just because it is a complicated and delicate subject doesn’t mean that Christians should retreat from reflecting on and discussing it. As Christians, we are citizens of another kingdom, and we long for Jesus’ kingdom to come on earth to the extent that it is in heaven, but we still live in this world, and we must do our best to live faithfully in it while waiting for Jesus’ return and the renewal of all things. In the words of Augustine:

“After crossing the Red Sea the Israelites are not given their homeland immediately, nor are they allowed carefree triumph, as though all their foes had disappeared. They still have to face the loneliness of the desert, and enemies still lurk along their way. So too after baptism Christian life must still confront temptations. In that wilderness the Israelites sighed after their promised homeland; and what else do Christians sigh for, once washed clean in baptism? Do they already reign with Christ? No; we have not reached our homeland yet, but it will not vanish; they hymns of David will not fail there. Let all the faithful listen and mark this; let them realize where they are. They are in the desert, sighing for their homeland.”[4]

Being a Christian doesn’t provide us with smooth sailing in life, and it doesn’t give us all the answers to life’s difficult questions. We still live in a broken world, and we seek to navigate that world as best as we can, remaining faithful to God while loving our neighbors. And, I think part of that is reflecting on what a “Christian perspective” on politics might look like.


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[1]  By the way, you also hear the reverse idea frequently from secularists. If Christians are sometimes eager to keep politics out of the church, many nonreligious people are eager to keep the church out of politics and are quick to cite the principle of separation of church and state as support for that notion. There is some truth to that argument, but I think it’s worth pointing out that the First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion rather than freedom from religion. Historically, the point here was to establish that, in the United States, there would be no official church or religion that you are required to be a part of. On the contrary, you are free to believe whatever you choose to on matters of religion (including believing nothing at all!), and allow those beliefs to influence your actions.

[2]  Indeed, this is the argument that was made by Jewish religious leaders to Pilate: “If you do not crucify Jesus, then you are no friend of Caesar because Jesus makes a rival claim to authority.” Of course, the authority that Jesus claims as the King of Kings is not the same as simple civil and political authority; but it is not less than that, either.

[3] This assertion—that both dominant political parties in the US are problematic from a Christian perspective—could probably merit several posts on its own. However, this assertion seems so clearly self-evident for me that I have no desire to write such posts. For those who are looking for more on this idea, see Tim Archer’s short but helpful posts on “Why I Can’t Support the Left” and “Why I Can’t Support the Right.” Furthermore, the suggestion that neither party represents the Christian perspective is further reinforced by the fact that the broad spectrum of Christianity in the United States is all over the map politically. Mainline Protestant clergy and many of their members are devoted to political liberalism. Black churches tend to be as well, despite committed theological conservatism. Evangelicals have become closely associated with the Republican Party. Catholics are all over the place, distributed based largely on varying emphases on opposition to abortion, support of the poor, and more. See more in Tim Keller, “Justice in the Bible”, especially note 64.

[4]  Augustine, Exposition of the Psalms 72.5

Ranking The Chronicles of Narnia, Part 7: The Last Battle

For a few months now, I have been ranking the different volumes of C.S. Lewis’s masterpiece, The Chronicles of Narnia. So far, I have covered The Magician’s NephewThe Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Horse and His Boy, Prince CaspianThe Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and The Silver Chair.

To evaluate each book, I am using a rubric with four different categories: story, characters, worldcraft, and theology. For each category, I will provide a subscore of 1-10, yielding a cumulative maximum score of 40 points.

I have been following the chronological order of the books (even though I don’t consider that to be the best order in which to read the books), which means that this week, I will be ranking the final Narnia book, The Last Battle (LB). I plan to write one additional post to conclude the series.

The Last Battle

This is from a series of brilliant Narnia cover designs by Jeffrey Nguyen

Story

LB is the story of a coup d’état against Tirian, the last king of Narnia. Shift, a clever but wicked ape, comes across a lion skin floating in the water, and has his well-intentioned-but-dim-witted donkey companion Puzzle wear it and pretend to be Aslan, the Great Lion. “Aslan” is kept hidden away in a stable, Shift serves as his mouthpiece, and, in league with the Calormene warlord Rishda Tarkaan and the Talking Cat Ginger, deceives many of the Narnians into serving the Calormenes and cutting down Talking Trees for lumber.

Tirian and his friend Jewel, a unicorn, learn of the death of the Talking Trees and rush to intervene, ending up captured in the process. Shift and his compadres are now proclaiming the false message that Aslan and the Calormene god Tash are really one and the same (they begin referring to this syncretistic deity as “Tashlan”), and Tirian, seeing through the plot, calls out to Aslan for help. In response, Eustace and Jill (from VDT and SC) arrive in Narnia and, in quick succession, free the king and Jewel, and also find the hapless Aslan-impersonator Puzzle in the stable and allow him to join their company.

Things get worse for Tirian and his allies, as he learns that the Narnian army has been destroyed by invading Calormene troops and Cair Paravel has been taken. Worse still, they see the Calormene god Tash traveling north toward the stable, summoned unintentionally by Shift and Rishda. Driven by desperation, Tirian takes his small band of loyal followers to the stable to confront Shift and his associates and expose their deception. This sets up the climactic battle that gives LB its title: Narnians vs. Calormenes, the rightful king vs. the usurpers, Aslan vs. Tash.

To me, the primary weakness of LB’s storyline is that it just seems unthinkable that Shift’s simplistic plot could deceive so many Narnians and achieve such great success without Tirian having any clue what was going on until it was too late to do something about it. Lewis clearly needed a plot device to bring Narnia to its end, and although this particular one was somewhat unsatisfying, if you look beyond that, what remains is that LB is a poignant story of tragedy, beauty, and finally seeing the true nature of reality.

Story: 8/10

Characters

It seemed to me that there was a greater number of characters with significant roles in LB, and rather than try  to describe them all in detail, I will provide brief sketches of the different characters especially in the context of the groups in which they appear.

Tirian is the last king of Narnia, descendent of Caspian and Rilian. He is loyal to Aslan and loves his country, and although he is somewhat rash and hotheaded in his actions, he is also an excellent leader who shows courage, tactical skill, and concern for his allies. Of course, it should probably be mentioned that virtually the entirety of his subjects were fooled into supporting a coup d’état without his even being aware that it was happening, but there doesn’t seem to be any suggestion that this is due to a character fault on Tirian’s part (which, as pointed out above, is a weakness in the plot). Tirian’s best friend is Jewel the unicorn, a brave and loyal ally and fearsome warrior, who, like Tirian, is faithful to Aslan and willing to fight to the death for Narnia. Farsight the eagle is another member of Tirian’s small band of followers, and provides vital intelligence in the book as a scout as well as useful air support during the climactic battle.

Shift the Ape, Rishda Tarkaan, and Ginger the Talking Cat form a sort of unholy trinity that collaborates to oppress the Narnian population, make possible the Calormene conquest of Narnia, and, as a result, usher in the end of the world. Shift appears first, a clever and ancient ape who, motivated by his greed and lust for power, maneuvers his simple-minded “friend” Puzzle the donkey into impersonating Aslan and then, with the authority gained as “Aslan’s” spokesman, manipulates the talking animals of Narnia into serving himself and the battalion of disguided Calormene troops who have snuck into Narnia. As the farce continues, Shift begins to drink and increasingly becomes less in charge, as he himself is manipulated by Rishda Tarkaan, the captain of the Calormene contingent, and Ginger, the cunning cat. Really, though, it is hard to distinguish between the three characters: all seem to be motivated by greed and self-interest, and have no devotion to speak of, either toward Aslan or Tash. In fact, it is their religious pragmatism that leads to the construction of “Tashlan”, a blasphemous abomination that ultimately brings negative consequences for all three.

It seems worthwhile to also mention the Dwarfs, who play an important role in the story and also illustrate a theme that has been woven throughout the Narnia books: they represent extreme self-interest. When the climactic battle between Tirian and his forces and the Calormene invaders ensues, the Dwarfs don’t take sides (with the notable exception of Poggin, who joins Tirian), and instead attack both parties, saying that “the Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs”. Tirian is disappointed by their lack of support, but again, this is a thread that has been woven throughout the chronicles: in LWWDwarfs aided the White Witch in exchange for power, and in PCNikabrik was willing to ally himself with anyone who would bring about the end the Dwarfs desired. The Dwarfs are not devoted to Aslan, but to their own self-interests.

“Friends of Narnia” is the description given to the humans who entered Narnia as children and rendered great aid to it in times past: Professor Digory Kirke, Polly Plummer, Peter Pevensie, Edmund Pevensie, Eustace Scrubb, and Jill Pole (sadly, Susan Pevensie is no longer a “friend of Narnia” and thus, is not present[1]). These friends appear to Tirian in a vision when he calls out to Aslan for assistance, and then later, Jill and Eustace appear to free Tirian and Jewel and join them in the last battle for Narnia. Ultimately, Tirian gets to meet all of the Friends after he enters the Stable.

As in the other Narnia books, Aslan’s role in LB is limited in page count but of immense significance for the story.  When Aslan does appear late in the narrative, it is to bring about the death of the old Narnia, the birth of the new, and the judgment of all creatures.

The characterization in LB is solid. Because of the sheer number of characters, we do not get to know them in as much depth as some of the characters from the other stories, but viewing them as groups with various responses to Aslan as I have tried to do above is, I think, a helpful way to reflect on their roles in the narrative.

Characters: 8.5/10

Worldcraft

In one respect, LB does not significantly expand the map of Narnia at all. The majority of the story takes place in the Northwest of Narnia, and while this is a new area, we are told so little about it that it is somewhat disappointing.

But the strength of LB is its depiction of the end of Narnia as it currently exists, and the transition to the fuller and realer Narnia. Repeatedly the characters are urged to go “further up and further in!” and as they do so, they find an exponentially increasing level of depth and beauty:

“Lucy looked hard at the garden and saw that it was not really a garden at all, but a whole world, with its own rivers and woods and sea and mountains. But they were not strange: she knew them all.

“I see,” she said. “This is still Narnia, and more real and more beautiful than the Narnia down below, just as it was more real and more beautiful than the Narnia outside the Stable door! I see…world within world, Narnia within Narnia…”

“Yes,” said Mr. Tumnus, “like an onion: except that as you go in and in, each cirlce is larger than the last.” (765)[2]

Really, the last five chapters of LB are an account of this great process of uncreation and recreation, and in terms of worldcraft, this is the high point of the book.

Worldcraft: 9/10

Theology

Fundamentally, LB is a book about eschatology; Lewis once summarized it as being about “the coming of the Antichrist (the Ape), the end of the world and the Last Judgement,”[3] and we will use those categories to reflect on the theology of LB.

Antichrist(s)

A great amount of ink has been spilt over the centuries seeking to interpret the Book of Revelation, and one particular interpretive method has been to suggest that a literal battle between the forces of good and evil  will precede the return of Jesus and the judgment of the world, and heading up the forces of evil will be the Antichrist. Interestingly, the Bible doesn’t actually teach this in Revelation at all, and the use of the word antichrist (always in 1-2 John) is probably better understood in a lowercase sense: those who deny the Father and the Son or who refuse to confess that Jesus came in the flesh are antichrists. 

I am not certain what Lewis believed about the Antichrist and futuristic cosmic battles, but I still think that LB captures an element of biblical truth when he portrays Shift’s plot to have Puzzle impersonate Aslan and deceive his followers. In the apocalyptic Matthew 24, Jesus warns of “false Christs” who will perform great signs and wonders and claim to be the Christ, and in Revelation 13, John warns of a beast that looked like Jesus (“he had two horns like a lamb”), but spoke like a dragon (Satan). Here is the message, clear to both LB and biblical witness: there is great danger when forces of evil speak for Jesus and His followers cannot tell the difference.

Late in LB, Jill reflects to herself:

“And then she understood the devilish cunning of the enemies’ plan. By mixing a little truth with it they had made their lie far stronger.” (723)

This is devilish because, indeed, it is how the Devil operates: a mixture of truth with falsehood to make the lie more believable and more dangerous. Earlier in the story, when Tirian and Jewel learn of the horrible things that Shift is commanding in the name of Aslan, they are torn: surely this is not what they would expect from Aslan, but haven’t they always heard that He is “not a tame lion” (677, 679, 682)? Does that not mean that he is unpredictable and may do things they don’t understand? Shift seizes upon this same language to force compliance from the Narnians who feel that “Aslan’s” demands are harsh and who wish that they could see him for themselves rather than always having to take Shift’s word for it:

“But why can’t we see Aslan properly and talk to him?” it said. “When he used to appear in Narnia in the old days everyone could talk to him face to face.”

“Don’t you believe it,” said the Ape. “And even if it was true, times have changed. Aslan says he’s been far too soft with you before, do you see? Well, he isn’t going to be soft any more. He’s going to lick you into shape this time. He’ll teach you to think he’s a tame lion!” (684)

To say that Aslan is “not tame” is to say that he is powerful, he is sovereign, and, ultimately, that he is free—free to act in keeping with his own will and character. It does not mean, as Shift suggests and as Tirian and Jewel fear, that he is wildly unpredictable and free to act in ways that are inconsistent with his character. But when truth is mixed in, the lie is made far stronger.

The End of the World(?)

As LB reaches its climax, Tirian and his followers lament what they see as the ending of Narnia and also dread what awaits them through the door of the Stable. What they discover, however, is that the ending of the old Narnia was necessary, and that it has ushered in Aslan’s judgment and, ultimately, their own entrance into the new Narnia, which is in some ways like the Narnia they previously knew, but is richer and fuller in every way:

“And yet they’re not like,” said Lucy. “They’re different. They have more colours on them and they look further away than I remembered and they’re more…more…oh, I don’t know…”

More like the real thing,” said the Lord Digory softly. (759)

“But that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here: just as in our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan’s real world. You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy. All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door. And of course it is different; as different as the real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream.” (759)

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. Come further up, come further in!” (760)

To be clear, this is not some sort of eastern philosophy that suggests that the present world in which we live and operate is all an illusion; rather, it is that this present world is temporary, but is made to point us to that which is eternal. In describing that world, John describes it as “a new heaven and a new earth,” a world where God is “making all things new” (Revelation 21.1-5a). When all things are made new, it may signify the end of this world as it presently is, but it is truly just the beginning of the life that God intends for the faithful:

“There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are—as you used to call it in the Shadowlands—dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.  (767)

The Last Judgement: Was C.S. Lewis a Universalist?

Based on his characterization of the end of the world and the last judgement in LB, C.S. Lewis is sometimes accused of being a universalist, someone who holds that all people will ultimately be saved.

Specifically, this point is argued because of the character of Emeth, the loyal Calormene servant of Tash who finds himself in the real Narnia. Emeth recounts his meeting with Aslan, whose very name had always been hateful to him:

“Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him. But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, “Son, thou art welcome.” But I said, “Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash.” He answered, “Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.” Then by reason of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, “Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one?”

The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, “It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites—I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and no which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore, if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Does thou understand, Child?” I said, “Lord, thou knowest how much I understand.” But I also (for the truth constrained me), “Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days.” “Beloved,” said the Glorious One, “unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.” (756-57)

In other words, the service that the good and virtuous Emeth had rendered for (he thought) Tash, was actually service to Aslan and, as a result, he was rewarded as if it had been Aslan that he had been seeking all his life.

This perspective is not actually universalist, however; it is inclusivist. Inclusivists believe that salvation is found only in Jesus (or in Aslan!), but:

“Those who die before they learn of Jesus or who are faithful to “God” as they understand him will be saved by Jesus in the end…[t]he Muslim who dies a Muslim will not be surprised to find Jesus at the gates of Heaven; the Qur’an teaches that Jesus will be there. They will be surprised to learn that he is, in fact, the Son of God and not merely a prophet. But Jesus will welcome them in based on their faithfulness to what they thought they knew.”[4]

Indeed, there is ample evidence in LB that Lewis believes that not all will be saved. Shift is devoured by Tash, and Rishda is carried away by him. Ginger is terrified in his presence, and loses the ability to speak, which is very similar to the Talking Beasts who approach Aslan in the judgment, and look at him with fear and hatred for just a moment. Then, something happens to them:

“You could see that they suddenly ceased to be Talking Beasts. They were just ordinary animals. And all the creatures who looked at Aslan in that way swerved to their right, his left, and disappeared into his huge black shadow, which (as you have heard) streamed away to the left of the doorway. The children never saw them again. I don’t know what became of them.” (751)

This is hardly a picture of salvation.

There are also the Dwarfs, who find themselves inside the Stable in the same glorious location as Tirian and the Friends of Narnia but who are totally blind to their surroundings and just see a dark and smelly stable. They certainly don’t appear to be saved and, indeed, Aslan says that he can do nothing for them:

“You see,” said Aslan. “They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.” (748)

Lewis shares a similar idea in his classic, The Great Divorce:

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.”[5]

The Dwarfs are emblematic of those to whom Aslan sadly says, “Thy will be done.”

Lewis’s inclusivism may be unacceptable to some Christians, but he clearly is not a universalist. At least from the perspective of LB, there are some who will be saved who may not actually know Christ, but there are many who, tragically, will not be saved at all.

Theology: 9/10

With a score of 34.5/40, LB holds the median position for me of the seven Narnia books. It is a notch below the top-tier books (LWWHHB, and VDT) but solidly above PC and SC, and way above MNOn Amazon, it would garner a 4 or 5-star rating.


Check out the full series of posts:


[1]  We probably have to mention here that Lewis receives a lot of criticism for his portrayal of Susan in LB, which is, supposedly, sexist. Jill says of Susan: “She’s interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up.” That Susan is described as embracing womanhood in this way and that Lewis writes her out of the “friends of Narnia” as a result is considered to be damning evidence.

It is beyond the purview of what I am doing in this series to address that criticism in detail, but I would suggest that, similar to the allegations of racism in HHBthis is off-base. In addition to the fact that Lewis repeatedly portrays female characters positively (Lucy is arguably the most admirable of all the human characters, Aravis is awesome, Polly and Jill are both likable, etc.), the clear emphasis of the criticism against Susan in the surrounding context is not on her sex but on her grown-upness. This has always been a problem for Susan, and in the world of Narnia, being “old” or “grown-up” is presented as a barrier to having faith in Aslan, as we discussed in the post on PCIn other words, Susan’s problem is not that she is now a woman; it is that she has decided that being a woman means chasing after shallow and frivolous things and distancing herself from the childlike faith that Aslan requires.

[2]  I did not have my regular edition of The Last Battle as I wrote this post, and so the page numbers come from the Barnes & Noble edition. I apologize for the inconsistency with the other posts in the series.

[3]  Paul Ford, Companion to Narnia: Revised Edition (San Franciso: HarperCollins, 2005): 6.

[4] Monte Cox, Significant Others: Understanding Our Non-Christian Neighbors (Abilene, TX: Leafwood, 2017): 24. Cox, himself an exclusivist, provides a helpful discussion on “Exclusivists, Inclusivists, and Pluralists” on pages 22-28.

[5] C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York: HarperCollins, 2001): 75.

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