The online journal of Luke Dockery

Category: Discipleship (Page 1 of 12)

C.S. Lewis on Dogs and the Love of God

As regular readers of The Doc File have probably surmised, I am a big fan of C.S. Lewis. I reread Mere Christianity and The Chronicles of Narnia in 2020, and so far in 2021, I have reread The Screwtape Letters and am currently in the middle of The Problem of Pain.

I think there is a lot to like about Lewis’s writing, but one helpful quality is his ability to use helpful analogies to illustrate theological points. In The Problem of Pain, Lewis describes different ways in which it can be said that God “loves” humanity:

Another type is the love of a man for a beast—a relation constantly used in Scripture to symbolise the relation between God and men: ‘we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.’ This is in some ways a better analogy than the preceding, because the inferior party is sentient, and yet unmistakably inferior: but it is less good in so far as man has not made the beast and does not fully understand it.

Its great merit lies in the fact that the association of (say) man and dog is primarily for the man’s sake: he tames the dog primarily that he may love it, not that it may love him, and that it may serve him, not that he may serve it. Yet at the same time, the dog’s interests are not sacrificed to the man’s. The one end (that he may love it) cannot be fully attained unless it also, in its fashion, loves him, not can it serve him unless he, in a different fashion, serves it.

Now just because the dog is by human standards one of the ‘best’ of irrational creatures, and a proper object for man to love—of course, with that degree and kind of love which is proper to such an object, and not with silly anthropomorphic exaggerations—man interferes with the dog and makes it more lovable than it was in mere nature. In its state of nature it has a smell, and habits, which frustrate man’s love: he washes it, house-trains it, teaches it not to steal, and is so enabled to love it completely.

To the puppy the whole proceeding would seem, if it were a theologian, to cast grave doubts on the ‘goodness’ of man: but the full-grown and full-trained dog, larger, healthier, and longer-lived than the wild dog, and admitted, as it were by Grace, to a whole world of affections, loyalties, interests, and comforts entirely beyond its animal destiny, would have no such doubts. It will be noted that the man (I am speaking throughout of the good man) takes all these pains with the dog, and gives all these pains to the dog, only because it is an animal high in the scale—because it is so nearly lovable that it is worth his while to make it fully lovable. He does not house-train the earwig or give baths to centipedes. We may wish, indeed, that we were of so little account to God that He left us alone to follow our natural impulses—that He would give over trying to train us into something so unlike our natural selves: but once again, we are asking not for more love, but for less.

The Problem of Pain, 35-36



Lewis’s analogy is astute:

(1) Indeed, God does interfere in the lives of those who would be His followers. He does not leave us alone to follow our natural impulses and, instead, makes all sorts of demands upon us and calls us to live in ways that are decidedly unnatural (what can be more unnatural than voluntarily laying power aside to instead serve others, or foregoing the opportunity for retaliation when it is presented?) This can certainly be frustrating.

(2) However, as we mature beyond being spiritual “puppies” and begin to grow and be trained through the sanctification of God’s Spirit, it becomes easier to see the grace that was present, all along, in God’s demands. We are so much better off than if we had been left to our own devices.

Praise God for His interference, a great manifestation of His abundant love!

Scripture Reflections: Our Utter Dependence Upon God

In a previous post, I discussed my intentions to share some brief thoughts spurred on by my daily Bible reading this year. I have, so far, not done this as well as I had hoped, but today represents the next installment.

Genesis 2 provides a focused look at the creation of humanity, man first, and then woman taken from man’s side. Genesis 2.7 reads (this is from the Jewish Publication Society translation):

“The LORD God formed man from the dust of the earth. He blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.”

Man becomes a living being only after God breathes into Him. We are utterly dependent upon God for our very existence. 

In some ways, this may seem so obvious that it appears to not be insightful at all. Believers would universally agree with the sentiment: of course we are dependent upon God for our existence. Scripture emphasizes this in so many different places and in so many different ways:

  • In the wilderness, the people of Israel were utterly dependent upon God’s daily provision of manna.
  • At the end of Job, God appears to Job in a whirlwind and confronts him with the limits of Job’s wisdom, and God’s unfathomable provision for, governance of, and interaction with His creation.
  • In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells His disciples not to be anxious, but to trust that their heavenly Father would provide for their needs.
  • Later, Jesus tells His disciples that apart from Him, they can do nothing.
  • In 1 Corinthians, Paul teaches that although Christians labor in God’s vineyard (he uses himself and Apollos as examples), it is God who causes the growth.
  • In Colossians, Paul talks about Jesus as the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer of all things: the fabric of existence is held together by Him.

So, again, this all seems obvious enough. But I am not sure that we consistently live in accordance to this obvious truth:

  • We assume that life is a right, and just take for granted that we will continue to wake up day after day. But life is a gift, not a right: we wake up day after day only by the merciful provision of God. We are utterly dependent upon Him.
  • We scramble frantically to save and plan and store for the future, and feel calm and comfort when we have set enough aside to “provide for ourselves.” It is wise to be good stewards of what God has blessed us with, but it is God who holds the future in His hands and provides for us. We are utterly dependent upon Him.
  • We agonize over political developments in our nation and pledge our loyalty to candidates who pledge to fix what is wrong. If the wrong person is put in charge, we fear that everything may fall apart. It is appropriate for us to seek the welfare of our communities and nation, but it is God who sits enthroned above the universe, who determines the times and seasons of earthly kingdoms, and who is actively supplanting the kingdoms of the world with His own eternal kingdom. We are utterly dependent upon Him.
  • We worry about injustices and evils throughout our world and work ourselves into great fervor trying to remedy what is wrong (and great despondency when the injustices and evils persist despite our efforts). Of course, love of neighbor should prompt us to alleviate suffering and promote justice in our world, but our efforts will not fix this world; God’s efforts will bring about a better one. We are utterly dependent upon Him.
  • (This last one is especially for church leaders.) We stress over trying to do all the right things to make our congregations as healthy as possible. What can we do to help people grow as disciples? To help them better understand Scripture and process life through a Christian worldview? To be more focused on the kingdom and less distracted by other matters? To ensure that our churches will bounce back healthy after the pandemic? It is appropriate for church leaders to be concerned about their churches and work toward their health, but it is Christ who is the head of the church and who has promised its endurance. We are utterly dependent upon Him.

We are utterly dependent upon God for our very existence. That’s it; that’s the post. The idea is simple enough. But if we believe it, internalize it, and order our lives in response to it, it changes everything.

Reading in 2020

Regular readers of The Doc File know that I keep track of what I read each year, and that I enjoy chronicling that here on the blog and offering some reflections about my favorite reads from the previous year. As we all know, 2020 was a strange and challenging year, and I was reminded of what a blessing books are! Reading brought a lot of peace to my life in a hectic time.

Without further ado, here is my list from 2020:

  1. North Boulevard Church of Christ 2020 Vision: Final Reflections, by David Young
  2. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, by Malcolm Gladwell
  3. Swallowed Up, by J.L. Gerhardt
  4. Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  5. Under Occupation, by Alan Furst
  6. Who Moved My Pulpit? Leading Change In The Church, by Thom Ranier
  7. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth
  8. The Sticky Faith Guide For Your Family, by Kara Powell
  9. 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan B. Peterson
  10. Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis
  11. The Swiss Family Robinson, by Johann David Wyss
  12. A Third Testament, by Malcolm Muggeridge
  13. Silence, by Shūsaku Endō
  14. Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About The People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell
  15. A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion, by Gary M. Burge
  16. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis
  17. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proved Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, by James Clear
  18. Prince Caspian, by C.S. Lewis
  19. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis
  20. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling
  21. The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis
  22. Images of America: Searcy, by Carolyn Boyles and Patsy Pipkin
  23. T.R.I.A.L.S. A Journey from Anxiety to Peace, by Chase Turner
  24. Alexander Hamilton: Revolutionary, by Martha Brockenbrough
  25. The Horse and His Boy, by C.S. Lewis
  26. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
  27. The Magician’s Nephew, by C.S. Lewis
  28. Star Wars Aftermath, by Chuck Wendig
  29. The Last Battle, by C.S. Lewis
  30. Star Wars: Bloodline, by Claudia Gray
  31. Star Wars Aftermath: Life Debt, by Chuck Wendig
  32. Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News, by Brian Zahnd
  33. Star Wars Aftermath: Empire’s End, by Chuck Wendig
  34. The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah
  35. Jackaby, by William Ritter
  36. A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeline L’Engle
  37. So You Want to Talk about Race, by Ijeoma Oluo
  38. Lament For A Son, by Nicholas Wolterstorff
  39. Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture, by Mark A. Yarhouse
  40. The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein
  41. The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, by Jemar Tisby
  42. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, by John H. Walton
  43. Beyond The Verse: What I Discovered Reading the Bible One Book at a Time, by Wes McAdams
  44. Star Wars: Thrawn, by Timothy Zahn
  45. The End of Youth Ministry?, by Andrew Root
  46. Thrawn: Alliances, by Timothy Zahn
  47. Thrawn: Treason, by Timothy Zahn
  48. Searching For Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, by Rachel Held Evans
  49. God And The Pandemic: A Christian Reflection on the Coronavirus and its Aftermath, by N.T. Wright
  50. Seeing Jesus from the East: A Fresh Look at History’s Most Influential Figure, by Ravi Zacharias and Abdu Murray
  51. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt
  52. Adoptive Youth Ministry: Integrating Emerging Generations into the Family of Faith, edited by Chap Clark
  53. The Family Upstairs, by Lisa Jewell
  54. How To Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds, by Alan Jacobs
  55. Race & Justice, by Tim Keller
  56. Race Against Time: A Reporter Reopens the Unsolved Murder Cases of the Civil Rights Era, by Jerry Mitchell
  57. Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, by Tom Holland
  58. The Ragged Edge of Night, by Olivia Hawker
  59. Where The Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens
  60. Cry, the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton
  61. King Jesus and the Beauty of Obedience-Based Discipleship, by David Young
  62. The Risen Spear, by Scott Biddle
  63. Veritas: A Harvard Professor, A Con Man, and the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife, by Ariel Sabar
  64. McCord’s New Testament Translation of the Everlasting Gospel
  65. On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts, by James K. A. Smith

A few observations before I talk about my favorite books of the year:

  • My reading total increased from 52 books in 2019 to 65 in 2020. My 2020 total represents a personal record for books read in a year. This is largely related to the life rhythms brought about by COVID-19: especially during the early days of lockdown (but extending beyond), I did a lot of walking around my neighborhood, and frequently listened to audiobooks while doing that. My reading decreased somewhat as the year went on.
  • I read a lot of fiction this year. This is partially because there were more fiction audiobooks available at my local library than, say, theology books, and partially because 2020 was a year where I was seeking distraction from circumstances and looking to “travel” through reading.
  • In addition to reading more this year, I read so many really good books. It was a great year of reading.
  • I fully expect my reading totals to decrease significantly next year. In addition to circumstances related to COVID hopefully improving over time, I am planning to start working through some long and dense books on theology and biblical studies (I am really excited about this, in case you were curious about how much of a nerd I am).

I normally share my Top 10 books for the year, but I was having a hard time narrowing it down to just 10 this year. This was stressing me out until I remembered that I make the rules around here, so I just decided to do a Top 15 list instead. Before I do so, I wanted to offer some brief thoughts on a few books that didn’t make my Top 15, but I still wanted to comment on.

  • Two great books that didn’t make my Top 15 because they had previously been Top 10 choices from previous years were The Sticky Faith Guide For Your Family, by Kara Powell (2017) and 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan B. Peterson (2019).
  • The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt: This is a good book that is a really important read for our times, I believe. It is not one of my top books of the year because it delves heavily into evolutionary biology and moral psychology, which are not areas of great interest for me, and I frequently got bogged down in those parts. But I found some really good ideas to take away from this book.
  • The Risen Spear, by Scott Biddle: Scott is one of my youth group dads, and I was delighted to learn that he has authored a series of fantasy books for children. The Risen Spear was a short read with a compact, exciting story, and vaguely reminded me of the Narnia books in some ways (which is high praise from me!). I look forward to reading the next books in the series.

I want to take a moment to highlight Race & Justice by Tim Keller. Technically, this is a series of articles rather than a book, but they are so long that combined they essentially represent a book-length treatment on the subject. I read and listened to a lot about race in 2020 (books, articles, podcasts, etc.), and this is, without question, the best biblical theology I have read related to race, racism, and justice.

I decided that Keller’s Race & Justice series was bookish enough to include in my list above, but since it wasn’t technically a book, I left it out of my Top 15. But that is in no way to diminish how good the material is (I bet it comes out as a book sometime in the future).


Regarding my Top 15 books for the year, here are some brief thoughts on those (presented in order of when I read them, not ranked 1-15):

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseveranceby Angela Duckworth: I read this book back in February, which now seems about eight years ago, so I confess that I don’t remember it as well as I’d like to. Duckworth shares a lot of research and examples to flesh out her thesis, which is basically given by the title of the book. In short, the characteristic that best predicts success is not intelligence or personality or a host of other things, but grit, which Duckworth defines as a combination of passion and perseverance. In other words, a major part of being successful in life is finding something you really care about and sticking with it, regardless of setbacks or obstacles. I read this as an audiobook, but it is one that I will probably pick up at some point so I can keep coming back to it.

Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis: I read Lewis’s classic a dozen years ago, but I have never featured it as one of my top books of the year, so it makes its appearance on this list after I re-read it this year. I appreciated it even more this time; Lewis is such a penetrating thinker, and has an excellent way of getting at the heart of what Christianity is about.

Silence, by Shūsaku Endō: This novel is the poignant tale of Jesuit missionaries suffering persecution in 17th-century Japan. The story itself is gripping, but also raises important questions about the nature of cross-cultural missions, the place of martyrdom in Christian faith, and the plight of the believer when God is silent.

A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion, by Gary M. Burge: This is the second book I’ve read from the “Week in the Life” series, and I continue to be a big fan. Basically, these are short historical novels set in the first century that seek to inform the reader about the world of the New Testament by plausibly expanding the stories of minor New Testament characters. Burge’s volume focuses on a Roman centurion whose life was changed by a meeting with King Jesus. The story is compelling, and the historical background is helpful for readers of the New Testament who are interested in a better understanding of the world of Jesus and the apostles.

The Chronicles of Narniaby C.S. Lewis: Okay, so I am cheating here by listing a series of books as one book, and this certainly wasn’t my first time to read the Narnia books, but collectively, this was definitely one of my favorite reads of 2020. Because I also blogged about the series at length, Lewis’s classic series was on my mind a lot this year. It was perfect pandemic reading for me.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, by James Clear: This was another entry in the category of books that I “read” as an audiobook but enjoyed so much that I was tempted to go back and purchase a physical copy so I would have it for reference. I reviewed this book after I read it, so you can get a fuller overview there, but I will repeat my basic summary: Atoms are very small things. They are the building blocks of the world around us, but they are invisible to the naked eye. They are also very powerful—the power of the atom can provide electricity to an entire region in the form of a power plant, or untold devastation in the form of a nuclear bomb. This is the premise of Atomic Habits: habits are little, sometimes nearly invisible things that can bring about powerful change—for good or ill—in our lives.

Lament For A Son, by Nicholas Wolterstorff: This is a series of short essays written after the author’s 25 year-old son was tragically killed in a climbing accident; I was so moved by this book that I wrote a series of posts on it. As a Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology, Wolterstorff certainly writes from a theological perspective, but overwhelmingly, he is writing as a grief-stricken dad. It is possibly the best book on suffering that I have read, and I think that, perhaps, is because Wolterstorff’s disjointed essays are the perfect way to reflect on grief and suffering. Well-organized books on theodicy that seek to explain the problem of evil and suffering have their place, but those are the sorts of books you need to read when the sun is shining and the world makes sense. On the other hand, when grief has come unexpectedly rushing into your life with the force of a tsunami, Lament For A Son—with its chaos and raw emotion and grasping faith—is the sort of book you need.

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein: in many ways, I felt this was The New Jim Crow applied to the housing industry in the United States. It talks about all sorts of creative ways in which government officials—at the federal, state, and local levels—orchestrated the largely-segregated society that still exists today in our country (zoning ordinances, neighborhood covenants, blockbusting, white flight, the establishment of ghettos, construction of interstates, and more). The Color of Law shares tons of data and statistics, but is written in a narrative style that is easy to follow and understand.

The Color of Compromise: the Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, by Jemar Tisby: this book specifically addresses the American Church, and confronts the reader with the uncomfortable reality that throughout American history, white Christians have largely (though not entirely) turned a blind eye toward racism, and many times have actively supported and furthered racist agendas. Tisby does not shy away from hard truths, but he writes with clear affection for the church, and offers helpful suggestions moving forward.

The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debateby John H. Walton: Genesis 1 is a famously controversial text, and takes a prominent position in discussions about the seeming tension between faith and science. Walton, a conservative Old Testament scholar, removes some of the fuel from the fires of controversy by suggesting that we should receive Genesis 1 the way that ancient Israelites would have received it: as ancient cosmology, it is function oriented rather than being concerned about material origins. If you are someone who has ever been bothered by Genesis 1 and how that fits with scientific claims (and especially if this has been a barrier to faith for you), The Lost World of Genesis One is an excellent read.

Beyond The Verse: What I Discovered Reading the Bible One Book at a Timeby Wes McAdams: Wes is one of my favorite bloggers and I think he is such a helpful voice in the church right now. A couple of  years ago, he completed reading through the entire Bible, but rather than doing it by reading a few chapters each day, he read entire books of the Bible in one sitting each day. This enabled him to get a much clearer picture of the broad story the Bible tells, and it is a story that we are often guilty of distorting significantly. I absolutely loved this book. I recommended it to several people after I read it, and I intend to incorporate it into my ministry moving forward.

Star Wars: Thrawnby Timothy Zahn: In many ways, 2020 was the year that I rediscovered Star Wars novels. I used to read Star Wars novels a lot, but back when Disney took over the franchise, they decanonized all the books I had read and I lost interest. Out of the loop, I discovered that a bunch of new Star Wars novels had been authorized by Disney and written in recent years, and I read several in 2020. Some of them were hot garbage, but Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy was good: my favorite Star Wars author reintroducing one of my favorite decanonized characters back into the canon. Thrawn is the first book in the trilogy, and was, in my opinion, the best.

Cry, the Beloved Countryby Alan Paton: I read this book back in 2009 and loved it, but had not read it since then, and it was even better than I remembered. This book touches on so many heavy themes—racism, theology, politics, the breakdown of the native village, crime, poverty, environmental concerns, and more—and tells the story of the shared tragedy of two older men in 1940s South Africa: a poor, black Anglican priest, and a wealthy, white farmer. This is such a beautiful book, and it was even more poignant to me reading it in 2020, a year of significant racial tension in my own country. Simply put, this is among the best books I have ever read.

Veritas: A Harvard Professor, A Con Man, and the Gospel of Jesus’s Wifeby Ariel Sabar: The subtitle of this book summarizes the plot well. In 2012, Harvard Divinity School professor Dr. Karen King published the discovery of a papyrus fragment from a supposed early Christian text that she sensationally dubbed, “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife,” that would later turn out to be a forgery. This book is an impressive chronicle of investigative journalism, and also serves as a warning of the problems of confirmation bias and the murky places to which extreme forms of postmodern thinking can deliver us.

On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts, by James K. A. Smith: Saint Augustine of Hippo is likely the single most influential Christian thinker since the Apostle Paul, and as Smith points out in this superb book, his story is quite likely very much like your own. Based significantly on Augustine’s Confessions, Smith looks at the journey of his life and the issues and questions that drove it—issues and questions that continue to drive our lives today. This makes Augustine a wonderful travel companion as we journey through life: someone who has already made a similar journey, asked similar questions, and, if we have ears to hear, has helpful directions for the road. Bonus: the cover design for this book is outstanding. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but in this case…

That was my reading for 2020. For comparison’s sake if you are interested, you can see my reading lists from previous years:

What are some of the best books you read this past year?

Incarnation & Human Involvement In God’s Transformative Work

Several weeks back, I finished my series on The Chronicles of Narnia, and now I am thoroughly enjoying reading through Paul Ford’s Companion To Narnia: Revised and ExpandedIt is basically a reference work that discusses the process of C.S. Lewis writing the Chronicles, analyzes how they relate to the rest of his works, and provides encyclopedic entries for everything imaginable in the world of Narnia. I am just now in the Es, so I have a long way to go, but it has been a lot of fun to read.

A while back I read through the entry for Aslan, which, as you might expect, is incredibly lengthy, with the Great Lion being the central character of the Narnia series and Lewis’s imagined Christ Figure in the world of Narnia. In that entry, Ford makes an insightful comment on Lewis’s effort to point his readers to the implications of the incarnation:

[Aslan’s] encouragement of the now-revived lion with the phrase “us-lions” and his employment of the giant to break down the castle walls and the sheepdog to organize the creatures into a force that will be helpful in what will later be called the First Battle of Beruna are all instances of Lewis’s profound belief that one of the consequences of the incarnation (God’s desire to identify with us by becoming one of us) is that he wants our help in the process of transforming the world.[1]

In the Incarnation, God identifies Himself with humanity through Jesus of Nazareth entering the world stage in the form of a baby. In so doing, God affirms the goodness of creation and also His intention to partner with humanity in bringing about His purposes for that creation.



This is, in large part, what it means to be created in God’s Image; we are God’s representatives, bearing His authority to carry out the task He has given us. This is the picture we have of Adam and Eve in the garden: God giving them the task to steward and cultivate His creation, partnering with Him, under His authority, to take care of it and develop it.

Tragically, Adam and Eve fail to live up to their vocation. In the bitterest of ironies, they clutch after the forbidden fruit hoping to become like God, failing to realize that they already were! And humans have similarly failed ever since then.

In the Incarnation, Jesus comes to show us a different way. He perfectly reflects the divine image, obeying the Father’s will in all things. Rather than seeking after power or God-likeness, He willingly lays it down and lives as a servant, even to the point of dying on the cross.

Those of us who would follow Jesus are called to imitate His example. The vocation that God bestowed upon humanity in the garden has not changed: still, we are encouraged to take up our crosses and join in God’s mission. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the resurrected Aslan could have defeated all evil, established his reign and rule, and brought about the transformation of the world all on his own, but he chose not to. And this, as Ford points out, is no accident: Lewis was simply reflecting the biblical teaching that the all-powerful God chooses to bring about the redemption of all things in collaboration with human agents of new creation.

One of the great truths of the incarnation is that God wants our help in the process of transforming the world.


[1]  Paul Ford, Companion to Narnia: Revised Edition (San Franciso: HarperCollins, 2005): 60.

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.

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