Five myths about Christian engagement
in the public square

by Daniel Darling

As they have in every generation, evangelicals are wrestling with their role in the larger culture. Today’s increasingly post-Christian America has added new urgency to the discussion. Should Christians be involved in politics? Or should we simply preach and live out the gospel in our communities? Or are these two paradigms as mutually exclusive as they are sometimes branded?

I’ve been on both sides of this debate most of my life. I’ve served at various levels of church and organizational ministry, I’ve been active in political campaigns, and now I have the privilege of serving the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the entity representing Southern Baptists in Washington. I’ve been the pastor aghast at a parishioner’s crude political Facebook posts. I’ve been the activist wishing Christians were more aware of the issues.

This is a tension that won’t go away until Christ consummates His kingdom. Until that glorious day, we must wrestle with very real questions. Let’s start by deconstructing some myths about Christian engagement in the public square:

1. We shouldn’t judge the world, because the world is full of unbelievers. Paul wrote this very advice in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 4:5). They were a church who had imbibed the sexual values of their culture, to the point where they openly bragged about a “grace” [k1] that overlooked and even celebrated open sexual sin (1 Cor 5:1-2, 6). This was also a church that arrogantly preached to the culture but refused to guard their family of faith.

On the surface, Paul’s words might seem a rebuke to any level of Christian cultural engagement. After all, the Church should expect believers to act like believers and unbelievers to act like unbelievers. This is true in one sense. [k2] Our message to the world should not be one of condemnation (John 3:17), but of love, announcing the good news that salvation is available to those who repent and believe in Jesus Christ, the rightful King who conquered sin, death and the serpent.

And yet Paul can’t be saying we should ignore the false ideologies around us, turning a blind eye to injustice and caring little for the flourishing of our communities. If so, he’d be contradicting other very clear passages of Scripture that urge the Christian to apply the gospel to all of life…

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Five myths about Christian engagement in the public square