Book Review: Hijacked: Responding to the Partisan Church by Mike Slaughter and Charles Gutenson

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hijacked book

Roughly seven decades ago, C.S. Lewis reflected on Christians and politics thus: “Most of us are not really approaching the subject in order to find out what Christianity says: we are approaching it in the hope of finding support from Christianity for the views of our own party. We are looking for an ally where we are offered either a Master or–a Judge.” Lewis’ observation is insightful today. Reading the bible faithfully and well is one of the great challenges and responsibilities of every age. And one of the keys to a faithful reading of Scripture is acknowledging the existence of one’s own biases, including one’s political biases, when approaching the text. As the salt of the earth, the people of God dare not ignore the public square. But, Lewis warns us, we dare not approach Christianity for a political ally when we are actually presented with a Master and a Judge.

THE BIG IDEA

“As followers of Jesus we are not to define nor are we to divide ourselves according to the ideologies and platforms of Caesar.” (p. 31)

Hijacked laments the increasing way in which unity among Christians is found more in political party affiliation rather than in the central affirmations of Christianity–like the Trinitarian nature of God and the divinity of Jesus Christ, for example. The authors do not have a problem with the church’s work in the public square, the pursuit of public service in elected office, or even activism for a political party. After all, for both Slaughter and Gutenson, bringing the resources of the gospel and the church to bear on the common good of society is an integral part of their personal journey as disciples working out the meaning of following Jesus in all aspects of life. The problem is the rise and intensification of political partisanship in society infiltrating the American church. Political and ideological agreement–on left or right–has become in many quarters of the church a litmus test for authentic faithfulness. This leads to filtering the bible through our political convictions, instead of the other way around. The partisan atmosphere weakens unity in essentials (core doctrines) in favor of unity around non-essentials (specific political positions). Hijacked advances its presentation like this:

  • Part One defines the problem demographically (data analysis by Robert P. Jones) and experientially (with Slaughter’s church, Ginghamsburg United Methodist, as a test case).
  • Part Two assesses the issue theologically and sociologically, including an identification of the common missteps in our thinking that exacerbate the partisanship problem and how we reinforce the conclusions those missteps lead to with our choices in the modern media menu.
  • Part Three suggests a way forward for the local church (good list of tips for leaders), and offers the witness of two public servants, one Democrat and one Republican, whose efforts are to live out the priority of “Christ first, party second.”

UNITY FOR THE WRONG REASONS

“Disagreement itself is not the problem, passionate disagreement is not the problem, rather the inability to put aside disagreement in the non-essentials for the sake of Christian unity is the problem.” (p. 66)

Agreement with the dictum, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity,” is not difficult to find. But clarity on the difference between essentials and non-essentials is another matter. The middle section of Hijacked demonstrates how we move from our reading of the bible to conviction about an issue to a particular political approach in addressing that issue to asserting that “real Christians” will agree with our particular political approach, calling it the “biblical position” on thus-and-so issue. The reader receives a helpful logic lesson which demonstrates how we collapse the steps in our thinking and end up confusing essentials and non-essentials, undermining the proper practice of unity and liberty.

BURSTING OUR BUBBLES

“To improve the quality of dialog and to help reduce the threats of increasing partisanship [Christians can] make a commitment to escape our own ideological bubbles.” (p. 90-91)

Given the rise of ideologically niched news sources in television, radio, and online media, we may all consume reporting and commentary on current affairs from the ideological perspective of our choice. Learning from the best voices of our ideological leanings can be helpful, but minus deliberate engagement with sources outside of our perspective we create a bubble in which to live–an echo chamber of sorts, wherein we only hear what reinforces our thinking, never what will challenge us. Hijacked provides practical instruction for critically engaging and broadening our news sources.

THE TAKEAWAY

“The greatest good the church can do for the culture at large is to remind it, by the life it models, that the ‘normal way of doing business’ is not the life to which God calls his human creatures.” (p. 128)

Slaughter and Gutenson address the issue of partisanship in the church in a straight-forward manner. This is one of the fine contributions of the book. I recognize my embrace of the authors’ perspectives is shaped by my essential agreement about the problem. Hijacked will likely strengthen the foundation of persons frustrated about the situation but unable to put their finger on all the dynamics in play in their church, or the church at large. This is good, but whether Hijacked can accomplish the conversion of those within the political matrix who are conflating their theology with their politics will remain to be seen. What C.S. Lewis demonstrated in the quotation above from his chapter on “Social Morality” in the classic Mere Christianity was humility and mature self-reflection, for he follows the observation above with the simple sentence, “I am just the same.” The hope I share with Slaughter and Gutenson is that the maturity and humility Lewis demonstrates in this passage will increase among the followers of Christ. For those who are ready to hear the message of Hijacked, it will provide helpful guidance.

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Guy Williams is Senior Pastor of the United Methodist Temple in Port
Arthur, Texas. A graduate of Texas A&M University and Asbury Seminary,
he is married with three children. Follow him on twitter @guymwilliams
or find him online at guymwilliams.net.

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