Is it a betrayal of the Christian faith to seek political influence, or is it a duty for Christians, working through politics, to uphold Christian realities in a morally decaying society? Some may see Carl R. Trueman’s critique of modern Christian political engagement as ‘pop Nietzscheanism‘ as an argument for the former. Yet, such a reading of Trueman’s article reminds of C.S. Lewis’s remark, “I sometimes think that writing is like driving a sheep down the road. If there’s any gate open to the left or the right the reader will most certainly go into it.” Trueman’s main purpose, in fact, was to remind the church that with the rise and fall of different politicians and worldly philosophies, the church must not lose sight of their continual duty to preach concerning sin and death. “And so the Church,” writes Trueman, “needs to remain faithful to her appointed task and not become simply an arm of those vying for political power.” The key word here is ‘simply.’ 

Yet, because of C.S. Lewis’s insight on the similarity between sheep and readers, we must be careful not only of the gate on the left, but the gate on the right. The church must not become simply a pietistic spiritual retreat center that does not engage in the public sphere. 

A Christian Manifesto 

I was reminded of this congregational duty when re-reading Francis Schaeffer’s A Christian Manifesto. Many people are familiar with Francis and his wife Edith Schaeffer for their establishment of the L’Abri Fellowship in 1955 in Switzerland. “Francis and Edith Schaeffer,” according to the L’Abri website, “opened their home as a place where people might find satisfying answers to their questions and a practical demonstration of Christian care.” Francis carried this same mission into his work as a Presbyterian minister. On the front of his pulpit was a picture of a mother pelican picking out her own flesh and feeding it to her chicks. 

The Schaeffers did not keep their efforts at L’Abri and in the Presbyterian church confined to some personal pietistic realm. They looked out at America and saw many problems–permissiveness, pornography, the state of public schools, the breakdown of the family, and abortion. They insightfully noted that those problems were symptoms of a much larger problem–a naive, optimistic humanism. They, then, sought to pick out their own flesh and feed it to the church by inciting congregations to rise in revolution against the inevitably inhuman results of a humanistic total takeover. Francis saw humanism as especially dangerous for having no basis for any kind of objective definition of what humans are and what they require. He prophesied, consequently, that humanism would result in arbitrary laws enforced by either an elite class such as scientists or through the legislative arm of the secularized government.

That being the case, Schaeffer urged that Christians must be willing to civically engage with non-Christians. “We should be practicing these alternatives (e.g. crisis pregnancy centers),” wrote Schaeffer in his manifesto, “in all areas even as we stand legally and politically against our present society’s and government’s wrong solutions for the ills of humanity. We indeed are to be humanitarians in living contrast to the inhumanity brought forth by materialistic humanism.” 

Schaeffer was not naive, however, warning that Christians must be ready to act with more than starry-eyed idealism. He struck a balance, therefore, between promoting alternative Christian institutions and recognizing the force of civil disobedience. Schaeffer wrote, “If we do not practice the alternatives commanded in the Scripture we are not living under the Scripture. And if we do not practice the bottom line of civil disobedience on the appropriate level, when the state has abrogated its authority, we are equally not living under the Scripture.”

Many Christians today are aware of alternatives like crisis pregnancy centers. Are the congregations, however, ready to live under the Scriptures in the “appropriate level” of civil disobedience, even the level of force? The answer should be ‘yes,’ Schaeffer argued, because some form of force will always be necessary in a fallen world. Though not an advocate for violence, Schaeffer nevertheless recognized that fighting for a just cause with the proper use of force is a God-given right, or even an obligation incumbent upon Christians when and if the state takes on totalitarian dimensions.


Carl Trueman’s point has merit. It is essential for Christians to not simply become an arm of those vying for political power. On the other hand, Christian congregations must remember that they stand in a long line of saints who took civic duty seriously. The 1905 painting by Paul Robert attached to this article, Justice Lifts the Nations, exemplifies this well, especially with commentary from Schaeffer: 

Robert wanted to remind them (the Supreme Court in Switzerland) that the place which the Reformation gave to the Bible provided a basis not only for morals but for law. Robert pictured many types of legal cases in the foreground and the judges in their black robes standing behind the judges’ bench. The problem is neatly posed: How shall the judges judge? On what basis shall they proceed so that their judgment will not be arbitrary? Above them, Robert painted Justice standing unblindfolded, with her sword pointed not vertically upward but downward toward a book, and on the book is written “The Law of God.” 

Perhaps in this or the next generation, Christian congregations will again ensure that the sword of the state would once again point toward the law of God as the only foundation for human society. 

On a personal note, I find it both amusing and encouraging that my son keeps A Christian Manifesto on his nightstand, while my daughter immerses herself in Eric Patterson‘s writings on Just War. With her recent acceptance into Grove City College, where Dr. Trueman teaches, I suspect he will have his hands full when she joins his discussions. It seems the next generation is ready to take up the mantle and continue the conversation on how best to live out our faith in the public square.