Five Christian Ideas That Promote Political Moderation: Part 2

We live in a time of political tensions and increasing polarization. In these days, when some around us through impatience or fear flirt with radical politics, Christians must keep their wits. In part 1 of this two-part series, I introduced the case that Christian ethics, rightly understood, encourages political moderation. We saw that three Christian ideas tend to foster moderation: the Christian’s eternal perspective, the Christian’s status as pilgrim and sojourner, and a Christian commitment to truth. In what follows, I discuss two additional ideas—biblical anthropology and the Christian understanding of hope (and pessimism)—before concluding with some relevant thoughts from Calvin’s Institutes.

Biblical Anthropology

A Christian anthropology fosters moderation because it opposes the demonization of the other. There are two sources of this, one positive and one negative. In the positive sense, the Christian holds that a person has intrinsic worth, not because man is in any sense divine (he is not), but because humanity was endowed with worth, having been created in the image of God (Gen 1:26–27). People are of a higher order of being than are the lower animals, for they are rational, embodied souls; and people are of a different, lower kind of being than God, being creature rather than Creator. But it is the image of God in man that gives us our worth and makes life sacred, which means death is not natural but a terrible consequence of the fall. People of the other party, people of the other race, people of the other language, people of the other income bracket—all of these possess worth that has a transcendent source, and each has a soul that shall never end. It should go without saying that there is nothing wrong with preferring what is familiar; having community with those like us is usually easier and more natural than an enforced diversity. Yet various species of dehumanization—racism, to take an obvious example—have no place in the Christian mind.

This leads to the other, negative moderating aspect of Christian anthropology, which arises from the fact that man is also born flawed. Different Christian traditions may have different conceptions of what exactly it means to say that humans are sinful. Yet Christians have long taught that man is born sinful, having inherited Adam’s corruption and guilt from his original sin in the Garden (Gen 3). Christians even hold, with David, that each person is “sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Ps 51).1

The political consequence of this is that reform turns out to be more difficult than anyone would want. The basic obstacle to a good society is you and me—each individual—not simply some social disorder. The problem with the Marxist solution of getting rid of all of the bourgeois is that when all that is left is the proletariat, the proletariat will mess it all up. If we round up the Trump supporters, we still have the corruption in the hearts of progressives. If we get rid of the liberals, we have the problem that conservatives are corrupted too. Christians, like the political moderate described by Craiutu (see part 1 of this series), does “not see the world in Manichaean terms that divide it into forces of good (or light) and agents of evil (or darkness).”2

For some Christians, this may seem quite wrong: Is there not indeed a political world divided between Christian and non-Christian? Is there not a Kuyperian antithesis between a Christian view of reality and a non-Christian one? In a sense, the answer is of course! And in a different sense, no. There is the world, and the world loves darkness rather than the Light which has come into the world, lest the deeds of the world be exposed (John 3:19); and yet those who are the light of the world (Matt 5:14) find within themselves a law in their members that pushes them do what they do not want to do (Rom 7:23). This leads them to realize that in a very real sense, they are “evil” (Matt 7:21) even as they are adopted children of God (Rom 8:15). While there is a darkness in the world that seeks to damage the church, let us not thereby drift into a Pharisaic attitude that would reduce politics to the mere proposition, “Thank God that I am not like other men” (Luke 18:11). Instead, we ought to recall the great line from Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: “The line dividing good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts.”3

The Christian must remember that a golden age will not come until the appointed end of all things, for we ourselves are not golden.

Pessimism and Hope

Because of the sinfulness of every human being, plans for reform must be modest, even as we work diligently for that measure of justice that is possible, and we should not be surprised by disappointment. The Scriptures even refer to the period between Genesis 3 and Revelation 20 as “this present evil age” (Gal 1). During this epoch, “the poor you will always have with you” (Matt 26:11). Someday, nation will no longer lift up the sword against nation (Isa 2:4), but for now, we find the spirit of Cain seeking after the blood of Abel (Gen 4) until such a time when there is no more death. While some cultures are better than others, we should not be surprised when we see one that is not among the better. In brief, the Christian ought to be in some sense a political pessimist. High civilization is the exception rather than the rule, and the Christian should have a healthy suspicion both of claims of a this-worldly future golden age before the parousia as well as of a golden halcyon age of yore that refers to anything except Genesis 1 and 2.

But the Christian should also be hopeful (I Cor 13). People who look at the world with nothing except pessimism almost invariably get it wrong, and there are many reasons to be pessimistic in 2024. Nowadays, some among us seem, like the clinically depressed, almost incapable of seeing what is still good. Those who suggest that it is not so bad are pilloried as fools or cowards who cannot or will not admit that it is time to take the gloves off. But some also struggle to give a satisfactory answer to some important questions: how would a second American civil war help me to worship God? How would it help my church to thrive? Would my family die? Would it solve the problems that produced a need for another civil war? Should we follow the example of Oliver Cromwell, and if yes, does that concern you?

There is a sense in which those who are drawn to radical politics are, paradoxically, not pessimistic enough. Such ones may look around and (appropriately) see that Western culture is showing signs of decay, many of which are alarming. And yet, the presumption that a political solution will be efficacious to turn the tide is often predicated upon a return to an idealized past or an idealized possible future. A healthy pessimism about the possible good that could come from radical political action will help us to be cautious with any experimentation, lest we make things even worse.

In another sense, those tempted by radical politics sometimes sound a bit like a flock of Chicken Littles, insisting that the sky is falling. But while there are major storms out there, the sun and moon remain in their courses. The Supreme Court of the United States recently overturned Roe v. Wade. In spite of the concerning pressure being exerted on religious liberty by an increasingly secular society, Christians still worship freely, and non-profit Christian institutions like schools still operate for now with relatively little intrusion from the state.

More importantly, Jesus Christ and our secured salvation gives us hope. The battle is already won, and Jesus is already King.

What Is Your Only Comfort in Life and in Death?

Instead of sadness and despair, let us have hope, because we are not surprised, and because the best is yet to come. We are but dust, and the eyes of faith are often weak. We are prone, like Peter, to look at the crashing waves and to panic. We forget that the nations that rage, like the seas that roll, are in the hands of a God whose omnipotence and providence governs all things so that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven. Calvin’s counsel from the Institutes is instructive here: When the trials of life draw our eyes away from our Hope, “we should always consider the end of it to be, that we may be trained to despise the present, and thereby stimulated to aspire to the future life.” This is dreadfully difficult, for “the whole soul, by the allurements of the flesh, seeks its happiness on the earth.” But to “meet this disease, the Lord makes his people sensible of the vanity of the present life, by a constant proof of its miseries. Thus, that they may not promise themselves deep and lasting peace in it, he often allows them to be assailed by war, tumult, or rapine, or to be disturbed by other injuries.”4 This is a hard lesson, a stout medicine hard to swallow, harder to keep down. But “If heaven is our country, what can the earth be but a place of exile?” Yet “If we reflect that by death we are recalled from exile to inhabit our native country, a heavenly country, shall this give us no comfort? But everything longs for permanent existence. I admit this, and therefore contend that we ought to look to future immortality, where we may obtain that fixed condition which nowhere appears on the earth.”5

It may be that if we are able to look more at our future rest and at our King, and a bit less at the waves about us, we will find that our only comfort in life and in death is to know that we are not our own, but belong, body and soul, to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ (HC 1). And this may lead us to put our political views and efforts in a different perspective.


  1. Augustine cites Psalm 51 early in The Confessions in a chapter wherein he asked, “Who can recall to me the sins I committed as a baby? For in your sight no man is free from sin, not even a child who has lived only one day on earth.” See Saint Augustine, Confessions (New York: Penguin Books, 1980), I.7.
  2. Aurelian Craiutu, Faces of Moderation: The Art of Balance in an Age of Extremes (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), 19–20.
  3. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, 1918–1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, trans. Thomas P. Whitney and Harry Willetts (London: Vintage, 2018), 312.
  4. John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1989), III.IX.1.
  5. Calvin, Institutes, III.IX.4–5.

©Bill Reddinger. All Rights Reserved.

You can find this whole series here. 


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