Michael L. Brown, The Political Seduction of the Church: How Millions of American Christians Have Confused Politics with the Gospel (Vide, 2022), ISBN 9781954618497
The last several years have seen a plethora of books published concerning the church and political involvement. While I haven’t done a detailed study of the number of books published annually in the field of political theology, it seems to this casual observer that the quantity each year is increasing. Some people have long held that politics have no place in the church. Others point out that Christianity itself is a politic, in that it addresses how human beings should best organize their shared lives and communities.
Dr. Michael L. Brown is no stranger to addressing politics from a biblical standpoint. In 2022, he entered the political realm once again with the book The Political Seduction of the Church. In fourteen chapters spanning 265 pages, he discusses Christian involvement in the January 6 storming of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., false prophecies concerning the 2020 election, and Christian nationalism, among other pertinent topics.
The wide road towards spiritual seduction is littered with itsy bitsy little compromises.
Brown starts out in the preface making it clear that he is not calling for Christians to adopt an apolitical stance that abandons the political sphere to the world. He even states that he definitely prefers the policy positions of one major American political party over those of the other party. But even though the spiritual and political realms often overlap, he says, “To the extent we confuse the gospel with politics or identify one party as ‘God’s party’ or seek to advance the goals of the gospel largely through politics, to that extent we will fail.” So, there is a place for Christians to be involved in political action, but that involvement must place scriptural mandates and truths ahead of party allegiance or preference.
In the second chapter of the book, Brown makes it clear that the church of Jesus is transcendent; it goes beyond boundaries human beings tend to use to dive people, such as ethnicity, language, nationality, or political affiliation. He takes the Apostle Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 6 concerning not joining the members of Christ’s body to a prostitute, and makes a point concerning not joining ourselves to anything that is unclean and defiling, which could include political activity when engaged in according to the world’s standards instead of God’s. When it comes to political activism, Brown writes:
Unfortunately, we often lose our way here, joining ourselves to the spirit of the age, becoming as partisan as the political system and as nasty (and childish) as the worst attack ads. We gleefully repost all kinds of mocking memes and loudly castigate those who differ with us—even our fellow Christians—insulting them in the basest of ways. And we do this, we claim, because God has emboldened us, because we are full of the Spirit, because we will not back down. What a deception. What a severe degrading of our holy calling. What a pathetic compromise. In reality, when we, God’s people, fight primarily with political or worldly weapons, we forfeit our supernatural strength. (pp. 25-26, italics mine)
“When we, God’s people, fight primarily with political or worldly weapons, we forfeit our supernatural strength.” – Dr. Michael Brown
I firmly believe this last sentence describes the current state of the Evangelical church’s witness in America. When political figures can advocate abandoning Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek and love our enemies because “We tried that and it doesn’t work,” we have begun to trust in the ways of men and the arm of flesh to control others, rather than in the supernatural power of God and the foolishness of preaching to transform hearts and minds.
In chapter four, Brown discusses the subtlety of seduction. Just as an extramarital affair rarely happens overnight, but comes about as a result of small compromises here and there, so too spiritual seduction is an incremental process. Brown writes, “We have lost our will to resist, or, perhaps worse still, we don’t even realize that we need to resist.” The promises of political protection of our interests, along with the offer to have a seat at the table of power, slowly convince us to overlook the faults and foibles of those making the offer to us, until we are firmly entangled in the sticky web and find it difficult, if not impossible, to extricate ourselves. Christians got behind Trump because he “was willing to put himself in harm’s way for their sake. He was willing to challenge the lying media….He was willing to confront the radical leftists who wanted to disfigure our nation….So what if he lied. So what if he was nasty in the process. So what if he created deeper divisions along the way” (p. 49). Notice the irony: Christians embraced someone they knew was a liar to confront the lying media. Yet Christians should know that one cannot fight the devil using the devil’s tactics. Brown goes on to call out the idolatrous nature of the dedication to Trump exhibited by many:
In the end, we even began to mirror Trump in our own attitudes and words, acting in ways that we would have deplored just years or even months before, ways that were in violation of our faith and morals. We, too, engaged in mockery and name-calling. We, too, savaged those who rejected Trump’s leadership. We even questioned the spirituality of those who could not vote for Trump, as if they were being disloyal to God. And ultimately we took on some of Trump’s most unchristian characteristics, just as Psalm 115 declares that those who worship idols become like the idols they worship. (p. 52)
But more liberal-minded Christians don’t escape scrutiny. Brown points out that, just as many conservative believers justified their hateful words and actions because their opponents were “the godless Left,” many professing Christians on the Left likewise justified their own words and actions toward fellow Christians on the Right by reasoning that Trump—and anyone who voted for him—were so bad they didn’t deserve the basic respect due to all those made in God’s image.
Dr. Brown goes on in chapter five to point out that idolatry, just like seduction, is very subtle. While many Christians bristle at the suggestion that their political activism has become idolatrous, their sense of despair and impending doom when their preferred candidate loses—or, in some cases, their unwillingness to admit he or she lost—reveals that things have actually arrived at the point of idolatry. Brown reminds his readers that idolatry does not always involve a complete denial of the God of Israel, but “attributing to others what should only be attributed to Him” (75). Looking to anything or anyone other than God to provide what only God can rightfully provide is the essence of idolatry.
When prayers become viciously partisan, we are not being led by the Spirit.
Chapter six addresses the problem of allowing prayers to become partisan, rather than rooted in God’s Word. When prayers focus more on malice, resentment, and calling down curses on one’s political enemies, rather than praying for their enlightenment and salvation, we are not being led by the Spirit. It seems that too often, Christians put on the spirit of Jonah, gleefully announcing the looming destruction of sinners, rather than the spirit of Jesus, who wept over Jerusalem.
In chapters seven and eight, the book gets into perhaps the issue most closely related to the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement: the prophets who missed it in regard to the 2000 election. Brown here includes extended quotes from the political prophets’ YouTube videos, newsletters, and web sites. When their predictions of a second consecutive term for President Trump went bust, many of those who had claimed direct revelation from God doubled down, rather than admit they had mistaken their own thoughts and desires for the voice of the Lord. This insistent denial struck me as analogous to proponents of the health and wealth gospel who refuse to admit they are ill, for fear of making a “negative confession.” Brown gives an extensive analysis of possible causes for so many missed prophecies, some of which basically amount to spiritual peer pressure: if someone you believe genuinely hears from God says that Trump will be re-elected (or reinstated, as the case may be), and you know your followers like Trump and expect you to hear from God, it’s a short walk to allow your own desires (and ministry standing) to push you to make a similar proclamation. “They assumed that, as prophets, they should know the future. And that assumption led to presumption since the Lord had clearly not revealed these things to them” (125).
Dr. Brown discusses the dangers of believing that any modern nation-state has a special covenantal relationship with God.
Chapter nine addresses the rise of conspiracy thinking, specifically QAnon, which has been addressed by many writers, both Christian and secular. In chapter ten, Dr. Brown discusses the dangers of believing that any modern nation-state has a special covenantal relationship with God (as many proponents of Christian nationalism would claim). “America, like any other nation on earth, is part of what the Bible calls the world as opposed to being part of the kingdom of God” (163). It is the followers of Jesus among the many nations of the earth who constitute the kingdom. All human political institutions are fallen and influenced by sin, and that includes both major American political parties.
Chapter eleven deals with healthy and unhealthy mixtures of politics and religion. It is healthy for believers to become politically involved by attending local council and school board meetings, advocating for biblical views on issues, and even running for office at the local, state, and national levels. The mixture of religion and politics becomes unhealthy, however, when political expediency, and compromising principles for the sake of gaining or maintaining power, cause politics to become the dominating influence, dimming the light of truth. The American church needs to remember that Jesus does not need the political system to advance His kingdom; the church is growing by leaps and bounds in places like China and Iran, where the governmental systems are overtly opposed to and oppressing Christians.
Is the church called to take over society?
Chapter twelve asks the question, “Is the church called to take over society?” Brown points out that the way Christians change society is not from the top down, but as God changes the hearts of people a few at a time, and the change in people’s lives brings about change from the grassroots up. Christians who push for solutions through political power, while neglecting the call to be salt and light at the personal level, only cause society to resist more and become embittered toward the gospel message.
In the thirteenth chapter, Brown discusses Christian nationalism and some of the violent tendencies that have arisen in some sectors of the church. He advises against embracing the term “Christian nationalism,” in part because God has not called political nation states to do the work of the church. Chapter fourteen provides a summary of how Christians failed the test when it comes to the seduction of political power, and how we can learn from our past mistakes in this area. We must focus more on the unity we have around King Jesus than we do on the differences of opinion regarding policies and partisanship. We must seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, instead of seeking the power of worldly kingdoms. And even when we do get involved in politics, we must do everything in a Christian spirit of love and respect, even when we differ.
Human beings are political creatures; if the church doesn’t teach them how to deal with political issues with compassion while maintaining biblical convictions, they will find instruction elsewhere, and that instruction will likely follow the ways of the world rather than the way of King Jesus.
While I greatly appreciate Dr. Brown’s willingness to address the “elephant in the room” of political idolatry, at times I found myself confused. In parts of the book, he tries to get the reader to understand the state of mind—the siege mentality—of those Christians who threw themselves one hundred percent behind Trump. The way Brown goes about this leaves it unclear at times whether he is telling the reader how these voters feel, or he himself is expressing those feelings. A little more delineation between Brown’s own thoughts and feelings and his representation of the arguments of others would have been helpful. This could have been achieved by setting off these sections with quotation marks, even if the sections were not direct quotes of actual individuals, but of an “imaginary interlocutor.”
Perhaps the problems we are seeing with partisan politics dividing the church of Christ today stem from the church’s past failure to disciple believers in how to address political issues faithfully in accordance with the Scriptures, leaving the sheep to get their political formation from talk radio and cable news. Human beings are political creatures; if the church doesn’t teach them how to deal with political issues with compassion while maintaining biblical convictions, they will find instruction elsewhere, and that instruction will likely follow the ways of the world rather than the way of King Jesus.
Reviewed by Brain Roden