In our partisan climate, it is becoming increasingly harder to discern a Christian consensus on how the church should engage with our culture. It is a frequent occurrence for brothers and sisters in the faith to find themselves on opposite sides of a given issue, arguing for completely different approaches. How can we rise above the cacophony? How can we wisely and redemptively interact with our culture?
The answer to these questions is complex and multifaceted. For our purposes, we will narrow our focus to two competing views on Christian cultural engagement. The first we will call Nation Building, and the second we will label Kingdom Building.
Nation Building focuses on the temporal: prioritizing and emphasizing one’s earthly citizenship, and interacting with one’s culture primarily as a native or citizen. Kingdom Building, on the other hand, focuses on the eternal: prioritizing and emphasizing one’s heavenly citizenship, and interacting with one’s culture primarily as an alien or foreigner.
Nation building can lead to going beyond God’s instructions. This can happen either by making alliances we shouldn’t or creating enmity where we shouldn’t.
One example of making allies where we shouldn’t is found in Joshua 9. Shortly after entering Canaan, Joshua encounters a group of local people who claim to be from a faraway land, eager for a peace treaty with Israel. After first responding with suspicion (and rightfully so), God’s people let themselves be deceived because they do not “inquire of the Lord” on the matter (v. 14).
One example of making enemies where we shouldn’t is found in Judges 19-20. A brutally violent situation (19:25-30) leads to the tribe of Benjamin ill-advisedly mobilizing itself against the rest of Israel. This results in Benjamin being nearly decimated (20:47) by its fellow tribes.
Today, we see professing Christians making questionable political alliances and treating other believers as enemies of our cause. The dividing lines are often drawn on political or ethnic grounds, and the results are proving disastrous.
Nation building tends to encourage its adherents that God is firmly on their side (of the political, cultural, or ethnic aisle). But that is akin to the tail wagging the dog.
A dramatic example of this can be found in Joshua 5, as the Israelites prepare to march against the city of Jericho. Joshua encounters a mysterious man dressed for battle, failing to realize he is facing God in the flesh. Joshua tentatively asks, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” (v. 13).
God begins his answer by saying, “Neither” (v. 14). This is a curious response, as God himself is the one who has brought Israel into the Promised Land to establish his people and to punish the inhabitants of Canaan. And yet, even with such clear battle lines drawn, God rejects Joshua’s simplistic categorizations, because he doesn’t take sides. His cause is his own, and if his children—those on his “side”—step out of alignment, he will oppose them (see James 4:4-6).
Today, we see professing Christians all across the political spectrum claiming God is on their side. But God is not divided against himself, and he will not be used as a pawn to further causes that are not his own.
To quote Bible commentator David Guzik, “God does not intend that there be a Christian country or state where all the Christians live together in spiritual bliss, and simply say to the world, ‘come and join us if you want.’ Instead, God wants Christians to be sprinkled throughout the whole world, influencing people for Jesus Christ.”