Book review: On God’s Side

by Jim Wallis

★★★★

Has Christianity been derailed from serving the common good to mandating bipartisan stances? If Christian principles mean standing up for God, then in the myriad of complex political issues—from same-sex marriage to immigration reform—how do we know which side to take? Which side is God’s side?

Wallis asserts we can find God on the side of compassion. The common good. Throw out your gospels of self-help, personal enhancement, prosperity, and parochial nationalism, and instead look to the story of the Good Samaritan. Until Christianity returns to a “neighbor ethic,” it will not recover its credibility. To this end, Wallis writes a “biblical and theological defense of the common good.” Wallis is neither liberal nor conservative, and calls for both factions to meet in the middle.

I do confess, the title of the book gives me pause. A call to be “on God’s side,” as if the author speaks for God, evokes in my mind an image of a holy war. And to some extent, it is; Wallis sees this as war against a broken political system.

On that note, I would have preferred that the book was broken in two … one book about church, and another about state. But Wallis doesn’t separate the two. Says he, “If worth and equality are values derived from the belief that human beings are made in the image of God, then respecting both should be a primary task of democratic political systems.” He describes how in June of 2012 nearly 150 evangelical leaders banded together and signed the “Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform.” Sojourners stood side by side in Washington D.C. with the Southern Baptists and Focus on the Family to draw attention to the plight of millions who have been caught up in our broken immigration system. These issues were seen as “fundamental moral issues and biblical imperatives.” The president listened and acted. Mission accomplished.

Problem is, I’m not sure Wallis grasps that our democratic system will be no less broken if it caves under the weight of organized religion. Nevertheless, if you are able to separate church and state in your mind as you read– learning about seeking the common good according to the example of Jesus, and learning also of our needed political reform–then you will find thought-provoking conversation on both fronts.

Before you read the book you might want to read Matthew 25:31-46.

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