Slow, hard, subtle work
Civilisation is always in need of being saved. The nation blest above all nations is she in whom the civic genius of the people does the saving day by day, by acts without external picturesqueness; by speaking, writing, voting reasonably; by smiting corruption swiftly; by good temper between parties; by the people knowing true men when they see them, and preferring them as leaders to rabid partisans or empty quacks.
Nurturing the habits that make for justice in the public life of a political community is slow, hard, subtle work. It requires what George Will calls zeitgeist politics: "toiling to change the temper of the times by re-educating the public." This is indeed not picturesque work, but, over generations, it bears fruit.
Freedom House, in its 1998 international human rights survey, divides countries into
free, partly free and unfree categories. Eighty-one countries are classified as free. Of these, seventy-four have a Christian cultural background.
The Big Picture Volume 1, Lent 1999 p.2
In this issue of TBP (the first issue of the Many-to-Many to go by this great new name) we have a collection of sterling contributions, mostly on the theme of politics, mostly from the perspective of a Christian worldview. It is the hope of the editors that all our readers will find it to be a collection of encouragement and wise counsel, as we all keep joining in with the Spirit of God at the slow, hard, subtle work of grace transforming politics.
Because of this, the most important political work we can do is everyday work, in our everyday lives: doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God (Micah 6: 8) in our marriages, families and friendships, in our workplaces, churches and neighbourhoods. The slow, tectonic shifts that such Christian living bring about at the foundations of a society is necessary for any kind of Christian politics to have lasting effect in the city, the province, or the nation. A Christian worldview renewal, a Christian way of life, can eventually translate, by the grace of God, into a public order discernibly distinguished by justice, mercy, and humble walking with God.
Politics is not something done in a moment of passion with a simply moral zealousness. Politics is more like raising a family, or running a business, or stewarding a farm. It requires lifelong commitment, patience, steadiness, and great attention to detail day after day.
Zeitgeist politics requires patience the kind of true patience of which Abraham Kuyper speaks:
True patience is not meek submission to the inevitable, or apathetic drifting with-out resistance. True patience, biblical patience, is energy, buoyancy. It is strength a strength more than earthly in origin. It is endurance. True patience is a mystery only in faith can we attain it.
Zeitgeist politics requires spiritual discernment, starting out with the realisation that while every-thing is political, politics is not everything. The political realities which we face have their roots in spiritual realities.
That intriguing data snippet can be found in my favourite new worldview book, Paul Marshall's Heaven is not my home: Learning to live in God's creation (Nashville: Word, 1998). Marshall also writes this about politics:
Politics is not simply a fight about who gets what. It is not merely a realm of struggle and sin. It is also a ministry, protecting the lives of human beings, God's image bearers. It is a means of bringing justice and dignity. The restoration of decent politics is a Christian ministry. It is a hard and necessary ministry, and we need to take it up.
Marshall quotes the most careful political thinker writing in English today from the perspective of a Christian worldview: Jim Skillen. Skillen reminds us that