Last week I attended a debate at Union Theological Seminary in New York on ‘evangelical faith and politics’. Two Evangelical writers, one left-leaning and one right-leaning politically, have recently collaborated on a book, Left, Right and Christ, which the publisher (Russell Media, Boise Idaho) hopes will open up a ‘new way’ of discussing politics, in which people, or Evangelicals, at least, will not dismiss ‘the other side’ because they did not understand them. The debate was a way of launching the book.

Unfortunately, the book fails in its purpose, and whether the two writers understand each other not, they fail to engage each other because they still operate in two different worlds. The left-leaning contributor is Lisa Sharon Harper, and she names the two worlds in her introduction to her position, pointing out that ‘for some, [politics] is a high-level battle of ideas… for others, politics is about public policies that shape the flow of life on the ground’. Some have their politics formed by their thinking, others have their politics formed by their experience, or the experience of those they love. And the trouble with the book is that the right-leaning contributor, D. C. Innes, is in the first camp, while Harper is in the second. And since the publisher (presumably) decided not to let them respond to each other, but have each make their case on half a dozen controversial issues, they never engage each other at all. Innes describes the ideas that lead him to the right, and Harper describes the experiences that lead her to the left. Neither is any use to the other, and the reader is led first one way by the compelling ideas, then back to where he started by the equally compelling experiences. In a post-script, the publisher urges us to continue the conversation in our homes, churches and communities. Unfortunately, though, there hasn’t been a conversation to continue.

I suppose there really need to be three conversations if Evangelicals or any others are to make progress in this project. There needs to be a conversation between people from the left and the right both of whom got there in the world of ideas, another between people from the left and the right both of whom got there in the world of experience, and a third between whoever could talk about how ideas and experience can be prevented from pushing people in opposite directions, or what to do when that can’t be prevented. It would be a thick book, but might start a conversation that could lead somewhere. This one is worth reading, but won’t do the business.

In the light of recent conversations on this blog (http://wp.me/pJQVs-fB, http://wp.me/pJQVs-fM) and on Anglican Yinzer , though, it’s good to be reminded that there are Evangelicals on both sides of all the controversial issues. Both writers added scripture references to their signatures for purchasers of their books; Innes cited Proverbs 3.5f, Harper Isaiah 61.1–5.

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