October Book Review: Political Church

Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule – by Jonathan Leeman


Political Church is probably not a book that most of you will pick up and read, partly because it deals with politics and that subject is so abused in our day that no one really wants to talk about it anymore, and also partly because it talks about the doctrine of ecclesiology and many people think that impractical and relegated for seminary classes.  But the fact that there is confusion and obscurity on these topics makes this book exactly what we need to pay attention to, because who the church is and how we engage our world around us are vitally relevant for all Christians to be thinking about today.

Christians have long been deficient in their fundamental conception of both politics and the church.  Jonathan Leeman has two main goals in this book: first, to replace the map of politics and religion that many Christians have been using with a more biblical one and second, to explain where the local church fits into that redrawn map.  He says, “Christ’s political rule may be “not of this world,” meaning it has its source or origin not in the world but in heaven (Jn 18:36). And his rule unites all Christians everywhere invisibly. But this universal rule is visibly and institutionally manifest in history through the proclamation of the gospel and the binding and loosing activity of the local church, the two activities that constitute an otherwise unincorporated group of Christians as a particular church.”

The best aspect of this book is its thorough wrestling with God’s word.  The primary picture used in this book is that the church is like an embassy of Christ’s rule.  And that’s quite appropriate language given 2 Corinthians 5:20, telling us that “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.”  The meat of this book would be unexpected for many and that is Leeman’s slow and careful walk through scripture. But in doing so he allows scripture to reframe our conversation on religion and politics and the work of the church.

We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.
— 2 Corinthians 5:20

With six chapters entitled “What is politics?”, “What is an Institution?”, “The Politics of Creation”, “The Politics of the Fall”, “The Politics of the New Covenant”, and “The Politics of the Kingdom,” Leeman shows how the unfolding covenants that man has with God form and combine better political and institutional conceptualities.  While these chapters may appear simple on the surface they are brimming with heated debates over issues like the role of the church to the government and the nature of God’s covenants with man. What makes the church such a radically different institution than anything else in the world is its politics of forgiveness and the authority given to it in Christ’s commission to interpret scripture and exercise the binding and loosening of the kingdom, marking off not only what God’s word is but also who God’s people are.  Ultimately, Christians do not belong to the kingdoms of this world, we belong to the eternal reign of Christ. And the unity of the church is now the light for the gospel, the hope of the nations.

I encourage you to read this book, it has much for us to discuss as Christians, especially the truth of God’s word which transforms our thinking.  May we as a church not back down on our public duty to proclaim the gospel to all nations and boldly gather together as a people distinct from this world.