Updated: Feb 25
If there’s anything that American Evangelicals need more of, it might be creativity. We are so often constrained in our political thinking and decision making by forces that trick us into thinking that our options are severely limited and the consequences for working outside them are great. We need our political imaginations enlarged to help us think outside of the constraints of pragmatism, our own historical moment, and dominating stories of our earthly political communities.
So writes Kaitlyn Schiess toward the end of The Liturgy of Politics. This thoughtful recent book looks for the myriad ways that under-examined involvement in American politics has unintentionally formed us as creatures who don’t just think about policies and platforms, but whose loves and loyalties have been captured by parties and politicians. Taking her cue from thinkers like James K.A. Smith and Stanley Hauerwas, Schiess offers a “liturgical” audit of our political life, as well as a “political” consideration of our liturgical life in the church — showing how the sacraments, the liturgical calendar and our reading of all of scripture problematize a naive coupling of the Christian faith with any one political party. The book is primarily addressed to her fellow evangelicals, yet Schiess does not back away from offering difficult words to her own ecclesial tribe. She has commendably integrated the work of theologians and historians who are critical of her own tradition. Her chapter on how the “false gospels” of Prosperity, Patriotism, Security and Supremacy have infiltrated evangelicalism is spot on. Her treatment of Augustine was also worth the cover price for me. That said, I was hoping to read more on why liturgies, which have the power to form us for a faithful politic, have so often failed to do just that. I also found the middle chapters of the book where Schiess highlighted the political nature of our liturgical practices to be somewhat predicable. On the whole, however, this is a needed antidote to many narrowly written, policy focused books on faith and politics. If you, like me, are at all concerned about the ways evangelicals have construed political involvement, Schiess has much to teach us.
– Joshua Chestnut