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The unfolding story of American evangelicals' involvement in politics has a certain rhythm to it. Like a pendulum swinging from one extreme to another, evangelicals have swung from a kind of pietistic stance of withdrawal and suspicion to a strident, triumphalistic program for "taking America back for God."

The Myth of a Christian Nation, a new book by St. Paul pastor and former professor at Bethel College Greg Boyd, provides a sign that the pendulum might be headed back the other way.

But first we need to first appreciate the story thus far. Once upon a time, evangelicals considered the Great Commission their primary mission and calling. What mattered was eternity. What was most urgent was the salvation of souls. While evangelistic work was often attended by charity and acts of mercy, few evangelicals could justify expending energy on "worldly" tasks such as politics.

In the early 1970s, some influential voices began to argue that this understanding of the church's calling was truncated. In particular, Ron Sider and Jim Wallis argued for a more holistic approach to the gospel, noting that Jesus' model for ministry attended to concrete, "worldly" matters of poverty and illness as occasions for redemption (Luke 4:14-20).

At the same time, Richard Mouw, from a Reformed perspective, invited evangelicals to see the dualism of the status quo: that their concern with souls and eternity ignored God's affirmation of the goodness of bodies and the temporal world. By ignoring politics and culture, evangelicals were unwittingly giving over these spheres of creation to forces of distortion and destruction, rather than redemptively redirecting them. Mouw invited evangelicals to take up the cultural mandate as a complement to, and expression ...

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October 2006

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