Letters to an American Christian

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 20 Dec 2018

Member Reviews

This book wasn't really what I expected. I appreciate the attempt immensely since it is such an applicable topic but it didn't provide a lot of long term answers nor did it seem to have the timeless truths I was hoping for. Maybe another reader will connect more than I did!
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A readable and accessible argument for conservative politics from a Christian perspective. It could be that I am burned out on politics again because I found very little here particularly interesting or insightful but it does a nice job of conveying what a thoughtful conservative Christian approach to politics would look like. The epistolary nature of the book does wear a bit thin at time but well done for the most part.
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Title: Letters to an American Christian
Author: Bruce Riley Ashford

This book was immensely frustrating to me, primarily because of tone. The author felt patronizing throughout, to the fictional boy he was writing letters to and then, by extension, to us the readers. Some content that was decent got lost because of this tone. The book just seemed written awkwardly, with people or situations mentioned just to give a chance to air another grievance (like the "paid protestors" aside... particularly awful because that's not a thing). 
Perhaps if we had seen some of the other letters, even just as snippets quoted, it would have made more sense. Overall it just didn't ring with me.

Rating: 2 stars
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Even the title of Bruce Ashford’s new book, Letterblas to an American Christian, is worth thinking deeply about. It is literally descriptive of the conceit of the book, as Dr. Ashford is writing a series of letters to aptly-named Christian, who is a freshman in college and new to the Christian faith. But what is interesting is the ordering of his descriptors. “American Christian” denotes a person whose identity is as a Christian but also claims the title of American. I don’t know if Dr. Ashford thought about versions of this title that instead used “Christian American”. But his choice, conscious or otherwise, is revealing. This book urges the reader to be a responsible Christian first and a patriotic American second. In the process, he includes much guidance on how Christians should think on specific political issues relevant to today. The focus, however, is on being loyal to our Lord and Savior before any political agenda or party. We have too few American Christians and too many “Christian” Americans.

Dr. Ashford covers a plethora of contemporary political issues in his faux-letters with Christian: religious liberty, abortion, the Supreme Court, guns, the environment, Black Lives Matter, homosexuality, immigration, nationalism, transgenderism, fake news… if it’s a hot-button issue today, he talks about it. And if you know anything about evangelical views on politics (and you probably do), I know what you’re thinking. But no, you don’t know the stand he takes on every one of those issues. If you tried to guess, you would be wrong on some of them. Because Ashford brings a level-headed, responsible, clear Biblical vision to the issues at stake. “Even if you don’t agree with his take on every issue”, blurbs Lifeway publisher Trevin Wax inside the front cover, “you’ll find yourself thinking (and chuckling) all the way through this brilliant book”. He is right, and I would add that Ashford will convince you of points that you never seriously considered before. His takes on Black Lives Matter and climate change are especially nuanced and refreshing, breaking from the binary political rhetoric that overwhelms these issues.

Although these issues are important and are the driving force of Letters to an American Christian, my favorite letters of the book were in Part One, where he sets the foundation for how religion should relate to government in the first place. Instead of, again, taking the commonly-held view that Christians should leave their religious views at home when they come to the public square or taking the equally-common view that “separation of church and state” only applies to the government not messing with the affairs of the church, Ashford criticizes the faults in both assumptions:

On the one hand, ecclesiastical leaders and churches are not called by God to make public-policy decisions or defend the nation against attack. They should not try to take the place of the government or control it. God doesn’t desire it, and they simply aren’t much good at it. On the other hand, governments and political leaders are not called by God to appoint pastors, baptize church members, or interpret the Bible. They should not seek to take the place of the church or control it. God doesn’t desire it, and they simply aren’t much good at it.
Reading this soon after Attorney General Jeff Sessions tried to misguidedly interpret the Bible, this warning was especially relevant.


And that, I think, provides the main takeaway from Letters to an American Christian. As Christians, our chief concern should not be to familiarize ourselves with the latest political rhetoric, party platform, today-in-Trump news, poll updates, or tell-all memoir. We should not worry about defending our political views from all possible sides or “owning the libs”. We should familiarize ourselves with God’s Word, Sola Scriptura, and let that shape our political views. That may mean we feel politically homeless in today’s increasingly-polarized environment, but we will be anchoring our souls to the cross instead of a political party.

Letters to an American Christian is available on Amazon, Lifeway, ChristianBook.com, and many other outlets. It is well worth the read.

I received this book as an ARC and eARC courtesy of B&H Books, Lifeway and NetGalley, but my opinions are my own.
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Letters to an American Christian
Bruce Riley Ashford

ISBN 978-1535905138
Pbk, 256 pp, £12.85
Publisher’s web page: http://www.bhpublishinggroup.com/products/letters-to-an-american-christian

In Letters to an American Christian, Ashford, professor of Professor of Theology and Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has done the Christian world a great service. He has, in a clear accessible way, provided an excellent introduction to many contemporary political and ethical issues from a broadly kuyperian perspective. I say broadly because not all kuyperians - me included - would agree with all of his positions (and I’m not sure Kuyper would either).

The letter format, which Ashford adopts, is a well recognised literary trope from Diego de San Pedro’s Prison of Love in 1845 to C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape and more recently, Jamie Smith’s Letters to a Young Calvinist. Ashford has utilised this approach to great effect. Ashford’s letters are written to Christian, a (fictional) new Christian studying political science and journalism at the (left-leaning) university of DuPont. He is also an intern at a conservative news outlet. 

The book has three parts thee parts. The first deals with ‘A Christian view of politics and public life’. The second with ‘A Christian view of hot-button issues’, this includes letters on religious liberty, free speech, racism, gun regulation and transgender. The final section, part three, deals with ‘A Christian hope for American politics’.

The first part is an excellent introduction to a Christian view of politics and culture. I have mapped this part: http://stevebishop.blogspot.com/2018/05/letters-to-american-christain-bh.html. 

Here Ashford poses and answers some important questions. Questions such as such religion and politics mix? Is politics good? Does the gospel affect political policies? Does Christianity have anything to do with culture? Does the church have a role to play in politics?  He answers all in the affirmative. He draws upon Kuyper’s sphere sovereignty and Kuyper’s distinction between the church as organism (scattered) and organisation (gathered). This section concludes with a discussion and critique of the ideologies of liberalism, conservatism, nationalism and socialism.

In Part 2 he looks at several important hot-potato issues. These include free speech, political correctness, abortion, racism, small and big government, gun legislation, homosexuality, transgender, immigration, global warming, war and fake news - the contents itemised below show the range of topics covered. Inevitably, in such a short space justice can’t be done to all these issues, nevertheless, Ashford makes as an excellent attempt at mapping the options and alternative approaches. I wouldn’t agree with all his points, particular his approach to gun legislation and to his slight reservation about global warming, for example. 

Ashford is sensitive to both the scriptures and to culture - his approach is well grounded. There is, for example, no trite biblicism, such as cities had walls in the Bible, so we should build a wall across the Mexican border. Ashford’s approach is far more nuanced. For those who want to know what a Christian approach to many contemporary issues, this book will be a great place to begin.

CONTENTS
Part 1: A Christian View of Politics and Public Life
Chapter 1: No Public Nudity, Please 
What is the relationship between religion and politics? 
Chapter 2: The Good of Politics 
Is politics a necessary evil or a positive good? 
Chapter 3: Jesus Is Lord and Congress Is Not 
What does the gospel have to do with politics? 
Chapter 4: Christianity Is Not Our Side Hustle 
What does Christianity have to do with culture? 
Chapter 5: The One Political Rally American Christians Shouldn’t Skip 
Where can I go to learn to be a good citizen? 
Chapter 6: Swim in Your Own Lane, Please
What is the best way to think of the relationship between church and state? 
Chapter 7: Let God Be True and Every Ideology a Liar 
To which political ideology should I subscribe? 

Part 2: A Christian View on Hot-Button Issues
Chapter 8: If You Can Keep It 
What is so important about religious liberty? 
Chapter 9: There Are No Safe Spaces in the Real World
Why should I value free speech? 
Chapter 10: Unborn Lives Matter 
Why shouldn’t a woman have the right to choose? 
Chapter 11: Black Lives Matter
What should I think of the Black Lives Matter movement? 
Chapter 12: Nobody Throws a Tantrum like a Politically Correct American
What’s so wrong with political correctness? 
Chapter 13: Beware the Giant Octopus 
Which is better: “small government” or “big government”? 
Chapter 14: No Need for Mullahs at 1 First Street
What is all the ruckus about Supreme Court interpretation? 
Chapter 15: Hitting the Bull’s-Eye on Gun Legislation 
How do I navigate the debate about restrictions on gun ownership? 
Chapter 16: The Best Education for a Twenty-First-Century American 
What’s so “great” about the great books? 
Chapter 17: One Man and One Woman 
How should I respond to Obergefell? 
Chapter 18: To Shave a Yak 
Should I be concerned about the environment? 
Chapter 19: What Hath Justice to Do with Mercy?
Why are Christians so divided about immigration reform? 
Chapter 20: I Pledge Allegiance
What should I think about the surge of “nationalism” in the United States? 
Chapter 21: Pray for Peace, Prepare for War 
What does it mean to engage in a “just war”? 
Chapter 22: Restoring the Self 
What is a Christian view of gender dysphoria and the transgender movement? 
Chapter 23: Fake News and Alternative Facts
How can I orient myself in a posttruth political environment? 

Part 3: A Christian Hope for American Politics
Chapter 24: If You Can Keep It (Reprise) 
If “Christian” is my primary identity, does “American” even matter? 
Chapter 25: Recovering the Lost Art of Christian Persuasion 
How should we relate to people who believe differently from us? 
Chapter 26: Public Witness from the Political Margins 
How should we respond to the marginalization of historic Christianity?
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Letters to an American Christian
by Bruce Riley Ashford
B&H Publishing Group (B&H Books, Holman Bibles, B&H Español, and B&H Kids)
B&H Books
Christian , Politics
Pub Date 01 Jun 2018
I am reviewing a copy of Letters to An American Christian through B&H Books and Netgalley:



In this book Bruce Riley Ashford, the author of One Nation Under God deals with the issues of Christianity and politics, and it speaks of the way historic Christian belief ties in with certain hot button political topics. This book encourages readers to take both our Heavenly and earthly citizenship's.


Letters to An American Christian reminds us of these two political truths in the midst of a fast changing Political Landscape that being we cannot afford to shrink away from our earthly citizenship nor can we afford to loose sight of our heavenly citizenship.


I give Letters to an American Christian five out of five stars!


Happy Reading!
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This was an excellent look at the American political system from the viewpoint of a Christian. The author writes a series of letters to a new Christian finishing their first year of college through the summer and beginning of their next year. The author addresses some really complex and tough questions head on. He doesn't shy away from voicing an unpopular belief, but rather, in everything preaches speaking truth in love.

I really enjoyed the author's take on politics as well as "hot-button" issues and found myself nodding along often. While I share many views with the author, being a more conservative Christian myself, I also found myself challenging some of my views based on his arguments. He presented his reasonings thoughtfully and creatively. 

I would love to see this book be picked up by a wide audience of readers as I feel it could illuminate the Christian perspective on issues in a loving way while also reminding us that in everything, we should love our neighbor. Just because we disagree on politics or social issues, does not mean hate should be thrown. 

**Many thanks to Bruce Riley Ashford, B&H Books, and NetGalley for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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