What Happens When We Ultimize Government & Politics?

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The following are points of reflection from a sermon I delivered at CrossWay Community Church (Milwaukee) on 2/16/2020 from Ecclesiastes 9:13-10:20.


To “ultimize” (i.e., make ultimate) our view of government and politics is to look to it as an ultimate solution for ills of this world. To put our stock and hope there. In short, it is to look to it as a savior–something which it can not live up to.

Another way of speaking of this is making government (and by extension, politics) an idol. And as the New City Catechism helpful defines idolatry, “Idolatry is trusting in created things rather than the Creator for our hope and happiness, significance and security.”

What happens when we do this? This list is not exhaustive. But here are some thoughts… 


  • When we ultimize government, it’s only one more step to ultimize our politics (our views of how government should be conducted).
  • And when our politics are ultimized, politics becomes sensationalized and alarmist. It’s infused with the highest of stakes.
  • We feel a sense of desperation to achieve political gains.
  • We soar to disproportionate heights and an inordinate sense of promise when “our side” wins, and crushing despair when they lose (when the “bad guys” win).
  • When our politics are ultimized, they take on an almost religious (transcendent) quality. And as such, those who disagree become “the opposition”—they jeopardize, threaten, and get in the way of our path to making this country better. No longer are they our neighbors whom we are called to love. They are an insidious “enemy.” “They must not love this country. They have ill motives.”
  • Our political idols are precious to us. They’re a part of us. They shape our identity. And so if you attack them, it’s personal. Expect to be attacked back.
  • We find ourselves cursing God’s image (our fellow human beings)—meaning that any of our claims to Christian motives and values are superficial and stained with hypocrisy.
  • When our politics are ultimized, our favored political parties or candidates can also become ultimized.
  • And when we become partisan in this way, it becomes far more easy for us to become biased surveyors of the truth—believing what we want, only listening to what we agree with.
  • Even without knowing it, we can compromise our ethics to fit our party’s positions. Instead of politics becoming a means to pursue the good, our political loyalty has begun to define for us what we view as good.
  • We find ourselves making excuses for politicians we support.
  • Our politics become our ethical “operating system,” rather than scripture. We interpret scripture through the lens of our politics, rather than allow scripture to critique and inform all politics, regardless of our political leanings.
  • As Christians—as those who care about being shaped by scripture—it becomes incredibly easy for us to see our political opinions as “the Christian view”—to “baptize them.” When we do this, we infuse them with an authoritative quality as “the Bible’s view” of politics. Those who disagree therefore must be spiritually compromised; they must not be faithful to scripture.
  • We find unity in the church difficult with those who disagree. Those who disagree with us likely feel marginalized by us or disdained.
  • Out of all places where we should be able to model healthy conversations about political differences—the church—we find ourselves unable to have these conversations.
  • We find more unity with others in the church over our political opinions than the gospel.
  • When we find out that another believer in the church has different political opinions than us, we find ourselves attributing it to a lack of spiritual maturity. We question their commitment to Jesus and scripture.
  • Politics becomes fuel for our pride, therefore, rather than an arena for us to demonstrate and increase in humility.
  • We’ve created unnecessary road-blocks to the gospel with our unbelieving friends due to things we’ve said online.
  • We spend more time concerning ourselves with political news and commentary than we do God’s Word.
  • We find ourselves talking more about government and politics than we do the gospel, scripture, Jesus, and his church.
  • We show more enthusiasm about our political opinions and interests than we do telling people about Christ.
  • Based on our actions and speech, it would seem to show we are more concerned about the next 4 years than we are about eternity.

Against Pop Culture (Brad East)

See Brad East’s recent piece, Against Pop Culture.

The author’s language is a bit strong, and he probably extends his argument too far at times. For example, I’m not against engaging or doing analysis of pop culture. But notwithstanding those things, I think this is a thoughtful, challenging, and relevant piece. His argument reminds me a bit of James K.A. Smith’s anthropology and work on the “cultural liturgies” that shape our loves.

The below quote captures the gist of his case:

My argument here is not against the liceity of ever streaming a show or otherwise engaging pop culture; it is against the ostensibly positive reasons [emphasis mine] in favor of its being a good thing Christians ought to do, indeed, ought to care about doing, with eagerness and energy. …

Any and all libertarian (in the sense of a philosophy of the will’s freedom) Christian accounts of pop culture, Netflix, social media, etc., fail at just this point, because they view individuals as choosers who operate neutrally with options arrayed before them, one of which in our day happens to be flipping Netflix on (or not) and “deciding” to watch a meaty, substantive Film instead of binging bite-size candy-bar TV. But that is not an accurate depiction of the situation. Netflix—and here again I’m using Netflix as a stand-in for all digital and social media today—is a principality and a power, as is the enormous flat-screen television set, situated like a beloved household god in every living room in every home across the country. It calls for attention. It demands your love. It wants you. And its desire for you elicits desire in you for it.

It is, therefore, a power to be resisted, at least for Christians. Such resistance requires ascesis. And ascesis means discipline, denial, and sometimes extreme measures. It might mean you suffer boredom and lethargy on a given evening. It might mean you have to read a book, or use your hands. It might even mean you won’t catch the quippy allusions in a shallow conversation at work. So be it.


Portions of this piece reflect a decent bit of my own sentiments towards pop-culture.

If you know me, you know I’m not exactly “up to date” and “in the know” on most things pop culture.[1] People often express shock or will give you slight grief if you show your lack of awareness of these things. They will also predictably try to convince you that should really be giving more of your attention to them (as if they somehow matter). In other words, there’s a good deal of social pressure in our society to care and know about these things. No one wants to be weird. But pop culture is so, well, popular, that not knowing about it inevitably makes one weird.

And so, my lack of pop-cultural awareness sometimes becomes something of a joke among my friends. But my friends also know I’m not bothered by this at all. I’m fine being weird on this front. I don’t feel the pressure. I guess I’m immune to it, because I just I don’t care to conform at this point.

But, to be clear, my lack of attention to much of pop culture isn’t just coincidental (i.e., I just don’t care about it or like it — although that’s true); it’s also a bit principled, which hopefully is also why I don’t care (i.e., I don’t want to care about it; I find it a bit unvirtuous [ducks head], unprioritzed, disproportioned, and hence a bit intemperate to care so much about it). So good luck trying pressure me to care about something I kind of feel like is a waste of time at best, and an existential opiate at worst. 😉


[1] At this point, I want to make sure we draw a distinction between being knowledgeable about pop culture and being knowledge of, discerning about, and able to analyze culture. For instance, Andy Crouch doesn’t have a TV in his living room, and John Piper doesn’t own a TV at all, although many hold them up as some of the most astute and observant theological, cultural analysts.

So to be clear, I think cultural engagement is good, and the ability to do cultural analysis is important and valuable. I also acknowledge that pop culture provides a good portion of the subject matter, trends, and (at times) “cultural artifacts” for such engagement and reflection — no denials there. I’m just not convinced I need to know about all the latest songs, movies, TV shows, or celebrity gossip (what happens on the “surface level,” if you will) in order to do that sort of discerning analytical work on the more foundational “deep level.”

Cultural Liturgies & the Church’s Counter-Liturgy (James K.A. Smith) — Discussion Questions

The following is a list of discussion questions composed for a CrossWay Community Church small group, Christ & Culture, for use throughout May 2019.


Week 1 – Examining Cultural (Deformative) Liturgies

ASSIGNMENT: Read chapter 2, “You Might Not Love What You Think” in You Are What You Love (or alternatively listen to James’ video of a talk by Smith on this subject).

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Think about your last trip to the mall. What did you do there? What did you buy? How were people around you spending their time or money?

SCRIPTURE TO CONSIDER:

  • Prov 4:23.
  • Mt 12:33-35.
  • Rom 12:1-2.
  • Eph 4:17-25.
  • 1 John 2:15-17.
  • James 1:27; 4:4. 

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION:

  • What is the basic premise Smith is arguing?
  • Why do we do what we do? // How do we change why we do what we do (sanctification)?
  • Augustine famously said, “God, you have made us for yourself. And our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee?” // Do you agree? // If so, how does this shape our understanding of the human experience (human nature)?
  • Are there any critiques, concerns, or cautions you might have with Smith’s material and arguments?
  • We might say, somewhat in contrast to Smith, R.C. Sroul says this:

The key method Paul underscores as the means to the transformed life is by the “renewal of the mind.” This means nothing more and nothing less than education. Serious education. In-depth education. Disciplined education in the things of God. It calls for a mastery of the Word of God. We need to be people whose lives have changed because our minds have changed. … The key to spiritual growth is in-depth Christian education that requires a serious level of sacrifice. … True transformation comes by gaining a new understanding of God, ourselves, and the world.

What’s true in what each is saying? What are the potential pitfalls of each?

  • Smith argues that we need to come to view our culture’s practices as “liturgies.” What does he mean by this? Is this helpful?
  • What our some of the “liturgies” (or “places of liturgy”) of our secular cultural? And in what specific ways do they form their participants?
  • How might you look anew in this way at things like the mall, stadium-sporting events, the university, the cinema/TV/streaming service, political campaigns or media, the smartphone, social media, patriotic holidays and rituals, the business world, etc.? What “gospel” (particular vision of the good) do these “liturgies” form and direct our hearts toward?
  • What does it mean to be counter-culturally Christ-like in the midst of these deformative cultural “liturgies”? In other words, how do we then live?
  • How does the church, the communion of the saints, help us (help each other) to have our hearts increasingly formed in this way into “maturing followers of Jesus by the power of the gospel”?

CLOSING APPLICATION: Studies show that some brands can inspire worship-like devotion (see box on p. 52). When does brand loyalty turn into worship? What brands do you have religious devotion to in your life? How should you reconsider your relation to these things? Continue reading