Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Religion of Politics

Written by: on April 3, 2023

David Koyzis is a Political Science Professor and a Global Scholar since 2019. He holds a Ph.D. in Government and International Studies from Notre Dame. His book, Political Visions & Illusions, seeks to help Christians think through and navigate the complexities of faith and political engagement. Since I did not know what being a Global Scholar entailed, I went onto Koyzis’ page on the globalschoarscanada.ca site. Global Scholars are “a guild of Christian academics around the globe, developing faith-filled educational opportunities for the cultural leaders of tomorrow.”[1] He states his current goals as:

Mission statement: My mission is to disseminate to the larger world the riches of a Reformed Christian worldview, especially as it impinges on social and political life. More specifically, I aim:

  • to expose the idolatrous religious nature of political ideologies and their implications for our shared public life;
  • to affirm the role of authority in human flourishing; and
  • to connect our political cultures with the institutions they nurture.”[2]

This week’s reading fits directly into the mission and goals listed above. The author’s premise in this book is that all political ideologies ultimately become idolatrous because they are religious.[3] He interprets ideologies through a theological lens of sin, redemption, and salvation within the created order. “Ideologies. . .are based on taking something out of the creation and making of it a god capable of saving us.”[4] The author tips a reformed theological framework early in his Introduction section. He also connects modern ideologies to ancient forms of Gnosticism, a prominent first-century belief in the background of many of the epistles of the New Testament.[5] Gnosticism seeks an ultimate good outside of God, pursuing salvation outside God’s provision in the created world.

The book divides into three sections. After an Introduction that defines terms and sets the parameters of the work, Koyzis examines five major political ideologies: liberalism, conservatism, nationalism, democratism, and socialism. He examines each ideology’s philosophical and historical journey, connecting each to correlations regarding Koyzis’ biblical worldview. Each review offers positive and negative aspects of that ideology, strengthening the author’s case for his critique. After surveying each ideology, the author offers two alternate approaches that he believes to be non-ideological. Koyzis’ Catholic and Dutch Reformed framework heavily influences his prescriptions for a better approach. Among the important tenets of belief, the assertion of sovereignty belonging ultimately to God, not the individual or the state, lies at the center. The book’s final section expands ideas about Christian engagement in the political realm without committing the idolatrous mistakes so prevalent. In the end, Christians should not ignore politics, or absolutize any of them. Koyzis makes a strong case for thinking biblically about engagement in any cultural moment and within any political ideology.

I found the chapter on liberalism especially interesting in light of reading Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed recently. Koyzis quotes Deneen, but unlike Deneen’s scathing review, Koyzis offers an evenhanded evaluation of liberalism “whose positive side cannot be denied.”[6] However, he contends that liberalism contains tensions that expose its ideological weaknesses. Liberalism champions the sovereignty of the individual. The evil within this political arena comes in the form of freedom denied without one’s consent. Salvation comes through removing external constraints and personal decisions rooted in free choice. The historical perspective of liberalism shows a change regarding the state’s role. Early liberalism viewed the state as a threat to personal freedom. Later liberalism recognized economic disparities as a threat and turned to the state as a liberator from the restraints of inequality. An expanding state, however, can pose a significant threat to individual freedom, revealing ongoing tension.

Koyzis demonstrates how liberalism can take the role of perpetual liberator from oppression. “There is, however, an alternate way of framing the liberal story, one that underscores the endless struggle to acquire more and more freedoms from all sorts of limits, whether political, social, economic, or natural.”[7] In this stream of liberal ideology, the work never ends, and the effort shifts from one manifestation of oppression to another. The tensions of liberalism work against its central claim of the individual’s autonomy. If freedom is the ultimate goal, what defines freedom ultimately? Freedom from what or whom? Because freedom has no moral compass beyond its definition, everyone can decide what freedom means. If one demands a certain freedom, it often demands the support of personal choices, putting pressure upon others. Can one be just as free not to choose or support the free choice of another? Also, can freedom be absolute? An old example states, “You have freedom of speech but you are not free to yell fire in a crowded movie theater.” The tension between personal freedom and boundaries to protect others exists on many fronts.

My ministry context takes place in a baptistic church. A distinctive Baptist heritage separates the church from the state in contrast to Koyzis’ reformed perspective. I fear any attempts in this cultural milieu lead one into a polarized debate or toward Christian Nationalism. Encouraging people to be engaged in the political process but ultimately looking to the church as an attractive alternative to culture appears to offer a better strategy in this political day. As I read, I wondered, can a system predisposed to idolatry be redeemed? Based on past readings about Calvin’s Geneva, I do not see that as the goal to be pursued. As I read the Gospels, I see the Kingdom advanced one life at a time, from the bottom up, not the top down. I guess I am more baptistic than I imagined.

[1] http://www.globalscholarscanada.ca/about/gsc-scholars/david-koyzis-2/

[2] Ibid.

[3] David T. Koyzis, Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey and Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies 2nd edition (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2019), 3.

[4] Ibid., 27.

[5] Ibid., 14.

[6] Ibid., 30.

[7] Ibid., 33.

About the Author


Roy Gruber

Husband, father, pastor, student, and sojourner in Babylon

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