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Ashford: ‘Be our better selves’ in the public sphere

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP) — As an observer of Christianity and public life, Bruce Ashford sees the good, the bad and the ugly of American political engagement. In a new book, “Letters to an American Christian,” he is seeking to change it for the better.

In a whimsical yet informative series of letters between Ashford, provost at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a fictional character named Christian, the book seeks to address hot-button issues and ideologies in today’s American culture and how believers can speak thoughtfully and persuasively into them.

“I’m trying to show Christian conservatives how we can be our better selves, and I’m trying to appeal to progressives to show them why more conservative principles would be better for our nation,” Ashford said.

The recipient of the letters, Christian, is a university student among professors who are secular progressives and from a family of secular conservatives. In this context, Ashford seeks to help Christian consider how to address such topics as transgenderism, Black Lives Matter, nationalism and the relationship between church and state.

Whether a political junkie or a political novice, Ashford seeks to speak candidly to Christians seeking to better understand the nation in which they live.

“I wanted to write it for everyday Americans to try to reason from Christian premises and give Christian reasons for why I believe what I believe,” said Ashford, noting that the character Christian represents numerous questions he has fielded from believers who want to know how to interact with today’s issues.

The question is not whether American Christians should involve themselves in political discourse, Ashford said, but how they should do so. He encourages believers to insert their voices into their daily conversations in a loving manner, acknowledging that it can be especially difficult in social media conversations.

“It’s a strong Christian who, in the face of mocking and insulting, can stand there and give strong arguments with a gracious disposition,” Ashford said, stating that he seeks to find common ground with those who oppose his views and then make his argument. Through this approach, particularly on social media, he has found that half of the responses turn out to be positive.

Ashford said the Southern Baptist Convention can play a vital part in influencing the political sphere.

However, when political involvement and allegiances are not balanced well, Ashford said many outside observers think the SBC is affiliated with a political party.

“What we ought to do is make it very difficult for people to be able to classify us in that way,” he said, noting that this goal aligns with the purpose of his book by helping everyday Christians engage in the public square.

Ashford, who was part of a discussion carried by C-SPAN last fall, has been “pleasantly surprised” by the response to the book, published in mid-2018 by B&H Publishing of LifeWay Christian Resources.

SBC President J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., described Letters to an American Christian as a “fantastic, enlightening, and entertaining analysis that perfectly reads the zeitgeist and offers humble, practical, and biblically faithful counsel.”

Walter Strickland, former SBC first vice president and assistant professor of systematic and contextual theology at Southeastern, noted that the American political landscape “is an increasingly difficult space for Christians to navigate. Ashford offers a vision for Christian political engagement and applies it to the most pressing issues of the day … for believers who desire to reflect biblical faith in the public square.”

Letters to an American Christian is available through Lifeway Christian Resources, Amazon, the iTunes store and other retailers.

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  • Lauren Pratt