Political science professor, Dr. Jeff VanDerWerff, seized the opportunity to display his recent research to a group of 100 scholars at the Iowa Conference on Presidential Politics (ICPP) at Dordt College on Friday, Oct. 30. Political participation and theology have been his passion for years, as he loves to ponder how followers of Jesus participate in public life. His presentation titled “A Political Theology for Engaging Democracy: Presidential Politics and Public Life” included a power point and a speech about one of three perspectives he presented in his research.
“Much of what I presented at the conference is something I started puzzling out on my sabbatical about a year and a half ago,” VanDerWerff said. “The spring of 2014, I believe.”
Throughout the course of his research, two prominent people keep resurfacing: N.T. Wright and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Both are well-known theologians and have aided VanDerWerff in his research.
“Wright preaches that ‘Jesus saw as a pagan corruption the very desire to fight paganism itself,” VanDerWerff said.
Wright’s statement has driven VanDerWerff’s research into how evangelicals can fight what is corrupt or broken, but in a less combative way.
“How do we go about being faithful, trying to advance the Kingdom of God, in a way that isn’t turning people off?” VanDerWerff said.
This is one of many questions VanDerWerff asked himself while developing his research. It is possible that Bonhoeffer’s writings prompted a possible solution of putting the language Evangelicals use into a universal context.
“I think what Bonhoeffer was calling for was what Paul was doing when he was first inventing Christian theology,” VanDerWerff said.
After transforming from a prosecutor into a follower of Jesus, Paul was preaching to new believers living in a Roman Empire that worshipped Caesar.
“Paul appropriated to their [citizens of Rome] own language,” VanDerWerff said.
Since Paul was faced with the task of talking to those who did not understand, he had to talk in a way that could be comprehended by all citizens.
This is part of the challenge VanDerWerff believes could help to rehabilitate the image of the Church.
“If we go out in the name of Jesus doing acts on his behalf but not in his name, can we become more winsome?” VanDerWerff said.
While he processes the many questions his research raises, he hopes to eventually publish at least one part of his three parts of his research. His research challenges him to live out what he is discovering.
“One of the challenges that I am guilty as charged is, you can think of these ideas, but living them out is another thing entirely,” VanDerWerff said.
Although his research is challenging and thought provoking, he encourages everyone on campus to ponder with him.
“You don’t have to be a political scientist because everyone remains a citizen,” VanDerWerff said. “How do we live together in a way that does not undermine our witness?”