Lyle Shelton

Lyle Shelton: Rediscovering a Theology of Political and Cultural Engagement

26 August 2022

4.3 MINS

During a recent interview, I asked Lyle Shelton what he thought the biggest challenge facing the Australian Church today was. He responded that it was the Church’s disengagement from political and social issues.

In a recent interview for the Daily Declaration Podcast, I asked Lyle Shelton — the former Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby and current National Director of Family First — what he saw as the biggest contemporary challenge facing the Church in Australia. It was a question I had asked social commentator Bill Muehlenberg in a previous interview, so I was curious as to Lyle’s response.

Bill had highlighted a litany of challenges, including a lack of love (for God and others), a lack of commitment to Christ, and the comforts of Western materialism, among many others. I encourage you to check out the whole interview with Bill, here.

A Broader Remit: The Church’s Social Responsibility

Lyle answered the question from the perspective of “politics and culture”. He was unapologetic for doing so, reasoning that:

“politics and culture certainly does impact dramatically on the church’s ability to evangelise to achieve its mission. And, I guess I’d even say, further, that the mission of the church is very much aligned with influencing politics and culture. It’s a rather broader remit than just saving souls.”

He argued that this is not to distract from the central gospel-focus of the Church.

“I don’t use the phrase ‘just saving souls’ in a prejorative sort of way. Obviously, we want to see people come to a knowledge of Jesus Christ and we want to see every knee bow before the true King of the universe.

And that’s something we propose to people: we can’t force or coerce, but we want to see that mission of the church go forward. But obviously the church’s role is broader than that.”

Included within the Church’s mission here on earth is a call to stand for righteousness, liberty and justice, to stand against injustice, oppression, suffering and unrighteousness. Lyle says that “the church should be running to those places”.

Our Disengagement From Culture

In answer to my question, Shelton identified social disengagement as a key challenge facing the Church today.

“… one of the biggest challenges facing — to get to your question — [us] is our disengagement with the political and the cultural spheres, whhich are causing so much chaos and harm through really bad public policy, through cultural messages that are lies, that are deceptive, that don’t bring about human flourishing…”

He highlighted several phenomena as examples of harmful ideologies that “promise some sort of flourishing, but that actually end up hurting people’s lives”. These are movements that harm people, and, accordingly, the Church is obligated to stand against them.

This is true of the transgender movement, an ideology driven by social media and the education system (and enabled by politicians). Another example Lyle gave was the “abortion agenda”:

“[Abortion] doesn’t bring happiness to women who are coerced to kill their babies by, you know, their football star boyfriends, like we saw with Jaya Taki and Miss X in New South Wales, and, you know, myriad others like them who are less famous…”

Jesus: Lord Over all of Life

According to Shelton, people are being sold “a lie” when it comes to issues like transgenderism and abortion. And the tragedy is that the Chuch has “been silent”, “sitting on the sidelines” while injustice has been allowed to go unchecked.

“…we’ve not been engaged in the public policy debates, and so I think the big challenge for us is to rediscover a theology of cultural engagement, a theology that is cosmological — that sees Christ’s Lordship being extended to all of life, not just that which is in the four walls.”

The Church has a responsibility to speak against injustice and wrongdoing, and yet we have often remained silent, letting harmful lies go unchecked and unopposed.

No to Theocracy

In the context of Australian politics, there seems to be an unreasonable fear of Christian public activism. This phobia tends to interpret any kind of Christian social engagement as attempting to establish a theocracy.

Shelton is quick to dismiss the notion of a theocratic theology.

“Now, I want to be very careful that — some people interpret that as we’re saying it should be some sort of theocracy. No, I don’t believe in that.”

But he is similarly quick to set forth a positive vision of social engagement:

“…what I do believe is the church should be proposing truth to culture all the time — and in the public square — through the mechanisms of, the tools of, democracy, by engaging in politics, by people getting involved in the media, in entertainment and bringing positive messages that are motivated by the truth of the gospel and what that means for human flourishing.”

If the biggest failure of the Church is its disengagement, its biggest challenge going forward is to “rediscover” a “theology of political and cultural engagement”.

The Church is waking up

Later in the interview, I asked Shelton if he had a sense that the Church was waking up to the situation in Australia. His response was interesting:

“Yeah, there’s no doubt. You know, in the ten years I spent at ACL, we tried very hard to wake up the church — often got a lot of pushback. But, since same-sex marriage has come in and the pressures on religious freedom have have only grown…

We were told there would be no consequences back in 2017, that everyone’s views would be respected it was just about two loving couples getting married. But now, of course, they are weaponising the anti-discrimination law…

So, I think it’s been a huge wake-up call to the church. I’ve never seen so much anxiety and worry, and, in one sense, I think that’s a good thing, but I just hope it’s not too little, too late…”

Shelton finished with a final urge to continue fighting, regardless of whether Christians’ freedoms were lost.

“…we do need to wake up, and we do need to engage this because our freedoms are very much under attack. Now, you know, look, it doesn’t matter how much they put us in jail. The Apostle Paul wrote most of his letters from in jail. It won’t constrain the gospel. But I’d rather have a free environment to preach the gospel than to have to, you know, find ourselves on the wrong side of the law all the time…”

Let’s pray that, as the pressure builds, the Church will remain faithful in her call to preach the Gospel and speak up for the truth.


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  1. Kaylene Emery 28 August 2022 at 12:57 am - Reply

    I believe that evangelisation is giving birth and that discipleship is raising the baby ?

  2. Kaylene Emery 28 August 2022 at 1:11 am - Reply

    I believe that if we do not face the reality of the issues raised in this conversation – the suffering we will face will be unspeakable. …if age or Ill health excludes us – then our adult children and grand children will be the ones who face this…..alone.
    The absence of God.
    And it’s not Him who turns away.

  3. Kaylene Emery 28 August 2022 at 1:17 am - Reply

    I believe the Satan is real, that eternal damnation exists and that His cross is not just about His love but also about His justice.

  4. Tim 31 August 2022 at 9:08 am - Reply

    The poor. The widow. The orphan. The refugee. The sick. The ‘other’. The ‘neighbour’.

    Christian parties are either silent or stingy on these policy issues.

    These are spoken about in scripture the most when referring to justice and righteousness.

    Do these things.

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