There’s a lot of talk at the moment about the language we use in our politics – and a particular focus on the tone we take with those who disagree. But what should we make of people using theological language in political debate?

From imagining a special place in Hell” for Brexiteers to celebrating a great Brexodus, great biblical themes of salvation and deliverance are being mined for slogans. Even the words of our Lord Jesus, Forgive them, for they know not what they do”, have been used as a political rallying cry. Our political leaders may not share our faith, but they seem to have a lot of faith in the power of Christian language and allusion. 

When I see this happen, I’m reminded of the passage in Acts 19, where in Ephesus the seven sons of Sceva imitate Paul in trying to cast out demons in the name of Jesus – though they themselves do not believe in Him. They start saying: I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” This all goes well until they meet an evil spirit which says: Jesus I know, and Paul I recognise, but who are you?” Luke goes on to say that the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded”. 

Over the past couple of years, we’ve had a few sons and daughters of Sceva in politics. And sadly, as the sons of Sceva were not believers, so the use of theological language is not a sign of a great religious revival in the UK. But the opposite of Christian presence is not absence. Instead, the surface elements and language of the faith remain. Our politicians look to language of religious commitment (or perhaps a nostalgic view of it) for power to dignify their political cause. 


This may make us feel weak, as we lose control over what we think of as our own language. Biblical and theological reflection no longer always spring from those who have dedicated their lives to Christ. Instead, it belongs to others, who appropriate it for their own ends. In one sense this shows the great power of the Bible; in another sense it shows the weakness of the church to which God has entrusted it. We should of course speak out against misrepresentation of biblical ideas. But we shouldn’t panic at this sense of being weak because God uses that to shame the strong.

However, this ought also to be quite convicting for us. Such superficial redeployment of biblical language is not just something we observe in others. Instead, if we’re honest, it’s something that we do ourselves. And yet too often we’re better at spotting erroneous political use of the Bible by our political opponents than by our allies, which is ironic, given that the scriptures explicitly warn us about planks and specks. 

So perhaps a Christian Remainer’ will be keener to object to characterising Brexit as a new Exodus, and maybe a Christian Brexiteer’ will raise concerns at love and reconciliation being tied to our EU membership. But, how often must each of us get it wrong, committing our own Brexegetical fallacies’? So, we need our brothers and sisters in Christ (from across the political spectrum) to point out places where we strain for a gnat and swallow a camel. And this should also send us back to scripture in prayer, asking God where we have missed His word to us. 

"Finally, though, we should be even keener to speak about those things that our political leaders may neglect."

Sometimes scripture paints the themes of salvation in dramatic colours, which politicians sometimes imitate; but at other times it speaks of salvation as near to us, in the humdrum and everyday. 

Take the parables of Jesus, for example. They reveal a God whose character is shockingly different from what the world expects. Yet this amazing God is described in the humdrum, boring realities of Galilean peasant life: as the shepherd who leaves the 99, the farmer who sows seed indiscriminately and gets a bumper crop, the father who welcomes the son who squandered his wealth and wished him dead. These parables call us to live in the light of such a dramatic story, but in similarly remarkable ordinary ways: loving our neighbours, forgiving our brothers and sisters, and praying for our persecutors. 

Funnily enough, political campaigners seem less willing to steal this language, just as the sons of Sceva in Ephesus wanted the exorcisms but not the repentance, faith and love of the Jesus whom Paul proclaims”. Acts gives no indication that the sons of Sceva also preached be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” – as Paul was keen to teach afresh to the church in Ephesus later on (Ephesians 4:32). If our politicians will not model this, then we must. 

As the lights and adverts remind us, Christmas is only five weeks away. Despite the noise that is now attached to it (political or otherwise), Christmas is when we celebrate the quiet, barely noticed, blink-and-you-miss-it entry of God into our world. It is the exact opposite of the mining of slogans for political ends. The promises of God are not stolen to dignify a political ruler – as Herod would have preferred and as his successors did (Acts 12:20 – 24). Instead, all their pomp is as nothing in comparison to a little child in an old manger in a small village in a conquered land. In the words of our Lord’s mother: He has put down the mighty from their seat and exalted the humble and meek.” 

So, maybe that should be our priority in this Christmas election. To those focused on power, let’s rejoice in our weakness. To those using familiar words for their own ends, let’s ask where we’ve done that too. Instead of the fear that we are losing our words to those who have only part of the story, let’s find our voice afresh to tell the whole story of the Jesus whom Paul proclaimed.