Summary: The bible has been widely misused. It takes intention to use it well, but it is worth the effort.
I do not know when I became aware of Kaitlyn Schiess. I am pretty sure it was during her time at Liberty University. I believe I came into contact with her via social media through Karen Swallow Prior and probably the Christ and Pop Culture Facebook group. I do not want to exaggerate our contact. I seriously doubt she knows who I am. However, I started to pay attention to her writing before her first book. I will embrace the creepy factor and say that I have watched her grow as a thinker and communicator over the past seven or so years with great expectations. She has continued to develop and illustrate wisdom and conscientious scholarship that takes her Christian faith seriously.
So I looked forward to The Ballot and the Bible and held off a little while on reading it because I wanted to get the audiobook that she narrated. But there were some delays, and when it became clear that the audiobook wasn’t coming out soon, I picked up the Kindle and read it quickly. Like my thoughts on her first book, there is more going on than you might assume in a relatively short book. The Ballot and the Bible is about how to read and understand scripture (commonly called hermeneutics), how to listen to history and culture to see if you are imputing cultural values on the biblical message (cultural anthropology), a brief historical overview of ways that the Bible has been misused (through case studies) and a book on the role of discipleship and public life. If you read my reviews regularly, you may be aware that I have recently read several other books on the Bible, Christianity and culture, and politics, and those impact how I read The Ballot and the Bible.
Most directly, The Ballot and the Bible is worth reading paired with Mark Noll’s America’s Book, a history of the public use of the Bible from 1794 to 1911. I think Noll’s book was published too recently to be included in The Ballot and the Bible, although several of Noll’s other books are cited. The two books are very different in scope and purpose. Noll’s book is an over 800-page history, while Schiess’ book is an under 200-page book that is primarily theological. But the combination of them is useful. Noll gives more examples of the use and misuse of the Bible than Schiess could give in a book of her size. But her book also theologically evaluates the history of the use of the Bible in ways that Noll does not do as a historian.
The center point of what Schiess is trying to do is to get the reader to step back and evaluate politics not as a consumer of imagery but as a Christian thinker. The Bible is often used directly or indirectly as a prop to signal that “the Bible is on my side” of a particular issue. Most examples are not as blatant as Trump simply holding up a bible outside of St John’s Episcopal Church without opening it, reading from it, or giving any purpose to its presence except as a prop. Many other examples throughout the book are more likely to be honest but unexplored use of the Bible to support the user’s prior positions.