What would America look like if its churches were characterized by vibrant, diverse worshipers? What if churches generously shared their time and treasures with others so that welfare bureaucracies were a thing of the past? What might a Third Great Awakening in America look like in our days? Samuel Rodriguez paints just such a picture in this book. Rodriguez is convinced that America “will be saved not via the agenda of the Donkey or that of the Elephant. Our nation’s only hope is found in the Agenda of the Lamb” (p. xxi). In The Lamb’s Agenda: Why Jesus is Calling You to a Life of Righteousness and Justice, Rodriguez challenges his readers to embrace the vision of social justice of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the evangelistic heart of Billy Graham, or—as he elsewhere states—reconcile John 3:16 with Matt 25 (p. 91).
The Lamb’s Agenda provides the vision for a future movement of Christians. Rodriguez first discusses the need for Christians to live both vertically (connected to God) and horizontally (engaged in community and society). By that, he means our focus should be to save the lost and transform our communities—address sin and confront injustice. In chapter 2 he argues that we need a prophetic movement that has socio-political impact rather than a spiritually driven political movement. He critiques current political movements like the Tea Party (which he argues ignores the vertical and distances itself from Jesus) and Occupy Wall Street (which ignores the vertical and over-emphasizes the horizontal).
Rodriguez details how the Democratic agenda is opposed to the agenda of the Lamb, specifically mentioning a few policy items including the health-care mandate and affirmation of same-sex marriage. He states that Republicans must “replace the image of an angry, white, and evangelical bloc with a multiethnic, compassionate, truth-telling community” (p. 46). He elsewhere gives examples of prominent followers of Jesus who were concerned for social justice (William Wilberforce, Bill Wilson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Charles Colson). He contends that the quintessential civil rights issue of our era is the protection of the unborn.
This book’s primary thesis is that this new movement must reconcile the movements of Billy Graham and Martin Luther King, Jr., John 3:16 and Matt 25. In these men and biblical texts, there exists a commitment to the gospel and a social justice movement. He asserts that churches that ignore the plight of their neighbors are not living a complete gospel since the gospel must influence the horizontal sphere. Additionally, this kingdom movement must be multiethnic. The Hispanic population is largely sympathetic to Christianity, and Christians must reach out to them. Rodriguez offers practical tips for doing this and states that the church must engage with the culture and seek to connect generations rather than separate them.
Rodriguez moves the discussion to the partnership between churches and the government. He ideally sees both institutions partnering for renewing communities. Religious institutions should not look to the government for funding to accomplish the God-given mandate the church has of helping the poor. If churches accept subsidies from the government, then they are obligated to play by the government’s rules which often are opposed to the church’s rules. Rather, the state should partner with reliable and effective institutions of faith and ask no more than help from those institutions.
In the final chapters, Rodriguez argues that Christians must identify more strongly as Christians than as Democrats or Republicans. When Christians go into the voting booth, they must align their votes with God’s will, and they must be wary of political strategists who seek to exploit Christianity for a vote. He concludes with a restatement of his vision—our vertical relationship has horizontal consequences, and this new movement must have Christ as its foundation. Only when following the agenda of the Lamb can Christians effect change in America.
The Lamb’s Agenda has a number of strengths. Rodriguez provides a compelling vision. It would be difficult to find a Christian who would disagree with his vision of a transformation of our society with its foundation in Jesus. Moreover, he rightly sees that our vertical relationship with God must impact our horizontal relationships with our communities. Both aspects are important in living the Christian life. He also sees that the only sustainable movement is one that has its foundation in the gospel.
Second, Rodriguez insightfully points out that the Lamb’s agenda should not be equated with the Republican or Democratic agenda. Anecdotal evidence surely provides support for his view that there are instances where Republican and Democratic agendas are opposed to explicit biblical teaching.
Third, he advocates a multiethnic movement. Biblical evidence abounds which shows that the church is diversely composed (e.g., Rev 5:9). Furthermore, Rodriguez notes that church leaders should seek to connect the generations rather than pandering to generational differences. It is vital that generations learn from and value one another if a revival of Christianity is to break out in America. Rodriguez aptly notes that a multiethnic and multigenerational movement in the church is vital to the social transformation of America.
Fourth, Rodriguez notes how this new church movement should be characterized. Forgiveness should be one of its cornerstones. In a time when our culture increasingly lacks a forgiving attitude, this will set apart a Christian movement. Moreover, he also asserts that Christians must fight against “rhetorical pornography.” By this, he means that Christians must renounce language that is intended to inflict emotional pain. He observes that language has become more violent, more vulgar and harsher in an era of social media where people can hide behind anonymity. A Christian movement that abstains from the quick and cutting retorts that characterize our society will stand apart from other movements.
While Lamb’s Agenda has much to commend in it, there are some deficiencies. While Rodriguez gives a few specific examples of where Democratic agenda conflicts with the Lamb’s agenda, he does not show any specific places where the Republican agenda does the same. His main critique of the Republican Party is that it has an image of angry, white Evangelicals. While I do not dispute this, it would have been helpful for Rodriguez to point out areas where the Republican agenda conflicts with that of the Lamb’s since the Lamb’s agenda does not completely overlap with it.
Second, he mentions that the majority of Americans self-identify as Christian. Though he does not say this explicitly, it is difficult to believe that the majority of Americans actually are Christians. To be fair, Rodriguez is probably aware of this, and he likely cites this statistic because it shows that a large percentage of the American population would sympathize with Christian causes. However, an area that is lacking is his cure for spiritual apathy. If most Americans self-identify as Christians but are nominal believers, what will shake them from their apathy? After all, Rodriguez contends that lukewarm Christianity is the most dangerous problem in the church. How then can we remedy this problem and mobilize more to champion the cause of Christ in the horizontal sphere?
Finally, the reader is left wondering how this transformation of society will be accomplished. Rodriguez does mention some practical examples (being careful of our rhetoric, tips for engaging the minority populations in our churches, etc.), but where does a reader start? After reading the book, I found myself in whole-hearted agreement with Rodriguez’s cause, but I was left asking, what now? How do we start this movement?
The Lamb’s Agenda is an excellent work that gives a compelling vision for transforming American society and living out the gospel in a vertical and horizontal way. Pastors and church leaders seeking to impact their communities would do well to read and consider the cause that Rodriguez champions. In addition, any American Christian would benefit from this work as it challenges them to live out their faith not simply in the privacy of our own homes, but in our neighborhoods, communities, and country.