In Chapter 1 of Turning the Tide, author Charles Stanley writes about what he considers the main problems of America, namely a lack of civic engagement and religious family values. The first subtitle of the chapter is "The Story of Our Storm." Stanley makes an explicit analogy between the swelling of the ocean from an unexpected storm and the various crises that are occurring in America. Unlike the natural ebbs and flows of the ocean, Stanley states that the difficulties America is currently facing are man-made.
Stanley identifies a wide variety of troubles currently afflicting America, only some of which are explicitly religious in nature. These include the rising bankruptcy and mortgage default rate; the escalating divorce rate; challenges to traditional values; even the rise of actual storms and extreme weather. Stanley also fingers more explicitly religious problems, such as the increase in abortion and the decline in respect for Judeo-Christian values. All of these, he believes, have the same root causes in selfishness and self-obsession in some way, shape or form. Like individual waves have the same root cause, so do these common problems.
Stanley explicitly addresses his reader as a Christian, but also acknowledges the dual roles that all Christians have living in the United States of America. Christians must live in the here and now -- within a society that has a secular government that can affect their lives -- as well as have their focus upon the life to come. He says he does not ask Christians to become part of a specific political movement, but does believe they need to speak out when necessary. Christians need to act, even though they have been encouraged in recent years to keep silent. This book is a clarion call to Christians to lift their voices and make those voices heard. It is also a call for Christians to cultivate a deeper appreciation of the Bible and its values.
Chapter 2: "Real Hope"
Stanley's discussion of politics grows more explicit in his chapter entitled "Real Hope." Stanley defines God as the one being ultimately in control over the nation's fate, no matter how few people may acknowledge this in public life. No single person, no politician can turn around the country, according to Stanley -- that is God's provenance alone. This may seem to run counter to the teaching "So give back to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" (Matthew 22:22). But Stanley's analysis seems to suggest that although the heavenly world may be separate from the earthly world and different types of tributes are owed to each, this is not a reason we can turn our eyes away from the needs and demands of the world. Sometimes Christians must take collective political action.
Stanley does not lionize a single political figure as superior. He cautions that whenever we ask a politician to do only what God can do, "we are asking for trouble." We can honor some of the good that politicians have done and will hopefully do for our country in the future, but we should not confuse political values with spiritual values. Politics is almost invariably concerned with materialism, which is why so many messages of hope and change are grounded in hope about changes in the economy or personal gain, rather than spirituality.
We should pray for our leaders, but not confuse those prayers with praying to our leaders. Our leaders are part of the same struggle as ourselves on this earth, and often need just as much spiritual guidance as ourselves. Our leaders may cloak themselves in spiritual words, but we must not confuse this with true spirituality, which is shown through deeds as well as words.
Chapter 3: "Where we have failed"
Chapter 3 is a chronicle of where Stanley believes we have failed a nation, and how we may wrest ourselves out of this state of failure. A person who does not know why he or she failed in the past, counsels Stanley, is apt to repeat his or her past mistakes. Both governments and individuals must know where they have 'been' to understand how they can move forward. Stanley states that the history of the United States has been a godly one, founded upon religious principles we should not forget. Stanley is angry at a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions which he believes has contributed to the perception of the United States as a 'secular' society, rather than one founded upon Judeo-Christian principles, like a 1948 ban on student religious groups using school property to hold meetings. The Founding Fathers' original intention was to create a land where people could worship wherever and whenever they pleased, not to have religion relegated to a rather arbitrarily-defined and narrow aspect of modern life.
Stanley believes that the wall of separation between church and state was designed to protect the church from state interference, not to ensure that the state could have control over church affairs, in contrast to what he believes is transpiring at present. Modern laws encourage people to view freedom not as an opportunity to do good things, but to do ill. He quotes Paul: "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1). The 'slavery' we are falling into is the slavery of being held hostage by our own desires, which is not freedom at all. Rather than using the positive environment provided by the United States to engage in a true spiritual quest, people are using the freedoms operated by society to yoke themselves to sexual excess and drugs. People are misunderstanding what is truly meant by Christian freedom to choose God and salvation.
Chapter 4: "The Economic Tsunami"
Initially, the title of Chapter 4: "The Economic Tsunami" may take the reader aback. Hasn't Stanley just devoted the last few chapters to a discussion of the need for spiritual values, and dismissed a focus on secular values such as materialism? However, this chapter strives to directly connect the dots between some of the most severe problems affecting America today in terms of the mortgage crisis, high unemployment rate, and high rates of debt overall with a decline in spiritual values.
However, in the Bible it is made clear that to shackle one's self to debt is to leave one in spiritual danger: it means the soul is bound to another person, not to God. At present, the United States is borrowing money at an ever-escalating rate. Similarly, taxpayers are being shackled to ever-higher rates, supporting the dependency of others on the government. There are also fewer and fewer people to tax, given the rising rate of unemployment, high rates of mortgage defaults, and a future that seems less and less promising by the day.
Just as the United States is addicted to debt, so are average American households. People are constantly pursuing material objects as a way of fulfilling what is in reality a deep spiritual need. Only when the country and its citizens realize what is truly important in life -- not chasing after bigger and better things -- will the addiction to debt cease and will people be able to have a truly free and unfettered relationship to God. Religion has always stressed the need for ascetic denial, and Stanley reminds us of this. He quotes: "Do not trust in extortion / or put vain hope in stolen goods; / though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them." (Psalm 62:10). Ill-gotten gains or gains gotten through debt are 'stolen' or 'extorted' goods.
Chapter 5: "The Downward Spiral of Socialism"
As the title of Chapter 5: "The Downward Spiral of Socialism" indicates, Stanley is not a 'fan' of social welfare programs, although many progressive Christians have supported government assistance programs to take care of the nation's neediest populations. Stanley sees calls for wealth redistribution as directly linked to socialism, an ideology which has traditionally taken (in his view) a very negative view of religion, and particularly the Christian religion. In socialism, the government authorities, not the people make choices, which Stanley sees as flagrantly in denial of the fundamental belief of Christianity in freedom -- human beings' freedom to choose to do good or ill. In socialist systems, Stanley states that this freedom is taken away from ordinary people and given to the government instead.
Much of this chapter, however, is devoted to a relatively 'textbook' refutation of socialism on political, rather than spiritual grounds. For example, Stanley criticizes socialism because it assumes all workers have equal ability and equal desire to progress, which he says is not the case. Souls may all be equal before God, but within a political system, he believes some degree of meritocracy is needed for the government to be functional. He says socialism denies human being's fundamental drive to possess things and to strive.