Hopeful contentment in a politicized world  

Posted by Denis Haack in , , , , , ,


            As Christians our primary allegiance is to Jesus as Lord of all, and to God’s kingdom in which he reigns over all things as sovereign. We live in an in-between time, after the kingdom’s inauguration but before its final consummation, when we acknowledge Christ as king yet realize a prince of darkness actively disputes his right to the throne.
            It is always difficult to be in a now/not-yet situation. Living by kingdom values is never easy—which is why it’s called a life of faith—and as our Lord promised, doing so would never be popular in a world in revolt against its rightful sovereign. It is hard to be content when things don’t always seem to be moving in the correct direction. Waiting has never been a strong suit for fallen human beings. And it is hard not to be seduced by visions and agendas that promise relief and better times, if only they could be implemented by the powers that be. Every political ideology—libertarianism, conservatism, liberalism, progressivism, nationalism—takes an aspect of created reality, makes it central and then builds a political vision and agenda around it. This is why each usually has some good ideas and good proposals: each is rooted in an aspect of created reality and so is not completely removed from life in a fallen world. Which is what makes political ideologies attractive even to the people of God.
            A great deal is at stake in all this. The primary issue is God’s glory and the honor of Christ as Lord of lords. Ideologies are grounded in something less than Christ, and that is why the biblical term for ideologies is idolatry. Also at stake is the integrity of Christ’s church. If political ideology supersedes commitment to the gospel of the kingdom the church’s unity begins to crumble. And at stake is the church’s witness to the gospel, because the perspective of a believer shifts radically when they move from a kingdom vision to seeing things as an ideology defines life and reality.
            A gloomy “slouching toward Gomorrah” view of culture leads, I think, to meanness. If we think we are on the losing end of the arc of history, we slide into outrage. If we see ourselves, though, as part of a kingdom that is triumphant in Christ, we ought to display a kind of provocative tranquility. We see those who disagree with us not as threatening to us or to our gospel, but those who, like all of us were, are held captive to an accusing power. We speak with convictional kindness because we love our neighbors, and because we are confident in our gospel. If the gates of hell won’t prevail against Jesus’ onward march, then why are we terrified by Hollywood or Capitol Hill? [Russell Moore, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Southern Baptist Convention]
            I believe Moore is correct, and in this brief statement has put his finger on something we as Christians need to take seriously. As I read his words, several practical questions came to mind. Reflecting on them can help us identify the extent to which we have slid from a kingdom perspective towards an ideological framework in our thinking, feeling, and doing.
            1. Am I discouraged, disappointed, or depressed after an election cycle, a Supreme Court ruling or a legislative effort? It is true that in each case kingdom values may cause us to prefer one outcome over another. Still, we know from Scripture that there is ebb and flow in history. Read the Old Testament and see how good and bad kings, moral and immoral leaders rose to power but never once did God’s rule slip out of control. Our calling remains the same regardless of the details, and that is to remain faithful to the kingdom of God. If our hope is in God and his kingdom alone, we have reason for contentment and joy.
            2. Do I consider leaving a church or Christian fellowship because I disagree with the politics of leaders or other members? Or as a variation on this, are there people in my church I shun because I find their political views untenable? This is, from a biblical perspective, an extremely important issue. It is dangerous when we essentially see our political agendas as equal in significance to our commitment to the historic orthodoxy of our faith. Christian unity is grounded in the teaching of Scripture, summarized, for example in the beliefs of the Apostle’s Creed and not in the values of a political vision. Make the wrong choice here and our souls can be at stake.
            3. Do we tend to see the citizens that do not share my political views as rivals (to be defeated or convinced) or as people I am called to befriend and love, even at cost (economic, time, health, life, political) to myself? Ideologies and agendas call their followers to work in order to win. The kingdom calls us to set aside our preferences and rights in order to help those created in God’s image to flourish though the gospel of Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension. I fear that much of the younger generation dismisses the gospel as irrelevant at least partly because of the politicization of the church.
            4. Am I content as a Christian being faithful in the political sphere of life when that requires the hard work of being co-belligerents with disparate parties or candidates on various issues at different times because no single party fully embraces kingdom values and convictions? Because political ideologies are ultimately rooted in some aspect of created reality, none are completely separated from life. And there will be times we will need to abstain because no option is available that adequately reflects the imperatives of God’s law and character.
            We need to read St John’s Revelation regularly. Don’t read it as a puzzle to be solved (it isn’t one) but as a series of imaginative visions (which they are). Each one is actually fairly simple: God’s reign is disputed, God’s kingdom is challenged, God’s righteousness prevails. It’s how the story ends, and the ending is certain. And that is why we can be kingdom people now as we wait, and wonder, and be content, and wait some more.

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8 comments

Thank you Denis for the good word. Much needed in this day when most everything is politicized. It is draining on the soul and hopeful reminders like this are needed!

April 24, 2013 at 2:07 PM

Thank you, Becky W.
I appreciate your taking the time to comment.

April 24, 2013 at 2:08 PM

Thanks Denis! I am in a coffee shop right now that has this joke gum that shows a person puking and it says: Help, I kissed a Republican (and one from Democrats too). A joke...but a little too close to what we think at times.
Eileen

April 25, 2013 at 10:18 PM
Anonymous  

You have it wrong.

To preach and live the gospel of Jesus Christ will result in being labeled as a political conservative by the world. As Jesus told his disciples, the world will hate you.

Do you fear man or do you fear God?

April 30, 2013 at 1:58 PM

Anonymous:
American political conservatism includes some traits and goals that are admirable: it has been pro-life, for example, and respects religious tradition. In other areas, in contrast, it has embraced things that are woefully below the standard of Scripture: for example in caring for the earth and the civil rights movement.

I would urge you to read David Koyzis' book, Political Visions and Illusions, for a careful biblical study of political ideology.

Thanks for commenting
Denis

April 30, 2013 at 2:28 PM
Anonymous  

Please let me try again. I don't think you are understanding what I am saying.

A true Christian will always be labeled a conservative in the Western world (In an islamist country they would actually be labeled a liberal) whether they identify themselves as one or not.

If someone professes to be a Christian and is not perceived to be "conservative" by the world, they are a fraud.

A Christian will believe in God; will value the sanctity of life; will believe government should be fair and just (not phony social justice with a welfare state and perpetual poverty); will recognize that socialism and communism cannot fix the underlying human condition, will always link charity for physical needs to the greater spirtual needs of the lost, will oppose the "civil rights movement" which is racist, anti-Christian,and promotes sexual immorality; and will oppose the self worship and creation worship that defines enviromentalism (recognizing the earth is to be destroyed but a new earth will be built as Revelations teaches). This is orthodox bible-based Christianity, and yes, you will be labeled a conservative whether you like it or not.

Professing Christians who fight the conservative label by disavowing what the Bible teaches fear man not God.

May 2, 2013 at 10:10 AM

Anonymous:
Thanks for writing a clarification: that’s always helpful, especially when communication is via email where misunderstanding is easy.

“The gospel is going to question,” Tim Keller correctly insists, “every culture at its root.” At present in America, as Keller also points out, neither political party adequately captures a Christian or biblical social ethic (see “Faith & Politics,” video of Keller online at http://bigthink.com/videos/tim-keller-on-faith-and-politics).

Orthodox Christianity is pro-life and is supportive of civil rights for minorities for precisely the same reason: every person is created in God’s image. It also requires us to care for the earth because, as Scripture record, we were created to “care” for the earth (Genesis 2:15) and “the earth is the Lord’s” (Psalm 24:1). To misuse and mistreat his good gift of creation is to hold the Creator in disdain. (The basics of the biblical teaching on this can be found in Francis Schaeffer’s Pollution and the Death of Man.) You are also mistaken about the future of the earth. The fire that is promised is God’s purifying judgment to prepare for the new earth and new heavens. For a careful study of all the relevant biblical texts see Wim Rietkirk’s Millenium Fever and the Future of this Earth (available as a free e-book on our web site: http://www.ransomfellowship.org/publications/MilleniumFeverPDF.pdf).

One final thing: When we disagree with anyone, including a fellow Christian, we must do so with civility and care. This is what the love described in 1 Corinthians 13 requires. If we disagree, neither should claim to be able to read the other’s heart—an ability restricted to God alone—and assert that they fail to fear God and instead seek to appease the world. We cannot know this, it is a failure to love, and it does not allow for conversation and learning to continue.

Denis

May 6, 2013 at 10:25 AM

Eileen:
Sad when jokes are so poignant that they make us laugh, and then be sad...
Denis

May 8, 2013 at 12:35 PM

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