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Monday, May 03, 2010
Doug Wilson had a good post on Friday regarding the idea that Christians shouldn't be political. He hits on a great point here:
The political state in our day is swollen and overgrown, and has gotten into everything. Politics, the great secular idol of modernity, has virtually filled up every public space. This means that it is not possible to go into any public space in order to have a public witness of any kind without it resulting in some kind of political confrontation.

To this extent, to blame public Christians for being "too political" is like blaming Noah's ark for being "too wet."

Abortion and sodomy were sins long before they were constitutional rights. If a minister preached against them a thousand years ago, he was preaching against moral failings, and he was not being political. He was being public, but not political. When I do it, I am preaching against moral failings also, but I am also being political. What changed? It wasn't the Decalogue. It wasn't the history of the church, or the history of preaching. It wasn't the nature of the gospel. It wasn't me. Rather, it was the nature of the idol being challenged -- and this idol aspires to omnipresence.
Now, obviously, that's not to say that Christians can't make an idol out of politics themselves. But it is to say that they haven't necessarily changed their battle positions if what once was merely societal skirmishes is now a fight with the State.


PB said...

(No surprise) I think Wilson gets it wrong. I think his first explanation (which he rejects) is correct and is an excellent characterization of the state of affairs:

One reason could be that Christians are the ones with the problem. They have politics on the brain. They rush to the mechanisms of the state (which were modestly hiding in a distant village), in order to advance their public faith with the politics of coercion. In other words, these Christians have lost faith in Jesus their Savior, and are trying to use the political process as a sort of savior's-little-helper.

That's putting it pretty starkly, but that's closer to correct than his thesis in this article.

One problem I have with this is his use of the term "called" to describe what Christians are supposed to do in wielding political power. Called by whom? God? Where? How did he call us to that? And don't be too quick to give the "Jesus" answer. Where, exactly, did Jesus (or Paul, or anyone in the NT) make it a primary goal to change Caesar's policies? Things were just as "political" then as they are now. And yet Acts, in particular, was written in part to demonstrate that Christianity was in no way a threat to the Empire as such (other than, well, one day Jesus would come back and all other kings and kingdoms would bow to him).

Chris A said...

Good comment, PB. Although I think the point Wilson makes about what is perceived as political today versus 100 years ago is a valid one also.

Darius said...

Yeah, I think the point here is more about what "political" means than whether Christians have fallen for the enticements of political power. I certainly acknowledge that plenty of Christians have done so. I doubt Wilson would deny that. But he's fighting a different problem, and that is the one you here from the likes of Greg Boyd who claim that Christians were never intended to be political. That is hogwash. But it points to a misunderstanding of what "being political" is, and that is what Wilson is trying to clarify.

Because things are significantly more political now (at least in the West) than they have been in most of the world's history, pretty much everything now qualifies as a political action whereas it didn't always before. Originally, the Romans didn't really care what you said as long as they didn't have get involved and it wasn't against Caesar. That's why it took some convincing to get Pilate to kill Jesus. Yet even the Romans eventually felt threatened by Christianity. Christians were making truth claims... claims which inherently threatened the authority of Rome and the god status of Caesar. Pretty soon, Christians found that preaching the gospel was now a political act.

Things aren't really all that different today; the State claims that it is God and the giver of all good things and the decider of all morality. If you challenge that, you're liable to face its wrath. The modern secular welfare state as merely put that "Caesar is God" ideology on steroids and made it much more pernicious than it was two thousand years ago.

Like Wilson says, if a Christian said "Abortion is wrong" a hundred years ago, our government would have been silent and disengaged from the topic. If he claimed that free handouts (with no accountability) to people except in extreme cases was immoral and just asking for trouble, a century ago the State would have remained mute. If a Christian stated that marriage was between one man and one woman, the federal authorities would have said "duhhh."

Darius said...

"Where, exactly, did Jesus (or Paul, or anyone in the NT) make it a primary goal to change Caesar's policies?"

Getting back to your question, PB...

It's not a "primary" goal, but it is a necessary end result. That's why the Romans persecuted the Christians for many years, but didn't persecute the Jews (until the Jews tried to revolt). Isn't that interesting? On the face of it, based on how cozy the Romans seemed with the Jews at the time, one would have expected the same kind of treatment toward Christians. In fact, since Christians were even MORE peaceful than Jews, they should have been given even more latitude from the Roman government. Instead, the exact opposite happened. Christians, unlike their Jewish peers, had to hide their theological leanings or face persecution.

So it seems that the Romans recognized that Christianity had something to say about the polity of the day. Christians were saying things like Paul had said in Acts 19: the gods and idols of this world were man-made and carried no real power. And like Demetrius, Rome didn't like that message. Christians were claiming that the Church was owed the primary respect and funding ahead of the State. Christians were saying that it wasn't okay to treat your slaves badly or to have multiple wives or homosexual concubines. This was upsetting the way Romans had always done things and how they had set up their economy and society. It was, in short, upsetting their politics. Politics is just a fancy word for how communities of people conduct themselves as a group and how they make collective decisions. As such, Christianity has everything to say about what politics should look like. As Kuyper said, "there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'"

That said, admittedly some Christians have switched the roles and primacy of the Gospel and how it interacts with politics, just as some have reversed the order of works and grace. They have placed their hope and contentment on how the next election swings. The evil currently being enthroned into law causes them to have a level of anxiety that makes me wonder where they have put their trust. But it's no different than any other source of anxiety. It's all sinful at the root. Nor does it change the fact that Christians should be involved in politics, just as the Biblical truth that Christians should work and make money doesn't change the fact that they shouldn't put their hope in either of those temporal things.

Wilson isn't speaking into that issue (perhaps he should do so more often, but prophets are rarely tasked with cutting down the whole forest in one fell swoop). That is an issue, and one that will take some time to defeat (as much as one can). It's also a problem on both sides of the political aisle (Jim Wallis, anyone?). In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it were more of a problem on the Christian Left in some ways than on the Right, since an over-reliance on the authority and power of government is inherent in the liberal worldview.

Darius said...

On a related additional note, Wilson has some more useful (and witty!) things to say about this topic here:

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The Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel The Main Thing
Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God
Overcoming Sin and Temptation
According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible
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Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem
When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Ourselves
The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
Respectable Sins
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Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak
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