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A New Testament Political Theology

Dave Black has some very useful comments on political activism, responding to a video by N. T. Wright, which I’ll embed here:

 

I appreciate this video for several items, but I even more appreciated Dave Black’s comments. I personally am politically active. I always vote. I often advocate for various causes or candidates, and in the past I have even gotten involved in political campaigns, though not recently.

One of the difficulties I think Christians have is distinguishing one’s own standards from those that should be imposed on others. In my view, the state should not be there to force the public to live according to Christian values or any other separate agenda. I think we always need to distinguish between “I like that” and “there ought to be a law.” It’s not just Christians that have trouble making that distinction.

But more importantly, in my view, I see our political approaches to problems infecting the church. If we’re law and order people in society we often lose the redemptive idea of Christianity. What is the solution to the drug problem? Is it more drug enforcement, or might it just be more reaching out to those who abuse drugs? It seems to me that as a Christian, my solution to such a problem is contained in the gospel, not in the making of laws. While laws may well be necessary, I shouldn’t let the need for such laws make me despise the violators or forget about the grace of God.

In any case, Dave’s comments resonated with me today.

Faith in the Public SquareFor a somewhat different, though not incompatible view on our involvement in politics, I want to quote from the recently released book Faith in the Public Square (Bob Cornwall). Bob is comfortable being called progressive.

I understand why some of my co-religionists have chosen to stay clear of government entanglements, though I’m not convinced that it’s possible to work for justice or work for the common good without engaging the political system in some way. It is for this reason that I have involved myself in efforts to engage elected officials in conversation and when necessary even pressuring them to do what I believe would be the right thing. Additionally, even as I recognize that political parties are not perfect instruments, I have chosen to support one of the two major parties and its candidates for office during elections. It’s not that I believe God favors one party over the other, but I do believe that one party better fits my own understanding of the common good, an understanding that
is informed by my faith.

Even as I align myself with one of America’s two political
parties and accept the realities of being a citizen of a particular
nation, I’m also cognizant that I’m called to give allegiance not to the flag or the nation for which it stands, but to God whotranscends national interests. That is, if I faithfully pray the Lord’s Prayer then I must give full and complete allegiance to God and to God’s realm. Whatever I do in the public sphere must be done in the light of that prior commitment.  Remaining faithful to one’s ultimate allegiance, while engaging the public square, is not an easy task. It requires humility and a willingness to recognize that not everyone shares my beliefs or values. My goal in engaging the public square isn’t purely religious; that is, while my goal is not to impose my faith on the populace as a whole, I am committed to being present in the public square, which involves political action. This
political action is informed by my faith. I may engage it as a private citizen, which allows more partisan engagement, or I may come to the square as part of the faith community, but in this case the engagement should be less partisan or even non-partisan (pp. 4-5).

I think this is a topic that deserves wider discussion. The consequence of simply letting things ride is that we will follow the path of least resistance, and that path will make the church reflect the culture, in which case, what value remains in the church?

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4 comments to A New Testament Political Theology

  • In my summary of Book 1, I have this note: Bill Morrow of Queen’s University (from a comment that he made at coffee-time at the University of Victoria) has suggested that the Old Testament is a long meditation on the issues of human governance. It seems that the making and following of rules is not a problem that is easily solved.

    After all, one major question in the psalms is “who’s in charge”? What do you do when the king is dethroned by a foreign power? What do you do with the 2 year old who says: “you’re not the boss of me”? How is justice administered with equity and with mercy? (Psalm 85, Psalm 149)

    And we, the Church, the churches, Israel, etc – do not exist in a vacuum – but we exist for the light of the world, for the good of Egypt and Moab – even the narrow places, even enemy territory.

  • I have oft made this same kind of observation on my blog, particularly when it comes to our fight against gay marriage in society. I make the point that the Apostle Paul never made rules for society to abide by, rather he taught the church how to live within the framework of a secular society.

    Take his counsel for not allowing those who had multiple wives to take a position of eldership…yet he clearly allowed any in those situations to participate in the church… While personally I don’t like the idea, I think our political posturing has done little to win any to Christ.

  • Bob – Not easily solved? You’ve got to be kidding! :-) No, you’re right. This one is contentious, and it’s sometimes contentious even in my own mind.

    Craig – I think it’s hard to say “this is wrong” and at the same time NOT work to disallow it in society. I think in many cases that is precisely what we, as Christians, must do. I actually think we would have a greater impact on society if we put our attention more on living the gospel fully as the church, and less on programs or movements to change society more directly. In my view, the gospel works, however hard it may be to live that way!

  • I came across this text in the context of recent developments in theology which have as their motto “you will not see my face without your brother”. (Rendtorff, Rolf. (2005). The Canonical Hebrew Bible, A Theology of the Old Testament) Relating this to the issues of the strong and the weak and those for whom Christ died gives some import to our attitudes whether we think of an issue as one of purity or ethics or morality.

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