A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Kingdom Without King, Kingdom Without Church: Manipulating Jesus to Serve Our Agendas

It's been a problem almost since the inception of Christianity-- the rejection of Jesus' agenda for us and the twisting of Jesus' message and ministry so that he might conform to our easier more palatable way of life. In a recent post, Carl Olson quotes atheist, Richard Dawkins who states that as intelligent as Jesus was, if he were here today, knowing what we human beings now know in the 21st century, Jesus would be an atheist.

Now, it is not the purpose of this post to respond to Dawkins' assertion. Olson does that quite well. What I want to highlight is the continual practice of Christians twisting Jesus to fit their particular political and social agendas. Since Dawkins is an atheist, he can be excused; but what is the excuse for those who claim to follow Jesus, those believers that insist Jesus follow them in support of their pet projects and sacred cow issues? There are those who think that if Jesus were here today he would be a conservative Republican and a Tea Partier. Others assume that since Jesus was concerned for the poor that automatically means he would be down on Wall Street with the Occupiers, as if there is an automatic straight line from one to the other. Yes, I have heard and read pastors say just that. I have to say that it is hard for me to understand the reasoning of any persons who believe the above. Apparently I must be reading a different New Testament.

Years ago I was at a church dinner during a presidential election season. I was sitting at one table with parishioners who were talking politics and like-mindedly saying that they could not understand how a good Christian could vote for the Democratic candidate for president. A few minutes later I was at another table as I was making my "pastoral rounds" that evening, and those folks, also talking politics, were having the same conversation... but they couldn't figure why any caring Christian would vote for the Republican.

Brad Wright has recently written a wonderful post that has made its way around the blogosphere entitled, "Why It’s Difficult to Derive Political Affiliation from the Bible or Why I'm a 'Political Agnostic.'" Brad writes,
Trying to fit Christian beliefs into a specific political stance seems to be putting a square peg into a round hole—it just doesn't fit.... I think it's fine that people bring their religious convictions into their political decisions, as we should with every aspect of life. However, I've become skeptical that there is any one "right" way of doing this. Moreover, I’m uncomfortable with any message, either explicit or implicit, that suggests that "if you're a Christian, you should be a _______ (fill in the political party)."
Wright is certainly correct, but I do not want to leave the issue there. What happens all too often is that someone basically says that Jesus would not be Democrat or a Republican, and all thoughtful Christians on both sides of the political aisle agree, and then they proceed to go back to their Democratic and Republican corners as if such an important affirmation determines nothing. So we agree that Jesus would be neither, but most of us his followers choose to be one or the other. Surely I cannot be the only one that sees the problem here.

In my recent book, The Politics of Witness I wrote,

I have come to believe that as long as we believers identify and line up too closely with one side or the other, with either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, Christians will unintentionally eclipse the politics of the God's kingdom and our prophetic voice and witness as the church will be undermined if not completely muted.
I am well aware that among Christians I am embracing a minority opinion. But as long as we divorce the work of God's kingdom from the king and as long as we separate the work of the kingdom from the church, we will continue, with good intentions, to make Jesus subservient to our agendas, while the church becomes nothing more than the handmaiden of state power. Unfortunately, Christendom is alive and well... and Christians on the left and the right are in it up to their activist armpits. And that will not change until the kingdom and the church are once again intrinsically related to what God is doing in the world in King Jesus.

Richard Dawkins wants Jesus to serve his agenda. We may excuse him for that. We Christians are without excuse in making Jesus subservient to our wills. We should know better.


Bruce Hitchcock said...

Allan, my friend. You write well and state the truth of the matter. But things are not so simple as stating that we Christians should be concerned with the Kingdom of God, and the king, and then ignore the movement of God's Spirit, (kingdom) in todays world. I will not take sides in the Tea Partier vs. Occupiers eccept to say that both are rejecting corruption in business and government. Is this not the perfect time to call the church,and our society, to have faith in God vs. a corrupt government and a materialistic economy? Is it not our place to pray specifically for peace and for justice in the midst of these protests? Is it not ok to attempt to shape our world according to the kingdom of God? In being a long time reader, and one who admires your attention to detail, genuine respect for the other and your desire to speak carefully, I must ask, "When and how do we engage our political and economic injustice?" Surely, Christians cannot stand on the sidelines when such rich and honest expressions of thought and feeling are everywhere.
With nothing but, respect and appreciation for you and your work.

Bryan said...

As a Christian, I believe we play an important role in attempting to shape America into a Country God can again bless. I do find it hard to believe that some Christians vote for candidates that promote abortion and gay marriage. Wouldn't it be fair to say that God not only holds the candidate accountable for his political ideology but also holds accountable the voter as well?

If America stands a chance of revival we must heed the words of II Chronicles 7:14, "If My people who are called by my Name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven, will forgive their sin and heal their land."

In my humble opinion, "turning from our wicked ways" includes electing officials who hold most true to biblical morality. Sadly, this often means voting for the lesser to two evils...

Allan R. Bevere said...

Bruce and Bryan,

Thanks for your thoughts.

What I want to suggest that your comments actually make my case; for they reflect the Christendom assumptions that are so prevalent throughout the church, which separates the king from the kingdom and the kingdom from the church.


You assume that 2 Chronicles 7:14 can be directly applied to America, but in its context it is directed to the people of God Israel. Thus, the modern day parallel is not to apply it directly to the US, but to apply it directly to the people of God the church; for it is Israel and the church alone who are the people of God called by God's name.

Now, that does not mean that God does not desire the nations to humble themselves and seek God's face, but it is the church that is to bear witness to that in its faithfulness and in its mission. In other words the church, first and foremost is to be the people of God in order to show the nations what God expects of them. But the religious right does not need the church for its "kingdom" agenda; and frankly, it doesn't really need the king either. America has become their church.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Bruce, you assume that the state is where the political action is. That is why you think I am promoting standing on the sidelines. On the contrary, what I am promoting is that the church be politically engaged by being a radical witness to the powers by its life as the people of God.

I have said before that both the Tea Partiers and the Occupiers have just concerns-- deficit spending and the gap between the rich and the poor. As a Christian I identify with those concerns. But protesting with either side is NOT kingdom work. One of our UM colleagues protesting down on Wall Street said that the Occupiers were doing the work of the church. What an embarrassment! Clearly he does not understand the nature of the church.

Both the religious right and the religious left do not need the church for the completion of their agendas; for America has become their church. Without the king and the church, the kingdom is simply a synonym for glorified social agency. And while social work is a good thing, God's kingdom moving out in this world is for the sole purpose of bringing all thing under the lordship of Jesus Christ. That cannot happen without the church.

When you here the word politics, you think nation. When you hear the word society, you think America. When I hear the words politics and society I think church. The church has its own integrity and it IS the vehicle by which the kingdom moves forth in this world. The NT does not suggest otherwise.

Christendom has marginalized the singular significance of the church, and up until this point Christendom has won the argument in the West. Both the religious right and the religious left by their very political commitments demonstrate that they lack a robust political ecclesiology. Ultimately, for both sides, the church is somehow beside the point.

Bruce Hitchcock said...

Allan, you have yet to answer my question. Of course I have stated that you speak well and truthfully. But I think living demands living in this world the kingdom principles witht he question of wwjd? I don't want to involve myself because of political views or socio/economic views. The very desire to be involved is a kingdom principle and directive of the King. How can Christians not be involved in the protests? It is the unique, subversive, genuine call of Christ that leads me to protest this false idol of government and economy. Fidelity to the King and Kingdom, loyalty to the Savior lead me to prayer and proclaimation.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Bruce, you don't need the church to protest. Any old atheist can do that. Thus, you may desire to be involved. That is fine and it may even be good, but don't call it kingdom work.

Bruce said...

Allan, You did, or were answering when I wrote last. Thank you. My new question to you is this. "What is Kingdom work?" A part of my thinking is that I am reading lots of work by Martin Luther King in preparation for speaking. I am comparing what I am reading with what is happening in our nation. You are correct in pointing out assumptions in my thought. Perhaps there are other assumptions at work.
In King's letter from jail he lists several disappointments he has with the church. One of them is the silence of the church in the face of injustice. Does being the Body of Christ constitute a reply to injustice and corruption? How is church different from chritendom? Does not one become the other? This is happening on the fly and I really need to order my thoughts and questions in a much better fashion to be fair to myself and you. We need a lunch to chat. Looking forward to hearing more of your thought.

Allan R. Bevere said...


These two posts by Scot McKnight say it better than I ever could: