Archives For Politics

Beloved

— Henri Nouwen, in Life of the Beloved (pp. 25, 26, 30-31), writes to his friend Fred, a secular Jewish man from New York who asked Nouwen, “Why don’t you write something about the spiritual life for me and my friends?”

Ever since you asked me to write for you and your friends about the spiritual life, I have been wondering if there might be one word I would most want  you to remember when you finished reading all I wish to say. Over the past year, that special word has gradually emerged from the depths of my own heart. It is the word “Beloved,” and I am convinced that it has been given to me for the sake of you and your friends….

Yes, there is that voice, the voice that speaks from above and from within and that whispers softly or declares loudly: “You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.” It certainly is not easy to hear that voice in a world filled with voices that shout: “You are no good, you are ugly; you are worthless; you are despicable, you are nobody — unless you can demonstrate the opposite”….

Continue Reading…

Dallas Willard on Politics

Charles Kiser —  September 29, 2008 — 1 Comment

This quote was too good not to post. From Dallas Willard’s Revolution of Character, pages 14-15:

The revolution of Jesus is first and always a revolution of the human heart. His revolution does not proceed through the means of social institutions and laws—the outer forms of our existence—intending that these would then impose a good order of life upon people who come under their power. Rather, his is a revolution of character, which proceeds by changing people from the inside through ongoing personal relationship with God and one another. It is a revolution that changes people’s ideas, beliefs, feelings, and habits of choice, as well as their bodily tendencies and social relations. It penetrates the deepest layers of their soul. External, social arrangements may be useful to this end, but they are not the end, nor are they a fundamental part of the means.

On the other hand, from those divinely renovated depths of the person, social structures will naturally be transformed so that “justice roll[s] down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24, NRSV). Such streams cannot flow though corrupted souls. At the same time, a changed “within” will not cooperate with public streams of unrighteousness. A transformed soul will block those streams—or die trying.

The impotence of political and social systems to bring about real change is one of the reasons Jesus didn’t send his students out to start governments or even churches as we know them today. These organizations inevitably convey some elements of a human system. Instead, his disciples were to establish beachheads of his Person, word, and power in the midst of a failing and futile humanity. They were to bring the presence of the kingdom and its King into every corner of human life by fully living in the kingdom with him….Churches—thinking now of local assemblies of Christ’s followers—would naturally result from this new kind of life.

Myth of a Christian Nation

Charles Kiser —  September 7, 2008 — 18 Comments

The best way to defeat the kingdom of God is to empower the church to rule the kingdom of the world—for then it becomes the kingdom of the world! The best way to get people to lay down the cross is to hand them the sword! (Myth of a Christian Nation, 94-95)

As our house church conversations on spirituality and politics draw to a close, I’m reading Greg Boyd’s Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church. I’m really enjoying it. It’s challenging. I can see it making a lot of Christian people mad—and necessarily.

Boyd’s central thought is a comparison of the fundamental difference between the kingdom of God and kingdoms of the world (of which America is a part). The kingdom of the world, on one hand is a “power over” kingdom, a kingdom of the sword, a kingdom that carries out its agenda—even for justice—based on its ability to coerce people.

The kingdom of God, on the other hand, is a “power under” kingdom. It’s a kingdom of love, service and humility. This kingdom is embodied by the cross—God’s non-violent response to evil in the world. It is non-coercive. It is thus utterly incompatible with the kingdom of world because it is not inherently based on exercising power over people.

Given all this, I return to the question: what level of political participation can a citizen of God’s kingdom have in kingdoms of the world that are inherently counter to the politics of God’s kingdom? The question itself seems to lean toward less participation.

Boyd addresses this question in a more extended way with this thought:

To be sure, a version of the kingdom of the world that effectively carries out law, order, and justice is indeed closer to God’s will for the kingdom of the world. Decent, moral people should certainly encourage this as much as possible, whatever their religious faith might be. But no version of the kingdom of world is closer to the kingdom of God than others because it does its job relatively well. For God’s kingdom looks like Jesus, and no amount of sword-wielding, however just it may be, can ever get a person, government, nation, or world closer to that. The kingdom of God is not an ideal version of the kingdom of the world; it’s not something that any version of the kingdom of the world can aspire toward or be measured against. The kingdom of God is a completely distinct, alternative way of doing life.

In fact, far from aligning any version of the kingdom of the world with the kingdom of God, kingdom-of-God participants must retain a healthy suspicion toward every version of the kingdom of the world—especially their own (for here it is most tempting to become idolatrous). After all, on the authority of God’s word, we know that however good a particular government may be by world standards, it is nevertheless strongly influenced by fallen principalities and powers. Consequently, no kingdom-of-God citizen should ever place undue trust in any political ideology or program….Not only this, but we know that however good a particular version of the kingdom of the world may be, it does not hold the ultimate answer to the world’s problems. (55)

That’s an interesting perspective: too much participation in the kingdom of the world might be a form of idolatry. Boyd argues explicitly in other places in the book that the American church has in fact practiced idolatry in this way.

How do you respond to Boyd’s thoughts?

We had a Neighbor’s Lunch this weekend at Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse in West End. I really love these experiences. About half of our group consisted of young adult/professionals; the other half consisted of poor neighbors.


I decided to walk around downtown for about a half-hour before lunch in the hopes that I might meet someone to invite to our lunch.

I just prayed as I walked that God would show me someone to serve, to befriend.

And yes, I had the nervous butterflies. I knew God would have to work in order to push me past my anxiety about cold-turkey invitations.

As I walked God brought a text to mind in Jesus’ teaching about inviting people to a party (Luke 14:12-14):

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

At the very end of my walk I saw a man sitting on a bench with a Wal-Mart sack beside him. I walked by him, looked him in the eyes and said, “Hey, how’s it going?” He responded politely.

I kept walking.

Then I heard, “Excuse me sir. Do you mind if I ask you something?”

That was all I needed. Thank you, God.

He explained that he had just moved a few weeks ago from a large city in the north to find work in Dallas. He was on the streets, and he was trying to find a way to get to Wichita Falls because he knew someone who could give him work there. The bus fare cost $43. He showed me the $30 he had and asked if I could help.

I just happened to have $15 in my pocket.

I told him, “You know it’s funny that you ask because I’ve been walking around praying that God would show me someone to help.”

That resonated with him — he told me he was also a believer.

Paul ended up coming to lunch with us and eating all the ribs he could handle. After lunch, we sent him off with enough for bus fare to Wichita Falls. We hope to hear from him again when he’s back in Dallas.


I love divine appointments. It seems that God works out all the details when I merely make myself available to him.

At future lunches we’ll invite everyone to show up early and go out into the streets and alleys praying that God would lead us to new friends. In fact, why couldn’t we do that for all our events?


On Sunday night, we talked about immigration and its relationship to spirituality and politics. Go figure that three of our poor friends from our Neighbor’s lunch came—one of whom regularly protested on behalf of two imprisoned border patrol agents, another of whom was married to an undocumented immigrant! What an interesting conversation it was.

It was also amazing to see conversation between the rich and poor, the educated and less educated. I think we discovered commonalities between the two we would have never expected.

Seriously, where else in the world can the rich and poor rub shoulders like this? That’s the beauty of the church.

In the words of one of our young adult friends at the gathering, “I could feel the presence of God with us. It was beautiful.”

We discovered in scripture God’s openhandedness and mercy toward the “stranger” or immigrant, as well as the ways certain responsibility was expected of the immigrant—particularly when the immigrant was living among God’s people.

If you’re interested in a good book on the subject, I’d encourage you to pick up Christians at the Border by M. Daniel Carroll R. It’s a short read and a good introduction on how the scriptures speak to the topic of immigration.

I began my reading on politics and spirituality last week with Jesus for President, by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw. One section I appreciated in Jesus for President (JFP) was a comparison of the language used of/by the Roman Empire and the language of Jesus’ conversations. It opens a window into the political nature of Christianity.

 

The way of Jesus is not just religious; it is also political. In fact, such a distinction was unfamiliar in first century culture: “Divinity and politics [weren’t] two separate things to be combined but…were, to a great extent, the same thing” (JFP, 67).

 

For instance (adapted from JFP, 67-69):

  • Basilea (“empire” or “kingdom”): a term used for the Roman Empire, ruled by Caesar. It was also Jesus’ most common subject of preaching—the kingdom of God, ruled by Yahweh, the one who delivered Israel from Egypt.
  • Gospel (evangelion: “good news”): in the Empire, “an imperial pronouncement, usually accompanied by flags and political ceremony, that an heir to the empire’s throne had been born or that a distant battle had been won”; for Jesus, this was the good news of the kingdom of God.
  • Son of God: A common title for kings and emperors, like Alexander the Great and Octavian (or Augustus, in the lineage of Julius Caesar); also a name given to Jesus in the New Testament.
  • Ekklesia: “A local public assembly within the greater Roman Empire, much like a town meeting. These assemblies bestowed citizenship, discussed local political concerns, assigned ‘elders,’ and offered prayer and worship to Caesar. There was no separation of religion (cultic sacrifices, etc.) and secular political business”; also the word used for the early church (translated “church”). The early church “bestowed alternative citizenship and assigned elders. Though it discussed its own political and religious concerns, it was understood as separate from, and in contrast to, the state and the other ekklesiai, their politics, and their religion.”
  • Savior: “Caesar Augustus, as Savior, was seen as the one who healed the chaos of Rome and brought it into a new golden age”; also a common title for Jesus in the New Testament.
  • Faith: “A term used for trust in, allegiance to, and hope in the Pax Romana”; also “a term used for trust in, allegiance to, and hope in Jesus.”

Consider also the language of an inscription found at the ruins of a government building in Asia Minor, dated 6 BC — the resemblance to the language of Jesus and the early church is striking (shown in JFP, 70):

The most divine Caesar…we should consider equal to the Beginning of all things…for when everything was falling (into disorder) and tending toward dissolution, he restored it once more and gave the whole world a new aura; Caesar…the common good Fortune of all…the beginning of life and vitality…all the cities unanimously adopt the birthday of the divine Caesar as the new beginning of the year…Whereas the Providence which has regulated our whole existence…has brought our life to the climax of perfection in giving to us (the emperor) Augustus…who being sent to us and our descendants as Savior, has put an end to war and has set all things in order; and (whereas,) having become (god) manifest (phaneis), Caesar has fulfilled all the hopes of earlier times…the birthday of the god (Augustus) has been for the whole world the beginning of good news (evangelion=gospel!) concerning him….

Fascinating. Jesus adopted familiar, politically-charged language from the prevailing cultural warehouse of the day as a way of describing who he was and what he was about. It must mean that the message of Jesus was/is inherently political. Jesus spoke of a kingdom that challenged the kingdoms of humanity.

 

So the question is not, “Is Christianity political?” Rather, the question is, “How is Christianity political?”

 

How would you answer this question?

 

Is it possible that Christianity is political in a way drastically different than the American political system?