christian_politics

Nine Priorities for a Christian Politics

In my lecture in Richmond, VA a couple weeks ago on “What Does it Mean to be a Christian Citizen,” I pushed back against the idea that Christian politics was primarily a matter of particular Christian policies (see the previous two excerpts here and here), and I also emphasized that as our political duties are rooted in creation, many of the principles of justice that Christians seek can and will often be shared by unbelievers.

However, I did distill what I thought were nine priorities for a Christian politics, principles that while perhaps recognizable by the light of nature, were particularly clear by virtue of revelation, and which must guide any Christian citizen or representative. All of these will remain quite general, reflecting the limitations of time in my lecture, and my conviction that politics is more often a realm for careful discernment and prudential improvisation than for detailed dogmatic blueprints.

They are as follows:

1) Limited aims and aspirations

A Christian politics recognizes the limits of politics. We have already seen that the Christian’s dual citizenship serves as a warning against investing too much hope and meaning in political identity, expecting too much what good politics may achieve or fearing too much what evil it may bring about. A Christian politics recognizes that the true fruition of our human life together lies outside the bounds of history as we know it and beyond any human power to bring about; it also recognizes that God will bring about this fruition no matter how much we might seem to screw things up along the way. It might seem like an obvious and banal point to say that politics can only achieve so much, but in fact, it is something of a uniquely Christian contribution, since the natural human tendency is to look to earthly powers for our redemption and fulfillment, investing nations and rulers with a religious significance rather than recognizing that their authority is derivative and limited.

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Christian Politics as Neighbor-Love

In this post, I offer a second excerpt from my lecture at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, VA on “What Does it Mean to Be a Christian Citizen?” You can read the full text and hear the full audio of the lecture at the Davenant Trust’s website. Here, continuing from the excerpt in yesterday’s post, I develop the second half of Luther’s famous dialectic in The Freedom of a Christian: “dutiful servant of all.” 

Does this mean, then, that the Christian is to float heedlessly above the troubles and travails of the world? “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through”—we’ve heard this sort of line from many Christians in many eras. Is this faithful Christianity? No, for while we must not cling to earthly loyalties and attachments out of fear, as we so often do, we can and must cling to them out of love. Let’s look at the flipside of many of the passages we’ve quoted.

Galatians 5:13-14 says, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Romans 6 and 7 say, “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” (6:17-18) “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” And of course, 1 John 4:7-8: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

This is the second half of Luther’s paradox: the Christian is the dutiful servant of all. He is worth quoting extensively on this point. Read More


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Freedom From Fear as the Heart of Christian Politics

A week and a half ago, I was invited to give a lecture at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, VA on “What Does it Mean to Be a Christian Citizen?” It was a great blessing to be hosted by such a thoughtful and engaged congregation, and a great opportunity to present in relatively-concise form many of the thoughts I’ve been pondering and researching the past few years about Christian political identity. You can read the full text and hear the full audio of the lecture at the Davenant Trust’s website, and I encourage you to do so, but here is an excerpt that will hopefully stand well on its own, developing the first half of Luther’s famous dialectic in The Freedom of a Christian:

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What does it mean for a Christian to be the “free lord of all”? Freedom is of course the dominant theme of American political discourse, even if we rarely know quite what we mean by it. This theme also dominates not merely Luther’s writings, but the New Testament as well. Galatians 5:1 proclaims, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” In Romans 6:13-14, Paul admonishes us, “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” And in the next chapter he says, “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ. . . . But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” (Rom. 7:4, 6) And then just a bit later, in one of the most famous chapters of Scripture, we read,

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . .

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (8:31-39)

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How (Not) to Have a Foot in Both Kingdoms: Protestant Models for Christian Citizenship

The following is the full text of a presentation delivered at Wheaton College on September 23, 2016, for an event co-sponsored by The Davenant Trust and the Center for Applied Christian Ethics. I am very grateful to Drs. Vincent Bacote and Bryan McGraw for their hospitality and engagement. The full video of the event, including their responses and the extended discussion time following, can be viewed here. Much of this presentation is taken from chapter 1 of my forthcoming book The Peril and Promise of Christian Liberty: Richard Hooker, the Puritans, and Protestant Political Theology (Eerdmans, May 2017).

 

Life Between Two Loyalties

From the moment that Christ enigmatically rebuffed Herod’s political theologians with the words “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” his followers have had to grapple with the challenge of living under “different kings and different laws.” At various times and places, some have been so bold as to imagine they had removed the sting from Christ’s statement, whether by bringing God and Caesar into alliance, by restricting their kingdoms to different worlds, or by ensuring that Caesar would adopt pluralistic policies that would grant free rein to any religious conscience. Each such solution has in due course been exposed as an over-optimistic illusion, leaving Christians to grapple anew with the tensions of their dual citizenship. Whatever the failures of Reformation political thought, it must at least be credited with its refusal to blithely dismiss the problem; indeed, fewer questions, as I hope this study will show, were more central to early Protestant theology and churchmanship.

Let us begin, then, by tracing the legacy of Protestantism’s proclamation of freedom in relation to Western political order. Certainly, few deny that a central contribution of Protestantism, what Alister McGrath calls its “dangerous idea,” was an epistemological revolution: the insistence on the freedom of individual Christian consciences to determine Scripture’s meaning for themselves.[1] Luther’s famous words at Worms offer a memorable summary of this freedom:

Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.[2]

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The Past for Honesty’s Sake: A Rejoinder to Peter Leithart

In a cheery response to my ponderous (and as-yet unfinished, I am sorry) review of his Delivered from the Elements of the World, Peter Leithart counters my charge of an “addiction to novelty” with a declaration of his commitment to “the past for future’s sake.” It is hard to quibble with the substance of his response; indeed, my organization, the Davenant Trust (which Leithart is kind enough to plug in his post) could almost adopt as its motto “The past for the future’s sake”— maybe it should, come to think of it; Leithart always has had a better flair for marketing than I. Of course we should return to the treasures of the past, beginning with Scripture, “to find resources to edify the church of the present, which is, even while you’re reading this, rapidly becoming the church of the future.” Of course we should seek to “to reach back and rocket forward at the same time,” rather than treating the church’s past as a tunnel to crawl into where we can huddle for safety so as not to face the myriad new challenges that the present assails us with. It should go without saying that there is no disagreement here.

Leithart manages to imply that this is the point of disagreement by omitting the last clause of the sentence which he takes as the summary of my objection: “[novelty theology works by] somehow simultaneously putting us back in touch the original primitive Christianity even while rocketing us into the Christian future by refusing to take its start in the conventional categories that theological discourse has refined over the centuries.” Now admittedly this clause is one that might make my marketing consultant wince, and so perhaps Leithart thought he was doing me a favor by omitting it—“conventional categories” are pretty thoroughly out of style, and “refined over the centuries” sounds like a pretty tedious business. But my complaint is not an antiquarian one; rather, it is a very practical one: the past keeps us honest. Read More