11 July 2007

Left-leaning politics and the Emerging Church

by Phil Johnson



cot McKnight's Christianity Today article on the major streams of influence within the Emerging movement acknowledged that the political drift of the movement is leftward. Most Emerging Christians are fed up with the evangelical movement's thirty-five year dalliance with Republican-party politics.

OK, let me say first of all that I have great sympathy with the concern they are expressing. For more than twenty-five years, I have been I've been voicing disapproval of the way right-wing political activism often seems to eclipse gospel ministry on the agenda of some churches and evangelical organizations. Some in the religious right seem to think the primary duty of the church in secular society is political lobbying. Evangelical politicians have displayed a frightening willingness to compromise spiritual principles, forge partnerships with unbelievers, and shift the focus of their message away from the gospel in favor of more broadly-appealing moral and political themes. Some seem willing to take whatever pragmatic means are necessary in order to influence the vote—as if the advancement of Christ's kingdom depended on the American electoral process.

Several of the best-known leaders in evangelical politics are former pastors who have left church ministry behind in order to become full-time lobbyists and political commentators. The evangelical movement as a whole has mirrored that trend for the past couple of decades, I fear—abdicating the teaching ministry in favor of more worldly affairs. Judging from the books that typically rise high on the Christian best-seller lists, evangelicals nowadays are a thousand times more concerned with politics and public relations than with studying and proclaiming Scripture. And it's no accident that the elevation of worldly entertainments in evangelical megachurches has gained popularity right alongside evangelicalism's obsessive craving for clout in the political arena. I'm convinced these trends are closely related. Perhaps I'll blog about that one day.

Anyway, Emerging Christians are convinced evangelicalism's close affiliation with conservative party politics in America actually undermines the clarity of the gospel message. I agree with them about that.

We generally don't agree on a solution to the problem, however. Liberal-minded Emergents don't want the church to get out of politics completely; they simply want the pendulum to swing back to the left. Their proposed cure turns out to be worse than the disease. It's like drinking strychnine to cure oneself of a hacking cough.

Of course, not all Emerging Christians are left-wingers. (Scot McKnight doesn't mention that fact in his CT article, but I know that if I don't mention it, we'll have forty-five angry, insulting, or otherwise unnecessary comments in response to this post. So let's just remember that on this issue as well as everything else, there is a lot of diversity in the Emerging Movement.) Nevertheless, according to McKnight, most of the movement tilts leftward. He characterizes them as "a latte-drinking, backpack-lugging, Birkenstock-wearing group of 21st-century, left-wing, hippie wannabes. Put directly, they are Democrats."

McKnight acknowledges that he himself is a political liberal at heart, but he also say he is concerned that if Emerging Christians get too caught up in politics, they will repeat the error of the modernist churches who embraced the social gospel and abandoned the biblical gospel in the process. To his credit, McKnight says he is wary of that tendency. He seems to sense, however, that a large segment of the movement is already barreling that direction. ("Sometimes . . . when I look at emerging politics, I see Walter Rauschenbusch, the architect of the social gospel," he says.)

McKnight himself is clearly conflicted, though: "I don't think the Democratic Party is worth a hoot, but its historic commitment to the poor and to centralizing government for social justice is what I think government should do." He's not completely comfortable with the leftist agenda, because he doesn't support abortion or homosexuality. But still, that hasn't kept McKnight from voting Democrat, and he really doesn't offer any strategy for making sure the Emerging Church movement doesn't fall into the same devastating error that destroyed the mainstream denominations.

That point, in microcosm, illustrates the main reason for my deep and continuing concern about the Emerging Church movement. There are countless parallels between the Emerging Church movement and classic religious modernism. Both movements were sparked by massive paradigm shifts in secular thought and culture. Both are undergirded by a conviction that the church must change in a fundamental way or be rendered irrelevant: she must adapt her perspective of truth and certainty in order to fit better with the way the world is "progressing."

Exactly like early modernism, the Emerging Church movement is being defended vigorously by a group of mostly-sincere people who really do envision themselves as completely evangelical and who insist that they have no agenda to do away with any essential doctrine.

Meanwhile, within the movement are numerous other people who are simultaneously attacking essential evangelical truths, starting with a handful of truths that are especially hard to receive. They want to re-imagine the atonement to do away with the penal aspect, for example, because they think it makes God look harsh. They question the doctrine of eternal punishment. They despise the doctrine of original sin. They diminish the importance of sound doctrine completely. And they blithely pretend that their critics' only possible motive is an utter lack of charity toward them. Their favorite, and practically their only, defense is the claim that they have been misunderstood and misrepresented.

We are seeing history repeat itself.

Phil's signature

Addendum
An interesting exchange lifted from Dan Paden's blog

Dan Paden: "It's nice to see that Professor McKnight acknowledges the screamingly obvious. I said more than a year ago that it seemed to me that Emergents in general were inextricably welded to the political left, and then no less an Emergent luminary than Tony Jones dropped by long enough to offer the 'not all Emergents are like that' defense that is almost universally proferred against any charge, and to mention that he, personally, was pulling for John McCain.

"I realized long ago that when they start pulling that 'not every Emergent is like that' stuff, you have almost always found something that is true of
most of them."

Tony Jones: "You're right, Dan. We're all like that."

Dan Paden: "Have you sent a similarly dismissive e-mail to Professor McKnight?"


63 comments:

Joey said...

great post Phil. The only qualm I have with your thoughts is the implication that leaving the pulpit for politics means engaging in "more worldly affairs". I wouldn't imply here that politics is inherently more worldly (Rom 13). We should though hope that so-called evangelicals in politics would conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the calling" (eph. 4:1). I agree, though, with your main argument here that evangelicals seem more concerned with politics than with scripture.

http://shawblog.wordpress.com

centuri0n said...

Joey: Rom 13 says that Government has a God-ordained ministry of the sword to punish the evildoer in order to stop him from doing wrong. Its does not say that this ministry is the ministry of the church.

Confusing these two ministries is bad.
__________

Phil --

That social gospel thing you said is something I've been trying to write a paper on since before we started TeamPyro. The parallels between the emerging ones and (for example) Walter Rauschenbusch is somewhat staggering.

And you're right -- is spite of the ire it's going to draw. They are committing the same major error here that Evangelidom started in the late 70's and early 80's, only on the Left -- and at a time when the Left is frankly falling apart and stands for nothing.

Sheesh.

H.C. Ross said...

I can see why some would question the support of an unrestricted free market, as this may encourage worldly consumerism.

But I don't see how giving more of one's cash to any central government, inevitably comprised of believers and (a majority of) non-believers in the hope that it will benevolently handle our cash and solve our collective ills for us, is any better.

History has not been a great friend to socialism. IMHO, if a Christian wishes to promote a form of governmental/economic policy that will help the most people, he/she will NOT choose one that engenders a nanny state.

I wouldn't go to the stake for that opinion, but I hold it nonetheless!

Whatever Caesar we submit to, our time is limited: it is imperative that we tell undeserving sinners there is a merciful God who sent His Son to die for their sins and save them from an endless Hell.

Matt said...

Phil, thank you for an excellent post. I have been insisting for a long time, with emergents I know, that no matter how much they bash modernism, they are committing the exact same error as the theologically liberal modernists of yesteryear.

I also agree that the emergent critique of current day evangelicalism is all too often correct. But when their basic premise is that the conservative evangelical movement is somehow rooted in modernism, they show their lack of awareness of church history. I just don't see the J. Gresham Machen's of the past being particularly fond of the evangelical church embracing modernism. Quite the opposite.

Benjamin Nitu said...

It is sad when the church is defined by their political ideology rather than the word of God.

"The content of church proclamation is therefore not just anything and everything. The church's message to the world is not about the energy crisis, pollution, white or black power, detente, the Israeli-Arab conflict, ad infinitum. It is the very specific Word of God. The church is called to proclaim what God says and does. Unless it verbally articulates and communicates the revelation of God, the church has no distinctive right to be heard, to survive, or to even exist.
Nor is the Christian minister anything and everything - a fund-raiser, marriage-counselor, pulpit orator, public relations specialist, ad infinitum. He is primarily the proclaimer of God's revealed Word. Unless he declares the revelation of God he has no unique vocational claim and standing." (Carl Henry: God, Revelation and Authority vol. II)

Carla Rolfe said...

From all I understand about the history of trends & movements within the evangelical church, I couldn't agree more with what you've said here Phil.

I had a lot more to say but then I saw the SuperKitty graphic and it didn't seem important anymore. I like SuperKitty, he should make an appearance more often.
:-)

Dan Paden said...

Hmmmph. It's nice to see that Professor McKnight acknowledges the howlingly, screamingly obvious. When I read A Generous Orthodoxy, I was hard-pressed in places to be sure I wasn't reading the Democratic Party platform.

Garet Pahl said...

It is not surprising to find that a "church" movement whose basic theological paradigm is categorically Marxist, would likewise fall in that realm politically. As we engage the EM, if we defeat their ideology with the word of God, it will both restructure their theology and politic. (presumably)

But, as a 7 month inhabitant of the South (after being a California boy all my life), I have found a stronger tendency in this region to view voting Republican and being a Christian as synonymous. I am unabashedly conservative politically, but I find this incredibly frustrating. It's just plain wrong-headed, a convolution of the mission and message of the church. The error, I think, is a grand misunderstanding of the City of Man and the City of God and which eggs go in which basket.

Although, we can't entirely dismiss leaving the pulpit (or avoiding it entirely) for political advocacy. I would submit William Wilberforce as a hero of the faith whose actions demonstrated appropriate political involvement. If John Piper left the pulpit to spend the rest of his days taking the fight against abortion to the congress, I wouldn't be disappointed. I think we must also remember that as God used Joseph in a political position to accomplish an agenda that was manifold in it's purposes, he works sovereignly now.

donsands said...

Thanks for the review and thoughts. Needful to be aware of things like this.

Either doctrine is essential, or it's not. I don't see any middle ground.

centuri0n said...

Garet:

There's no question that we confuse voting Republican with doing the work of the Gospel. It's because we think the Gospel is the Law rather than the Grace remedy, the fulfillment of the Law.

Everyday Mommy said...

"And they blithely pretend that their critics' only possible motive is an utter lack of charity toward them. Their favorite, and practically their only, defense is the claim that they have been misunderstood and misrepresented."

This statement is absolutely accurate and utterly epidemic. They'll "dialogue" until the cows come home, but hold their feet to the "fire" (Jeremiah 23:29) and their talking point response is, "That wasn't very Christian of you!"

David said...

I agree completely with this post. Absolutely 100%.

However, I have an issue with Mr. Turk.

Frank said:
"Rom 13 says that Government has a God-ordained ministry of the sword to punish the evildoer in order to stop him from doing wrong."

True

Frank than said:

"....Its does not say that this ministry is the ministry of the church."

True also- but Romans 13 says nothing about the role(s) of the Government, so an arguement from abscence is a falacious arguement. Romans 13 simply says you are to be subject to the the Government. It in no way specifies how or what government is to be.

candyinsierras said...

I am a latte drinking, backpack toting, teva wearing Christian, AND conservative. It must be the Teva's instead of the Birkenstocks that distinquish me as different.

To be honest, I don't see much difference between Republicans and Democrats anymore.

Jonathan Moorhead said...

It seems as though some in the EM want to shove their Democratic status in your face. I see it in bumper stickers, shirts, etc. It is all to "Jesus people" for me - only the long hair has given way to buzzed hair.

Socialized healthcare and government handouts sound very Christian to the EM, but how does that trump ripping apart an infant in her mother's womb? Someone recently sent out a mass email at my current school praising the born again status of a certain Democratic candidate . . . a candidate that happens to believe in partial-birth abortion. I suppose that is acceptable as long as they aren't identified with those fightin' fundy religious right people.

Sewing said...

Wow, there's a lot of food for thought in this post. I definitely get more value for my dollar (so to speak) on this blog than any other one. My church frowns on gambling, but if I were a betting man, I'd figure this post is going to go long on comments.

On a sidenote, as I learn more about church history, I'm bowled over by how everything can be boiled down to a few basic theological underpinnings. That a postmillennialist interpretation of Revelation, for example, gave rise to the ideologically opposite movements of the social gospel (even, arguably, socialism) and dominionism or reconstructionism. And I'll have to look up this Rauschenbusch character to see where he fits in to all this.

Garet Pahl said...

Frank: I think you're saying that there are those who think that belief in the Gospel is a divine mandate for political viewpoints being implemented as law, as a opposed to being
people who fulfill the best intentions of government by obeying Christ. Forming a "Holy" Empire out of Babylon, instead of living in eternal Jerusalem. Am I getting you right?


Candy: I am much the same as you, although I surf, eat organic food and wear Rainbow flip flops. There is a book about us called "Crunchy Cons" by Rod Dreher.

David said...

Garet said:

"If John Piper left the pulpit to spend the rest of his days taking the fight against abortion to the congress, I wouldn't be disappointed."

Perhaps you would not be disapointed - but if he did, and lets say he was successful - will that result in any more being saved? How many people would of not heard the gospel preached? How many would of not been discipled?

We are called to a life of service. But belief comes first. If JP left the pulpit to fight abortion full time, that would be a miserable, horrible waste. There is no greater calling than preaching the gospel. If abortion ends, but no one preaches the word - then no one is saved.

centuri0n said...

Garet:

I wouldn't say it that way, but yes. Bingo.

Garet Pahl said...

David:
I think your zeal is lopsided and making you wrong.

Saving lives does infinitely pale in comparison to saving souls. But I think in our wildly hypothetical situation Piper would not abandon the Gospel, but stand on it. If you haven't read Piper's biography of William Wilburforce, you should.

http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Biographies/1492_Peculiar_Doctrines_Public_Morals_and_the_Political_Welfare/

We don't work to change evil practices for the sake of those suffering, or for our own good, but for the Glory of Christ alone.

Garet Pahl said...

Frank: Oh, okay, thanks. Just looking for clarity.

Tom Chantry said...

I would submit William Wilberforce as a hero of the faith whose actions demonstrated appropriate political involvement.

Wilberforce is exactly that. But he was not a minister of the gospel. He did not shove the gospel aside to pursue a political/social agenda.

If John Piper left the pulpit to spend the rest of his days taking the fight against abortion to the congress, I wouldn't be disappointed.

I agree with David about the priority of the spiritual, but another point needs to be added - that of vocation. Should a gospel minister leave his pulpit to pursue politics? If he does, he had best be certain that he is not abandoning the call of God in his life.

But at least in leaving he does not confuse the church's mission. The worse offense is from those preachers who do not leave their pulpit, but who use it for an unwarranted purpose: the pursuit of a social agenda rather than the gospel.

Frank's point about Romans 13 is (I think) that the passage does not help to define the role of the church, nor, particularly, of the pulpit. The church is defined rather carefully in the New Testament, and no part of its definition involves the pursuit of a political agenda. Consequently, David, I think this quote:

True also- but Romans 13 says nothing about the role(s) of the Government, so an arguement from abscence is a falacious arguement. Romans 13 simply says you are to be subject to the the Government. It in no way specifies how or what government is to be.

misunderstands what Frank was saying. He isn't saying that Romans 13 defines the role of the government, only that it does not define the role of the church. Christian political activists cannot co-opt Romans 13 as a justification for turning the church into a PAC, whether right-wing or left-wing.

Sewing said...

Candy, Garet: You guys have just shattered my stereotypes. Where I live, outward signs like that speak of someone who probably believes that Jesus spent his "lost years" in India and learned kundalini yoga, which they can harness to channel the forces of the universe to arrange the financing for $1M condo.

Garet Pahl said...

Tom: The worse offense is from those preachers who do not leave their pulpit, but who use it for an unwarranted purpose: the pursuit of a social agenda rather than the gospel.

Yes! And I agree with your balanced position.

I would never suggest that abandoning the teaching of sound doctrine for a political career is even a valid choice. What I *am* suggesting is that sometimes men who are staggered by the Glory of God are compelled to change venues. We shouldn't call such a change a "horrible waste", but right deed matched to right doctrine.

I wrote that some might leave the pulpit and some might avoid it entirely, the last would be the case of Wilberforce. It is a manner of calling, but sometimes it is *easier* to choose vocational ministry and call it better.

Tom Chantry said...

Garet:

I think you and I are in essential agreement here. No one can tell another man what exactly his calling is, and certainly some have been called to govern. Those who have that calling should pursue it to the glory of God; God will be their judge - not those who think they should have done something else.

Meanwhile, the church as such has been called to something else. I do think it is legitimate to call it something "higher," but this is no cause for the minister of the gospel to boast. Rather, he ought to tremble at the thought of the eternal consequence of the message he carries.

Most significant, though, is the point which this post made, though in passing fashion. No church ought to be identified more by its politics than by the gospel - and that is so regardless of whether the politics in question reflect a sound application of biblical principle to the problems of society at large.

TheBlueRaja said...

The Gospel is inherently political, and the word Messiah is a politically loaded word. The Gospel proclaims a new political entity (the kingdom of God) and insists that it has invaded earthly kingdoms in the form of the church, and advocates a coming king who will ultimately destroy all rivals. It's foreign policy includes extending the kingdom of God by displaying life the way it's supposed to be in the coming kingdom Jesus will establish upon his return (in military victory). It's unlike human kingdoms in that it seeks to win people through service instead of force. But it is a direct alternative to the "powers and principalities" which currently rule God's world. The ancient world didn't know a distinction between political and spiritual realities. Many of Paul's letters directly confront the politics of the day and cast the Gospel alternative in political terms (particularly Philippians and Romans). The Gospel, after all, was to be preached to the poor and oppressed (Luke 4:18), so clearly part of the Gospel Jesus announced was that these people should be cared for in God's kingdom. The apostles made it a priority in their Gospel ministry (Gal. 2:7-10).

But beyond taking care of all of that in the church, it seems like the "city on a hill" concept of corporate evangelism along with the duty to protect the defenseless (the widow and the orphan) should extend to public life, even beyond abortion and homosexuality issues. Protecting God's world from bad stewardship, recognizing the cause of the oppressed, etc. fall along the same moral fault lines. Participating and influencing change in these areas when respectful participation is possible seems like a culpable abdication of our mission to demonstrate God's concern for the lives of unbelievers and display the kingdom of God, just as Israel was supposed to do (Lev. 25:35, Is. 1:17, Jer. 22:1-5).

I'm not sure how it should all shake out in public life, but it seems like the church has not only the responsibility to provide for and minister to these people with the Gospel within the church, but a further prophetic responsibility to decry those who violate "the covenant of brotherhood" (Amos 1:9) and to commend those who God has put in charge to heed God's righteousness.

This has always been a confusing issue for me, but isn't political advocacy putting our money where our mouth is?

TheBlueRaja said...

Sorry - just noticed I left out a key word there: NOT participating and influencing change in these areas when respectful participation is possible seems like a culpable abdication of our mission to demonstrate God's concern for the lives of unbelievers and display the kingdom of God.

TheBlueRaja said...

If all of that made any sense, it would mean that the Gospel is clearly a social agenda, since it's preaching the coming of a social reality, i.e. the kingdom of God. It's also a social agenda because it is a message about reconciling broken relationships with God and fellow man, and is supposed to bring peace in both of those spheres.

David said...

Tom said ..."misunderstands what Frank was saying. He isn't saying that Romans 13 defines the role of the government, only that it does not define the role of the church. Christian political activists cannot co-opt Romans 13 as a justification for turning the church into a PAC, whether right-wing or left-wing. "

If that is Franks intent, I agree completely. Based on previous discussions, I dont think thats what he meant. But I will leave it to Frank to specify, or not, what he really meant.

As to the WW and JP comparison, there is none. Wilberfoce was never a pastor, never left the pulpit. He was a politician for his entire adult life. JP is one of the greatest preachers alive today. Both are fine examples of Christians

david rudd said...

within the movement are numerous other people

kudos phil for choosing words that are not a sweeping generalization!

i think you are spot on regarding the inappropriate relationships between church and state which have sprung up on both sides of the aisle.

she must adapt her perspective of truth and certainty in order to fit better with the way the world is "progressing."

have you read The Church in Emerging Culture? Crouch, Horton, and McLaren engage in a good debate regarding the nature of postmodernism. I think there would be many who get tagged "emerging" that would side with horton or crouch regarding epistemology. unfortunately, mclaren's "truth" claims get a lot more press.

i do think that the "modernity-inflicted" church being addressed by emerging-types most of the time is the "seeker-type" church... that this kind of pragmatic approach to the gospel is a clear step-child of modernity is probably critical ground shared by you and emergents.

all in all, this is the best critique (most fair-handed)of the EC i've seen at this site.

Phil Johnson said...

Raja:

I was just thinking this morning that we hadn't heard from you in a while.

Rather than answer your comment directly, I'll point you to an account of my conversion, which I wrote and posted some twelve years ago. Note how the argument I gave Rob Holtzinger is similar to the perspective you seem to hint at. Nowadays I think it's a wrong perspective for several reasons, not the least of which include:

1. There's no positive example of political lobbying or organizing from either Jesus or the apostles.

2. Every movement in the entire history of the church that has regarded political activism as a legitimate facet of gospel ministry has allowed political ideology to eclipse the gospel. That's true from Constantine to Cromwell to the Liberation theologians.

Note: I haven't sugggested that the church should be silent about social (or even governmental) evils; merely that we have a more vital way to remedy those evils than by lobbying for legislation.

Also: It's not that I oppose legislation that would eliminate certain expressions of the evil that rules men's hearts. I'm all for it. But our calling as a church is to announce the remedy for the evil itself. Lets not get sidetracked in the electoral process. Let the dead bury the dead. That's what I'm saying.

Martin Downes said...

Phil,

With regard to your last two paragraphs in the OP: it is a bit like living in the 1920s with the revisionists, moderates, and confessionalists (or Fosdick, Erdman and Machen). Your penultimate paragraph is spot on.

Garet Pahl said...

Tom:
No church ought to be identified more by its politics than by the gospel - and that is so regardless of whether the politics in question reflect a sound application of biblical principle to the problems of society at large

Again, I agree. You haven't won a soul into the kingdom because you convince a politician to see abortion as murder, or homosexuality as an affront to God's created order. There are plenty of Ayn Rand conservatives who are opposed to abortion and the normalization of sexuality.

But if a man like Piper stood on the floor of the senate declaring that government policies are blaspheming God, and to repent, believe on Jesus, I think we could agree that wouldn't be a horrible waste, as was suggested. Certainly we see this type of advocacy emulated by the OT prophets and apostles.

David:
As to the WW and JP comparison, there is none.

I wasn't trying to make one. But JP often uses WW as a prime example as faith in action.

Wilberfoce was never a pastor, never left the pulpit.

Never claimed he was or did. He "avoided it entirely". All I was trying to communicate is that there are very appropriate, Christ exalting examples of political involvement that are not akin to selling out. If someone is compelled to challenge the "powers that be" to repent of their wickedness, we shouldn't be pointing our fingers and saying they have forgotten the Gospel.

The point of Phil's post here, had to do with lefty-ness of the EM. The way I see it, most of the Emergent's (McClaren especially) appear to be Marxists first and Christians second. Their theology results from filtering the Bible through Marxist theory. Modern evangelicalism with all it's "truthiness" is bourgeoisie and the Emergent's are the post-modern proletariat, being oppressed by these horrible absolute doctrines. The mission: tear down the superstructure. As Phil pointed out we are seeing history repeat itself.

TheBlueRaja said...

Thanks! I'll check it out.

Part of what makes it hard to figure out what's appropriate for the church to be involved in is the fact that policy making was so far from participatory in the NT era. There was no lobbying for Jesus and the apostles to be involved in! But the rationale behind persecution of the early church seemed to get the message that preaching a different King was more not just a spiritual but a social/political reality (Acts 17:1-9).

But there's no arguing with the way that the Gospel has been (forgive the pun) "royally" screwed up by political agendas. I'm just not sure if the problem has more to do with "politicizing the Gospel" or a failure to recognize the Gospel's own distinct political message.

Dave Marriott said...

Raja,

Messiah does indeed imply politics to some degree. But wasn't that the problem the disciples had? Every time Jesus mentioned kingdom in their presence, they were thinking "restoration," they were thinking of Christ occupying the Davidic throne immediately.

Remember Luke's confession to Jesus question, "who do you say that I am?" Peter said, "you are the Christ of God." Jesus immediately addressed his misunderstanding of Messiah. To Peter, Jesus was only that political, David-like figure who would establish a physical kingdom, now. In verses 22 of Luke 9, Jesus tells him that it is necessary that he go to the cross. Before Messiah can be king --- before the kingdom can become a physical reality --- Jesus must first suffer, He must first become the Messiah of Isaiah 53.

I would argue that Messiah is definitely a political term, but not now. That aspect of Jesus messiahship awaits his second aspect.

That's off the top of my head, so please, correct me if I am out in left-field.

http://seeingclearly.wordpress.com

david rudd said...

are there any good examples of a time when the church has successfully (for an extended time) advanced "kingdom values" by using political force?

Phil Johnson said...

Raja: "Part of what makes it hard to figure out what's appropriate for the church to be involved in is the fact that policy making was so far from participatory in the NT era. There was no lobbying for Jesus and the apostles to be involved in!"

Perhaps, but so what? Jesus is rightful Lord of all. If straightening out earthly political institutions had been any part of His work, why not mount a revolution? That's what the Zealots were trying to do. That's what the disciples originally expected Jesus to do. That's what politically-zealous Christians under non-democratic governments have often tried to do—invariably employing some of the very same arguments you have hinted at.

It's significant that Jesus didn't do that. And (the beliefs of some of my postmill friends notwithstanding) He didn't command the church to commandeer the machinery of earthly politics on His behalf, either.

It is a fact of history that every time the church has dabbled in politics—including in the very best cases, such as Calvin's Geneva—the experiments have ultimately failed. Usually in disastrous ways.

Will Durant had an insightful quote about the impossibility of harnessing human governments to help accomplish the true Christian mission. (I can't lay my hands on it at the moment; my Durant books are at the office and I'm working from home today.) You'll find it where he deals with Cromwell's failure. But I remember reading it and thinking he captured my thoughts exactly. I'll try to locate that quote and perhaps include it in a future blogpost.

But Jesus said it best of all: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you. . ." (Matthew 20:25-26). See the context for even more insight into what Jesus meant.

TheBlueRaja said...

Hey, Dave.

The disciples weren't incorrect to think that the Messiah was a political leader - they were incorrect to think that his plan was to affirm Pharisaical isolationists and kill all Israel's enemies. Instead He conquered the world's ultimate enemies (sin, death, Satan) through self-sacrifice.

Peter's statement about Jesus being the Christ clearly kept some of the political dimensions of this, since he would later refuse to let Jesus die and try to instigate the political revolt by cutting off Malchus' ear. And Jesus' correction let them know that He was establishing his kingdom now (Lk. 9:27). But he wasn't doing it the normal way kings do that (i.e. murderously). So the cross wasn't just the prerequisite to the future kingdom, it's the inauguration of it now (Luke 17:20-21). That isn't to say that it's here in it's fullness, but that Jesus' work among the disciples (and in the church) is a preview of it.

The fact is that the word Messiah isn't "somewhat political". It refers to someone who is anointed as a sovereign king. Jesus isn't just the king some time in the future. God has declared Him "Lord and Christ" NOW, by virtue of his death and resurrection (Acts 2:36).

Anyway, I don't know if that's a correction or not, but I think it best fits what Luke says in his gospel and in Acts.

brentjthomas said...

Each time and every time I see a direct relationship between a church and a political party or movement, it looks, in my heart of hearts, like adultery.
Raja and Dave Marriott, interesting comments, both of which had me nodding. Interesting post and comments from everyone. A mental hike.
I'm trying to figure out what a schmeradactyl is (what Noah might have had on the ark). If we added wings to the flying kitten seen on today's post...something like that?

Dave Marriott said...

Raja,

Thanks for your comments back...

You said, "Instead He conquered the world's ultimate enemies (sin, death, Satan) through self-sacrifice. "

Obviously these foes have a known presence on the earth still. This tension exists in almost every aspect of theology. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about --- It's called already --- not yet.

You said, "Peter's statement about Jesus being the Christ clearly kept some of the political dimensions of this, since he would later refuse to let Jesus die and try to instigate the political revolt by cutting off Malchus' ear. And Jesus' correction let them know that He was establishing his kingdom now (Lk. 9:27)."

I agree that Peter's confession was loaded with political overtones, but I think Jesus tried to correct his understanding of the kingdom.

As far as 9:27 goes, that's one of the most debated passages in all of the gospels.

A kingdom discussion could go on forever on this board, so let's not go there...thanks for the interaction!

Seth F said...

And I have to wonder if God is either laughing in hysteria or fuming in anger at the absurdity of this movement. "Oh okay, the traditional doctrine of substitutionary atonement is too hard for people to accept. Whatever will we do? . . . Oh wait! I know! We can change it!" Pathetic and laughably unintelligent.

Seth
whatum.com
theological satire

(sorry for all the deletes!)

Dan Paden said...

Mr. Rudd:
I think there would be many who get tagged "emerging" that would side with horton or crouch regarding epistemology. unfortunately, mclaren's "truth" claims get a lot more press.

Mr. McLaren and some like him get a lot more press because they sell a lot more books.

It's never ceased to amaze me that the Emerging Conversation so richly rewards certain authors, and then turns around and spends so much of its time denying that the viewpoints of those authors are in any way generally held throughout the Conversation.

jbuck21 said...

3 opinions, if I may:

1. There is no essential difference between Republicans and Democrats. They are all greedy money-hungry, demonized evil hand-puppets for Satan, and with the exception of issues of life and death (i.e. abortion) we should be content to submit to the governing authorities and seek to win souls to Christ.

2. The ONLY governmental system that will not ultimately lead to sin, sorrow, pain, death and hell is the one which Christ will institute in an earthly millenium. That being said, however, we should still vote for the political party which upholds the right to life for the unborn. All elections for Christians should be one-issue elections. In other words, a man who would charge me no taxes, ban gay marraige and privatize everything *but* was pro-choice would NOT get my vote.

3. Phil said, "But still, that hasn't kept McKnight from voting Democrat, and he really doesn't offer any strategy for making sure the Emerging Church movement doesn't fall into the same devastating error that destroyed the mainstream denominations."

The terrifying thing about the Emergent movement is encapsulated here - and it's MUCH worse than the modernism of the mainline denominations. The Emergent movement is willing to live with internal contradictions because their postmodern notions allow them to tiptoe around what would have driven a mondernist nutty.

McKnight doesn't offer a strategy because HE DOESN'T HAVE TOO!!! And they're FINE with that because contradiction is ok.

That, my friends, is terrifying.

jbuck21 said...

"All elections for Christians should be one-issue elections."

That's Piper by the way - should've had quotes.

Rey said...

I don't care much what you wrote (I didn't read it yet) but I am immensely happy that you all have been incorporating more kittens into your posts.

The Lord bless you and keep you and grant your kittens peace.

Caleb Kolstad said...

Thanks for this!

Sewing said...

Rey, yes but notice that (a) suddenly EVERY post has kittens, and that (b) there's something a bit off with every kitty.

I caught a random image of a cow on the blog logo this morning...how about more cows as well?

One Salient Oversight said...

I consider myself theologically conservative but politically liberal. If I was in America I would be voting for the Democrats (but I wouldn't be one).

American Evangelicalism is too much in the pocket of "the right" and has been losing the gospel as a result.

American Evangelicalism must not prefer one party or ideology over another.

When viewed from the right hand side of politics, any attempt to swing a group of people back the centre will be seen as a "move to the left".

I have no problem with Christians who have Right wing / conservative ideology. My problem arises when they then argue that their way is the only way Christians should be on.

I have left wing views. I favour bigger government, socialized medicine, more generous welfare, more state education, and higher taxes to pay for them. But I'm not going to say that this way is the only way that Christians should believe.

And that's the difference.

American Evangelicals are really in a spot of bother. Evangelicals were President Bush's greatest support for the invasion of Iraq.

Now that the war is going badly, and that the reasons for gong to war have been proven false (Iraq had no WMDs; Saddam was not a threat to anyone; Saddam was not in cahoots with Osama and was not involved in 9/11). Isn't it obvious that many Americans are now viewing Evangelicals with fear and hostility?

Evangelicals support the Republican party. Yet the people of America have turned against its corruption. So called evangelicals like Tom DeLay have sullied the Evangelical cause with their corruption.

The fact is that many Americans will turn against the church as a result of the last 7 years of Christian-influenced politics. Bush will go down in history as the worst president ever, and the words "corruption" and "immoral war" will be linked to American Evangelicals as a result.

We're entering a new era of secularism - and its all because American Evangelicals put their trust in princes rather than God.

jazzycat said...

Visiting a few emergent blogs will give one much more insight into this movement than the article that you cite. You have been far too kind in your assessment of the ECM.

donsands said...

"and its all because American Evangelicals put their trust in princes rather than God."

And perhaps because we became lovers of self, and humanity, MORE than loving the glory of God in Christ.

one busy mom said...

Great post! It's very frustrating when professing believers abandon sound doctrine at the drop of a pin for "good intentions".

Part of the problem I've observed is that left-wing politics, on the surface, seem compassionate. And, indeed, if we were in the millenial kingdom under the physical rule of Jesus Christ on earth - a large, all-controlling central government would be great-because it would be righteous. Unfortunately, until that time we're stuck with the problem of human sin. Sin, as we know, can't be contained or controlled by pograms or good intentions. It has a progression of it's own (ie. Rom 1:18-32) and the end is always a narcistic mayhem with the strong trammpling the weak.

How sad that now many "Christian" ministers don't want to be bothered with something as "boring" as preaching the real Gospel. But I suppose an equal dose of blame goes to "itchy eared" professed believers who won't endure sound doctrine.

oh, btw here's a definition of "liberal" you might enjoy:

In the old days liberal meant holding losely to your money, today it means holding losely to your morals and tightly to someone else's money!

Brian in BC said...

As American living in another country, I find that stepping outside of the fasle dichotomy of political "left/right"; "Democrat/Republican" which characterizes American politics is really neccesary to begin to envision a better path. The two party system which characterizes American politics thrives on being anything but bi-partisan, it creates a complete Black or White divide. If my opponent says X, then it is false. This is a complete travesty as it ends up dividing and coming to policy conclusions on the basis of "the opposite of what he/she says."

I have actually found the two additional axis of the "political compass" to be a much better tool for identifying ideologies than sticking to the typical left/right divide. (Google it). What you will discover is that in a great majority of cases, our political leaders all end up with beliefs and practices in one quadrant...exactly opposite to the vast majority of citizens.

I'd suggest that the way to enter into much more effective political and Christian dialogue is to first recognize that the current labels in America do far more to create division than to highlight what we as citizens are all looking for, regardless of which equally wrong party we indicate on our ballots.

Phil Johnson said...

Let's not veer off topic here. The fact that so many would read this post as an invitation to hold a colloquy about what's wrong with the American political system and how we as Christians might begin to fix it actually illustrates one of the major points I was trying to make about what's wrong with evangelicalism these days.

But if someone thinks I want to host such a discussion in the meta of this blog, you've completely missed what I was saying.

wfseube said...

"...And, in other news today, the sun rose this morning, and the sky is still blue."

Talk about stating the obvious. I have been posting on the ties between the Emerging Church and the Rauschenbuschian social gospel for a couple of years now. It is as obvious as the nose on one's face that this is where these guys are going. The EC is nothing more than a religious smokescreen for liberal political thought. As Dan Paden pointed out, McLaren's books (and other EC authors, for that matter) just scream "Democrat party platform."

Thank you for getting this out in a more visible venue than my weak pleadings in blog metadiscussions.

Dan Paden said...

Let's not veer off topic here.

Oh, sure, just go ahead and take all the fun out of this...

Brian in BC said...

Phil, reading through a great number of posts here we have basically moved the goalposts from discussing the merits, beliefs, opinions and truths of the Reformed tradition in its relation to the very real questions of the EC to now equating "true Christians" with the "conservative Republican" party and the EC "heretics" with the "liberal Democrats". I'm sorry, that's just silly.

The entire practice of tossing all encompassing "labels" onto people, groups, churches etc. with whom you disagree (often on one or few points) is a blatant way to end discussion, not open it up.

We now have people declaring that the only issue that matters in determining political alliance is abortion. I'm sorry but that truly is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. I believe as Christians it is out duty to strive for truth wherever it is found and if we resort to picking one piece of truth or one piece of error in a political party as the all determining identification of their place on the road to salvation or perdition, then we are frankly practicing "religion" instead of Christianity.

I sincerely pray that people would learn to step outside their paradigm of preconceptions an realize that there is more to politics and religion than "us" and "them"...as Christians, we should be living, engaging, practicing and promoting truth from whatever "camp" it may spring, to do less and resort to name calling is disingenous and incredibly arrogant.

Habitans in Sicco said...

Brian from BC, Congratulations! You managed to work every pomo cliche, code-word, and knee-jerk answer into just four paragraphs. You lost a few points for waiting until comment number 55 (you'll score a little higher in the future if you can get into the top 12).

But the good news is you get 25 extra points for the brilliant way you capped your overstatement about abortion with a horribly inappropriate word picture ("baby out with the bathwater"). LOLOL!

So you win, hands down, for the most comical comment of this thread—and you're currently in the running for the annual prize, too.

(PS: Loved the way you managed to use so many caricatures while decrying labels and generalizations. Truly ingenious stuff.)

donsands said...

"Let's not veer off topic here."

Sorry about that. I guess I'm a "stray Cat" sometimes.

Brian in BC said...

Dude, do you know how hard I had to try to put that comment together? :) I'm glad you appreciated it.

candyinsierras said...

Phil excellently stated in a couple of comments EXACTLY what I was thinking about the means of spreading the gospel to initiate change as apposed to political means to initiate change. I have seen the Evangelical community flounder as a result of misplaced focus on politics as a means of accomplishing certain goals. Yeah, we can use Wilburforce as an example of someone involved in politics, but generally speaking, I agree with Phil that there has been much failure in that arena.

Sewing: Your stereotype fit me pre-Christian...all except for the 1M condo.

centuri0n said...

BTW, it's funny how religion is a virtue for Democrats and it's a scheme to pander to stupid religious types on Republicans.

TheBlueRaja said...

Phil,

I totally agree about the wrongheaded approach of revolution, whether in democratic or non-democratic contexts (which should make the establishment of this nation somewhat uncomfortable reality for patriotic American Christendom) and I'd love to check out that Durant quote. But it's passages like the one I mentioned from Acts, the lordship and kingdom language about God's people more broadly in the Bible, and the fact that persecution typically came from governing authorities who perceived threats to their power that seems to paint a picture of the church as an inherently political entity with massive political implications to its host nation (whatever it may be).

It also seems clear, though, that whatever the political character of it is, it's not akin to any human political system or philosophy that we observe in the world today - which is what you pointed out so well in this post.

bloggernaut said...

From the looks of things on this blogspot, I must be the ONLY person going to the ONLY church in America that holds conservative viewpoints that is nontraditional (that is, we wear sandals to church. Wait--Jesus wore sandals...hm). Some might even say that it falls into the 'emerging' category. I've never voted for a Democrat and I probably never will. That said, I agree that most younger Christians today are more left-leaning politically than in years past. I also know that younger women are less supportive of abortion. So how do you square that with the stereotype? I also know that there are more young women who are victims of sexual abuse in our churches than ever before. I also know that there are more men that didn't have good fathers in their lives. That all contributes to the church climate in many emerging churches today. So what do we tell these people--that they must vote for conservative politics and ask WWJD?

Priorities. Jesus comes first, and if they're concerned about poverty, hey we're doing something about that too.

jbuck21 said...

"So what do we tell these people--that they must vote for conservative politics and ask WWJD?"

Nope - we tell them to read their Bibles.

Maybe they'll get saved.