Thursday, July 21, 2011

Theologies of Glory II: More Kingdom Confusion - Good Government, not God Government

If the church confuses the two kingdoms - the earthly and the spiritual -
so can the fallen world through its myriad kings, governments and leaders
that "gather against the Lord and his Anointed One", forsaking his cosmic
reign, and setting themselves up as gods (Psalm 2:2). While Scripture
recognises that good civil government is a sign of God's common grace
(Romans 13:1-7), and that we should submit to its authorities; Scripture
also recognises that those who hold the reins of power often usurp the
claim to godhood:

Daniel 3

1 King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. 2 He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up. 3 So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it.

4 Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: 5 As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. 6 Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”

Ezekiel 28

1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, say to the ruler of Tyre, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says:
“‘In the pride of your heart
you say, “I am a god;
I sit on the throne of a god
in the heart of the seas.”
But you are a mere mortal and not a god,
though you think you are as wise as a god.

How do we respond to these insights from Scripture when dealing with current political events? As Christians we must be careful not to assign final authority to the power of government as if they can fix all the social and economic problems of our time. Or to embroil ourselves in the party political disputes where the danger is to assign Christian significance to either capitalist or socialist political ideals. When we compare Scripture to the thirst for greed expressed by the capitalist drive of the free market, or to the lack of moral compass in the identity politics of the Left, ultimately we can find positions that would prove untenable for Christian practice. Therefore our allegiance must be first and foremost to Christ, not to any ideological system that doesn't fit our theological profile, and which may be here today, but gone tomorrow, in the shifting tides of political history.

In Republocrat Carl Trueman writes that "the gospel cannot and must not be identified with partisan political posturing", but rather that Christians should use our God-given critical faculties when participating in the political process:

When Christianity was starting to penetrate the Roman Empire in the second century, there were a number of thinkers, called by scholars the Greek Apologists, who took it on themselves to argue the case for Christianity in the public square. One of their most powerful arguments was the Christians, far from subverting public order, actually made the very best citizens in terms of hard work, loyalty, and civil obedience. Later, Calvin made essentially the same point in the prefatory letter to his Institutes of the Christian Religion. Today, our obligation is no different: we are called to be good citizens in this world, and in a democratic society, that involves having as many well-thought-out and informed opinions on the things that really matter as times allows. It is incumbent on us not to surround ourselves with things that confirm our prejudices but to seek to listen to a variety of viewpoints. The listening is not an end in itself, as to many postmodern conversationalists would have it; the purpose is to become more informed and to have better-grounded and better-argued opinions. But that can happen only when watching the news becomes more than just having our gut convictions continually confirmed.

Thus my basic argument is not that people should switch their brand loyalty from FOX to MSNBC or from Glenn Beck to Keither Olbermann. Although the penchant of conservative Christians for a media empire that may spout radical conservative politics but that also engages in activities that run directly counter to all they hold dear is bizarre, it is in this regard only the same as any other channel. The game for media barons is not to communicate the truth; it is to make money, and we should acknowledge that from the start. My point is not that Christians should abandon one biased news channel for another; rather, it is that Christians above all people should take seriously their responsibilities as citizens and make every effort to find out as much as they can about the issues that matter. Society needs Christians who are better informed and more articulate than the likes of Glenn Beck, Keith Olbermann, or Bill O'Reilly. Let us be Greek apologists once more, and show the civil powers that we can be the best and most informed and thoughtful citizens there are, not those who stock-in-trade are cliches, slander, and lunatic conspiracy theories.

(pp 58-59)

To change national structures is exponentially more difficult. In other words, the politicians might play up their significance with phrases such as "Yes, we can!" and "Change we can believe in!" but often the ability to change - at least to change quickly - is somewhat less available than those same politicians can afford to acknowledge during a campaign.

All of this leads me to believe that those Christians who participate in the democratic process need to do so with a realistic understanding of what is and is not possible. We are stewards who should do the best we can, not Utopians making heaven on earth. Politics is, even as its best, a thoroughly pragmatic business in that it represents the art of the possible. Now, as a Christian, one could take a hard-line purist position, and decide to vote for the politician who represents, in word and deed, only a consistent Christian position on those matters where such positions are identifiable. If that is the case, then I suspect that person is simply never going to vote, since there does not appear to be such a person or party in existence at this time. And if you do not vote, you really have no influence whatsoever. You can sit on the sidelines, hurling brickbats like Waldorf or Statler, but ultimately you have no voice.

Thus it would seem that most Christians, when they go into the voting booth, accept that they are going to cast a vote that involves a degree of pragmatism, since the candidate or party for whom they are voting will represent only a portion of the policies and positions they believe are proper and appropriate for a Christian.

(pp. 103)

from Republocrat by Carl Trueman (P & R Publishing 2010)

1 comment:

  1. I vote in every election, and it does end up being more pragmatic. If I wanted a perfect political candidate, I might also be looking for that perfect church..... neither exists. Alas! The world is full of sinners like me!