Friday, April 01, 2005

Pondering the Imponderable

A few weeks ago, the National Association of Evangelicals met and issued the following document, "For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility" (New York Times report on it - Ron Sider, author of Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger is a part of this group for some theological context.

Thankfully, it's not a down the line following of Republican principles, as it has statements like:

The peaceful settling of disputes is a gift of common grace. We urge governments to pursue thoroughly nonviolent paths to peace before resorting to military force. We believe that if governments are going to use military force, they must use it in the service of peace and not merely in their national interest. Military force must be guided by the classical just-war principles, which are designed to restrain violence by establishing the right conditions for and right conduct in fighting a war. In an age of nuclear and biological terrorism, such principles are more important than ever.


We further believe that care for the vulnerable should extend beyond our national borders. American foreign policy and trade policies often have an impact on the poor. We should try to persuade our leaders to change patterns of trade that harm the poor and to make the reduction of global poverty a central concern of American foreign policy. We must support policies that encourage honesty in government, correct unfair socioeconomic structures, generously support effective programs that empower the poor, and foster economic development and prosperity. Christians should also encourage continued government support of international aid agencies, including those that are faith based.

In the reading that I've been doing both in Scripture and out of it (NT Wright, Tony Campolo, some guy named Lee Camp, etc.) it's striking me that the Gospel is truly a political statement. Not political only certainly, and probably not political in the way we think about it, but that when Jesus talks about the "Kingdom of God," he's making an overt political statement about the condition of Palestine at that point that is completely counterposed to the Roman Empire of the time, particularly in the fact that it is a Kingdom of the heart that would have social and political ramifications. When Paul says that there's neither male nor female, Greek nor Jew, etc. that is a huge statement in a culture where your external identity dominated how others treated you.

I think the Gospel is political and I think it call for orthopraxy (practice) as well as orthodoxy (belief), but the question I want to pose is this: What are the political responsibilities of Christians? Do we affect change for the Kingdom through actions? Do we take to the streets to fight injustice? Do we run for political office?

What do you think?


Tony Arnold said...

Phil, I am wrestling with the same questions and I don't have any great, I mean, any answers yet. And that Lee Camp guy just helps me find things to wrestle with but he won't give me any easy, sound-bit theology that helps! Anyway, I have a couple of comments that might aid in the discussion.

First, I record thoughts, comments and learned wisdom to give to my daughter at some point. One of these is, "tolerate injustice only when it is done to you. Fight it when you see it being done to others." I think I need to clarify it with a definition of fight: non-violent resistence or non-violent, but overt rebellion against injustice(ref. MLK).

Second, I have come to the conclusion that it would be almost impossible to be completely dedicated to doing God's will and to also be a politician, because the Bible clearly states you cannot serve two masters. How many do you serve as a politician. If you don't serve several, you won't hang around. I know we can site OT examples that oppose this conclusion, but the NT I feel defends this position.


BTW--any suggestions on how to get my blog a wider read. I am not getting to many visitors. I feel as if I am writing to hear myself read.

Phil said...

My dilemma always comes back to Do we just let other people decide things? Or do we try to have a voice ourselves and what does that voice look like? MLK's? Malcolm X's?

As far as getting a wider read, try putting your blog address as the signature of your email, or if you participate in message boards that allow signatures do it there. Also, post on a bunch of blogs with good comments. If people like what you say there, they may follow your link name to your blog.

Tony Arnold said...

Thanks for the blog advice. I share your dilemma. At this point in my faith walk, the method I practice most often is to pray for God's will to direct all my actions and decisions. That hasn't eliminated conflicting choices or necessarily given me more confidence in my choices, but I have resigned myself to pray, ask for guidance, and then make the decisions or take the action I think is right. I then trust in God that some good will come of my action. Is this a form of blind faith? Hopefully my struggle to grow as a disciple will lead to a better process, but that is it at the moment.

I would love to read what others find as their method in dealing with these tough but real issues.

I am not sure if Neil Peart said this first, but he did make it famous: "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice." I agree 100% with you that letting others decide things without Christian input is not the right method. But we again we come back to the dilemma of what that input should be.


c said...

I agree that the Kingdom message shakes the very foundations of our political, social, cultural not to mention economical world. As Americans, we should watch ourselves and make sure that we don't get caught in bowing to the empire, even though we are so-called citizens.

Camp's book is not easy to read. Neither is Walter Wink or Hauerwas or Willimon or any of the Ekklessia Project folks. But I believe they are asking some of the same questions that you two are dealing with. The Kingdom is about breaking into the world by loving justice, mercy and walking humbly. Seeing righteousness first is not about individual piety, but about seeking justice and compassion in this world, to the least of these.

Funny to mention Christians in politics. The school I go to is named after an early father of the Restoration Movement (David Lipscomb). At one point, he calls those involved w/ church and politics a harlot because they are seeking a 2 Kingdom realm. All of life has God in it, but much of it needs redemption. I believe politics can be redeemed, whether thats at the local level or global stage. Good stuff Phil and Tony.

Fajita said...

Phil, I am hi-jacking your blog - in light of your reference to rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.

I would like to direct your readers to

I am raising money for World Vision by losing weight.

Phil said...

Thread-jack! I'll inform the blog police.

Anyway, good luck with that Fajita. Good meeting you last week as well.

Clark, I think the concept of the Kingdom is so different from what most of us have heard most of our lives that it's hard to even put into words. We've heard that the church is the Kingdom and so we must work to perfect the church that we forget that Jesus came to redeem the entire world. As Handel put it, The Kingdom of this world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ."

There's so much more lurking behind this concept that I'm only beginning to scratch the surface of. I wonder what an in depth Bible study of the phrase "Kingdom of God" and "Kingdom of Heaven" would reveal...

Tony Arnold said...

Sounds like a class you should undertake at OC Phil. I would welcome it.


Krister said...

I'm sure you know of Larry James, the CEO of Central Dallas Ministries. He has come to embody many of the principles of the political nature of the Jesus' message of the coming reign of God (and all of this from the wellspring that is the Churches of Christ). I have a link to his site on my blog. If you want to see the practical implications of these ideas, read the articles availble at:

which serves as the homepage for this great inner city ministry. This is community development and empowerment, not charity. You're correct, the gospel is a political message. It seeks to inform our understanding of systems as a whole and how they encourage or inhibit growth toward the realization of this reign on earth.

For every situation that requires a Christian perspective (and they all do) it requires a different type of response. At times we need to be running around like little Malcolm X's armed with the heart of God to take into our own hands the process of bringing good news to the oppressed, "by any means necessary"(without the AK-47 in hand). Other times require that we put on the face of a poor Indian man like Ghandi who effects change through persistent acts of non-violence. The important item is not to get caught up in a singular issue as if that issue represents the whole of the Christian faith (abortion, gay marriage, sex education, etc.).

Scripture speaks more often to issues of poverty and "kingdom" imagery than to these hot button issues that tend to get evangelicals so worked up.

Sojourners is a wonderful magazine (and web-site) that says, "Hey, we're excited about Christ and we're interested in social justice and environmental concerns."

It's good to know that social justice and political theology is alive and well among some in the Churches of Christ. Keep asking those good questions. shalom!

Phil said...


I've become more familiar with Sojourners through a couple of sources. The most prominent of which is its head (I think), Jim Wallis. I saw him on the Daily Show a couple of months back.

Let me tell y'all something. On the Daily Show, an admittedly left leaning show with probably one of the most cynical audiences on television, the message of the Gospel of Christ got applauded. Got cheered even.

Don't believe me? Check it out for yourself.

I also have recently purchased God's Politics : Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It by Wallis and am very interested to read it. I'll probably write someday soon about how all of this can happen and maybe even what my life and the lives of my wife and daughter can look like with this context being put on it.

Thanks for the encouragement, Krister. I don't know where this journey is going, but it sure is interesting.

Template Designed by Douglas Bowman - Updated to Beta by: Blogger Team
Modified for 3-Column Layout by Hoctro