In his book, How God Became King, N. T. Wright claims that one aspect of the church’s misreading of the Gospels is the failure to reckon with their political character.
If this story of Jesus is the story of Israel reaching its climax, it is inescapably political and will raise questions the Western world has chosen not to raise, let alone face, throughout the period of so-called critical scholarship. The post-Enlightenment world was born out of a movement that split church and state apart and has arranged even its would-be historical scholarship accordingly; and that same Enlightenment insisted that Judaism was the wrong kind of religion, far too gross, too material. Rejection, from the start, of a “political” reading of the gospels and of a “Jewish” reading went together. Fortunately, genuine history—the actual study of the actual sources—can sometimes strike back and insist that what a previous generation turned off this generation can at last turn back on. It is time, and long past time, to reread the gospels as what we can only call political theology—not because they are not after all about God and spirituality and new birth and holiness and all the rest, but precisely because they are (p. 140).
I think he’s exactly right here, but I suspect that many will misunderstand this sort of statement.
We imagine that the political lay of the land in our various contexts is a given. For the Gospels, however, that is completely not the case. Jesus came to create a new polis (a new people) and an entirely different sort of politics.
And Wright correctly notes that the language of “holiness” is thoroughly appropriate to speak of God’s new political reality—the Kingdom of God. It is a set of political behaviors characterized by power-surrender and not power-grabbing; forgiveness and not manipulation; love and not retaliation; kindness and not demonization; sharing with an open hand and not hoarding or selfishness.
The Gospels’ political dimension is certainly that aspect that has suffered the greatest neglect. Again, I do wonder if that’s because it’s the one area most in need of radical transformation.