In his book The God of Israel and Christian Theology, Kendall Soulen argues that God’s ways with Israel must shape how we think theologically. God called Israel to be a distinct people with an alternative national way of life, and they were to be the agents of God’s blessing for all the nations of the earth.
God’s intentions for Israel in the Scriptures must be the starting point in considering Paul’s political vision.
Because Western Christianity has neglected Israel in doing theology, it has forgotten that being the people of God is a fundamentally political reality. Throughout the Scriptures, the God of Israel is intensely concerned with the mundane affairs of humankind—love and loss, child-bearing, child-rearing, barrenness, war and peace, crop rotations, care for the earth, friendship, commerce, economics, politics, sex and gender, oppression, exploitation, slavery, to name just a few.
According to the Scriptural logic, the worship of the God of Israel and the political life of God’s people were inextricably related. To worship the God of Israel meant to do justice and to love mercy, to refuse to charge interest, to look after the poor, the orphan and the widow, to ensure community flourishing, to guarantee that foolish business decisions didn’t hurt families, to do good to one another.
Worship, therefore, was a holistic and integrated set of political, commercial, economic, and social practices.
This Scriptural vision shapes Paul’s conception of the church. God’s political intentions for his people in Jesus haven’t changed. We are to be a holy people, shaped by a radically alternative set of economic, social, and political practices oriented by the life-giving command to love one another after the cruciform pattern of Jesus.
Western Christians have grown comfortable with modern bifurcations of public and private, individual and corporate, political and spiritual. We’ve relegated Christian realities to the private sphere of the emotions, and have capitulated our public presence to the corrupted character of what our embattled culture calls “politics.” This is a terribly tragic surrender.
Paul envisioned the church as a political entity that seeks the blessing of the culture in which it is embedded. Because it is holy, the church must imagine ways of being political that go beyond merely endorsing the agenda of this or that political party.