I’m working on a paper on Paul’s political vision and am thinking a bit about the identity and mission of Israel that shaped Paul’s conception of the identity and mission of the church.
Israel’s call to be a “holy people” was a thoroughly political commission. Their social and economic practices were to be radically different from those of the nations. Their leaders were ensure the sort of justice that reflected their worship of the God who bends low to regard the lowly (Ps. 138:6), the God who hears Hannah’s prayer (1 Sam. 1), the God who settles the barren woman in a home as a happy mother of many children (Ps. 113:9), the God executes justice for the orphan and the widow, who loves the stranger by giving him food and clothing (Deut. 10:18).
10 thoughts on “Politics & the Mission of Israel”
I think it was political, but, only because ANE Israel was a theocracy with Yahweh as the ultimate King.
Exactly. It seems to me that the proper transfer is to realize that Christ is Lord of the church, so that being the people of God is a political, social, and economic reality. The problem is that how such a reality works out is determined by “politics as usual” (i.e., power politics or national party identity politics) rather than a politics of holiness.
Have you read Peter Leithart’s “Against Christianity”? He has similar sentiments: the church exists as its own culture with its own political identity, economic practices, mythic-narrative, rites, rituals, symbols, etc. In short, he argues that the Church shouldn’t just add a little Christ to the culture of this present age; rather, the new life of the church should reveal to this age its own lifeless version of human flourishing. And that includes human governance since, well, we’re all going to be judging angels and all that.
Also: do you listen to Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio? Because if you don’t, I’m almost certain you’d enjoy him.
I haven’t read Leithart but it seems I’m thinking along those very lines. The church as a polis called to bless the wider polis.
I’ve heard a few of those here and there, and have indeed enjoyed them. Are they still distributed via cd, or are they online somewhere?
Yeah, Ken still distributes CDs. He wants people to be able to hold things in their hands. They also do MP3 subscriptions, though. Amanda and I had the opportunity to intern with him this summer so we still have Mars Hill on the brain. If you get a chance, check out some of his interviews with William Cavanaugh on political theology, they’re fascinating.
Sweet, thanks, Jon!
Tim, thank you for this post. There is much to think about. Some years ago I read Dr Christopher Wright’s Old Testament Ethics, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. What he says in the book are very similar to what you said in your post. Also, I think the first pages of Dr Michael Gorman’s article in the Journal for the Study of Paul and his Letters in Spring 2011 have successfully made a link between the OT prophets’ message of justice and Paul’s “justice of God”.
My experience of working in a relief and development organization has helped me to think a lot about economics and social issues. Poverty is not so much about a lack of money. It is often (though not always) caused power imbalance. Thus the OT prophets do not simply talk about almsgiving. Instead, they talk about pleading the case of the vulnerable and oppressed. It seems to me that they are asking those in positions of power to obey the Torah, which is full of instructions concerning justice for the poor. The Torah is not so much about a set of rules and regulations for personal holiness, but a body of laws to ensure that that God’s chosen people will walk with him by forming a just society-community that bears witness to Yahweh among the peoples of the earth.
I have been thinking about what Paul means when he says that the just requirement of the law may be fulfilled in the Christ-community as they walk according to Spirit (Rom 8:4). If the law refers to what I said above, then Paul’s vision would be that the Christ-community will bear witness to Christ through an alternative Spirit-empowered love-centered communal life that lives out a different value system from that of the world (and, in the context of Romans, that of the Roman Empire). This value system would of course include economic and social systems. More can be said here, but I’d better stop before making this comment too long.
Beautifully-stated, S.! I’ll go back and read that Gorman piece, drawing on it for the paper I’m writing up.
I want to respond to Patrick’s comment, because I think it’s an overlooked aspect of our Kingdom call. It’s not political because in the ANE religion and politics were always linked. It’s political because God is the King of Everything. We announce the royal proclamation that God is King through His Messiah, Jesus. We announce this to every power structure in the world, because they’re all corrupted. (Including many of the ones we’re in, churches, mission groups, religious schools, etc.) We announce and proclaim that God is redeeming the world to Himself, and therefore every power structure must either, submit itself to God’s authority, or be overthrown by the stone, not carved of human hands, that will grow into a mountain.
I do believe that we are to be a foreign culture, living as ambassadors in this world. I think we’ve done a terrible job of doing it, which is why we need to be so careful to keep alive the prophetic offices in our congregations. A church built on the power structures of this world, using the power preserving systems of this world, is not building the Kingdom of God, and is in danger of being overthrown when the Kingdom is revealed in fullness.
We have been given a small measure of power, and a great measure of authority. We should walk in authority, as ambassadors, but too often we align ourselves with the power structures of this world, and thus we adulterate our message.
Sorry for the long comment, but this is something I’ve been thinking and wrestling with for awhile.
Just an experiment – where you think Paul addresses the church, or develops ‘church theology’, read ‘church’ to be ‘assembly’ and replace in your mind ‘church’ with ‘house of Israel’.
Now ask yourself two questions:
1. Is this reading consistent/coherent with a messianic old testament?
2. Does seeing the ‘church’ and Israel as the same resolve oft-debated Christian doctrines?