In the wake of the Wheaton Theology Conference, I’ve been giving some thought to the church’s relation to politics. IVP has several very interesting new books out along this line.
I just received my copy of Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not, edited by Scot McKnight and Joseph Modica. I wish I had it a few weeks back as I wrote my conference paper that touched on anti-imperial rhetoric in Paul, but I was pleased to see that my conclusions largely resonated with theirs.
The volume helpfully describes and evaluates the method whereby interpreters discern a critique of Rome or of the worship of the emperor in various NT documents. It’s got a wonderful lineup of authors and I’m eager to get into it.
Kenneth J. Collins, in Power, Politics and the Fragmentation of Evangelicalism, narrates how evangelicals have lost sight of the richness of their identity and their shared heritage by accommodating culturally to a fractured political landscape. The dynamics of political and organizational power have tragically infected and affected evangelicalism, and it looks like Collins’ analysis gets right to the heart of this.
Tyler Wigg-Stevenson’s The World is Not Ours to Save: Finding the Freedom to Do Good speaks wisdom into the evangelical activist movement.
It provides sober analysis of how over-eager and well-intentioned efforts can often be counter-productive and lead to burnout. This is indeed a serious problem that I’ve seen first-hand. For those wanting to see real changes take place as the result of Christian activism, it’s a must-read. It’s aimed at focusing efforts rather than discouraging gospel-driven initiatives.
Finally, on a somewhat related and very important issue, a volume that addresses the very thorny problem of “holy war” in the Bible, edited by Heath Thomas, Jeremy Evans and Paul Copan.
It’s called Holy War in the Bible: Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem. From biblical, theological, philosophical, and ethical angles, it addresses the challenge to Christian witness of an apparently genocidal God who calls his people to warfare and slaughter. It’s certainly worth checking out (not least for the essay on divine warfare in Paul!) as this troubling aspect of Scripture provides fuel for new atheist challenges to Christian faith.
6 thoughts on “New Books on Politics from IVP”
That people are surprised Paul’s letters contain anti-Imperial rhetoric, constantly surprises me.
If you look closely at the rhetoric itself, it’s clear Paul sees the Roman empire in eschatological terms, meaning the empire’s purpose was not mere happenstance, but against Israel and believers, hence eschatological.
I think people simply assume because Jesus surpassed and confounded ancient Israelite Messianic expectations when he was ‘hanged on a tree’, that his redemption must be merely figurative and spiritual; no part of it plays a role in the world.
To this I would point out:
1. When the devil tempted Christ he claimed that he had the power to give over to Christ all of the Kingdoms of the world. Think about that, who created the world and everything in it? Does Satan have the power to deny the creator HIs own creation? If Satan lacks this power to actually exercise dominion in the world (against Christ), he also lacks the power to restore these things to Christ. This means that only Christ’s redemptive work, not anything Satan can do, restores Kingdoms to God.
2. In [Mark 13:9][Matt 10:18][Luke 21:12], considering his own death, Jesus looking forward mentions as part of the propagation of the Gospel his followers would go before Emperors and Kings – is this not evidence that that Christ restored Kingdom of God would have some relationship to the authorities and their dominions of this world? His Kingdom is something more than spiritual then if it engages the political realm?
3. Finally, Paul elected to stand before Caesar [Acts 25:12; 27:24]. Although this may have been mere judicial procedure, his thinking about it (reflected in [Acts 20:22-24] suggests that it was more … and certainly there is verification later [Acts 23:11; 27:24] that it is ..
4. When Jesus’ disciples asked him point blank about the restoration of the Kingdom [Acts 1:6-8] as a political question, Jesus does not deny or refute their ‘political’ perspective! In fact he responds by pointing out its future aspect saying they didn’t need to know, but then he ties their expectations for the Kingdom to the coming work of the Holy Spirit – which suggests that the Holy Spirit would be the medium by which their expectations would be met (rather than his atoning death directly). He said “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” – notice again the reference to ‘witnessing’, this time nations not kings.
5. As a footnote – who was ultimately responsible for the fall of Rome? Wasn’t it the emergence of the faith Jesus planted? Isn’t there the subdued recognition of the correspondence between the fall of Rome and Christianity’s rise? Is it mere irony that the empire that executed the will of the Jewish Sanhedrin would eventually destroy the temple and itself be destroyed by the faith Jesus sowed, and the people he saved? Or is there more tooit?
I also find it interesting that so many of the authors you cite here in dealing with faith and politics speak of identity. Isn’t that what Paul also spoke of in his epistemology about the recipients of the Promise? Therefore when we ponder things like visible and invisible church and the role Christ’s faith plays in politics – I wonder if our own temptation to spiritualist the message cobbles us from seeing a relationship that clearly exists ….
Reblogged this on Imagine with Scripture and commented:
Sounds like great books (suggested by Tim Gombis). Although they’re probably written with North American politics in mind, they would be relevant to the Australian context as well.
Hey Tim, Clarification: do you find yourself in concert w/ most of the authors in the McKnight book? I had thought that the majority did not find anti-imperial rhetoric in the NT, and figured that you would find more AI…?
I haven’t made my way through it all yet, but I’m somewhat skeptical about anti-imperial rhetoric. I’d just like to know more precisely what we mean when we use this language. It seems to me that Paul is more interested in helping communities understand the reign of God in Christ than in subverting the reign of Caesar. The lack of explicit material just makes me a bit cautious.
That … and ….
perhaps Paul held that just as the Sanhedrin and Roman power played an influence in the perfection of Christ (as Messiah), the power of Caesar over a Roman empire undoubtedly was playing a role in the perfection of the ekklēsia.
Although I believe the above argument can be made from Paul’s eschatology, your observation about the lack of explicit material in Paul’s writings is also pretty compelling …
I’ll wait for more work to be done to be more precise about just how Paul’s rhetoric works in this regard. It’s still early for this angle of approach.