How I Think About Politics

This is how I have come to think about politics in the way that I do. There are several different ways to talk about it, and there’s always more to say, but this is the heart of it.

The political teacher I regard above all others is Jesus. I don’t mean this in a flippant or simplistic sense. He is a political figure in that he is the Lord of the cosmos, the King who reigns over his kingdom and the Lord of the church. These are political titles.

The kingdom of God—the church—over which he rules is the political entity created to enact Jesus’ political teachings. There’s really only one topic when it comes to talking about Jesus, and that’s politics.

And his political vision is based on the socio-political and economic vision laid out in the Scriptures of Israel. It involved a total way of life under the kingship of the one true creator God.

Now, there’s a reason I give attention to Jesus and his political vision most supremely. He is the one we will face when he comes in judgment as the Son of Man. And he is the one whose verdict will assign us either to salvation or damnation.

He has my attention.

And he has been clear about the political criteria by which he will make his judgments. One version of this is in Matthew 25:31-46.

  • Did you feed the hungry?
  • Did you give something to drink to the thirsty?
  • Did you invite in the foreigner?
  • Did you clothe the naked?
  • Did you look after the sick?
  • Did you visit the incarcerated?

Now, I was a political science major and so we read Aristotle and Plato, Hayek and Friedman, Smith and Keynes.

I was taught a vision of politics and economics that led to a way of regarding Jesus’ words. When we talked about serving the poor and the needy, we said that it was important that they develop “personal responsibility.” We said that “they’re just looking for a handout.” We said that they were lazy and did not want to work and we had Bible verses to back this up. When we spoke of sharing our stuff, we warned about the dangers of “socialism.” We had all read The Road to Serfdom.

These ways of talking were all compelling to me.

But since I graduated from college I have studied the Bible and the main object of my study is the Apostle Paul. I have learned that the most important day for Paul is the day of Christ—the day when Christ Jesus will judge the living and the dead.

Paul’s theo-political vision starts there and moves backwards. It shaped how he lived his life and the pattern of social behavior that he taught his churches. And this way of thinking has shaped how I have come to think about everything.

And so I have wondered: when I am asked by the Son of Man why I did not serve the poor, why I did not clothe the naked, why I did not welcome foreigners, why I did not visit the incarcerated, will he be compelled by my talk about the dangers of “socialism?” Will he understand that it was important that the poor develop “personal responsibility?” Will he be convinced that the needy were just “looking for a handout?” What will he think of my arguments derived from The Road to Serfdom?

I participate in discussions of politics and economics and have come to see that many Christians have starting points for thinking about such things that involve a certain conception of capital, power, national interests, borders and the importance of a strong military.

So few Christians have as their starting point the day when all these things will be utterly irrelevant.

I have tried to think about politics, economics and social behaviors in such a way that I will be well prepared to face the Son of Man. I am haunted by the reality that I dwell among a people whose way of life will not fare well at this future event.

I understand capital, power, national interests, borders and the military. But the way that I think about these realities is determined by my attention to the political teachings of the only person who one day will matter.

15 thoughts on “How I Think About Politics

  1. Joshua Zoerhof

    Dr. Gombis,

    I have so appreciated your engagement on this level and on social media. Your NT class through Corinthians was a pivot point to me that helped to challenge Dispensational theology that warped my view of God, the Scriptures and ideals (many I wrestled with for my while young adult life). Please keep writing. I’ll keep reading.

    Josh Zoerhof
    Teaching Pastor
    Ridge Point Community Church
    Fearless Family of Churches
    C. 616.795.3132
    T. @Joshua_Zoerhof

    Following Jesus and Fearlessly Making Him Known

    From: Faith Improvised
    Reply-To: Faith Improvised
    Date: Saturday, March 28, 2020 at 4:59 AM
    To: “josh.zoerhof@gmail.com”
    Subject: [New post] How I Think About Politics

    timgombis posted: ” This is how I have come to think about politics in the way that I do. There are several different ways to talk about it, and there’s always more to say, but this is the heart of it. The political teacher I regard above all others is Jesus. I don’t mea”

  2. Ryan

    I agree with your starting point statements. I strive for such a starting point, and I also see the importance of capital, power, national interests, borders and a strong military.” These are very important to democratic countries and to the freedom that they experience. I think that Christians can pursue Matt. 25:31-46 politic while also promoting democracy and freedom for God’s image bearers around the world.

  3. Juanita Long

    I must be honest . . . with myself. “Why do I seek to avoid doing what Jesus told/showed me when he offered true freedom in response to what He did for me?” “How much will I have left for me – in time, talent and treasure, and all that it entails? It is hard to give up ‘self’/control/security for that which I cannot immediately ‘see’. ” Walking by faith and not by sight” becomes clear as I journey in obedience to our “heavenly calling in Christ Jesus”.This is where I experience true freedom. Freedom and all that Jesus promised, accompanies letting go of that which holds me here and “sets my sights on things that are beyond” our physical space. Am I sacrificially using my time, talent and treasure so I will hear “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter in . . . ” True freedom!

    1. Ryan

      Yes, true freedom in Christ, but Christians should also promote tangible freedom throughout the world, and a democratic society has been the most successful at this.

      1. conorhanson

        There is a fine line between Christians utilizing the world’s resources for faithful obedience to Christ and service to neighbor (like democratic structures or legislation), and using Christian faith as a stepping stone to some worldly end or goal like “promoting tangible freedom.” The first is trying to be faithful where we are while focusing on our primary calling to be the Church, the second is idolatry.

      2. Ryan

        Dr. Gombis, so Christians didn’t pursue tangible freedom for those experiencing slavery? Those who experienced and felt freedom for the first time may have disagreed. A democratic society had a lot to do with this.

        Conor you basic say the same thing that I said when you state, “Christians utilizing the world’s resources for faithful obedience to Christ and service to neighbor (like democratic structures or legislation)”

        Then you write the stepping stone comment which I not sure if you were inferring that was my view. I don’t think it is a worldly end or goal it is something that we should promote because part of humans being created in the image of God is that we were created to be free. This is far from idolatry.

      3. timgombis

        Christians pursue God’s justice for all people. “Spreading democracy” to places in the world that don’t want it will involve us in coercive missions and not engender fruitful relationships.

        I’m just trying to focus on how the Bible portrays things, rather than put things in terms that come from outside the Bible. I think that gets us into trouble. One way that trouble is seen is that America had both democracy and slavery at the same time. Focusing on being Christian would’ve prevented our nation from ever having slavery. I’m less focused on whether or not there should be democracy and more focused on gaining a vision of the inner logic of Jesus’ teachings.

      4. conorhanson

        It’s always a danger to identify Christianity too closely with a worldly power structure, no matter how well intended. That’s where idolatry comes in. I didn’t mean to attribute that to you but merely make the general point, because it seems you’re very eager to promote democratic society. The freedom democracy champions is not the same as Christian freedom. Faithful Christian action may produce effects the world’s democratic societies describe as freedom-promoting (i.e. setting slaves free), but when our vision of freedom has become identical with what democratic societies call freedom, we may (read: most likely have) have had our imaginations hijacked. Better to stick primarily with the method of God’s action/presence in the world: the church/Body of Christ empowered by the Spirit. I can’t think of a more tangible community promoting freedom than this.

  4. Jon Purpke

    THIS..! Thank you Tim for putting into words my heart, a heart that God has broken and has/is renovated/renovating. I have often hated the process, but would not trade for anything what God has done/is doing in my life… The joy, and at times the heartbreak, of serving the incarcerated, a group I once felt I had nothing in common with, I would not trade for anything these friends/brothers that I have gained!!
    THIS is how I feel about politics and I grieve that so many in evangelical Christian circles seem so divorced from the Jesus of the Scriptures…
    Thank you for putting words to my heart… 💜

  5. Pingback: A Different Woman – Imploring My Father

  6. CJ

    Hi Tim,

    Let’s say that in a fictional society, there are kill factories for the homeless because they are an inconvenience on society. In this kill factory, they sever their arms and legs off before dealing the final death blow by crushing their skulls. You visit one of these places, and observe the fear in these image bearers eyes as they are in line for dismemberment. They look over to you and beg you with tears in their eyes to help them. You merely reply in anger and sorrow, “I cant, this is legal to do per the law of the land.”

    Now, let’s say that there are two political parties: one side believes it should be societies choice as to whether or not the homeless live or die; conversely, the other side believes that it is wrong and will attempt to appoint Supreme Court justices who are the only chance to reverse the ability to legally murder the homeless.

    Several questions in light of the above scenario:

    1) If the above scenario were real, would that change anything that you wrote above?

    2) Could you conceive of any other policies that matter more at that moment in time, or would you say the first thing that has to go are the homeless kill factories that are in every US city?

    3) Is it possible that an aggregate of other issues could cause you to cast your vote for the party that supports the states individual rights to dismember the homeless before killing them?

    4) Would you say that, in this case, being a one issue voter is essential? Since triaging must take place as it is impossible to pick a silver bullet candidate that can heal all of the injustices within society, would abolition of the homeless kill factories be a good one issue stance? A good reason never to chance voting another person in office who has the opportunity to appoint judges that could keep that blood on our hands longer than it should?

    5) If a person happened to keep a political party in with their vote that is completely ok with the shedding of innocent homeless blood, will God hold such an individual accountable on the day of judgment for not using their vote to attempt to stop it?

    Thanks for your time.

    CJ

    1. timgombis

      Thanks for this. I understand the logic you’re unfolding here, as it is the logic I inherited. I have come to see that voting for one or another party is the most anemic way for Christians to be political. And I have come to understand that it is idolatrous for Christians to imagine that the only way to solve social ills is to vote for a party that will appoint certain Supreme Court judges.

      Christian political action does not take place through power politics. The church is a political entity and participates in the wider polis according to the cruciform politics of Jesus. They put themselves in places of solidarity with the oppressed and exploited, and announce God’s judgment on corrupt leaders.

      Political action as the body politic of Jesus has been largely unexplored by American Christians who have been co-opted by larger forces seeking power, and that’s a tragedy.

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