A Taxonomy of Christian Political Stances

In this country, there seem to be five basic types of political stances taken by Christians.  Many American Christians, however, lack the understanding or imagination to see all five.  Some can see only two or three.  Most will easily understand four.  But the fifth remains an elusive, incomprehensible mystery to them.  The reason for this is that it is wholly different from the other four in character and worldview.  The four stem from some form of worldview inherited from modernism; and generally, they share in the great worldview bath of modern Enlightenment Liberalism.  The fifth kind of Christian politics is not rooted in modernism—or at least, it consciously seeks not to be.  For that reason, it is a breed apart from the other four, and so adherents of the four find it difficult to imagine or understand.

Let us have a brief look at these five views:

First, there is left-oriented Christianity.  This may range from basic blue-state Democratic leanings all the way to Christian versions of Marxism.  If you are a Christian who voted for Hillary Clinton in the election of 2016, whether from a place of general approval or as the lesser of two evils, you are probably a good example of someone this kind of political stance.

Second, of course, there is right-oriented Christianity.  Here again is a range, but these Christians tend to believe that right-wing, “conservative” politics best match the teachings of the Bible.  If you are a Christian and have supported Donald Trump in any way or to any degree, and certainly if you voted for him even as the lesser evil, it is rather likely you are in this group.

Third, there are many Christians who are “moderate” whether on purpose or on accident.  That is, they may intentionally try to stay in the middle, not adopting the planks of any platform to the right or to the left.  Or they may, simply out of confusion, end up somewhat tenuously in such a position. If you spread your vote and your political critique around because you don’t want to get tied to one party or another, this might be you.

Fourth, many Christians try to be apolitical.  These brothers and sisters are interested in keeping their focus on the things of God.  They want to work in and through a church that stays out of politics.  If this is your political stance, perhaps you didn’t vote at all.  Or if you did, you would never talk about it to anyone, and you wish no Christians would talk about their vote publically.  You see Jesus as having a kingdom “not of this world” and believe He would not want His church to get bogged down in the mess of earthly politics.  We should just be about the business of winning souls and building up the body of Christ.

Well, those are the four.  What could possibly remain?  We have covered leftward, rightward, centrist and noninvolvement political stances.  All parts of the political spectrum are accounted for, and so is disengagement from it.  Thinking spatially, it is difficult to picture any other option.  How could there be a fifth kind?

The fifth kind is a radical commitment to the kingdom of God under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  Of course, Christians of all kinds will think of themselves and their politically like-minded fellows as having such a commitment.  But they believe that the kingdom of God is manifested in this time and place on earth in a commitment to right, left or centrist political ideas.  Or in the case of the apolitical type, it is believed that the kingdom of God is manifested in a church that remains unsullied by the muck of worldly politics.

Christians who have the fifth kind of political stance share a commitment to the kingdom of God which, at once, transcends the political spectrum and actively engages it.  They understand—really understand!—that God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat.  They understand, furthermore, that He is not even a modern Enlightenment liberal.  His kingdom is both transcendent and immanent, both not of this world and deeply involved in this world.

Commitment to the kingdom of God, then, is extremely political and it will necessitate political involvement in this world, mostly through faithful testimony, but also through social action.  Sometimes that testimony and action will sound to those whose imaginations are trapped within the modern worldview as though it were left-leaning (perhaps when advocating for the poor against the ugly side of capitalism) or right-leaning (perhaps when advocating for the pre-born against the selfishness of “reproductive rights”).

When Jesus told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world, He was not saying that it was located on Mars or even in heaven.  He was not saying that His kingdom had nothing to do with this world.  He was saying that it was qualitatively different from anything this world has seen or can understand.  That it is of another realm refers to its essence, not its location.  Indeed, King Jesus is very interested in this world and has bled to claim it for His own.  This world is in rebellion against its true King, but it will not always be so (Rev. 11:15).

The church is here in the world as a colony of heaven.  And her mission is to be a picture and a foretaste of the kingdom of the One who has already conquered the world but who is patiently letting it go its way for the time being.  This is what James Davison Hunter has called “Faithful Presence.”

Perhaps you are reading this and thinking, ‘Well, duh!  Of course!’  But if you think this understanding of Christian politics is clear or easy to understand, you are probably either not an American or are one of the many who only think they get it.  I, for one, have been reading, thinking, talking about this kingdom politic for many years.  I have been actively trying to let it frame my worldview, and I continue to struggle, finding myself drawn into modernist modes of thought.

So in general, if you would be one who is committed to the kingdom of God with this fifth kind of political stance, I would suggest starting by cultivating a healthy suspicion of your own sense of already having it.  A second step, for some, might be to trade your diet of either right or left-oriented media faucets for more Scripture.

Hymn for Epiphany

Ye who walk in darkness here,
Ye who languish in the vale,
See! The Light of God comes near!
Know that grace shall yet prevail!

God, His promise to unveil,
He to save the perishing,
Ends now Israel’s long travail,
He who bears her suffering.

Sages, come, your gifts to bring,
Thinking not of your largesse.
Learn that He’s the King of kings.
It is you who will be blessed!

Of your pride yourselves divest,
Your anxieties and fears.
Come to Him! He bids you rest,
He who bottles up your tears.

He proclaims to them with ears
Of the kingdom in His wake.
‘Tis the King who now appears
With a kingdom naught can shake.

———————–

Mental Ascent

For some years now, I have been thinking about how Christians—with our anointing (I John. 2:20,27)—participate in the story of our Lord Jesus, the Anointed.  Like Him—or rather, in Him—we have incarnation, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection.  Recently, though, I have been thinking about the fact that the first advent of His story included a final piece which we call the ascension, followed by His enthronement at the right hand of the Father.

If I am crucified and risen with Christ (I can’t take the time just now to explain how I see our sharing His incarnation and life of ministry), am I also ascended and enthroned?  Well, Ephesians makes clear that I am seated with Him in the heavenly realms, so, yes.  This speaks to enthronement, at least; but what about ascension?

There is a day coming when our Lord will return to effect our literal ascension, our being caught up into the air with Him.  That is the ‘not-yet’ part.  What about the ‘already’?

Enter, Colossians 3.

“If you have been raised up with Christ,” says Paul, “keep your upward momentum!”  Look up!  Standing on your tiptoes, focus on the sky, not on the earth!  See Christ seated beside the Father!  Reach up!  Reach up as those who can’t wait to join Him there!

on-things-aboveWhat is pictured as a straining forward in Philippians 3, then, is a straining upward in Colossians 3.  Just as surely as we can live into our (Lord’s) resurrection while not yet having died physically, we are told to live into our (Lord’s) ascension while still living this earthly life.  The apostle says we do this by setting our minds on the things above.  In day-to-day life, this amounts to a murderous eradication of the aspects of ourselves which would seek to keep us chained to the earth (v.5).

One of the most striking features of the ascension that awaits us is that it is to be the moment of our final revealing.   The world around us is really in for a shock.  “The world knows neither Christ nor Christians,” wrote the 18th century NT scholar, J.A. Bengel, “and Christians do not even fully know themselves.”  He was referring to the revealing of Colossians 3:4.

The apostle John speaks in similar terms.  “… It has not appeared as yet what we will be.  We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.”  As always with the Lord’s apostles, such a thought leads quite naturally to a present-time application:  “And everyone who has this hope on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (I John. 3:2-3).  For Paul, in Colossians, it leads to the rest of what he writes in chapter 3: putting to death our earthly members, putting on the new man, clothing ourselves in love and much more.

When the Lord returns, He will start by bringing His dead out of the ground.  Then He will bring us all up into the air with Him.  Will this give us whiplash, or will we be found already stretching ourselves in His direction?  Or as He put it, “…hen the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth” (Luke 18:8)?

Father, thank You for raising us up with Your Son, our Lord Jesus, and for embedding us within Him so that His glorious revealing will be our revealing too.  Thank You for giving us—in Him—the power to kill the ugliness that still attaches to us to the fallen world and to put on the new man whom You are renewing in His image.  Lord, make me into a tiptoe Christian.  Like a toddler anxious to be picked up by his Daddy, let me strain upward to Your throne.  In the name of our risen, ascended and seated Lord, Amen.

Not FROM, but FOR

Six times in his little three chapter letter to Titus, Paul calls for Christians to be into good deeds (1:16; 2:7,14; 3:1,8,14).  The last of these six comes near the end of the book where he says, “Our people also need to learn to engage in good deeds…” (3:14).  He even goes so far as to say that the reason Christ Jesus saved us was to redeem us from our lawless deeds “…and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (2:14).  We cannot miss, then, the fact that God has not saved us just to save us.  He intends to make us into a people of active goodness in the world.

And in the context of all this emphasis on good deeds, the apostle writes, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy…” (3:5).  Literally, Paul tells us that our salvation is ‘not from’—‘not sourced in’—any righteous deeds on our part (ouk ex ergōn = “not out of works”).  Instead, it is completely according to His mercy (and by the means of a bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit)!

[Huge sigh of relief goes here.]

Boy, is that good news.

If God is to save me on the basis of my good works, I’m sunk.  Look at the list that characterizes us prior to the rebirth and renewal of the Spirit: “thoughtless,” “led astray,” “enslaved to various passions and pleasures,” “killing time in wickedness and envy,” “hated,” “hating each other” (3:3).  And it’s not as though Paul has the worst non-Christians in mind here.  Rather, he is thinking of all people in general.  That’s who he has just referred to in verses 1-2; if there is any particular class or kind of people in view, it is the people good enough to be in civic leadership (v. 1).  No, if God is going to save anyone, it won’t be related in any way to righteous deeds on their part.

Nevertheless, He saves us for good deeds.  Paul insists that Titus insist on this point.  Drenched in the Holy Spirit, Christians are to be a people of good deeds.  Justified by grace, Christians are to be a people of good deeds.  As heirs of the hope of eternal life, Christians are to be a people of good deeds.  As those who trust in God, Christians are to be a people who thoughtfully engage in good deeds.

Good deeds.  It’s not where our salvation comes from.  But it is what our salvation is for.

Lord Jesus, forgive me for my tendency to rest on the laurels of Your merciful salvation.  Make me a vessel of Your grace and love in this world.  I want to be profitable for people.  Father, wash me anew with Your Spirit for this purpose.  In Jesus, amen.

The One True Scandal

Donald Trump’s “locker room talk” is horrible but not at all shocking.

Hillary Clinton’s political surgical taking out of Bernie Sanders is also horrible.

And many, many more examples could be stacked up under each name.  There is no surprise in any of these things.

What is truly scandalous is that Christians continue to attach their hopes to either of these two people–or to anyone in Washington.

We have a King.  He is our hope.

Grieving for a friend…

I just learned that an old friend and colleague has lost his wife.  We knew that her health was pretty fragile, but did not know this was coming.  They have three sons, the oldest of whom is starting his senior year of high school right now.  We are sick at heart for them.

I am praying for them like this:

Oh Lord, grant Your grace and mercy to T___ and his boys!  Protect them from the evil one who will try to make their pain a ground for turning away from You.  Guard their faith!  Let them not be overcome in their grief!  Oh Lord Jesus, be present in their pain (Ps. 34:18; John 11:35)!  Oh, Conqueror of death, hold them close to Your heart!

Lord, A__ trusted You (Ps. 31:14).  Make the hearts of her family know that You have already opened to her the gates of Your eternal kingdom!  Make them know that You have taken her to dwell securely in Your house forever!  Oh loving Father, make them know that there will soon be a joyful reunion for them at Your table!  Even as they weep, Lord, by Your Spirit, give them grace for each day and hour and moment.

Through the precious and gracious name of our Savior, Jesus, I pray.  Amen.