Thoughts of John

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A Biblical Perspective on How to Approach Politcs

    Conclusion, Part. 5

    THE FINAL VICTORY
The future we await is life eternal in the presence of the living God in a transformed world that again fully reflects the goodness and beauty intended by the Creator.
    We have failed miserably at faithfully fulfilling the creation mandate given to us in the Garden of Eden. We have created civilizations of great beauty and considerable justice, but they are pervasively marked with tears and injustice. Mercifully, the Creator who is the Redeemer intends, at the second coming, to remove the pervasive evil in our mixed efforts at building civilizations. God plans to take the glory of the nations into the new city (Rev. 21:26). The story that starts in a garden ends in a city with God reweaving the tangled strands that we have wrought in vain, transforming our feeble efforts into glorious cultures that sing the Creator’s praise.
    That understanding of the future shapes faithful Christian political life now in numerous ways. First, that understanding of the future, just like the biblical understanding of creation and persons, underlines the importance of the material world. It is so good that the Creator intends to restore it to wholeness.
    Second, there is clear continuity between history, the present, and the coming kingdom. To be sure, the sin that will persist until Christ’s return is evidence of the discontinuity that exists as well. We cannot create
perfect societies now. But if God plans to purge the glory of the nations of all evil and take it up into the New Jerusalem, then there is a connection between our imperfect work now to create just, beautiful civilizations and the perfection we await.
    Third, the knowledge that persons are designed for a future that far transcends the socioeconomic goods that any human government can provide this side of the coming kingdom dramatically relativizes all politics. A good life now of material abundance, justice, and freedom is important. But we are made for far more—for more than even the best human politics can ever deliver. Therefore politicians must make humble claims. They should promise only limited goods. Christians will reject political claims to offer more as idolatrous. And when faithful Christians have political power, they will only claim to offer modest, albeit significant, results. Knowing that persons are made to live forever in the presence of the living God, they know that government at its best can only offer a modest portion of what persons need to enjoy the good life.
    Fourth, because we know the whole story line, including the final chapter, we know where history is going. We know that God wants more justice, peace, and societal wholeness now because we know that wholeness will be complete at Christ’s return. And the vision of that future justice provides a powerful norm to judge the broken societies in which we live.
    Knowing where history is going and knowing the one who promises to write the final chapter, Christians have hope. To the extent that we truly believe the promise of Christ’s coming victory, the Christian story can produce powerful political movements for justice, peace, life, and freedom.
    Sometimes, of course, we will fail. Sin remains alive and powerful. Sometimes, for a generation or more, injustice, war, totalitarianism, and social evil of all kinds may advance rather than retreat. Even then, the assurance of Christ’s final victory provides hope that sustains our persistent, faithful struggle for justice even when the political tide is sweeping in the other direction.
    Knowing the Resurrected One, knowing that He will return, we also know that crusading evil can succeed only for a time. The decisive victory has already been won. Even when faithfulness involves martyrdom, even then we know who holds the future. Because He lives, we can face even the most terrifying tomorrows. Because one day the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord who will reign forever and ever.

Discipleship Journal, Issue 165, Ron Sider

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May 11, 2008 Posted by | Christian, Christianity, conservative, culture, Democrat, Discipleship Journal, John McCain, Republican, Theology, Uncategorized, vote | Leave a comment

A Biblical Perspective on How to Approach Politcs

    The Correct World View Will Lead You in the Right Direction, Part. 4

    A SAVIOR TO BRING RESTORATION
There is almost universal agreement among New Testament scholars today that the core of Jesus’ proclamation was the "gospel of the kingdom." At the beginning of Mark’s gospel, we find the summary of Jesus’ message:
Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"—Mk. 1:14-15
    Elsewhere, it is clear that Jesus believed that the kingdom of God was breaking into the present in His own work and person. Indirectly at first and then more openly He claimed to be the long-promised Messiah.
    Far too often we miss the profound political implications of Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God and the resurrection’s confirmation that Jesus was indeed the Messiah who had ushered in that long-expected kingdom. Jesus came claiming to be the Messiah for the whole Jewish nation. He declared that in His person and work He was actually inaugurating the climactic moment in history when God would fulfill His promises to Israel, restore His chosen people, and use them to transform the nations so that in dramatic new ways God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. We can argue that Jesus was naive or wrong, but we cannot pretend that He did not make this astonishing claim.
    It is important to understand that Christ’s victory on the cross has won a decisive victory over the unjust socioeconomic and political structures of our world. Their evil power is weakened. Christians certainly need not and should not embrace or submit to their evil ways. The church should and can be the church no matter what the world does, and the gates of hell will not prevail. The long-expected kingdom has truly broken into history, and Christians worship the risen Lord.
    The absolute power of Caesar and every other political ruler is undermined. Absolute power claims, Oliver O’Donovan says in The Desire of Nations, have "been in trouble ever since Christ rose from the dead." God’s people are a light to the nations, and they are now in full advance. Dramatic change, not just in the church but also in the structures of the world outside, is possible because these fallen structures have been conquered at the cross and resurrection.
    Here again, however, it is essential to remember the already/not yet of Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom. He certainly taught that it was already present, breaking into history in powerful ways in His work and person. But He also said the kingdom was like a mustard seed that grows slowly (Mt. 13:31-32). The kingdom is not yet here in its fullness. It will come fully at that future day when the risen Lord returns to complete His victory over evil.
    That means that a Christian political philosophy dare not be either naively Utopian or socially pessimistic. A perfect society will always be beyond reach until Christ returns. Therefore Christians will be realists, expecting sin to persist in all human structures. On the other hand, we dare not be social pessimists, expecting nothing to change and therefore existing comfortably with societal injustice. Christ has won the decisive battle over the evil social structures. It is possible to produce dramatic improvement in history—we can end slavery, promote freedom and democracy, create wealth, and reduce poverty and injustice.

Discipleship Journal, Issue 165, Ron Sider

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A Biblical Perspective on How to Approach Politcs

Sin’s Effects, Part. 3

SIN’S DESTRUCTION
The biblical story shows that sin has devastated the created order. No part remains uncorrupted. In the fall, we refused to accept God as Lord, choosing instead to place ourselves at the center of reality and make our own moral rules. The result has been devastation in all our relationships—with God, neighbor, earth, and self.
Our relationship with God is radically broken. Disobedience means that rebellious sinners no longer rightly reflect who God is. However God continues to love even defiant children, providing a plan of salvation and continuing to call us to repent and return to Him.
In our self-centered, individualistic actions we violate communal obligations and trample upon the common good of our neighbors. But we cannot abolish our communal nature, no matter how selfish we become. Since we are irrevocably social beings, our accumulating set of selfish personal choices eventually shapes whole social systems that are radically flawed. Vast numbers of personal sinful choices that are racist or sexist or economically unjust eventually produce complex social and legal systems that are racist, sexist, and unjust.
Earlier we saw that central to the meaning of God’s image in us is His call to act as stewards of the rest of creation. That truth helps us understand how our sin has devastated even the nonhuman world.
Finally, the fall has devastated not just our relationships with God, neighbor, and earth but also our very being. Every part of our being is affected. Not just our bodies, but also our reason and will are corrupted. Our rational minds no longer see truth clearly. The more brilliant we are, the more sophisticated are the subtle rationalizations we develop to defend selfish interests and wrong ideas. One only needs to read some of the subtle justifications written to defend slavery, racism, unjust treatment of women, or unfair economic arrangements to see how deeply our minds are corrupted.
The biblical teaching on sin has vast implications for our understanding of politics. First, every politician is a frail, finite, sinful person who will certainly make a mixture of good and bad decisions, and every political platform is a smorgasbord of good and evil, wise summons to justice and subtle rationalizations of self-interest. Therefore Christians should never trust any politician completely and dare never embrace any party or platform uncritically.
Second, a central task of faithful political action is to design political systems built on this understanding of persons as being a complex mix of good and bad moral insight and self-centered distortion. As Lord Acton said long ago, “In a fallen world, power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.” Therefore we need checks and balances on all power so that even though everyone acts selfishly, the competing acts of self-interest tend to balance each other and prevent great evil. Government must be limited. At the same time, precisely because sin has not destroyed all good
in persons, we can also create social systems that appeal to and encourage the best in human beings.
Third, since sin became embedded in self-perpetuating social systems, it is essential that we seek to change not just individual persons through personal spiritual transformation but also societal structures via political change. In the face of laws and legal structures that prevented African-Americans from voting, we needed more than evangelism and a call to individual white Americans to treat African-Americans fairly. We needed better laws and judicial systems that enforced the rights of everyone to vote.
It would, however, be fundamentally naive to suppose that we can create new, basically good persons if we only correct unjust social systems. We can make things
better through wise structural change. We have been able to end slavery, promote democracy, and encourage economic justice through wise political changes. But the human problem lies far deeper than merely unjust social systems, however evil. At root, the human problem is grounded in fallen, selfish persons who continue to seek and find ways to manipulate even the best social systems. For that reason, Christians reject every Utopian illusion that imagines, as did Marxists and some kinds of humanist educators, that we can eradicate evil in society if we will only make the right structural or educational changes.

Discipleship Journal, Issue 165, Ron Sider

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A Biblical Perspective on How to Approach Politcs

How You View the Created World, Part. 2

CREATION’S GOODNESS AND SPLENDOR
Enormous political consequences flow from how we view the material world and human beings.
The created world. Not everyone thinks the material world is real or good. Much of Eastern religious thought considers the material world to be an illusion that spiritual wisdom will teach us to ignore. If such views about the physical world are right, Philip Wogaman points out in Christian Perspectives on Politics, then hunger, starvation, economic exploitation, slavery, and physical torture “are not moral problems for us.” We can live on a “spiritual” level, ignoring the illusions of the insignificant or evil material world.
Other views see the world as divine. Animists believe that the trees and the rivers are divinities to be worshiped—and left as unchanged as possible. How dare we then cut down trees and dam rivers to create human civilization?
The biblical story tells us something radically different. Repeatedly in the story of creation, after God calls a crucial part of the material world into existence, the text declares, “God saw that it was good.” Indeed, at the end of the story, we hear that “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1:31).
Rather than an evil to escape or an illusion to ignore or a deity to worship, the world is a wondrously good, albeit finite, reality that God designed both to sing His praises and provide a home for humanity.
Human beings. The biblical text declares that God created men and women in the very image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). Human beings are fundamentally different from every other part of God’s creation because they alone are declared to be made in the image of the Creator. As a consequence, human beings enjoy a dignity and value that no other creatures possess.
But what exactly does it mean to be created in the image of God? Genesis 1 points to two things. Verse 26 connects the image of God with our stewardship responsibility:
Let [human beings] rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.
We are placed as God’s assistants to exercise a loving, watchful stewardship over the rest of the earth. That does not mean that God authorizes us to trample and destroy the nonhuman creation. But it does mean that we rightly use trees and rivers, birds and animals to create complex civilizations.
Verse 27 connects the image of God with our communal nature: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them” (NRSV). An isolated individual cannot adequately image the God who is triune, a loving community of three persons in the one God. That is not to deny the importance of the individual. Both the communal and individual nature of persons is important.
Individual and communal. Each person is made in the image of God. God also summons each individual to repent personally in free obedience to the divine call. Jesus died on the cross to atone for the sins of eternal. Furthermore, since the invitation to life eternal is the truth about all persons, governments have no right to make laws that contradict or undermine this reality. When they do, their legitimacy disappears. Thus, the Christian belief in eternal life contributes significantly to placing limits on government.
A one-sided emphasis on either our material or our spiritual side has disastrous political consequences. If we believe that persons are just complex machines that evolved in a blind materialistic, evolutionary process, we will encourage society to place exaggerated emphasis on material well-being. We will also find it difficult, if not impossible, to develop moral norms that can check the totalitarian tendencies of government. Whatever the state decrees is declared “right.” There is no appeal to some “higher, divine law.”
On the other hand, many Christians have so emphasized the spiritual side of human beings that they have belittled the importance of history, politics, and material well-being. For decades, many evangelicals taught that saving souls was all-important; therefore good Christians should ignore politics and focus largely or exclusively on evangelism.
What we need is the biblical balance. We are created to find joy and delight in a material world that wise politics can help shape for our blessing. The results, however, are always limited. They are never important enough to abandon our relationship with God. But the Creator wants us to spend substantial time during our life in this material world enjoying and shaping it so that everyone can share its bounty. In fact, this material world is so good that some day the risen Christ will return to finish His task of removing all evil from this earth. Then all who believe in Him will receive resurrected bodies to live on this transformed earth and enjoy life eternal in the presence of the Lord.

Discipleship Journal, Issue 165, Ron Sider

May 11, 2008 Posted by | Christian, Christianity, conservative, culture, Democrat, Discipleship Journal, Republican, Uncategorized, vote | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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