Faithful Politics

Being faithful with our politics, not political with our faith.

(More than) Five Intelligible Words: Christianity, the Kingdom, and Political Engagement

Earth DayHow has your “walk” been lately? Have you been “going through a season” of something unusual? Perhaps you’ve been praying and felt like God has really “laid something on your heart,” whether you were having your “quiet time” or loudly seeking “second blessings.”

No matter what church you come from, it’s fair to say that us “born-again” Christians speak our own language – and, no, I’m not talking about anything related to 1 Corinthians 14. Christian conversations are peppered with phrases that, in any other context, would provoke everything from raised eyebrows (was that a “God thing?”) to police escorts (because being “washed in the blood” outside of a church context is unbelievably disturbing).

Last month, we introduced an ongoing project here at FaithfulPolitics.org to cooperatively develop a Kingdom-based theology of political engagement. So, in the interest of escaping from the pit of Christianese, we need to define at least one more term: what do we mean by “kingdom”? The broad tent of Protestant orthopraxy means that, depending on your background, this word might show up twice on every page of every Sunday bulletin, or maybe only during your sponsored missionary’s annual furlough update.

But – given that it was at the core of Jesus’ ministry – we should at least be familiar with the concept.

Unlike many first impressions of the idea (motivated by legends both Arthurian and Tolkienesque), the Kingdom is not, primarily, a place. Indeed, given that God Himself is the ruler in question, the Kingdom over which He reigns in that respect is coextensive with reality (Gen. 1:1, Col. 1:17). And, despite Jesus’ detachment from attempts to establish a politically independent Israel (John 18:36), his preaching was profoundly Kingdom-oriented from its inauguration: “‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” (Mark 1:15, NIV).

In fact, Jesus repeatedly seems to be referring to Himself when mentioning the Kingdom of God (or Kingdom of Heaven), indicating the signs and wonders He performed as evidence of the Kingdom’s presence (Luke 11:20, for example). As Dr. Craig Blomberg of Denver Seminary has described it, the Kingdom is primarily “the in-breaking of God into history to realize his redemptive purposes.” While this might manifest within the bodies of particular churches or during the works of particular believers, it is – first and foremost – the presence of God moving in a particular way. As God incarnate, Jesus Himself certainly embodied this divine power.

With this in mind, the phrase that is typically attached to discussions of the Kingdom analyzes the unusual nature of its manifestation: in an important sense, it has already been established, despite the fact that it will one day be realized in a deeper, fuller, and more comprehensive way – this is the “already, but not yet” nature of the Kingdom. Christ’s “invasion” of our reality (as C.S. Lewis described it) has already accomplished the salvific project and defined His authority on Earth (Heb. 9:12, 1 Pet. 3:18, many more), but not yet has his visible reign been founded in such a way that obligates recognition – though every Christian anticipates at the Parousia (Rev. 19).

Which brings us to the mission of FaithfulPolitics.org: as we work to engage the political sphere from a Scripturally-anchored foundation, we consider civic involvement to be one of many possible avenues for sharing the message of the Gospel – something Mark connects with the Kingdom in Mark 1:14. (Jesus associates evangelism itself with the Kingdom in Matthew 10:7!) This is a far cry from some post-millennial attempt to usher in the “not-yet” part of the equation: given the centrality of government to many elements of contemporary life, it simply seems foolish to detach ourselves from analyzing such topics through the lens of Christianity.

So, intelligent, intelligible engagement is what we’re about here at FaithfulPolitics.org – always and only for the glory of God and salvation of those He loves. We aim to speak about relevant issues with the understanding that God has already broken into our world to affect change and will one day do so in an even more impressive way.

In the meantime, “I’ll pray for you” (“bless your heart”). You might feel the need to “take it to the Lord in prayer,” but – “God-willing” – this website may one day help others to see “fruit in your life.”

But only  if God “lays it on your heart.”

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2 Comments

  1. Jesus announced the gospel (good news) of the kingdom that was coming through him. While the kingdom of Israel (including his own disciples until after his resurrection) heard this and saw him as the “Messiah” (anointed king, of Israel)–and either rejoiced in that or rejected that–Jesus preferred to call himself the son of man. And sometimes he associated this son of man with the one like a son of man in Dan. 7. In Dan. 7:13-14, one like a son of man is given a kingdom, so that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is eternal and will never end. Thus in Mt. 28, after Jesus’ resurrection, he tells his disciples all authority in heaven and on earth is his; so go to all the nations, make disciples, baptize them into the name (the presence and power) of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teach them to do everything Jesus commanded (as king). It seems clear that Jesus saw his new kingdom as an international kingdom of disciples who would practice what he preached and taught, through the grace (presence and power) of the Spirit, Son, and Father.

    Questions for today include: what percentage of church members are faithful disciples? Does our national kingdom–like Israel at the time of Jesus–want Jesus to be our Messiah? If Jesus confronted the sin of the leaders of the kingdom of Israel (especially the scribes and Pharisees, but also the chief priests), would he not also confront the sin of the leaders of our nation (whatever nation that is)? If Jesus did not try to reform Israel (and become their leader)–but focused on inaugurating his new kingdom–should we try to reform our nation (or focus on making disciples)?

    • “Lucas,”

      Thanks for the comment! I agree: especially in the light of Revelation 1, Jesus’ appropriation of the “Son of Man” title is significant. Also, several of your “questions for today” are important – particularly the one about holding the leaders of our nation accountable to God’s ultimate standard. I believe that’s a large part of what we’re about here at FP: judging the government (as all things) in the light of Scripture, not the other way around.

      I’m not sure I understand all of your questions, though, because I’m not sure what you mean by “national kingdom.” If you’re talking about the collective population as a group of individuals, then I think we’re on the same page (and political engagement is but one avenue among many for making the truths of the Gospel known). On this view, Jesus was, in fact, trying to reform Israel, because He was trying to make disciples of the people as individuals – the two are not mutually exclusive.

      If, though, you mean “national kingdom” as a separate entity than the vox populi, then I’m not sure where to go. Precisely because, as you say, the Kingdom is a matter of people, not national politics, I’m not as concerned if “the State” is officially Christian or not (provided that every individual is free to be so) – but from the sound of it, neither are you.

      So, yes – the Kingdom is a matter of hearts, not votes. And it’s not limited to any one nation, but Christ is Lord Over All. Insofar as we are able to, though, it seems appropriate to speak Gospel truth into every sphere of our influence – including the political one – provided that true discipleship remains our focus, instead of the bitter power-mongering into which politics can so frequently degenerate.

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