review of “Christian Archy”, by David Alan Black

This is volume 1 of a new series entitled “Critical Christian Issues”, written with the goal of thinking through comprehensively and concisely in a Biblical and theological grounding with reference to issues relevant for God’s people today. By an author I’m familiar with because of an excellent book on Greek linguistics of his I have (I need to get his evident update on that). David Alan Black, Christian Archy.

Chrisitian anarchism actually consists of a wide spectrum of belief grounded in the denial of any sacral (that is, grace working of God for humanity) entity apart from the kingdom of God in this world. Anabaptist groups such as the Amish and Mennonite would be included along with other groups as seen from the above link.

David Alan Black introduces the book referring to what is a most prominent example of Christian archy, nationalism. Christian archy means any entity including the church itself which is made to displace the one salvation-oriented archy, the kingdom of God come in Jesus. Since Constantine, the author believes that confidence in a Christian archy or organized authority, has replaced confidence in Christ crucified and God’s kingdom come in him.

The author lays out the major tenets of Christian archy as he sees it. First that it is antithetical to the kingdom of God. Next it is utterly useless in God’s saving work in Jesus to the very end when final judgment and the new creation replace the present age. And thirdly, Christian archy has no “actual power or ultimate significance.”  He refers to all archys in this, not excluding Christian ones.

Next the author seeks to draw out some implications of Christian archy. Rather than beside the point which is following the way of Christ and his cross in “powerless love”, Christian archys become the way and means of fulfilling an end that ends up being a mixture of worldly and “Christian” ideals. Though in the process Christianity is subverted and actually no less than lost.  God’s people are unwittingly seeking the other things along with the kingdom of God when God’s promise is that as we seek first his kingdom and righteousness/justice, God will provide all our needs.

The author then looks at the church and the kingdom. The church is to be about the business of God’s kingdom in the mission of God in Jesus for the world. “The purpose of the church is to be God’s missionary people in the world” (p 17, author’s italics). The church is itself only as it fulfills God’s calling to it. It is salt and light for the world in Jesus so that it is not about sustaining itself, but about sharing itself as Christ’s Body and image in mission for the people of the earth. “…it is vital that the church be other-worldy and this-worldly at the very same time” (p 17, again author’s italics). The author quotes renowned missionary writer Lesslie Newbigin in pointing out that this essential calling reflecting the nature of who we actually are in Jesus is to be taken into all sectors of society, clarifying issues and being a “sign, instrument, and foretaste of God’s redeeming grace for the whole life of society” (p 19, quoted from Newbigin’s The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society, 232-33).

This reality of who we are as God’s people in Jesus will necessarily reshape our stewardship so that we are not supporting ourselves but the mission of God for the world. And it will reshape our leadership modeling so that those set apart by God to prepare his people for works of service will themselves do the works they are teaching the rest in Christ’s Body to do. This mission is done not from mere formality even with reference to God’s command in “The Great Commission,” but under compulsion by the love and Spirit of Christ moving in God’s people as Newbigin points out from another quote from the same book.

The author then looks at the power of the powerless, God’s way in Jesus. This involves living in the love and humility of Jesus both in community with each other, and in mission for the world. Key and supporting passages from the New Testament are referred to in support of this. How this plays out in the world is in itself beside the point. It may indeed look political or not, but it will be grounded solely in the kingdom of God, a kingdom not from or of this world, yet present for the world in Jesus. The church must return “to the basic doctrine of Christ’s incarnation and his utter devotion to the kingdom of God” (p 32). And, “The kingdom of God belongs not to the powerful and religious, but to the poor and childlike humble. The test is simple: How much do you really serve the world without religious and political machinations? It is only when we become active in obedience to the Suffering Servant that the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17) is seen in its true meaning and has its full freedom of operation” (p 32).

In conclusion the author ends on the note of “Christ’s cross-love” as being our script and that alone as we anticipate his return as a Husband for his Bride.

I think I’m theologically with David Alan Black in this book. I am glad he leaves open Christian activity in all sectors of society. Given my Mennonite upbringing and Anabaptist leanings, I lean toward seeing the state as a sign in contrast to the kingdom of God in Jesus, so that the state, meaning governing entities, always tend toward making us as God’s people in Jesus, all the more long for his kingdom and pray that it will come so that his will may be done here on earth as it is in heaven.

I might wonder at his references to religion. He does seem to qualify that with the word machinations.  I don’t see all religion or all that the church does within certain traditions such as the Roman Catholic, or Protestant, as being necessarily out of line with the working of God’s kingdom. I don’t see God’s kingdom as anti-religious or apolitical (on the latter, neither does Black), though I certainly would agree that the church can end up as part of an entity which itself is not of the kingdom of God, but is worldly. I agree that this is played out in both the religious right and the religious left, and in other entities.

I believe the thrust and heart of this book are needed and crucial for the faith, life and witness of the church today. It is short, concise and affordable, one of those books one may want to work on, and good for reference. So I highly recommend at least getting your hands on it and working through it. These are thoughts that I believe are at the heart of our daily existence as God’s people in the mission of God in Jesus for the world.

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