review of “The Politics of Witness: The Character of the Church in the World,” by Allan R. Bevere (part four)

Allan R. Bevere, in his book, The Politics of Witness: The Character of the Church in the World at the end of the book gives us a “a (not so) modest proposal” so that the church can fulfill God’s call to it for the nations. He calls this “the politics of witness,” no less than God’s unique work in the world through God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus.

A common misunderstanding of this position is that it means withdrawal from the world. We are so steeped in Christendom, that is the dependency of the church on the state (as well as to some extent the state on the church) that we can’t imagine the church being active in the world politically, apart from the state. This witness of the church, while political, is not at all dependent on the state. It is not of the world, but certainly for it.  We are to be like Jesus, who was active in the world, while of course not of it. Therefore we should be careful not to be aligned with worldly entities, so that we end up being used by them. Yes, the church being used by such. The religious right or left, being used by the political right or left. If we are caught up in this, then our politics of witness as God’s kingdom people in Jesus is lost. But this does not mean the church cannot work with the state in some matters, with good works and for the good of those in need. But only insisting that we must remain an entity distinct from any worldly entity. Only then can we be God’s prophetic voice to all.

The “politics of witness” is not worldly, it can’t be reduced or made to fit into any worldly political entity such as the Republican or Democratic party. It is church-oriented. And yet Allan believes it can and indeed should be a witness politically in the world of God’s good will for the world in and through Jesus. “The community of the cross is God’s politics in the world” (p 60).

Allan gives the church a strong call to live out this politics of witness with our treasure, our finances. How many of us Christians, and how many of our churches are in serious debt? We can’t even help our own who are hurting financially or due to lack of affordable health care. Allan is proposing that we must live in such a way, modestly and well within our means, so that we can be generous in helping the poor, and in good works.

The church ought to be a model to the world, to the state (public) and private sector of what God expects of them, of what is good. So this means that the church should be a light to the nations by good works, in how the poor are treated and helped. Of course scripture over and over again shows God’s concern and priority for the poor. And God’s expectation that his people will be sensitive to their plight, so as to help them. As well as God’s expectation for humanity to do right and good by/to them. If we as God’s people in Jesus are to be a witness to the world, we must be different in how we live, in what we value and do. We are to be storing up treasures not on earth, but in heaven by doing good to those in need.

Allan suggests that Christians who sense a call in which they might serve in some role in national politics, should be tested by the church to see whether or not they have the gift and moral character needed to be faithful to God in such a place. And that the church would ordain those who are judged fit for such service. He even suggests that those so set apart should do so evidently in some way independent of any political party. He admits that this may not translate into being elected. And yet suggests that it could spur something surprising.

Allan reminds us that we are Jesus’ witnesses, a witness that is to directly, as well as indirectly impact the worldly political sphere (as well as every other). The church is to live out its own unique culture in God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus by the Spirit, but not primarily for itself, but for the world. Allan acknowledges that our witness is primarily about making disciples who will be involved indirectly or directly in this politics of witness to the world, through the gospel of King Jesus.

Tomorrow we will end this review, with a few thoughts in keeping with Allan’s wish that readers contribute to his thinking with any critique, development, or additions related to his thesis. These could be helpful to him in writing another book of a fuller and more complete treatment on “the politics of witness.”

part one
part two
part three
part five, the conclusion