what hill are you willing to die on?

Then [Jesus] called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”

Mark 8:34-9:1

There has been a big shaking going on in society for some time now, akin to the 1960s, and I say the true color of Christians is coming out in response to that. Just where people will take a stand, what hill they’re willing to die on. One could say that where people have been for the last several decades is now being confirmed and solidified.

The question I think we need to ask ourselves is simply what our priority is, what overrides everything else. What defines us, what factors into how we see everything. What hill are we willing to die on?

Jesus made it plain to his disciples what their first priority was to be. To simply follow him, taking their own crosses, to do what he was doing. And that meant to abide by his teachings, both the general aspect and the details in it.

That meant to repent of their ideas of what the coming kingdom of God should be. What Jesus brought was not what they wanted. For us today, we need to apply what Jesus taught and lived out to the current situation. Are we taken in by something other than God’s kingdom in Jesus?

This is especially difficult when those we more or less favor are in power. So I speak to my white evangelical friends here. I’m no longer in that fold, but I’ve been a part of that tradition for decades. Why do we put our confidence in any political stance, or somehow think it’s Christian? I mean American politics. Unfortunately there’s little or more likely no understanding of the politics of Jesus, or that the gospel is political, that in a true sense everything which God is about in the world is indeed political. By political I simply mean the ordering of life: how humans live together, and how humans live on earth.

Evangelicals put politics in a different category than their faith, and yet they insist that a certain American political stand is necessary because of their faith, or for whatever reason. They are willing to talk and talk and talk about that, which indeed gives you the impression that it’s indeed important, that it’s likely a hill they’re willing to die on.

Yes, a whole bunch of issues need to be considered in light of God’s revealed will, not just one or two. We do need in love to speak out on such issues. To try to listen and learn. To pray, and hopefully discern.

But we must beware of giving ourselves to something other than what our Lord calls us to give ourselves to. We have one Lord. Are we inadvertently and mistakenly being taken into something else? Even for good reasons? We must be careful. No political party of this world deserves such commitment from us. I’m not referring to the Christians who may serve as elected officials of a political party, though they too must be wary. But to the church at large. And we in our commitment as individual Christians, followers of Christ.

However we might vote, we follow only one Lord. One politic, that which is in Jesus and God’s kingdom in him. Not two. That’s impossible. We either follow Jesus all the way, or not at all. Not easy, but the Lord will help us and see us through as we endeavor to do this with others. As we take up our crosses, the hill by God’s grace that we are called to be willing to die on. In and through Jesus.

a benign indifference to the politics of this world

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Mark 1:14-15

Stephen Backhouse wrote a most helpful book on Kierkegaard, and has a helpful podcast as well, entitled Tent Theology. The phrase “a benign indifference” meaning to the politics of this world comes from him.

Jesus was announcing a new political entity entirely. Most in Israel wanted the Roman government overthrown. But this kingdom would be entirely different. God’s kingdom come to earth in Jesus would never participate in wars. It would never directly be involved in the politics of this world. This government under King Jesus should be evident in the church. It is one of love for our neighbor, for each other, for our enemies. Love expressed in good works. And willingness to suffer in following Jesus.

The politics of this world are important up to a point. Much good can happen, as well as evil. And for those where I live, local government is especially important, underrated, but the state and federal government have their important place as well.

But for the follower of Jesus, there’s only one allegiance and one Lord. So regardless of what happens with the nation-state, our kingdom and King remain the same. We live in God’s kingdom come in Jesus. All we do depends on that, is rooted in that. Not in any party or politician of this world. So that indeed, we can and even should have a benign indifference to the politics of this world.

That doesn’t mean we don’t take a stand where needed. And many times we’ll not be in lock step here with each other. Jesus followers do think differently about the politics of this world. We must all try to see everything in the light of Jesus, God’s kingdom present in him, what he taught, how he lived. And look at what followed in Acts and in the rest of the New Testament. We must keep working on that.

A holy, loving benign indifference to the politics of this world. In and through Jesus.

the politics of Jesus followers

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

Luke 6:46-49

We live in a crazy time. Politics is front and center here in the United States, and that will more or less be so even after the upcoming election, but all the more now. And in the Christian tradition I’ve been a part of, it’s nearly assumed that a Christian will vote Republican due to abortion, and also because of another long list of supposed things the Republicans get right in contrast to the long list the Democrats get wrong. And if you challenge one bit of that, then you’re definitely outside the norm, and really can become something of an outsider. That reflects polls which indicate that political differences nowadays are more divisive than ever. 

Part of the problem in my opinion is that Christians see politics only in terms of the world, and fail to see the politics of Jesus at all, that there is such a thing. Broadly speaking, politics is just talking about a way of life, and how people live together. That unfolds from and within the kingdom of God in Jesus, and though not of this world, is indeed meant for this world. And Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6 (click link for entire “sermon”) gives basics about that politic. It is centered in love for God from the love of God, followed by love for our neighbor as ourselves, love for each other in Christ, and love even for our enemies. But there are details in it. It specifies a new way of life, how we’re to live. 

It is premised on the idea that we as Christ followers belong to one Lord, and are part of one political entity: God’s kingdom come in Jesus. Yes, we have citizenship here in various nation-states. But our citizenship strictly speaking is in the heavenly kingdom, again meant for earth, but from another place.

All that to say something like this: Whatever our position is with regard to the politics of this world, here in the States: Democrat, Republican, or whatever else, it needs to be formed from what should be our central identity, from King Jesus and God’s kingdom come in him. I think that leaves us in a place where we just are not going to be sold on any politic this world has to offer. There will always be serious critique of it.

Our politic in Jesus is always going to be different and at odds with any politic of the world, because central to life for us is not only loving our neighbor as ourselves and loving our enemies, and even those two consistently lived will set us at odds with much of the politics of this world. But we’re also to carry our cross in following Jesus, be willing to be mistreated for Jesus’s sake, and out of love for all.

We need to see this politic as in place for us now, as Jesus followers. The politics of Jesus no less, and therefore the only true politic of all Jesus followers. In and through him.

what difference is there in Christianity???

I’ve been wondering lately about the Christian presence in the world. It’s in the headlines quite often lately, evangelical Christian leaders speaking out on politics. There’s much astir. You start to wonder if being a Christian involves a big emphasis on a particular brand of politics. And what you see and hear from political leaders seems to be the same air these Christians breathe.

I’ve also been wondering lately just where the Jesus community really is? You can go to any number of places and hear a good sermon, message, conversation, whatever they call it. And with worship music skillfully done. But is what’s being formed there Christian? What difference does it make? Is there any distinction between that and what we might find elsewhere in the world. Sometimes I’ve honestly wondered.

When Christians seem to indicate that everything is at stake like in the upcoming election, then I’m not seeing any difference. Christians seem to be just another power player. But if I can see people humbly trying to follow Christ, his words and example, if I see something of that, that’s when my despair begins to lift, and a little hope sets in.

The church is not supposed to be a power player in the world. It should be sensitive to issues especially when the lives and good of people are at stake. To speak up humbly yet firmly and resolutely on issues like racism along with other issues is certainly more than fine, but necessary. And there is rightfully what’s called “the politics of Jesus” (see Matthew 5-7, etc.).

There’s only one difference in Christianity, one and really no more. And if other things become prominent, then that’s a sign that difference might be all but lost. That one difference is Christ. Not just Christ and Christ alone as in saving us. But Christ present with us in all of our humility and brokenness. Christ present to us for each other in the church, and for the blessing of the world in doing good works of love. Jesus. Read the gospel accounts along with the rest of the New Testament, and this will become clear.

Christ is the difference. Period. Nothing more, nothing less. Along with the distinctions that will follow. There might be plenty of rubbish to clear out of the way.

Jesus’s teaching is personal, private, public, and political

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Matthew 4:17

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:1-3

Under the influence of Enlightenment Modernism, which definitely has impacted us all, Christianity, the dominant religion in such places took on a personal, private emphasis. Faith became something that was for you, and impacted anything else indirectly through the impact it made on you. An emphasis was on the personal and private. God’s kingdom through Jesus was inside of you, in your heart, hopefully transforming your life, but more or less only indirectly influencing anything else. I’m sure there are many exceptions to this, and variations, but I think it’s safe to say that this was the general rule.

The separation of church and state fitted comfortably into that, but with the reality that while the church helped the state through its religion, the religion itself became more or less a civil religion, no longer tethered to the teaching of Jesus, adrift from that, at least in Jesus’s intentions.

Yes, Jesus’s teaching is personal and private, but it’s also public and political. And what’s political will be in stark difference to the politics of this world, even if on occasion it might influence the politics of the world for good.

There’s no escape from politics. Some might do so for awhile, but when they return, it is again in their face, a factor and fact of life. It can be certainly overblown for sure. But those who might see Jesus’s teaching as essentially personal and private, except perhaps to spread that teaching to others, will nearly invariably be involved in politics.

The missing element is the simple teaching of Jesus, which is again- personal, private, but also public and political. Public through repentance and baptism. Political in that it is steeped in God’s kingdom present here and now in Jesus, and lived out in communities of faith, in the church. Supporting each other. Loving enemies, doing good to others, especially the poor, oppressed and disenfranchised.

All of this is part of Jesus’s teaching and what follows in the New Testament. Our way is different than anything of this world. Down to earth, meant for the world, but counter to it. God’s kingdom now present in and through Jesus.

 

Christians are supposed to be followers of Christ, marching to the beat of a different drum

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

John 18:33-38a

Jesus was in trouble not because he was advocating some new religion about an inward kingdom. Yes, he exposed the Pharisees for their focus and emphasis on externals and not the heart. One could find Jesus’s thought in the Prophets, which is why Jesus challenged Nicodemus, asking him why as teacher of Israel, he didn’t understand such things. This was a challenge to their authority over Israel. Jesus, if he was the Messiah, the true King of the Jews, would challenge, undermine and ultimately overthrow that.

And Jesus as Lord and Son of God was a direct challenge to Rome, which used the exact same terms for the Emperor. Here was this group coming along and using the same terms for one they considered the Messiah. Rome looked at what he did, and considered it relatively harmless. But ultimately when Christians would not give any of the allegiance that belonged to Jesus to the Emperor, to the Roman state, then Christians would not be meeting the requirements of the state, the occupying rule. And therefore would be persecuted. Pilate did want to let Jesus go, but the claims of Jesus and his followers, and how that might get Pilate in trouble with the Roman authorities over him probably did have plenty to do with Pilate handing Jesus over for crucifixion. Along with the pressure from Jewish leaders. Ultimately any nation state will be weary of Christians whose full allegiance is only to one kingdom and Lord.

Something I hope to be more and more in step with along with others. In and through Jesus.

 

 

a new political imagination

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Mark 1:14-15

In Jesus’s time there was a profound, eager, if somewhat hushed among many expectation that the Messiah would at long last come and God’s kingdom with him, specifically to overthrow the Romans, whose grip on the people of God held them in a kind of exile in their very home. That’s where we have to begin if we’re to bring forward what Jesus’s words above mean in the present day.

We need to go on and read the rest of Mark’s gospel account, and along with that, the other synoptic gospel accounts, Matthew and Luke, with the final gospel account, John. Only then will we begin to understand the kingdom that God brings in Jesus, invading the world now, and ultimately destined to take over the world.

From this can come a new political imagination as we see the fulfillment of God’s promises to the world in Jesus, in King Jesus and God’s kingdom come in him. If we think it’s just about personal salvation and getting others saved to go to heaven someday, then we’ve missed the point. Yes, it’s in terms God reconciling the world to himself through the death of Christ, forgiveness of our sins and new life in Christ. But that includes the reconciliation of all things to himself and new creation. A kingdom no less is now present.

At the heart of that, or we could say inside of this reality in Jesus is a new way of life, a new way for humans to live not just individually, but with each other. Yes, a whole new way of life. One that we see in the New Testament fulfills God’s passion seen in the Old Testament for the poor, the oppressed, the stranger, those in chains and suffering, somehow as we find in Jesus’s teaching and what follows including even God’s enemies.

We know that God is at work even in what we call the state, nations and governments, kingdoms of this world. But we also know that God’s own kingdom work in Jesus is elsewhere and different. And that the kingdoms of earth will be ultimately judged and destroyed, exposed as the beasts they really are.

What can help us see and understand this new political imagination better is to understand the idolatrous hold nationalism can have on us. We American Christians ordinarily see politics in terms of left and right, conservative and liberal (and moderate), and whatever else might be floating out there. But surely God wants us to see through those paradigms for whatever usefulness and good they have in this world through the lens of God’s kingdom come in Jesus. We as Christians are called to be about that, and nothing more nor less.

That doesn’t mean that we can’t participate in one way or another in the world’s political system. It does mean that we do so essentially as outsiders, those of another political realm. Taking seriously the politics of this world, but only in terms of the politics of Jesus which has invaded the world, indeed the politics of the world to come. In and through Jesus.

Thanks to Stephen Backhouse whose work is renewing in a fresh way my own thought on this.

a different way of living

I’ve referred to Stephen Backhouse’s podcast entitled Followers of the Way: A New Political Imagination, and want to again highly recommend that you listen to them carefully in order. I just listened to the eighth session, and I must acknowledge that while it certainly critiques what has been troubling to me, it also critiques part of my own way of looking at life. Too often, or better put, it’s really embedded in me, the idea that what is most important and most real is my own world with God, as if my individual life somehow is central. Of course it’s important to keep a balance, and realize that yes, our individuality plays a part in the whole, for sure. But the whole is so much bigger. We have to deal with our own responsibility, but we do so realizing that we do so as part of a kingdom and way which is an alternative to every other kingdom and way of the world, contrary to every principality, which includes nationalism, and so on. And that we’re in this together in Jesus, as no less than an alternative kingdom under King Jesus.

To get this much more simple (and trust me when I say that the podcasts are simple enough to understand, but profound enough to have to chew on, and continue to ponder), and that’s what I need myself, we need to be aware that Jesus presents to us a completely different way of living. We act not out of what is aptly called “the orphan spirit” so that we’re hoarding, and refusing to give and failing to do what God would have us do. But we keep on giving and giving, and essentially giving ourselves, because we know that in God’s kingdom in Jesus, there’s always more and more that will be available to be given. That is a part of what we might call the economy of God’s grace. We see this especially laid out in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount.

We live as part of an alternative kingdom and way. Not in lock step with any other way, or kingdom or political ideology of this world. Everything seen in the light of Jesus, what he taught, his way, the way of the cross and resurrection. Something I want to better understand and live into and live out along with others. In and through Jesus.

true religion today

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

Amos 5:21-24

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1:26-27

It is a sad time, and a difficult one indeed, worldwide. With the pandemic, and all that has swirled around that, and now with the murder of another black person at the hands of a white person, even one who is supposed to enforce the laws of the land. There’s little wonder over the reaction that has taken place, terribly mistaken as it is, from years and years of pent up frustration and anger and loss of hope.

The anger on all sides is nearly overwhelming. You have Christians on the religious right holding the line steady on abortion being the evil of the day, and too often minimizing other evils, in my opinion, though not always. Then you have Christians on the religious left who too often it seems to me think that a political change can solve the problem. I don’t deny at all that political process and change can’t make a difference.

But what both Amos and James are getting at demands more than religious services with lots of words on how to fix the problem. What seems needed is an underlying passion for justice, and a heart set on making a difference. This goes well beyond politics, how one thinks in terms for example of American politics: left, right, moderate, whatever. It doesn’t leave those behind, and I think there can be good points in them all. But what is at the heart for Christians and for the church is nothing more or less than what Amos and James were getting at.

What is needed is a change of heart that can lead to the other changes needed. And this should be seen in the church, in its care for each other, and for its community and beyond. And it must touch the troubles of the day with the healing hand of Jesus. Our politics of this world should not even enter into the picture. There should be the kingdom of God influence which permeates all we say and do. “The politics of Jesus.” When people look at the church, they should not be able to figure out what American or other national political persuasion we’re of. They should instead think something like, “Wow, these people really love each other and everyone. They care about the poor, the oppressed, the disenfranchised, pregnant women, the unborn, the born, everyone.

I am confident that’s already true across the board. But that’s not seen when we make a big deal out of our American political stance. All that does is alienate others. We should not care ourselves one bit as to where we do stand politically. That’s all beside the point. The wise words of Abraham Lincoln can help us here:

Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.

None of us at all are on God’s side. But yes we can be and are, and we need to live accordingly, only in and through Jesus.

 

the Christian relation to the state within the politics of Jesus (now in the era of Obama/Trump)

[Jesus] replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’

Luke 13:32

I am amazed at how Christians where I live, in the United States line up with political parties and candidates. I’m not referring at all here to how one votes one way or another. Only how easily enamored or at enmity Christians can be toward political figures. We live in the era of Obama/Trump, and the polarization in the United States is probably greater than any time since the Civil War.

Sadly, I think we Christians are contributing to this mess. We ought to be those who speak truth to power. I personally liked Obama, but didn’t like all his policies, such as the use of drones. And I think what’s to be expected in a nation state is not at all the same as what is required in the church. Too often people conflate that, thinking somehow that America should be Christian through and through. But that’s never really been the case. While there’s been a strong Christian influence present, many other factors figure into the United States right from its outset, not the least of which is the Modernist Enlightenment.

I think white nationalism awakened when Obama was elected, and continues to grow in influence during the time of Trump. Just judged on Trump’s words alone, he is narcissist to a strong degree. It always seems all about him and loyalty to him. If you’re concerned for the good of the United States and what it’s supposed to stand for, you ought to go back and study George Washington, then compare that to Donald Trump. I can understand why Christians vote for Trump based on policy while disliking much that is evident in his character. After all, it’s not like other politicians haven’t had serious faults. But it’s another matter when Christians defend Trump and his character, seeing him as a great champion who they defend, glossing over his faults with excuses, or simply seemingly ignoring them altogether. I like Roger Olson’s point (see link later) that since he’s a “fallibilist,” he may be altogether mistaken, that his similar view of Trump (along with many others) may be mistaken, though he doesn’t think so. I will add that we need to pray for Trump and all in positions of government authority, and hope for the better.

As Christians we should not be in lock step with any politician or political party. We are of one Lord: Jesus, and thus to be committed to one political party only: that of God’s kingdom come and now present in Jesus. That politics should impact how we see the politics of the world. And when it does, Christians should be wary of any party, and never defend everything any one politician says or thinks.

Where are our core commitments? I am for the United States, really for all nations, but particularly for the US of which I’m a citizen. But my complete loyalty is only to our Lord Jesus, and God’s kingdom in him. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be a good citizen of the United States. It only means that my earthly citizenship is transcended by my heavenly citizenship which therefore impacts how I think about all of life, including the politics down here.

God’s kingdom in Jesus is now present in the church, and awaits it’s full unveiling and rule when heaven and earth become one at Christ’s return. Until then as those in Christ we’re called to be humbly faithful as witnesses to the one good news in Jesus. And seeing everything else in light of that. In and through Jesus.

(A number of theologians have influenced me over the years. Roger Olson’s recent post is probably echoed here more than I might realize. I never write meaning to state something as if it originated from me when it didn’t. And to the extent I’ve ever unwittingly done that in past years I’m genuinely repentant and want to be more careful while at the same time recognizing I only write what I truly believe, my own convictions even if under the direct influence of someone else. David C. Cramer’s recent post as well which is echoed at least in the Scripture passage, another scholar whose work I consider valuable. Add to that the recent talk I heard from Khary Bridgewater which influenced this post.

I’m reluctant to get into politics at all, and I don’t care to get into partisan politics. I believe partisan politics should never become a priority with believers. We can talk about issues and often agree to disagree. What has to remain central to us is our calling to live in and be witnesses to God’s good news in Jesus.)