We live in a time when Christians are struggling, perhaps like never before, with how to engage the world – the culture, the politics, society as a whole. Are we to stand against the culture or be relevant to it? Are we to engage politically or abstain? What does faithfulness look like today?
Recently, James Davison Hunter gave our modern Christian engagement a scathing critique in To Change The World (Oxford Press, 2010). He makes a strong argument that the way believers of all stripes – Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants, Neo-Anabaptists, and the rest – have engaged the broader American culture has been to the detriment of both the culture and the Christian message. Consider these simple questions: When the average American thinks of a Christian, is it positively or negatively? Are Christians generally considered loving or something less than loving? Are disciples of Christ models in our society to be followed or not?
While it is certainly true that the values of the world do not always align with the values of Christ, and therefore being esteemed by the world is not the highest value, there is something to be said for having a good reputation among the citizens of this world (1 Peter 2.12). What has happened to the view of the Church in such a short period of time that an institution that once was seen as a good place to send your kids (even if you personally wanted nothing to do with it) is now seen by many as the primary promulgator of bigotry, racism, homophobia, and general falsehood in our world today? Whether people are wrong in there assessment is basically irrelevant. The question at hand is, “WHY?”.
The answer lies somewhere in our inability to speak truth in the world without losing our voice of love (Ephesians 4:15). It lies somewhere in our inability to engage the world without becoming inextricably linked to the world’s systems and ideologies. We have put our hope in political parties (varying, depending on the era and which branch of the Church you identify with), in passing certain laws (again, varying depending upon which church you worship in), and public figures/celebrities.
While these problems are real, the alternative sometimes posed is to remain apolitical. If political engagement is creating as many problems as its solving (is it really solving any of them?) why not simply disengage? But the Gospel does not allow Christians to be apolitical because the Gospel is about the kingdom of God. Like any kingdom, this one has political realities attached to it. When Jesus paid his tax to Caesar, that was a political act of obedience (Mark 12:17). When the disciples spoke about following God instead of following the Sanhedrin, that was a political act of rebellion (Acts 5:29). Whether you acquiesce or rebel, your actions will have a political element.
Not only is it impossible to be apolitical, it would not be allowed if it were possible. Each believer is a citizen of the kingdom of God, a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20). We are also ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). As such, we are called to engage this political reality with the political reality of the Kingdom. This isn’t politics as usual. Nor is it apolitical. This is a meta-politic.
I’m using the term meta-politics not for the political discourse about politics, but rather as the politics from above – the politics that rise above the politics of the earthly kingdoms precisely because they are the politics of heaven. This is not some “middle way” or balanced approach that blends the Democratic and Republican platforms. This is a Kingdom way that obliterates these platforms because they are not only wrong on so many particulars, but they are wrong in their very attempts to wield earthly power outside of the authority of God. Because of this difference, even when the political parties get the details right, they still mess it up.
Of course, we know that this side of heaven, human institutions will always fail in this regard. As believers, we must set our expectations properly. There is no reason for us to believe that the politics of the world will ever correct all our problems. However, there are degrees of distance from God’s best for us. As Christians, we do well to search for ways to engage the systems of the world without becoming entangled in them. This is the beginning of a meta-politic. This is the beginning of being the kind of ambassadors that, even when taking positions that the world hates, the world nevertheless must acknowledge our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven.
I will be exploring what it would look like for believers to engage the world – politics, culture, our neighbors – in such a way that Christ is glorified, that actually makes things better instead of worse, and that allows us to have a good feeling when it’s all over. I’m convinced that the politics of the Kingdom is the place to start. Please join with me and share your thoughts below.