The link below is to an op-ed piece by David Rourke, published yesterday (January 19, 2018) in the Dallas Morning News.
In the piece, Rourke points out what he sees as a split among American conservative Christians—a split defined by “how inconsistent the Christian right has been on policies that line up with the principles the Bible would deem to be true, good and beautiful.”
On one side of the split is the new guard: those who “appear unwilling to make the moral compromises necessary to support the GOP as we know it.”
On the other side is the old guard, whose…
“…problems are enormous despite positive intentions. Many of these traditionally religious right evangelicals pick and choose what parts of the Bible they apply to American society, especially when it comes to the sanctity of human life. For example, many are passionately pro-life when it comes to unborn babies but not when it comes to women, refugees, minorities and the poor. Further they entangle the agendas and ideologies of the church and the Republican party. Instead of seeing America as a type of wayward Babylon, they see America as a type of Jerusalem.”
It's not a new distinction. Rourke uses the language of St. Augustine (4th century): “the city of God and the city of man have competing aims. Until conservative Christians get this, we will fail to faithfully be in the world but not of the world” “In the world but not of the world” is a distinction implied (but not directly stated) by Jesus in his Gethsemane prayer for his disciples (John 17). Standing before Pilate, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
That distinction is consistent throughout the New Testament between the kingdom of God (or the kingdom of heaven) and the kingdom of the world, the former ruled by God and the latter ruled by Satan. Christians live by a different standard (spirit) than that of the world (flesh).
Augustine used the terms, city of God/city of man. John Calvin (16th century) would try to reorder Augustine’s city of man to make it become the city of God. His vision for a Christian community still inspires many, although his vision of a brutally judgmental God became counterproductive to his vision.
In Christ and Culture (1951), H. Richard Niebuhr outlined five prevalent viewpoints with which Christianity has confronted the distinction and relationship between the kingdom, or city, of God and the kingdom of the world/city of man:
o Christ against Culture.
o Christ of Culture.
o Christ above Culture.
o Christ and Culture in Paradox.
o Christ Transforming Culture.
Today’s evangelical Christians fall, it seems to me, in either the Christ against culture, or the Christ Transforming Culture mode. Christ against culture is generally the position taken by dispensationalist premillennialists, who believe the world is beyond saving, and that they are called to win as many individual souls as possible for Christ before he returns to destroy the Prince of this World (Satan) and establish the kingdom of God once and for all, either here on earth or in some totally different realm.
The Christ-transforming-culture camp believes it possible for humans to make the world Christian, and attempt to do so by taking over the political structures of government and enacting Christian legislation to win America back for God. It is to these conversionists that Rourke refers in his comments.
In perhaps the most comprehensive commentary on these distinctions to date, Gregory Boyd’s The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church, suggests that the two realities (the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world) are mutually exclusive, and cannot be merged, because they emerge out of mutually exclusive paradigms.
The kingdom of the world is established and maintained by what Boyd calls a “power over” model, which he calls the power of the sword: the ability to enforce specific values and cultures on another, with or without the other’s approval. By contrast, the kingdom of God is established and maintained by a “power under” paradigm, which Boyd calls the power of the cross: a Christ-like sacrificial, loving service extended to all, including one’s enemies.
Boyd says Christians should be involved in the political process, but should not confuse their involvement with a manifestation of the kingdom of God. Christian legislators can enact policies that reflect God’s will; nevertheless, those policies do not transform a nation into the kingdom of God, because they are established and maintained by a power over model. Only a Calvary-like love will transform the world.
Meanwhile, the unworkable effort to merge the two kingdoms increasingly distracts Christians from their calling, which is to mirror the loving, inclusive, sacrificial servanthood of Jesus of Nazareth.
Yet, we are not simply to do nothing. We are called to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with (our) God” (Micah 6:8). We are called to live as witnesses to Christ’s Calvary-like love, even for his enemies, trusting in God’s promise (manifested by Jesus) that love is more powerful than the sword; trusting that God can and will work through our love to transform the world.
But we are not called to inflict or enforce that paradigm on anyone else. To do so would make it a kingdom of the world reality.
Rourke concludes: “The mission of the church and the mission of the Republican Party cannot cohabitate in a strategic partnership, regardless of how well the GOP seems to line up with Christian thought in a given era. The closer these institutions come together, the more the church will lose credibility and power, the more the church will look less like itself and more like the world. To use the language of St. Augustine, the city of God and the city of man have competing aims.”
That’s the way it looks through the Flawed Glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,