Defending Christendom

Posted: December 8, 2010 by Scott Kistler in Christ & Culture, Church History, History, Politics
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There’s a lot in Peter Leithart’s interview with Jason Hood at the Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology’s website, so I won’t try to summarize it all.  Leithart is, as he says, “an advocate of Christendom” who believes that Christians are to tell rulers that they must “kiss the Son” (Psalm 2) and obey the risen Lord of the universe, Jesus Christ.

Here are a couple of excerpts, but I’d really suggest that you take 15 minutes or so to read the whole thing if this topic interests you:

Political theology is not some specialized branch of theology, but a dimension of all theology.  Politics is not simply about passing this legislation or electing that candidate.  Politics addresses questions about the distribution of power, and more broadly questions about the shape and future of a group.  Theology cannot help but address those questions, and do it all the time.  The Bible certainly deals with political questions like this.

So, even when I am not doing political theology, I am doing political theology.  Let me given a couple of examples of what I mean.  Ecclesiology has been a major focus of my work, and, as I see it, that bumps directly up against political questions.  The intimate connection between ecclesiology and politics has been obscured in modernity because the church has been marginalized and has allowed itself to be transformed into a sociologically invisible and politically innocuous religious group.  Scripture, by contrast, treats the church as a political entity in itself, each individual congregation as an outpost of the heavenly empire of a heavenly Emperor.   That means that the church and its claims about Jesus, sin, and salvation are political claims, necessarily.

Secondly,

7.  Some political theologians note that Daniel simultaneously models service, critique, and a message of divine judgment.  Are all three of these to be implemented by believers?  Are they postures we should always exhibit, or are they more appropriate at some times than others?

PL:  I do think that the mix of these three postures varies depending on the political circumstances, and depending on the person involved.   And Scripture indicates that men and women can work faithfully even under the worst of rulers – think of Obadiah during the days of Ahab.  In thinking through this, my thoughts again gravitate to ecclesiological issues.  Daniel was able to serve, but also maintain a critical distance, because he was a member of another community, of Israel.  It seems that Christians today have difficulty maintaining that complex stance, or doing that complicated dance, because we don’t have an alternative home.  When Christians enter political life deeply conscious of the fact that they are members of the church, Christians first and foremost, that gives them a place to stand when they critique and when they serve.

I noticed significant overlap between the eccelesiology of Leithart and that of James Davison Hunter in To Change the World.  Both long for a church that is a true alternate community and that forms its members so that they can engage with society in a way that pleases God.  A big difference, of course, is Leithart’s postmillenial confidence that the kingdom will triumph in history, while Hunter has more of a two kingdoms view.

To see a bit of where Leithart is coming from eschatologically, check out his sketch of “the long view.”  The consideration of just war and total war that he discusses can be found here.

Hat tip: Justin Taylor

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