Friday, February 8, 2008

Evangelical Politics: A Discussion, 3

(We Continue our discussion and review of Ronald J. Sider's new book, The Scandal of Evangelical Politics (Baker, 2008))...

In ch. 3 Sider attempts to connect the "Biblical Story and Politics." This chapter is biblically grounded and solid, but kind of basic, so I won't belabor every detail. What Sider does is briefly detail the biblical story of creation, fall, redemption, recreation and then he draws out some implications of the story. Among these implications:
  • The Nature of Persons: human beings are created as unique individuals, but also as fundamentally social creatures; we must affirm both truths. If we only emphasize our communal nature, we will end up with a totalitarian society. As it is, however, the radical individualism articulated by John Locke has produced an American society that has largely abandoned its communal responsibilities. Sider doesn't really flesh this out politically.
  • Sin: Sin has "radically broken" our relationship with God and with other human beings as well. The sins of individuals create a whole host of sinful social structures. Total depravity affects every part of the individual and the society. The implications? We must recognize that every individual politician will exhibit both God's "common grace" and humanity's "total depravity." As Sider says, "therefore, Christians should never trust any politician completely and dare never embrace any party or platform uncritically." Further, Christians must work on limiting government, building checks and balances wherein the selfish tendencies of individuals keep each other in check, and they must also make sure that the social structures the best they can be, while holding no delusions of utopia.
  • The Glory of Work: work is fundamentally good and any governmental and social structure that does anything to prevent able-bodied persons from working is evil.
  • Christ, the kingdom of God, and politics: evangelical politics must take into account that Scripture says that the kingdom of God is "among you." It is here and now, although only in an incipient form. The victory has not yet been won. If we remember both of these elements of Christ's kingdom, we can have the courage to actually work to enact some of the kingdom promises we read in Scripture (peace, justice, prosperity, etc.), without the naive thought that we will bring about the final kingdom (a la, the social gospel).
Running throughout this 3rd chapter is an issue that I think is very fundamental to evangelical politics: what is our view of creation and the afterlife? Most evangelical Christians, he says, have a very Platonic understanding of creation and the "afterlife" that is contrary to the Bible. This view runs something like this: Material existence is okay, but spiritual, disembodied existence is better. Jesus came to save us from this world, and when we die, our souls are saved and we go to live with him in disembodied bliss. When Jesus does come back he will destroy this earth and we'll all be in "heaven."

Sider takes N.T. Wright's position and says that this is not a biblical conception of the final consummation of God's kingdom. What will happen, rather, is that Christ will come and redeem this creation! I have to agree with Sider and Wright, at least on this point. When I read Romans 8:18-25 I don't see a creation "groaning" to be reduced to nothing. Rather, creation is yearning to be "brought into the glorious liberty of the sons of God."

The way that this eschatology affects evangelical politics is this: If this world will simply be exterminated and put out of existence and we must simply muddle through our time here and take as many people with us as we can, political engagement and activism become rather superfluous. If we understand that the kingdom work we do now (ranging from evangelism to social justice) is an image of the kingdom of God that will be here on the earth in the future, we are more apt to become politically involved.

I think Sider might be right on this point. What do you think? Are we just trying to ditch this earth, or does redemption include the earth itself? Does our eschatology affect our politics, or even our daily lives?

Matt

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