Sunday, June 28, 2009

Christ & Culture Revisited: Church & State, Concluding Reflections

You may be wondering why this is appearing instead of Kenya updates. We hit the ground running in Kenya and haven't slowed down. Tonight is our last night in Kijabe. We'll spend the day as tourists in Nairobi tomorrow before heading to London on Tuesday morning. We'll be back home with the kids on Wednesday evening. Once we get home I'll start walking through our two week journey on the blog - with some pictures. But as we were flying to Kenya I finished my summary of the next section of Carson's Christ and Culture Revisited. Enjoy before a steady dose of Kenya.

The church/state relationship is difficult to explore because it is such a broad topic and terms are so flexible. It often ends up being a Christian/state discussion. From this perspective, the starting point is that Christ followers need to ground their identity in their “heavenly citizenship.” It ought to be our primary identity. At the same time, the Scriptures tell us to submit to our governing authorities unless doing so would entail disobedience to God.

Carson agrees most readers of his book would be from democracies as opposed to more oppressive situations that the early Christians found themselves in. It is hard for Christians in a democracy to have an us/them dichotomy that Paul or Luke had. But one way we submit to our government in democracies is to take seriously are part as participants, including doing good to the city. This can be done at several different levels from voting to holding positions of office.

One of the dangers in a democracy, with the goal of doing good to the city and building coalitions (I assume), is to put our values and priorities in secular categories. The effects may be good, but it may indicate a false secular veneer and people think we are fake, or we may be signaling that secular values take precedence and that secularists are correct – theirs is the only position that is “neutral.” This may be a place where the church is separated from the state, but Christians need to engage the public arena.

Carson discusses challenges of Christians living their faith in the state will raise. The issue of funding that might be pulled if religious organizations don’t secularize certain aspects of what they do – even if it serves common ends with state institutions. Even so, the Christian must continue to minister for the good of society. Sometimes it is helping AIDS patients, but at other times it may be lobbying for or against a political issue that the Christian feels is harmful to the society – a casino, for example. The Christian may abstain because of biblical conviction, but they seek to stop it because it has a harmful effect on the broader culture. This is a way of loving one’s neighbor – even if the neighbor doesn’t see it this way.

One of the distinctives of Christianity that comes to bear on how its political engagement will contrast with that of Islam, for instance, is that there is an internal transformation required to become a Christian. With Islam, you can exert your will and become a Muslim. That’s why Islam has a broader vision of a society governed by the Koran. But Carson notes, “In short, we have a high stake in preserving a place for ‘conversion’ that is intrinsically supernatural …, that demands what some traditions call ‘soul liberty,’ and that certainly extends beyond mere practice” (p. 202). Being a significant majority with a pressure to conform to faith doesn’t result in true conversion from a biblical perspective.

As Carson concludes this illuminating and brief section, he makes it clear that regardless of the challenges of navigating these Christian/state relationships, God has called us to do good to our neighbors and to love them in ways that may cross over into government responsibility. Even if we’re told to depart, God has called us to stand firm and do good.

Ultimately, however, Jesus is King of all, but the end has not yet come. So we wait by serving Him through serving and loving our neighbor.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Pray for us!

We leave for Kenya today. Please pray for our trip. I’ll try to update either here or on facebook. If you want to find me on facebook, my name is Justin McElderry, Hometown: Ravensdale, WA (always home, even if I live in Orange County, CA). Check in here or there for our Kenya updates.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Christ & Culture Revisited: Church & State, Historical & Theological Reflections, Part 2

Yesterday we looked at an overly-broad international picture of church/state relations. Now we’ll do an overly-simplified scan of the American options currently put forth.

One (Dodaro), leaning on Augustine (many claim him, even as they disagree with one another), says there can be no justice apart from being Christ-centered. Therefore, a culture must be Christ-centered. Another (Markus) claims there are three spaces – sacred, profane, and secular. It is different from our secularism, however. Secular in his view consists of those things that meet needs and order society. The last Augustine claimant (Johnson) argues that Augustinians must move beyond tolerance, but not claim neutrality because it strips us of what we genuinely hold to. Instead, we tolerate (or better, love?) differences and await the Heavenly City for unity.

Another “mediating” position (Stout) shows how liberal secularists administrate the public arena while they are at the same time part of that arena. He argues for a “thick” tradition that allows for different views and communication. In the end, Carson doesn’t think, however, that he escapes the affirmation of liberal secularism, however.

Next are those who reject Constantinianism in its various forms. Some call for total abandonment of the wider culture (Amish) while others think Christians should engage and do good at all levels of culture, but not do it in such a way that it is a “distinctively Christian product or stance” (p. 179). Others think the church should be the church and it is against the church’s purpose to even have a philosophy of the state.

Others (Stassen & Gushee) try to bring disparate views together – and Carson thinks they do a pretty good job. For instance, they argue that just war adherents and pacifists should focus on their common ground of minimizing violence, not justifying making war – or discrediting it. Carson notes that many books like this one are eager to slam the US, but they ignore the abuses of organizations they laud, like the UN and their “spectacular ‘Oil for Food’ scandal” (p. 182).

The next view (O’Donovan) does not argue for a strong Constantinian model, but it recognizes that Christ is risen and triumphant and all governments are under His feet. Governments are “secondary witnesses to God’s own act of judgment” (p. 183). O’Donovan prefers minimal government, but he argues that the church helped during the Constantinian era to minimize government abuse.

Finally, while there is plenty of Christian left attacking the Christian right (and vice-versa), the most vociferous attack against Christianity and the erection of the wall of separation are the secular “far left,” according to Carson. Carson lists several and notes all Christians are lumped together – from Timothy McVeigh to Tim Keller (one author puts them in the same camp) and what they believe Christians think about the state would be laughable except for the fact that people read these books and believe them. Even the most politically active and engaged believers I know would find these views absurd and not representative of what they believe. Those who seek the “wall of separation” want religion to be purely private and some even think Christians should not be allowed to run for public office!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Christ & Culture Revisited: Church & State, Historical & Theological Reflections, Part 1

This next section, before Carson hits some conclusions deals with some key historical and theological issues surrounding the development of democracy, different ways Christians have balanced church and state issues, and the heritage of other religions, particularly Islam. We’re going to reorganize Carson a little for the purpose of post length. We’ll look at the Wall of Separation in general and then look at Western views of separation and then a little at Islam. The next post will be about the varied American views on the interplay between church and state.

The Wall of Separation
Carson argues that the American and French Revolution, while having some similarities and being close in timing, have a 180 degree view of religion. The American experiment separated church and state to protect the church from government encroachment and establishment on a national level. States were allowed, it seems, to establish churches based upon their preference. The French sought to eradicate the church from public life. It seems we have moved, culturally – at least in some opinions – to a more French approach. A key point in this turning is the “wall of separation” in Everson v. Board of Education (1947).

Internationally, the interplay between church and state is different. England has a state church, but as the culture secularizes, disestablishment of the church is a growing possibility. On the other hand, former communist countries embrace the freedom to bring religion into the public sphere to teach morals in schools (e.g., Hungary).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, observing church/state relationships in America saw the tendency to merge democracy and Christian faith, which he thought a dangerous step. He held to a “two kingdoms” view of church and state. Separate spheres that have their own realms of rule. Frenchman Jacques Maritain loved the American notion of separation (freedom “for” religion) and pleaded that it not be turned into the French freedom “from” religion. Carson fears we have gone the way of the French – or we’re heading there quickly.

Finally, Carson looks to the Muslim world. While some thought religion would wane in the modern world, it has not – and Islam is one of the reasons. Essentially, the Muslim does not value “religious tolerance” in the sense we do. It is “functional atheism.” Carson gives a few basic points that serve as an introduction to his discussion. They will conclude this post on the varied (and obviously broad and overly-simplified) church/state relationships in the world.

…Islam has (a) no heritage of “Give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” (b) a rather different view of the nation-state, which is clearly secondary to the ummah, the people of Islam, (c) nothing quite like a national church, still less a denomination, in some Western categories, makes much sense, (d) a sense of historical grievance stemming form the decline of its own influence during the past century and half or so, and (e) a rising sense of power stemming from the “successes” of its own radical elements, from the fiscal power it exerts because of rising oil revenues, and from its demographic advantages in Europe and elsewhere” (p. 191).
It is hard to tell which direction Muslim religion/state relationships will go, but in many instances, it is hard to distinguish between the two. There is a strong level of Constantinianism built in, but time will tell how things develop.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Christ & Culture Revisited: Church & State, Survey of Biblical Priorities, Part 2

Different Styles of Government, of Reign
If you read Matthew 20.20-28, you’ll see that there was a political expectation – even near the end – when it comes to Jesus’ reign. It’s a great passage. Be sure to read it. In it, Jesus rebukes the way of the world when it comes to authority. Instead of striving for prestige and praise, seek to serve and sacrifice for their sakes. This is the attitude Jesus had (Philippians 2.5-11).

Transforming Life … and Social Institutions
Christian belief may seem odd and even antisocial at times, but it can also be strangely attractive for some. At the same time, it can be subversive and transform social institutions. Philemon didn’t speak against slavery, but it planted the seeds that would eventually destroy the institution.

In the end, Jesus wins
Tension is inevitable because there is a contradiction between the world and the gospel. But that doesn’t mean, as the world would have us believe, that the gospel is a private truth. It is personal, but it is not private. It is public truth that will oftentimes lead to conflict, but we need to speak the truth, knowing that Jesus ultimately wins.

Summary of the Diversity of Biblical Themes
The church is a “transnational community” under a God who has placed human governmental authorities in place that they should obey – unless it conflicts with what God has called them to. And if it means conflict, the church can take comfort in the fact that God will win in the end.

These basic principles allow flexibility depending on the stance of the government. As change happens within believers, it is going to be beneficial to the state or cause the state to eventually persecute the church.

[Carson concludes by stating there are things Christians should do that are distinct from what the church should do. Someone commented on this in an earlier post and I’m a bit puzzled by how Carson breaks this down. I’ll have to look back because I’m not sure how he draws the distinctions so clearly. ]

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Christ & Culture Revisited: Church & State, Survey of Biblical Priorities, Part 1

Carson takes Mark 12.13-17 (“Give to Ceasar what is Caesar’s…”) as the passage that best defines church/state relationships. There are some creative interpretations of it, but it means that, while Jesus has all authority (Mt. 28), it will be contested until He returns and Christians live in the tension of being good citizens while not primarily identifying with any nation or state. This fits with Paul’s exhortations in Romans 13. This fits in our world because many can do good today “within government” in ways that Paul’s people couldn’t. There’s also an OT directive to work for the good of the city – even when they’re in exile (Jer. 29.7). Daniel is a model for serving in government without compromise – even if it meant his death. And Christians are encouraged to do good to all in Galatians 6.10. These basic principles can guide in different cultural contexts and tensions Christians have to think through and navigate.

Opposition and Persecution
Despite the support we should show for governmental authorities, it is clear that there will be opposition and persecution because we operate out of a different set of “norms,” according to Carson. Matthew 10 expects opposition and persecution and it is evident in Acts and Revelation as well (though it shows Christians winning official trials in Acts, too). Sometimes there will not be nationalized persecution, but it may operate on a lower level – state or local. This is also evident in Acts and Revelation.

Differing Fundamental Allegiances

But Peter and John answered them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard." Acts 4.19-20
Paul lays expectations on the church in his letters, not the culture (see 1 Cor. 5.12). There was much sin in the Roman world, but Paul felt no need to legislate against it. The church’s citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3.20-21). The early church had Roman citizenship, but their ultimate citizenship is in heaven. This will set us at odds, inevitably, with those who have no allegiance to heaven.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil

While the previous petitions have focused on the present, the final one looks forward to the future unknown. We will face temptations in life that are not obviously evil or sinful. They will look quite good – like Satan’s tempting of Jesus or Eve. They were beautiful, good options on the surface, but the results were fatal (or would have been, in Jesus’ case). We need protection and wisdom because “Dangers that don’t’ have the appearance of dangers are everywhere” (p. 190). I’ll end this walk through the Lord’s Prayer with a lengthy, challenging (particularly for pastors) quote from Peterson on the dangers of good-looking temptation:

I am no longer surprised that great evil finds its formation in places where people come to worship God yet are seduced into the pleasures of playing God. I am no longer surprised to recognize great evil in places of power, in business and government, for instance, where people have access to enormous resources to do good and yet are seduced into using the power to be powerful themselves. I am no longer surprised to come across great evil in families and marriages, where the opportunities for intimacy and affection are most accessible, and find that those opportunities have been squandered into seductions of depersonalized manipulation and control. Far more evil takes root in the places where goodness abounds than in desperate slums and the criminal underworld. Why should that surprise us? It got its start, after all, in Eden. (p. 194)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors

Giving and receiving is God’s creation norm. …But it is not normative in the human community. There is much amiss among us.

Sin is anti-gift and anti-personal. Sin ruptures or sabotages a living relationship. Instead of receiving, we take. (p. 185)
We sin plenty – in big and small ways. We take instead of give and so we need forgiveness. Exposing and pointing out sin isn’t how we glorify God, however. Instead, forgiving sin is how God is glorified. The only remedy to sin committed is forgiveness. Peterson graces us with this picture:

Jesus does not stand aloof from the mess we are in. He joins us where we are, mired in the mud of sin (‘became sin for us’: see 2 Cor. 5:21). He takes his place alongside us and invites us to pray with him, ‘Forgive us…’ (p. 186)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Give us this day our daily bread

We’ve now turned a corner from being “participants in the being and action of God” (p. 181) that can change us from self-centeredness to God-centeredness. Now we turn to our needs, but they aren’t random needs. They’re what we need to live for God’s glory. Need is the challenge of this petition. We don’t like to need, but in asking for bread we are recognizing our need, that we are not, ultimately, self-sufficient. But self-sufficiency is a cultural value for us, particularly in America. But when we don’t recognize need, we don’t receive grace. The best section of this chapter:

The limitations of our created state are invitations to live in a generous and receptive dynamic in the creaturely life that teems around us. Limits don’t limit us from being fully human. They only limit us from being God.

A violinist does not complain that her violin has only four strings. A poet doesn’t rail against the limit of fourteen lines in the sonnet he is writing. Every so-called limit is access to a gift, a gift of love, a gift of beauty, all gifts on offer to be received by open hands. (p. 184)