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.

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