Archive for the ‘Church and State’ Category

Food for Thought

February 11, 2009

In light of my questions below about the legitimacy or lack thereof of dissolving one’s political ties to a government, I found Lee Irons’s review of Seyoon Kim’s new book entitled Christ and Caesar: The Gospel and the Roman Empire in the Writings of Paul and Luke  quite helpful. [HT: Justin Taylor].  Here are the links to these brief but informative posts:

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: The Letters of Paul

Part 3: Luke-Acts

Part 4: Implications for Today

Here’s the bottom line: Kim argues against the thesis that has arisen in recent decades that the New Testament writers (particularly Paul and Luke) proclaimed the gospel specifically as an antithesis to the imperial cult.  In other words, if Kim is right, then Paul was much less concerned with political realities than  someone like an N. T. Wright would claim.  I have not done an in depth study on this, but my instinct is that Kim is basically right, although I agree with Irons’s concern about the way Kim draws out implications for today.  This looks like a book well worth reading.

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Concerning the Name

May 5, 2007

Hi, welcome to my new blog, The (Re)Publican.  Let me explain what that means.  In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector.  Both went up to the temple to pray.  The Pharisee prayed an arrogant prayer of thanksgiving for his own righteousness, but the tax collector simply prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”  Jesus then makes his point: “I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” 

In the King James Version, the tax collector is called a “publican.”  I want to identify myself with this man.  I am one who has no claim upon the favor of God.  All I can do is pray that he will be merciful to me, a sinner.  And he has been.  Of myself I am nothing, but grapsing Christ as my righteousness, I too go down to my house justified. 

I want to embody the spirit of the publican.  In a sense, I want to relive in my time what he represented to the first century readers of Luke’s Gospel.  Hence, I am the (Re)Publican.  But of course, you can’t miss the political reference as well.  I am also a Republican, and I do post on political issues from time to time. 

I believe there is a connection between these two themes (theology and politics).  My political views flow out of my understanding of God, the world, and especially human nature.  The primary reason I am not a Democrat is because I am convinced that Democrats misunderstand the way the world works due to a misunderstanding of human nature as fallen, sinful, selfish, and corruptible.  Hence, I oppose big government.  I harbor no misconceptions that the problems confronting our society can be solved by higher taxes, the redistribution of wealth, or the consolidation of power into the hands of a centralized government.  Government is wasteful and inefficient.  It is like an ever-growing monster (you might say a Leviathan) that must be kept under restraints at all times, lest it subdue and eventually destroy human liberty.  Therefore, the people of a democratic society must continually press government to restrict itself to providing only those protections and services that cannot be provided by private citizens. 

Preeminent among these protections is protection from enemies of our nation.  Thanks to the leadership of Ronald Reagan, we saw the collapse of the Soviet empire.  Peace was achieved through strength.  Appeasement was the strategy of the doves on the left who raked Reagan over the coals day after day.  Appeasement didn’t work.  Military superiority did.  The left misread the whole situation.  They thought that good faith measures on our part would lead our enemies to peace.  Reagan saw that strategy as nothing more than feeding a bear.  And if you feed a bear, he will always want more.  Appeasement does not work.  Peace is achieved through strength, through victory.  The left is naive about the enemy we are currently facing, just as they were naive about the Soviets.  I am a Republican because I believe the war on terror is an offensive war, not a defensive one.

So, how can I be both a Publican who believes in grace and forgiveness and a Republican who believes in strong defense measures against national enemies?  How can I plead the grace of God for my own sins while arguing that the government should not extend grace to those who have broken the law or attacked us?  The answer to this is that God has ordained the church and the state to operate according to different principles.  The church proclaims the gospel of grace and forgiveness and wields the sword of the Spirit.  The church has not been given the power of the civil sword.  The state, by contrast, has been given the power of the sword, and its duty is to protect those under its authority and promote justice, so that life in this world may go on.  Both spheres of operation are gifts of God’s grace.  One pertains to the maintenance of creation, and the other to the renewal of creation.  The state, as an agent of God’s common grace, acts in such a way as to restrain sin in order to keep it from destroying us all.  Without this civil restraint, life on this earth would not be possible.  We are so thoroughly corrupted by sin that we would have no hope of survival if God did not delegate the power of the sword to civil authorities.  But God also sent his Son to redeem this world, and he has committed the message of the gospel to the church.  The church proclaims that anyone and everyone can be saved by faith in Jesus Christ.  Yes, that includes Islamic terrorists.  One of the major challenges of theology (and of politics) is keeping these two spheres of operation separate.  The government should not be in the business of forgiving sins.  If that were the case, there would be no justice, and society would be doomed to complete chaos.  The church should not be in the business of compulsion.  Faith in Christ cannot be compelled, and while the church should have disciplinary measures, these are internal measures only.  The state keeps creation from plunging into complete ruin.  The gospel, as both event and message, announces and effects a new creation, where God will be all in all.   

So, that’s me, the (Re)Publican.  But I am much more of a Publican than I am a Republican.  Political parties will come and go.  In fact, I’m not entirely happy with my party right now.  Many Republicans have been caught up in scandals lately.  Even though they claim to be the party of small government and fiscal conservatism, Republicans in Congress basically operate according to the same principles when it comes to pork barrel spending (but, of course, we the voters deserve that because we vote for candidates who bring federal dollars to our communities).  And currently, the Republican race for president doesn’t look so hot.  I’m not the most enthusiastic Republican, but I am an enthusiastic conservative and a redeemed sinner who is even more enthusiastic about grace.