Christ’s Parousia is Our Salvation Not Christian Politics

Hey I went into Christian bookshop, Koorong, this morning (just for academic research purposes of course), and guess what?

Hidden  on the shelves behind The Women’s Devotional Study Bible, The Men’s Devotional Study Bible, The Spirit-filled Life Application Bible, and The Prosperity Gospel Bible (is that even a thing?) was the 21st Century Western Christians’ Guide to Modern Politics Bible. 

What a find!

And the latest edition comes with “how to vote” cards in the upcoming US Presidential election, the soon to be upon us Australian Federal Election, and the Brexit campaign in the UK. Pretty nifty huh?

And as is my wont  with new editions I went to a specific text to see if they got it right.  And here’s how one of my favourite test-case texts, Colossians 1:3, reads in the 21st Century Western Christians’ Politics Bible:

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ when  we pray for you, since we have heard about your faith in the political process, and of the love that you have for those Christians on your side of the political fence, because of the hope laid up for you on election night.

Nailed it right there.  Faith. Love. Hope.  All directed in this age of course.  All focussed on the goals and plans of this age.  The 21st Century Western Christians’ Political Bible should sell like hot cakes.  Maybe not in Syria, but Sydney certainly.  Maybe not in Poland, but definitely in Perth.

Ok, I jest, but is it that far from the thought patterns of many Christians in the West (both progressives and conservatives) today?

For two things struck me after the dust stirred up around my Hanoi Jane post had settled, in which I called out progressives for their lack of gospel eschatology.

Firstly, if Facebook comments  – often merely faux intellectualism posing as academic rigour – are any indication, we’re in trouble. There’s Buckley’s chance of a civil conversation with the secular framework about our social disagreements if we can’t have a civil conversation amongst ourselves.

Modern Western Christians are struggling to do Gospel conflict well at the moment.  Pure and simple.   They have drunk deeply from the tainted Kool Aid in the political punch bowl.

But secondly, and more importantly, eschatology has fallen off the Christian radar, particularly, though not exclusively from the progressive crowd.

So much so that my state conviction that our hope is grounded not in this age, but in the age to come, was sneeringly referred to as “neo-fundy”.

Now to be fair, this lack of a robust eschatology is a politically conservative problem too.  Or it was, right up until the point in which many conservatives realised that the culture war was lost.  After all, the hope of the Moral Majority in the US was to “take this country back”. Since that’s not going to happen, where should we look? (No, the answer is not Donald Trump).

Here’s my concern: Since when did it become an arcane historical curiosity for Christians to believe what we’ve believed since the resurrection? Since when was it reactionary  to believe this: Christ’s parousia will ultimately rescue us, not Christian politics?

For that’s what we believe, right?  That Christ’s parousia will ultimately rescue us, not Christian politics? Don’t we?

That’s why Colossians 3:4 states (in the ESV)

When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory

Note the use of the word “ultimately” in my statement. It’s a great caveat. A robust eschatology does not negate doing good in this world, or render it redundant, but rather, it gives it shape and meaning. Our ultimate rescue is through Parousia not Parliament.

What does a robust eschatology give to our politics? Here are three things to start with:

1.Humility.

Modern politics is so often proud, angry, and determined to have its way.  We fall into that trap all too easily.  The primary reason it is so, is that politics imagines that it alone is our salvation.

Our eschatology reminds us that we are ultimately not going to change the world to fit our own image.  In fact we are to be conformed to the image of Christ, and our ultimate conformation will occur at His return.

2. Charity.

There’s not a lot of that in politics, and precious little of it among Christians in the political process.  And that goes for all sides.

How can we, who will share eternity with each other, in which Jesus is undisputed, self-declared, unelected King, think for one moment that our side is the right side on everything, bar none?

3. A High View of Human Life

Eschatology, rightly understood, means that you will pray for and help the refugee who comes here by boat, and you will pray for and help in any way possible, the unborn child.

The progressives will hate you for the one, and the conservatives for the other.  And rightly so, for you are shaped by the politics of the age to come, not the politics of this age.

The Lord is returning to judge the world in righteousness because it’s His! He owns it.  He owns every life on the planet.  He gets to decide its worth. Every human life on the planet is created Imago Dei.  That means you don’t get to scorn or shun the boat arrivals, and you don’t get to scrape the unborn out of a womb.

It matters not a jot where you think the official journey of the asylum seeker originated – Afghanistan or Indonesia – they belong to God and are created Imago Dei.

It matters not a jot whether you think life begins at conception or life begins at birth, that life is not yours to take, it was created for and by God.

God owns all life and his judgement on the final day through Christ will silence a lot of loud-mouthed naysayers on both those issues.

Now whatever else you call this perspective – neo-fundy, non-academic, no-room-for-it-in-the-academy, let’s be clear: eschatology is central to the Christian faith.  When it falls off the radar then all sorts of utopian fancies stir within us. Utopian fancies that are proud, loveless, and view humans who do not meet their criteria as “persons” with disdain and indifference.

 

7 Comments

  1. Steve, I am sure many/most Christians would agree that identity politics is put in the the shade by our knowledge of the age to come….but several problems remain: (and I know I am repeating myself)

    1. Wilberforce, Lincoln and others changed this present Earth in a meaningful way that gave honour to Christ, but only by sometimes fiercely and repetitively opposing the status quo, including their Christian brothers and sisters. This was not some abstract intellectual argument, it saved millions of people from horror, indignity, abject degradation. The same for the early days of the Sydney colony when the church spoke out against violence against Aborigines, and of course the same in South Africa. There is a time for opposing apathy. It is not logical that those who are concerned about refugees somehow need to know all the answers or else keep quiet….we don’t expect those concerned about the unborn to have a plan in place for how the child is going to be cared for forever, we just ask that the child be allowed to live in this imperfect world.

    2. Christians have been and still are very vocal about the unborn….I well remember the protests at Parliament house (in 1996 if I remember correctly) when abortion was legalised. In contrast there are very few public voices (with notable exceptions) from evangelical churches speaking loudly about refugees (ACL is on Q&A speaking about SSM, not refugees setting themselves on fire in despair). Why the contrast? It seems odd that “liberal” churches who perhaps do not share our eschatological perspective would at the forefront of social justice issues

    Is it better for us to forget about the political labels altogether and just focus on what God’s word is telling us?

    I think I am agreeing with you but I believe a. sometimes we need to meet injustice head-on, loudly, fiercely as Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer did, and do so in the public sphere. Does having a last-days perspective mean we do not engage politically? b. the relative silence from evangelical churches when refugees are beaten to death by those in paid employment of our govt, or when recognised refugees burn themselves to death in despair, or when political leaders incite racial scorn….seems hard to comprehend. FB status updates have never changed a politician’s mind, it needs direct engagement with the political process.

    *i am aware of the concern at Prov for refugees and several people who help refugees directly and even open their homes, I do not doubt that there is a lack of love and compassion, my question is whether a perspective of the age to come necessarily means we do not try to intervene directly and politically. At present Red Cross is inundated with offers for help for refugees, the problem is that the Syrians whose homes were flattened in Aleppo today cannot get access to refuge, the problem is directly political.

    1. No doubt that we should take action. Part of that is going to be political agitation. But the primary problem is that the Christian framework is so fractured, so non-eschatological that we have no Christian consensus in the church from which to work, never mind the culture.
      Hence Wilberforce et al, called the Christianised culture to do what it knew was right, to demonstrate that in action it would do what it gave lip service to, that we are all created by God equally. That’s a long way from the human rights perspective of today. The last vestiges of the Christian framework are draining away from the political culture quite frankly, and it is increasingly harder to appeal to any vision of “the good” never mind call people away from “the bad”.
      So whilst I think we still need to find voice in this area, we are to be quite realistic about what we can achieve. Once again it is James Davison Hunter’s book on this, To Change The World, that I find helpful

  2. Great Post Stephen. Thought provoking and challenging. There is a radical middle. Being fully aware Jesus is returning. And will make things right. But also having hope for today, that through the power of the Spirit, the Church and the Church in community that we can make radical change.
    I don’t have hope in the government. I pray for them. But my hope is in the hope Jesus has left on earth until He returns….the Church.
    Peace and joy brother.

    1. Thanks Mark. And thanks too for the cut and thrust of the recent conversations, it’s been food for thought for me. And encouraging to have people who disagree when they feel compelled to, but all in a spirit of love and unity.

  3. Yes, it is so God honouring to weaken legislation that encourages illegal people smugglers to keep drowning people, rather than allow the UNHCR to properly process refugees into Australia in an orderly fashion. Even Bill Shorten has seen the light on this illegal people smugglers, finally.

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