Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How to spot a "true" Christian

According to Andrew Sullivan:

Christianity flees power as Jesus did; Christianism seeks it above everything else. And there is nothing more powerful than killing others, except for torturing them. Hence my distinction, which I make from no authority. I merely think that declaring a homeless, apolitical, non-violent hippie in first century Palestine as someone who would bless a twenty-first century terrorist militia in North America is a bit of a stretch.


I think it would be overly simplistic to call Jesus apolitical. No, Jesus did not work within the existing political parties of his day, but his message was radical and subversive to the cultural status quo , and that certainly had political ramifications. To paraphrase JH Yoder, proclaiming Christianity is in itself a political statement. That said, I do agree that it is (or should be) a political statement for peace, fleeing the "political establishment" and its control and violence.

13 comments:

Anonymous? said...

Such a short post that seems to have so much thought and reading behind it. Certainly a post that seems to reference some of the more discussed posts. I think there may be context to your thoughts as well as to Sullivan’s I may not realize, but I’ll start with what’s here, and hopefully not take things out of context or to mean things that are not intended.

To the second paragraph… “His message was radical and subversive – had political ramifications”. I would agree with this sentence. To me the word that is crucial is ramifications. I’ll agree that it would be overly simplistic (and self serving to Sullivan’s post) to call Jesus apolitical, but I think it also has to be stated that He in no way came as a political figure. That is why I focus on the word ramification. Christ had political impact, but His focus was anything but political. He came for one reason. Stated different ways that reason was to save us from our sins, to conquer sin and death, to fulfill the scriptures, to carry out the Father’s plan, etc. None of these are political reasons. In fact they are quite ambivalent to man’s politics. What Christ did affects every area of our life and every aspect of our world. Yes, that includes politics (and the military), but that is ancillary.

Perhaps this is just picking on wording, but for reasons of emphasis and purpose, to me it is very important. “Proclaiming Christianity is in itself a political statement”. I think that Yoder, not Christ, wanted to make a political statement with that paraphrase – and he did. In my opinion, making a political statement means that your statement is made with political intention to influence, promote, dispute, or affect political actions. This is not why we should proclaim Christ. We should proclaim Christ that others might know Him. I know we agree on that, and that those who believe in Christ have views that run the gamut of political expression. If one is a Christian, it should be expected that he is a follower of Christ, and carries an orientation of obedience to God’s law of righteousness and Christ’s example. This applies to all things. All beliefs, all actions, all occupations, and certainly includes politics. But to call or imply Christ is a political figure, or that Christianity has political intent (on any side of an argument) is in my opinion, demoting His purpose of salvation to promote ideology that man deems to be important at the time. To me there is a very big difference in saying “proclaiming Christianity is a political statement” and “proclaiming Christianity will have political impact” or “proclaiming Christianity will change the way you view politics”.

Anonymous? said...

Now to the first paragraph… They are right, we can all agree on the evil of the Hutarees, and that they in no way exhibit or understand any of Christ’s words. I went back and read the PZ article that spurred Sullivan’s post, and based on that, am convinced that PZ does not understand what a Christian is at all, nor who Christ is. Not surprising because he doesn’t claim to, nor does he likely care to understand. To an extent, I get what he is trying to say with the “Christianist” term, and will agree that not all those who use the name of Christ are Christian. However, if you want to know who is a true Christian, it is pretty easy. It is anyone who places their faith in the substitutionary death of Christ for their sins, in spite of PZ’s list of reasons. Kind of appropriate right around Easter. I take some offense to either PZ or Sullivan implying that man’s outward appearance or actions qualify them as a “true” Christian. There are Christians that are criminals, and non-Christians who are deacons.

I will also admit that I wrote the first post before I went back and read the articles to understand the event (Hutaree militia) that inspired the links. Which actually proves my original statement that I may not have understood Sullivan’s context. However, I’m leaving my post up because although I hate the impression that militia has given many of Christianity, Christianity can be abused on the opposite side of the spectrum as well to promote and justify political ideology for personal gain, or just plain craziness. As you can see, although I hope my Christianity influences my political decisions, I like to keep a clear delineation between the two. Perhaps this is due to an over reaction to those who cannot separate the two and browbeat people with the Bible over their political affiliation on both sides of the aisle.

Anonymous? said...

And while I’m at it (for no other reason than I want to keep posting), I’ll take another sentence in isolation and make a comment. “Christianity flees power as Jesus did; Christianism seeks it above everything else.” I understand what Sullivan is saying here, but just for fun, here are some disagreements. I would change the word power to the flesh.

You could make an argument that Christ’s purpose was actually about power, just not the kind of power that the world thinks about when they use the word. He came to conquer sin and death, to have power over them, and to give us that same power through eternal life. He is also the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and is above all thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers – not exactly fleeing from power. Although to be fair, he came first to die, and will come back later to rule. Anyway, I know that isn’t what Sullivan was saying, I just wanted another reason to post. I’ll take issue with Sullivan’s description of Jesus another time. Although defining Him that way does allow Him to reinforce his point better – I’m sure that was intentional.

And lastly, a personal note to Justus. “I missed your musk”

Your blog is to me what Ron Burgundy was to Champ Kind. Whammy!!

Dr. RosenRosen said...

"I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

Mohandas K. Gandhi

Nothing like coming back with a bang. Such a short post, but it's almost shocking how much you've asked us to consider.

Justus Hommes said...

"Making a political statement means that your statement is made with political intention to influence, promote, dispute, or affect political actions. This is not why we should proclaim Christ."

I think it is, at least partly. See below.

"You could make an argument that Christ’s purpose was actually about power, just not the kind of power that the world thinks about when they use the word... He is also the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and is above all thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers – not exactly fleeing from power."

Exactly. Christ came as King and Messiah, and died because he would not deny those titles. What could be more political or powerful?

Christ did come as Savior (as your comments correctly point out), but also as Lord.

Christ is King, and Christians are called to be citizens/servants of a kingdom that is not of this world, yet more powerful (spiritually) than anything this world can offer. Any earthly kingdom or government we may find ourselves in is secondary and temporary, and does not deserve the same level of allegiance. This is certainly a political statement.

How does that affect how/if we vote or participate in human politics? There is a full spectrum of opinions (as you alluded to), and I personally don't know if there is a right answer.

Just among our group, we all see the role of human government differently, and can argue how it may reinforce or obstruct spiritual truth and purpose. It is important to continually explore and test our human views as we grow spiritually, but it is likely that we are in the end just too imperfect to really get "it" right.

Justus Hommes said...

Ghandi's statement is, or should be, a clarion call. Do we live lives that do honor to the name of Christ which we adopt?

Anonymous? said...

Rosen, thanks for taking my verbosity and upstaging it in less than 20 words.

Anonymous? said...

Justus, "Any earthly kingdom or government we may find ourselves in is secondary and temporary, and does not deserve the same level of allegiance. This is certainly a political statement". I agree with that, and also the closing comments you make after. In that context you right Christianity is a political statement.

I don't think it is difficult to see that the merger of politics and Christianity is a hot button topic for me. I think we all agree that that merger has been abused over the years, and caused damage to both political ideas as well as Christianity. That was where my post was aimed, but I like the way you explained it.

Anonymous? said...

pardon my bad grammar in the last sentence of the first paragraph.

John said...

To me, politics and Christianity are very different animals, but they overlap in a way that causes an Andrew Sullivan to misunderstand each.

At its most basic level, Christianity is best viewed as teaching core values about how one should live life. Meanwhile, governance is how people set rules for their interaction, and "politics" is the effort to overcome the disagreement among those with competing values as to how they should govern.

Christianity doesn't teach "payroll taxes are good/bad," but the lessons learned through Christianity influence how one may view the issue. And, in this particular example, Christian values could lead to opposition positions based on the other lessons encountered in that person's life.

What I think Sullivan is focusing on is where Christianity has a value where the governance issue is more directly tied to a core value such that reasonable minds cannot use the same Christian values to reach a different result. In that latter example, I agree with Mr. McDonald that calling Jesus Christ "apolitical" is oversimplistic.

John said...

And, yes, Andrew Sullivan is referencing the militia. Still, he makes this broader argument about Republicans so regularly that I stand by my last paragraph.

Justus Hommes said...

John, the distinctions you draw are helpful, but not without their own problems. I don't know if I would say your view is the best description of Christianity, but I certainly agree that it teaches core values. Those values and principles do extend to how we are to interact with others (love thy neighbor, Good Samaritan, do justice, etc.). As you stated, reasonable minds have differing opinions on whether the government should reflect and/or extend Christian values, or whether those values fall on the individual and church body following Christ.

I interpreted Sullivan, however, to be making a distinction on a fundamental aspect of human nature, the appeal and temptation of power. This universal temptation does not go away once someone becomes a Christian, but I read Sullivan as positing that "true" Christians are called to resist (flee) the lure of earthly powers and establishments, and above all not to use the name of Christ (Christianists) as a tool to obtain human power. This I agree with.

What I don't agree with is Sullivan calling Christ an apolitical hippie. That would mean he came fleeing ALL power just for the sake of doing so. That is not the case. He came instead as Lord and King, offering all who would follow citizenship in a Kingdom more powerful (and superseding) than anything man could create (as discussed in earlier comments).

John said...

I think that Mr. Sullivan comes close to adapting Jesus to be whatever Mr. Sullivan needs Jesus to be. There may be a genuine belief held by Mr. Sullivan as to the true Jesus, but one can't help but wonder if he's guilty of the same selective interpretation that he assigns to the militia.