Friday, November 23, 2018

The Christian Challenge to Empire

Continuing on my journey of the necessity of Christian cultural foundations if liberty is the objective….

There is much in Wright’s work on this topic regarding theology; as you know, I try not to bring this into the discussion.  I look at Christianity as it was foundational to the liberties present in Western Civilization (and absent virtually everywhere else); I look at the Church (or churches, in our fractured era) as institutionally both large enough and with the right message – well, the right message if they would actually utilize the Gospels instead of the state-worshipping talking points.  It is with this in mind that I work through Wright’s essays.

Wright suggests that Christians who look for a future of glory are missing their calling today; this is because they misunderstand the meaning of the Resurrection.  My concern here is not a theological interpretation of the resurrection; my concern is liberty, therefore the call for Christian leaders to act today, in this world:

…God’s life-giving power is unleashed in works of justice and mercy and healing and beauty and hope already, in the present.  The Gnostic, like the fundamentalist, can never understand why we Christians are called to work for justice and health in the present world, but with the resurrection there is no question.  Of course we are.

I can’t say much about the Gnostics, but regarding the fundamentalists: After the resurrection, Jesus sent his disciples out into the world.  He did not call for them to pray for rapture and Armageddon; urge unconditional support for Israel; cheer on perpetual war in the Middle East; turn Sunday into a day of state-worship and warmongering. 

Yet, this describes many fundamentalist theologies.  As if Jesus was kidding when he said “You shall know them by their fruits.”

And that is the basis, too, of the Christian challenge to empire, to the arrogance which assumes that we (whoever ‘we’ are: it was ‘we British’ a hundred years ago, it’s the Americans now, it will be someone else before too long) innately possess justice, freedom and peace and have the right to bestow them on others, by force if necessary.  The thing about empires is that ultimately they rule by the power of fear, whose end is death.

The one thing I am not sure of: the fundamentalists in America love empire because they get to cheer the home team; when it is the “someone else” suggested by Wright, it will be interesting to watch how things play out on Sundays. 

It is here where Wright introduces his analysis and critique of post-modernism and their deconstruction of every grand narrative.  The resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of the grandest of grand narratives of the west.  It is both the history of the west and the tradition of the west; there is no such thing as western civilization without the resurrection specifically and Christianity generally as the foundational part of the story.

So…if your objective is to destroy western culture and tradition (and there should be no doubt about this objective) and your method is deconstruction, what is it that you go after?

Wright offers three “snapshots” of proper living for Christians in this world and at this time; examples that also stand in the face of empire.  For the first he writes of a local church in Teeside, assisting refugees seeking asylum.  A very Christian endeavor, keeping in mind that Christians are called to do this voluntarily and not lean on state support (a clarification not made by Wright).  I have written before: one can certainly find other reasons to assist refugees, just don’t lean on the NAP for justification.  The Gospel message is one such reason.

Second is an advertisement placed by the Salvation Army in the issue of the New Statesman referenced in my previous post.  The advertisement was headed ‘Belief in Action.’

That page offered a far more powerful statement of God in public than any of the articles in the official feature which was supposed to be dealing with that subject.

Third, what of the debating chambers – Parliament, Congress, or the United Nations?  Wright suggests that the major ethical and public-political issues are debated daily, with little or no input from those who can properly speak to the Gospel message.

…global debt, the ecological crisis, the new poverty in our own glossy Western society, the working and meaning of democracy itself, issues of gender and sex, stem cell research, euthanasia, and not least the [multiple] complex questions of the Middle East.  Oh, and ‘free speech’ too.

My point isn’t to debate the list; Wright offers that these issues are addressed without a voice grounded properly in the Gospel and the message of the resurrection.

As long as these debates are carried out in terms of fundamentalism on the one hand and secularism on the other, they will never be anything other than a shouting match.

And in a nutshell, there you have the politics of the west – certainly the United States.  Of course, not all people would frame it this way, but perhaps Wright offers a proper view of the problem at its root.

Wright suggests that we may have reached the point where the “Enlightenment dream has begun to eat its own tail.”  With its emphasis on reason – ungrounded reason – as the method by which all problems can be resolved, all we have is everyone convinced that their own reason is the only correct reason.  How do we judge?  Why, by our own ungrounded reason, of course.

Perhaps part of the unintended consequence of the postmodern revolution is to reveal that if Reason is to do what it says on the tin we may after all need to reckon with God in public.

Wright suggests that for this we need wise Christian voices, voices both humble and clear.  I agree completely.  In the meantime, I will suggest that we have Jordan Peterson.  While he says it will take him three more years to figure out if he believes in the physical resurrection of Jesus, he certainly has been doing the work of reckoning with God in public.

“But…he isn’t a Christian” voice, you insist.  Well, yeah.  But Jesus already has dealt with this objection:

Mark 9: 38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.

The left is crushing Jordan Peterson – at least trying to.  The reasons why are easy to understand – there is no universal political order without crushing culture and tradition, and the one universal order that has stood in the way of this in the west is Christianity. 

Many fundamentalist Christian leaders are also after him.  Superficially, it is because “he doesn’t believe in the resurrection.”  Perhaps the reality is that Peterson is an indictment of their failure.  Given the Christian quality of many of today’s Christian leaders, Jesus also has an answer here:

Matthew 7: 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’


The rulers of this age need to be called to account.

I would say calling today’s rulers to account is about as important a task that there is if we are to move toward liberty. 

Whatever Jordan Peterson is doing, he is one man.  There is no institution behind him.  The only institution (if you can call it that) with both the reach and the message that is capable of calling today’s rulers to account are Christian leaders; and here, only if they return to the message of the Gospels.


  1. "Christians" so called are Israel supporters, in fact there is a church in Florida that tithes to ISRAEL, this is due to this:

    The website is by former members of the U.S. State Department.

    "“For a nation to commit the sin of anti-Semitism brings inevitable judgement.”

    cathail—The New Scofield Study Bible

    Since it was first published in 1909, the Scofield Reference Bible has made uncompromising Zionists out of tens of millions of Americans. When John Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), said that “50 million evangelical bible-believing Christians unite with five million American Jews standing together on behalf of Israel,” it was the Scofield Bible that he was talking about.

    Although the Scofield Reference Bible contains the text of the King James Authorized Version, it is not the traditional Protestant bible but Cyrus I. Scofield’s annotated commentary that is problematic. More than any other factor, it is Scofield’s notes that have induced generations of American evangelicals to believe that God demands their uncritical support for the modern State of Israel."

    It should come as no surprise that Scofield was paid and led by the people who created Israel and changed our immigration law back in 1965

  2. "The Latin Church, which I constantly find myself admiring, despite its occasional astounding imbecilities, has always kept clearly before it the fact that religion is not a syllogism, but a poem. It is accused by Protestant dervishes of withholding the Bible from the people. To some extent this is true; to some extent the church is wise; again to the same extent it is prosperous.


    Rome indeed has not only preserved the original poetry of Christianity; it has also made capital additions to that poetry -- for example, the poetry of the saints, of Mary, and of the liturgy itself. A solemn high mass is a thousand times as impressive, to a man with any genuine religious sense in him, as the most powerful sermon ever roared under the big top by Presbyterian auctioneer of God. In the face of such overwhelming beauty it is not necessary to belabor the faithful with logic; they are better convinced by letting them alone.

    Preaching is not an essential part of the Latin ceremonial. It was very little employed in the early church, and I am convinced that good effects would flow from abandoning it today, or, at all events, reducing it to a few sentences, more or less formal. In the United States the Latin brethren have been seduced by the example of the Protestants, who commonly transform an act of worship into a puerile intellectual exercise; instead of approaching God in fear and wonder these Protestants settle back in their pews, cross their legs, and listen to an ignoramus try to prove that he is a better theologian than the Pope.

    This folly the Romans now slide into. Their clergy begin to grow argumentative, doctrinaire, ridiculous. It is a pity."

    H. L. Mencken


    1. I guess that as far as America is concerned, and per Mencken, you're all Protestants now.

      This relates to a question about how to match the above with the subject matter of medieval Europe.

      On the one hand there's the sizeable amount of posts on this blog, outlining the role of the Latin Church in the stateless European society of the Middle Ages. On the other hand, there's posts like this one were, pertaining to the US, some kind of non-denominational Christianity and "Christian leaders" are called upon to return to the message of the Gospels.

      Is there a connection here, to be elucidated in future posts? The jump from medieval Europe to the US today seems to be one across an enormous (religious) gap for now.


  3. Jordan Peterson deserves his own/tag label, and further study.

  4. BM: This just occurred to me: How did christianity come about? What was it that 'caused' christianity?

    Now if we are religious, the answer is pretty clear.
    But if we take the atheist path: what (in humans) could 'cause' christianity? (dumb luck?)

    I am sorry that this is off topic, it was just something that occurred to me and I needed to write it down ;-)

    1. Jordan Peterson is trying to get there from the bottom up - not via revelation. Not identifying as a "Christian" (in a resurrection / virgin birth sort of way) beforehand, perhaps here is an answer.

    2. Naa... I do not believe so.
      When you dig down, Peterson is a liberal progressive at heart. He is furthering individualism, not "the collective".

  5. I know John Hagee's church is very biased toward the state of Israel. However, I am not aware of any others that preach in their church to support the state of Israel blindly. I have been in many churches, though not all of course, and I have never heard it said. I spend all my time in dispensational churches too. At least 90% of my life at least.

    Now do I believe that many Christians think uncritically of how the church should relate to Israel? Yes. Do many pastors have it wrong? Probably. But I simply don't hear sermons about how we should bomb people and support Israel no matter what they do. So I don't understand how big of a problem this is.

    To better understand as well, who does Wright refer to as fundamentalists? There is a technical definition for that word but I am not sure how that relates to the public discussion of justice in the world.

    I like Wright and this blog but I am very skeptical of the framing of the issue in this article.

    1. To RMB - I was a premillennialist for over 20 years, so I have a pretty good understanding of it since I preached it. The consciousness of Israel is baked in the cake of premillennial theology, which simply transfers itself to our modern era.
      As to churches advocating bombing everyone? Who does the bombing? Most American churches are in love with the military - unfortunately, they are the collateral damage from continuous American wars since WW2 - none of which are Constitutionally legal.
      These are just starting points. My website and archive-library are available for those who want to jump in deep. It's designed for serious researchers.

    2. RMB, like much of how opinion is molded in society generally, I see the same playing out in many churches.

      Why the US flag and the Israel state flag in the hall? What is implied when we are told regularly that those who abandon Israel will be punished (or some such as I don't want to look up the verse now)? What is implied and easily inferred when one speaks of pre-millenial eschatology - a prevalent, if not majority, view in protestant circles?

      One need to say overtly "bomb for Israel" to convey the message that the USG should bomb for Israel and "we" should support this - after all, it is God's will.

      As to Wright's meaning of fundamentalist, I cannot say. I am exploring him and you are seeing my work in progress.

    3. I have seen the flags you mention in churches, usually the US flag but very rarely the Israeli flag. Not sure how widespread that practice truly is. Now I will have to pay more attention when I step in a church.

      The verse you are thinking about is in Genesis 12 to Abraham, "I will bless those who bless you and I will curse those who curse you." Reading through the OT God made some everlasting promises to Abraham and his descendants, so there is reason to believe that there is still some relationship between God and the Jewish people. God still owes them some things for one.

      That doesn't mean the church should 100% support all actions of the Israeli state. I get it. Many do. Many don't. It is one of the great differences between denominations. I think the tide is shifting towards measured criticism.

    4. "I will bless those who bless you and I will curse those who curse you."

      Yes. We can start by questioning who, exactly, is the "you" in that promise? Are the people who occupy the land known as Israel the physical descendants of those to whom the promise was made? Are they the religious descendants of those to whom the promise was made?

      Some would answer no to one or both questions. Genealogically, the first is in strong doubt; theologically, I suspect the road travels somewhere through Jesus - leading to a less-than-satisfactory conclusion for the locals. But I will leave this one alone.


    5. Abraham and his descendants as you read through Genesis. I think it is clear from OT that Abraham's physical descendants are in view. But I know there is some question about how all that plays out in the NT. Looking at Daniel 9 and Zechariah, even parts of Romans 11 it looks like the promise to Abraham continues in some ways to be to his physical descendants. I understand your point though, and agree that there is some haziness.

      Therefore, I would answer your questions: yes, yes (in part). You will have to explain how genealogically the Jews are not Jews. That doesn't mean I agree with the atheist, communist state of Israel and all it does.

    6. "You will have to explain how genealogically the Jews are not Jews."

      Not my task. Others have done so. In any case, it seems to me those who make a claim that there is continuity - both genealogically and theologically - are the ones on whom the burden falls - especially given that their belief results in hell on earth for too many people.

      Too many questions raised about both theology and genealogy for me to consider that it is somehow "Christian" or in accordance with God's promise to Abraham's descendants to believe that it is a role of the church today to provide support - in any manner - to the state of Israel.

      While I am no expert on this, I think I am on safe ground to suggest that there was nothing like this in any Christian church until perhaps a century or so ago. One wonders why 18 centuries of monks never thought to support Jews or to help Jews found a state. The Scofield Bible, to my understanding, is the source of this fanaticism (and the end-times theology that supports it).

      If God finds the people occupying that piece of real estate as the object of these promises to Abraham, He doesn't need my help to achieve his ends.

  6. If there is a subject close to my heart now it is Christian involvement in our society and culture. The title alone of this piece by bionic is worth copying as a fundamental premise of my presence on the internet.
    In my younger and more naive attempts, I contacted a number of pastors, including my own, to discuss matters relating to this. Their reactions varied from disinteret, mild amusement to total hostility.
    Lesson learned!
    Like homeschooling - which now has almost 2 million adherents in the US - the 'resurrection' of Christian life will undoubtedly come from the grassroots. In fact, the greatest danger might be like the Tea Party - which started as grassroots, and when they reached public notice, they were quickly killed by the 'Conservatives' who jumped in front of the parade and squashed it. DaExperts!
    Some churches have now joined the alternative education parade by opening Christian schools - teaching the same stuff as public - but with a bible study.
    Let's face it - the institutional Churchianity has not prepared their pastors what we now live every day - that is inescapable fact!
    Reading both the OT and NT, there is a constant theme which runs through both - there will always be a remnant which carries the will of God throughout history - by His grace.
    The original early church was not led by a single leader except Jesus - who told us what to do in Matt. 28:18-20, and I loved bionic's paraphrased version of it!

    1. "...there will always be a remnant which carries the will of God throughout history - by His grace."

      A thumbs up for this.

  7. It needs to be reemphasized that the resurrection was for the purpose of Ascension and coronation as the civil office of emperor of all nations. Consequence being that the other (and possibly 'greater' half - of what New Testament refers to as Gospel -- is that Jesus is the judge (thus lawgiver and executive head/emperor/king) of the Living and the dead. Notice Peter's double description of the Gospel message in Acts 10 [And He ordered us to [af]preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. 43 Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”]

  8. "Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you"

    Or???"Then I will tell them plainly, ‘You never knew me"

    Owyhee Cowboy

  9. "... keeping in mind that Christians are called to do this voluntarily ..."

    Something I struggle with constantly. It's always easier and apparently more satisfying to rage against the state than to find ways to aid its victims.

    1. Yes. It is the "doing" that counts; not the talking, not a "feeling."

  10. Peterson does have an institution behind him: Creative Artists Agency (CAA), the largest talent management firm in the world.

    It is a covert political machine.