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On how Jesus engaged the powers…

January 25, 2008


I came across this quote on C. Wess Daniel’s blog yesterday after I wrote the post on the politics of Jesus.  I thought it was quote relevant to the points I was trying to make.

For Christians, a great tension therefore exists in our day between the gospel and ideology, between following Jesus and serving idols. The countrast is razor-sharp. There was only one way that Christ could conquer the powers of this world and make ‘a public spectacle of them:’  he did not seek his own well-being, he distanced himself form every pursuit of power, and he preferred to obey God’s commands rather than to look after his own identity as the Song of God (phil. 2:6-11; Col. 2:15).

Many of us as Christians have systematically suppressed this knowledge of the Savior. We have selected our own goals, delivered ourselves over to various ideologies, and thus have unwittingly worshipped demonic powers. We have built our own empire rather than serving God’s kingdom. Following that course has been the deepest cause of our political fragmentation. It has been the ruin of the Christian church (Goudzwaard et al, Hope In Troubled Times, 128).

What are the ideologies to which we (the Christian church) have unwittingly delivered ourselves over?

political ideologies–the Kingdom comes through the nation-state, by bringing about righteous laws and justice through the seat of power. 

What then is the role of government?  How can government keep order?  What is the role of government in providing opportunity for all citizens?  What is the role of government in bringing order to other areas of the world? 

individualism–the pursuit of hapiness; freedom to define meaning and success on my terms is greater than the common good or submitting to a communal narrative

consumerism–the markets will reward those who should be rewarded.  Those who use their positions of advantage to become productive contributers of the economy through hard work and consumption of goods and services.  The lifestyle I lead is defined by economic position.  To put it in Gospel language–I have done well, so I build bigger barns.  And this is deemed good for the economy–consumption without limits produces growth, prosperity, jobs.  The consumer myth defines us by what we are able to buy.  The economic system measures success not by balance and communal health, but by abstractions such as growth and profit margins.  Nothing should stand in the way of this ultimate value.  Not a concern for ecological limits.  Not a concern for social limits (gaping disparity between the very rich and the very poor). 

religious idolatry–Is it possible to make religious systems an idol and miss the pulse of God?  Is it possible that when we do this we are tempted to marginalize those who reject our framework of meaning–our defining Story?  Is this why atheism is on the rise, as those who have seen religion used as an impetus to humiliate and destroy those who reject a faith-based framing Story? 

What is the role of followers of Jesus?  How can we contribute to the healing of the nations?  Is it by totally removing ourselves from all political discourse?  Or is it by letting our witness be heard from a different “platform.”  My hunch is that Christ calls his Church to conquer the powers of evil in this world in the same way he did.  Not by seizing political power.  Not through a violent revolution.  Not by attempting to create a sectarian purist community.  Rather, by directly engaging the root causes of evil–personally, socially and systemically–in the messy reality of human society.  We see Jesus doing this throughout the Gospels.  Ultimately his engagement with the powers means a cross. 

How does cross-bearing become the way we engage the powers? 

4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 25, 2008 9:47 pm

    Really great post! I like your list of ideologies, I think they’re spot-on. The only one I might add is technology to the list, but I am thinking about technology, not just in terms of computers and mass media, but the more broad view Jacques Ellul espoused. Though that might make it fall in line with, or be a part of some of your already thorough list.

  2. just an apprentice permalink
    January 28, 2008 8:57 pm

    Thanks. I was not familiar with Ellul. I read a brief synopsis of his life and philosophy. Seems that Wendell Berry is cut from the same cloth.

    Technology creates more alienation, distance from nature, disrupts community, helps sustain the illusion of autonomy, no limits.

    Helpful observations.


  3. January 30, 2008 5:47 am

    Brethren, be sober, be vigilant, for your adversary the devil goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

    We can’t escape power, and one of the biggest dangers is that we will think “It can never hapopen to us” — they may abuse power, but we won’t. Because the chances are we will. So the protection is the neptic life of constant watchfulness, not so much over others, as over ourselves, and the way we use, and abuse, political, economic and religious power.

  4. just an apprentice permalink
    January 30, 2008 6:11 am

    Good word. The neptic life. Vigilence. Acesis.

    Prayer of St. Ephraim
    Lord, and Master of my life, take away from me the spirit of laziness, despondency, lust for power, and vain talk.

    Rather, give to me, Your servant, a spirit of self control, humility, patience, and love.

    Yes, Lord and King, grant that I may see my own sins, and not judge my brother and sister; for You are blessed to the ages of ages. Amen.

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