The Evangelicalism That Needs To Die

Given the intensity generated by this election, there has been a fair amount of post-election stress and commentary. The results have not only fractured a nation—it has fractured parts of the church. This is evident in some of the posts on Facebook. Some believers have told me they have sworn off certain social media sites because emotions are so high. My last post, reflecting on the NY Times article, “The Evangelicalism of Old White Men is Dead,” an article lamenting the political stance of the vast majority of evangelicals, generated more interest than most blogs. We are still dealing with the fallout, and probably will for a while.

So maybe this is a good time to take a timeout and get some needed perspective. It’s not that the people of God should have avoided or withdrawn from politics. If anything, we should step into the public square and be a more compelling voice. But maybe the next time we should aim to be better equipped to be sent into the thick of it. Followers of Jesus have a mission to engage the world with grace and truth. It seems like we lost a fair measure of both.

Maybe we should also stop and unveil the idolatrous pretensions of political candidates (and unmask the ones we have created in our minds). Everything does not rise and fall with the stroke of their pen. But given some of the dialogue between Christians, you would think the future of the church rests upon Washington, DC. Charles Colson, who once worked for President Nixon, warned the church of such folly.

We need to also come to a fresh realization that politicians really are simply instruments in the hands of God. Paul underscored this to those Christ-followers living in the epicenter of the empire: “There is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God” (Rom. 13:1). Caesars and Presidents and Congressmen and Governors are barely planted, their stem hardly takes root; He blows on them, and they wither” (Isa 40:24).

In the meantime, our main task is to submit to authority (Rom 13:1). To a persecuted community, uprooted and hounded by Rome, Peter even called the church to honor the emperor (I Pet 2:17). We have this mandate to regularly pray for those who rule over us. It is in their interest, as well as ours. It is our subversive work of advancing the kingdom (I Tim 2:1-4).

This is where we need to spend more of our time—on our knees.

Here’s something else that calls for some reflection. Have we become so obsessed with matters effecting our earthly citizenship that we have lost sight of where our true citizenship lies? Again, the Scripture provides a centering voice. We are exiles representing a colony of citizens, whose loyalties remain with their home country. Heaven is where our true passports are registered (Phil 3:20). In some mysterious way, heaven is our present existence (Eph 2:6).

Which begs the question—have we lost sight of the fact that we are here on temporary assignment? Isn’t our main task to represent our King, carry out His assignments, advance His kingdom, and reconcile men to God? Isn’t He the One we look to in order to fulfill our needs and solve our problems?

It is our heavenly citizenship we should be cultivating. A true political vision begins with the church. This is our true polis. This is where our greatest “political” activity should take place. What does that look like? James Smith, in his “The Pastor Theologian as Political Theologian: Ministry Amidst the Earthly City,” describes it as a “baptismal community” where those initiated into the body of Christ are identified as the new city marked by the obliteration of social class. God’s polis is an upside down kingdom comprised of a motley crew (I Cor 1:26), “have-nots” who are also “are-nots”, but chosen and commissioned by God as His princesses and priests, witnesses of His coming kingdom, and charged with the renewal of the world.

Imagine if this is what stood out when the question arose—“So where are the evangelicals in all of this?” Imagine if the world had seen us—less as some political interest voting bloc and more as this thriving community who come together at the table of God. And at this table there are no box seats or reservations for VIPS. There is a leveling going on, as well as an ongoing reconciliation. And this is what dominates our conversation. And out of this feast, grace and love are spilled out into the world. But I think the world saw something different.

Maybe what this election demonstrated is how unattached we are to the community of faith. When we relinquish our presence and our responsibility to God’s polis, we tend to get caught up in the secular one—and lose our way.

 

About John Johnson

John Johnson is the former lead pastor at Village Church in Portland, OR. Presently, he is Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at Western Seminary and devoted to writing.