Archive for Jesus

During a breakout session at the 2015 International Students for Liberty Conference, I was part of a panel with Norman Horn, Jason Rink, and Chris Wolske. In brief comments before a Q&A for the panel, I shared a word on why I am a libertarian and a Christian. Below are the notes I wrote down and shared with the audience. 

Being a Christian and a libertarian are not merely two groups with whom I happen to identify. I am not a libertarian who happens to be a Christian, nor a Christian who happens to be a libertarian. The connection between liberty and my Christian faith runs deeper than that.

We live in a world dominated by empire, and I believe the message of Jesus is relevant to and necessary for healing what is wrong in our world.

Whether we are citizens of the empire or citizens of nations dominated by the empire, we have a joint responsibility to communicate the alternative message of peace in an age where violence is an acceptable means to achieve worthwhile goals.

Because I am an evangelical protestant I can only speak of my knowledge in evangelicalism, but there is a major paradigm shift happening that some say happen every 500 years or so. We are experiencing a Great Emergence in society, an emergence away from centralizing authority and concentrated power. This shift presents an opportunity for libertarians in the Church because the Church has yet to build a coherent theology of the State. (There are indeed academic works available that address the issues near and dear to libertarians’ hearts, but the active living out of these ideas is foreign to American Christians.)

This conversational shift typically focuses on issues such as peace, reconciliation, and social justice. Faith communities dedicated to a theology of peace and reconciliation are often either non-participatory in nature (Anabaptism) or gives the State a pass for wielding violence (Progressives). Those who press for social justice are often naive and appear to need of a heavy dose of economics to bring them back to reality. This is not to be an excuse to do nothing, but ought to provide a framework from within which human beings can move forward in cooperation in a pluralist society.

It is often assumed that Jesus was not political, which sort of delegates his role to Secretary of Afterlife Affairs. But the gospel of Jesus is indeed political, but in ways we have not always expected. The gospel of Jesus is the announcement of God’s movement through the world, and is essentially an invitation to join God’s movement. In context this meant a movement away from the violent impulses against the Roman Empire’s occupation of Israel. Jesus picks up on the prophetic tradition that eschews violence and envisions a world where those who are otherwise at odds with one another are no longer in conflict.

As pastor-poet Brian Zahnd has said, “Empires are rich and powerful nations which believe they have a right to rule other nations and a manifest destiny to shape the world according to their agenda. God regards this as a transgression upon his sovereignty… The throne of God and political empire will always be in opposition to one another. God and Satan will always be in opposition to one another.”

If the gospel is the announcement that Jesus is Lord, by implication this means Caesar is not. By further implication it also means, “and everybody else is not.”

This is why I’m a libertarian Christian. I believe God’s nature is such that God gives us the freedom to choose how we act in a world stricken by violence. I believe that God has spoken to us the truth in Jesus. Jesus is what God has to say. The message of Jesus, the gospel, is a counter-script to the oppressing narrative of empire and its demand for allegiance.

I’m very passionate about how to converse with those with whom we disagree, whether they are antagonistic or mildly interested. I strive for discussing the following three basic principles:

1. Anything Peaceful – if our solutions are not predicated upon a commitment to peace, we’re doing it wrong

2. State ≠ Society – a single institution does not represent society, especially the larger the number of persons is supposedly represents

3. Don’t Tread on Anyone – the logical implication for liberty is that it applies equally to all, especially for those who are otherwise unable to defend themselves

For more details about these three principles (and comments I had to leave out due to time), please check out my talk from Christians for Liberty 2014.

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This is a video review of the book "If You Are the Son of God" by Jacques Ellul, French theologian and professor of law. (Published by Wipf and Stock.)

Ellul’s purpose in this short volume is to reflect upon the sufferings and temptations of Jesus. If we are to take the incarnation of God in Christ seriously, we must accept that Jesus was deeply and constantly tempted, and that he suffered in all the same ways that we do.

You can buy the book on Amazon here. You can support LCC by making an Amazon purchase through any LCC link to Amazon; we very much appreciate it!

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Sep
09

The Bible Tells Me So

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ForTheBibleTellsMeSoI will never forget my Bible college professor’s comment a month before I graduated: “Don’t forget: reading the Bible can really ruin your theology.” He intended to remind me that our theology is subservient to the Bible, not the other way around.

Christians have been doing theology ever since there have been Christians. Some traditions have well-established theological “houses” that are untouchable, such that even mild efforts to “freshen the paint” or “reorder the furniture” are met with resistance and disdain from loyal adherents. Other traditions make efforts to freshen their home a bit every generation or so. Individual Christians often talk about being on a journey where God is doing the remodeling of their heart, so old beliefs are replaced with new ones with more solid material.

I grew up in a tradition where defending the Bible was a major element to reading it. To be sure, personal devotional time and reflection upon the meaning of Scripture for my life was highly encouraged. But there were few sermons in my church where the reliability and authority of the Bible were not mentioned. It was not enough to read and study the Bible for ourselves. We had to be sure we knew how to defend it against antagonistic scholars, science teachers, or our unbelieving friends. Sunday school classes taught us how “real science” conforms to a literalist reading of the Bible or how archeologists are godless scholars undermining God’s Word. Read More→

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zahnd-on-empire

This is Part 2 of my interview with Brian Zahnd, author of A Farewell to Mars. You can read Part 1 here and my review here.

DS: Most libertarian Christians are highly suspicious of centralized power. We contend that when power becomes increasingly concentrated, it becomes increasingly corrupt and more harmful to society. You strongly oppose the idea of empire in your book, especially when the empire claims to have God on its side. Few Christians (even Christian anarchists) would deny that governance is needed, but at what point does government become empire? Are local governments less likely to become satanic than federal governments?

BZ: I loosely define empires as rich, powerful nations who seek to rule other nations and claim a manifest destiny to direct history. As a Christian I am opposed to empire for the simple reason that what empires claim for themselves, God has given to Christ. God loves nations, but is opposed to empire. So, yes, smaller is better. This is where I think we should all listen to Wendell Berry. If there is a prophet in America today it’s Wendell Berry. Read More→

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A Farewell to MarsBrian Zahnd is the founder and lead pastor at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri. He is the author of several books, most recently A Farewell to Mars (review here), where he recounts his journey to the gospel of peace after many years of marching to the drumbeats of war. His journey will resonate with libertarians who are disenchanted with the state of political affairs in the United States, as well as with many Christians who hunger for a gospel that speaks to human social needs.

Zahnd agreed to discuss the themes of his new book with somebody who has a libertarian Christian audience in mind. My questions were shaped in part by my desire to connect the core issues that matter to me as a libertarian – primarily violence and peace – with my belief that the gospel of Jesus will change human society. I do not assume or expect Zahnd to agree with libertarians on politics, but I do believe our views overlap enough to have a unique conversation. I have also tried to avoid questions he has already answered in the book.

Brian,
Thank you for being willing to discuss with me the themes in your new book. As I was reading it, I knew it would resonate with my fellow libertarians. We have a reputation of being contrarians, especially in politics! Many of us are strongly anti-war. The non-aggression principle is foundational to our political beliefs. We strongly affirm Lord Acton’s famous quote on the corruption of absolute power. It is no surprise that anyone who teaches that Jesus spoke against empire ends up on our radar!

DS: On this issue of peace and violence, what criticisms have you experienced? What do you believe your critics are missing most about the message of Jesus? How has their critique affected the way you understand and communicate this message?

BZ: First of all, Doug, thank you for the opportunity to engage with your audience.

We tend to divide the subject of violence into two categories: individual/criminal violence and corporate/civil violence. If I speak of the problem of violence on the level of the individual — street violence, domestic violence, criminal violence — I receive no criticism at all. But if I call into question the organized mass violence of war, I have to brace myself for withering criticism. The violence of war is sacred violence. It’s hallowed in anthem, memorial, monument, and myth. The massive violence of war is sacred because it has been the organizing principle of civilization. This is the story that history (and the Bible) tells us. This is the foundational story of Cain and Abel. Cain re-imagined his brother as a rival and enemy. So Cain killed Abel. Then Cain lied to God and himself about what he had done, moved east of Eden, and founded the first city. This is how the Bible tells the story of the rise of human civilization as we build upon a foundation of collective murder. Over the course of six millennia human civilization has clung to power enforced by violence as our organizing principle, and most people find it nearly impossible to imagine the world any other way. Read More→

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