Archive for Kingdom of God
Review of Daniel M. Bell Jr., The Economy of Desire: Christianity and Capitalism in a Postmodern World (Baker Academic, 2012), 224 pgs., paperback.
This is the sixth volume in the series The Church and Postmodern Culture, edited by James K. A. Smith. The series “features high-profile theorists in continental philosophy and contemporary theology writing for a broad, nonspecialist audience interested in the impact of postmodern theory on the faith and practice of the church.”
Although I am not the least bit interested in postmodern theory, I am very interested in the intersection of Christianity and economics or politics. Thus, the phrase “Christianity and Capitalism” in this book’s subtitle caught my eye. Nevertheless, I have never been more disappointed, or bored.
The author describes his work as “a contribution to the conversation about the relationship of Christianity to capitalism with a postmodern twist.” That twist is nothing short of pure Christian anti-capitalism, although of a very unique kind. You see, Daniel Bell, professor of theological ethics at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary and the author of several books, is not a socialist. He maintains that his book “changes the focus from capitalism versus socialism to capitalism versus the divine economy made present by Christ and witnessed to by the church.”
Fortunately, I didn’t have to read through the whole book to discover what the author meant by capitalism. He equates capitalism with the “free-market economy” because the name “highlights the centrality of the market.” This is well and good, and certainly makes it easier to understand where the author is coming from. Unfortunately, this is not the case for understanding Bell’s concept of the divine economy. Read More→
Growing up I was taught to value the greatness and splendor that is The United States of America. For a variety of reasons, The United States was the greatest and best country ever in the whole world and anybody who disagrees was suspect of treason (or hellfire and brimstone). Even in church we learned that we are citizens of God’s Kingdom while at the same time were citizens of a really awesome country (even now, we have to admit there are a lot of awesome things about living in the United States). At vacation Bible school we pledged allegiance to the American flag, the Christian flag, and the Bible (none of which are actually in the Bible itself!).
For a long time I reconciled dual allegiance by seeing my Kingdom citizenship as superior to my earthly citizenship. So long as my allegiance to my country didn’t dominate my allegiance to King Jesus, it was okay to pledge allegiance to my country. Unless my country asked me to disown or disobey my True King, I was free to be an active or supportive participant in my country’s agenda.
I can understand the appeal to a “dual citizenship,” and in many aspects there is no conflict of interests to claim citizenship to both. Some country on earth claims us as its citizen. So what? For many, renouncing their citizenship is not an option, and sometimes there are many benefits to citizenship in a particular country (I’m sure many world-traveling Canadians are proud they aren’t Americans!). Even the Apostle Paul leveraged his Roman citizenship when necessary to advance the Kingdom of God.
Allegiance, on the other hand, is a wholly different matter altogether. Allegiance is far more involved than merely acknowledging the claimant of our earthly home. Allegiance is announcing by our acting and living day to day in the real world. According to New Testament scholar and historian of the first-century N.T. Wright, living as Christians in the world is not merely living lives where fewer sins are committed than those who don’t claim Christ as Lord. Rather, living Christianly is walking and proclaiming with all we are that Jesus is Lord—and if we are to take seriously the first century context in which the gospels were written, that means that we are implicitly agreeing that Caesar is not Lord! That is, we do not claim allegiance to Caesar but to Jesus the Anointed One.
The trick to understanding our citizenship on earth and citizenship in the Kingdom of God is to be wary of our allegiances to another king. If Jesus, through his life, death, and especially the resurrection, has announced and demonstrated that God’s new world is breaking through into our world, then our allegiance is to anything and everything that displays that in-breaking of God’s reign. Where God reigns, the kingdoms of this world do not.
Somebody once asked me if I care about the United States remaining a nation. I replied, “I don’t really care what we call it or how big it is or how long it lasts. I simply want people to be free!” As a Christian, there’s certainly more to my desire than for people to be just free. My desire is that everyone will discover their place in God’s movement in the world. But that movement can take form in whatever manner God sees fit, from whomever from whatever country in any place on earth.
(The thoughts above were inspired by my reading of Tim Suttle’s last chapter in Public Jesus. In my next article I’ll wrap up my live blog of each chapter in the book, including a discussion on what it means to be politically-involved followers of Jesus.)
(This is part six of a series liveblogging Tim Suttle’s book, Public Jesus. You can read the introduction to the series here, my post on the first chapter here, and a discussion on Suttle’s Introduction here. Each chapter will be liveblogged.)
Have you ever read a novel so captivating that you find yourself lost in another world? Watched a film so enthralling you were literally on the edge of your seat? Heard a sermon or lecture that challenges your way of thinking, not in a confrontational way, but in a way so refreshing you find yourself not caring that it just questioned everything you’ve previously believed? If you’ve tasted of this kind of “languaging”, you will have a sense of the Christian vocation.
Artisans of written word and the craftsmen of stories know intimately the power of language. Language can be a weapon or an instrument of peace. It can tear down or build up. It can unite and divide. It can reject and accept. We are communicators swimming in the ocean of language, yet many of us often fail to recognize how poorly we use our language in ways that honor God.
While we certainly have the power to shape our language, it is also true that language shapes us as well. Without getting too philosophical about it, a simple example will do. Libertarians often stop an argument between a conservative and a progressive by saying, “You both are framing the argument in the wrong way.” The key here is framing. (By the way, I’m not claiming libertarians don’t poorly frame arguments.) In the same way our simple debates are shaped by the words we use, language itself is so deeply rooted that it affects our world view.
As citizens of the Kingdom of God, followers of Christ ought to be willing and able to do what Jesus did: use the power of language to describe a different vision of reality. When we do, Tim Suttle believes that “God just appears and happens in the moment and leaves us forever changed.” Most of us tend to ignore nuance and look at the world in binary: conservative/progressive, rich/poor, black/white, attractive/unattractive, and so on. But think about what Jesus did; he sided with the unclean, the outcasts, earning himself the title “friend of sinners.” Somehow, Jesus was able and eager to say “yes” to those on the “wrong” side. In doing so, he was able to communicate a vision more radical than a mere elimination of “them” (the bad ones). He came into the world to redeem it, to rescue it, to bring it new life.
Suttle’s chapter on “languaging” God could be condensed into this: “The Christian’s most sacred vocation when relating to another human being is to try to become the conduit through which that person comes into contact with the risen Savior. As we relate to one another, God can ‘happen’ to us over and over.” The whole point of the incarnation is that “God can happen to anyone, anytime, anyplace…” When we pay attention, we can be a part of that. But that’s the hard part, this paying attention business. Without being hostile, we often treat those unlike ourselves indifferently, being inattentive in an equally dehumanizing way. The first step to languaging God is to refuse to ignore the world around us.
There are two things we’re supposedly not to talk about in polite company: religion and politics. Why? It’s divisive, almost inherently so. Good dialogue about such topics takes time. Discussing controversial topics thoughtfully is an art, and takes patience. It takes little time to rouse the passions of the opinionated. It takes gracefulness and humility to dialogue meaningfully. This is why how we speak and how we listen is so important.
Instead of using our words to divide, we ought to use them to embrace. Do we frame discussions in such a way that tilts the conversation our way? Or do we use grace and humility to hear out the other person? When we look into helping those in need, are our words and actions showing them pity or love?
When we become artisans of a new way of speaking, we language God to our world in a way that honors God and respects our neighbor. In this way we bring peace while we preach peace, something both libertarians and Christians are passionately committed.