Archive for public jesus


Christian Political Life

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(This post concludes the live blogging of Tim Suttle’s book Public Jesus. You can read the other posts here.)

Tim Suttle doesn’t like to simplify the complex. While both of his books are relatively short, he navigates gracefully through a few tricky areas, avoiding many of the pitfalls of such a task. One would think that with a title like Public Jesus, his chapter on political life would end up looking more progressive than conservative or libertarian. Yet Suttle treats the issue of political life by looking at the nature of baptism and Christian citizenship.

Our heavenly citizenship began, says Suttle, ever since we renounced our citizenship in the kingdoms of this world by being baptized. Being raised with Christ is a new identity, an advanced citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven.

But here’s the rub for Americans: being a citizen of an earthly country “makes many demands upon our lives that we rarely think about.” Suttle laments that American Christians all too easily conflate the Christian “we” with the American “we.” He then warns us of the dangers of political engagement because “our primary concern is not the advancement of a country, but the advancement of the Kingdom of God.” Then he uses a phrase that I find tremendously helpful if we but stop to reflect on their meaning. He says, “Participating in the organization of society is a sacred calling, part of our original vocation to have dominion, to fill the earth, subdue it, till it, keep it, and cause it to bear fruit. The call to organize our common life so we image God to all creation involves polity and organization” (italics mine). That phrase, “the organization of society,” was used deliberately. Suttle wants us to know that organizing society is sacred work, but he’s also careful to not say that the state or governments are in and of themselves sacred.

If this weren’t enough to make the libertarian in me smile, it gets even better: “Politicians and parties on both the right and the left operate upon the very same underlying assumption. They each believe that they should be running the world.” The question I wrote in the margin was, “What about a movement or party whose goal is to stop acting like it can run the world?”

Ultimately, Suttle argues, the Christian has to stop trying to fit on a political continuum of left-right or fundamentalism-secularism, but to begin identifying with Jesus. Because we are resident aliens whose citizenship is the Kingdom of God, identifying with Jesus will make us permanent outsiders to the world, for better or for worse. To identify with Jesus means to take up a mission to serve the world, and “we have to accomplish our mission without government-sanctioned power.”

While governments promise the security of freedom, justice, and peace with no way to deliver them, the way of Jesus will bring us all three through the mission of the church embodying the cross in community for the good of the world. That’s why we say that in the Kingdom of God, up is down and down is up.

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Speak Up!

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(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.

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Give It a Rest, Already!

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(This is part four 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.)

Forgive me while I pull out my inner control freak, but I’d like to be anti-libertarian for just a moment. I would love to impose on everybody a law that forbids commerce on Sundays. A Sabbath for all, on the same day.

Imagine with me for a moment: everyone stops, together, to rest, one day a week. We look back at our week and declare it “good.” Not because it’s over, but because the image of God was reflected in what we did. Most of us know what a “day off” is like, and during those times when a day off work is “well-spent,” we are not only resting, we are refreshed.

Tim Suttle and I both seem to have a tremendous affinity for Sabbath rest. His chapter in Public Jesus on Sabbath reminds us of the of the importance of imaging God to the rest of creation by pointing us to Sabbath rest. While most of us think of Sabbath as a cessation of work, Suttle views it as a cessation of restlessness: “it’s the one day a week where we stop generating our life and we start receiving life,” “…the day when we delight in creation, when we delight in the moment—because the moment is holy.”

Sabbath confronts a busy world. Those who practice Sabbath rest often get pushback from others. It’s not culturally acceptable to cease working. While we attempt to connect with the love and goodness of God in Sabbath rest, the world asks us to stay busy.

Many of us get suckered into what could be called a false sense of rest. We choose an activity that feels or looks like genuine rest, but it’s merely a diversion from the real thing. As a culture we’ve learned to keep our brains active in one way while turning it off through another. Suttle’s main example is television. One half of our brain shuts down, but we are not truly at rest. We are experiencing a fake rest, believing it’s authentic. It isn’t.

In a sense Sabbath rest is a component of stewardship. Society has made time a commodity. We seek ways to save time or invest our time. We buy it through faster pizza delivery, reverse aging services, and we assess time in economic terms. Yet correcting the rest deficit requires more than mere stewardship; it requires rethinking our values. The sad reality is that many of us say, “I don’t have time,” when we are really saying, “I haven’t considered my time long enough to make meaningful priorities.”

Now, I don’t really believe the State should impose Sabbath rest on everyone. In fact, quite the opposite is necessary to change culture over the long run. We don’t need laws to practice Sabbath. In this area, the State is irrelevant. We can do it through demonstration and witness. But as Suttle says, it’s a bold counter-cultural move. It says, You are missing the magic of time and God’s creation. It’s all around you, but you can’t see it because you are too busy. You are trying to save time. You are fighting it like it’s your enemy. You can go on chasing your tail, grasping for more, working on Saturday, working on Sunday, working, working, working… But not us! We we are going to sit here…and drink in the presence of God… [and] the delight of every single moment!

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Work: Toil or Worship?

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This is part three 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.

Do you have a soul-crushing or a soul-sustaining job? In Chapter 2 of Public Jesus, Tim Suttle believes that if we are counting the right things in life, our work will be worship, not toil. Many of us view what we do as career, but few of us view what we do as a vocation. The difference is that a vocation is a calling in life, how we image God to the culture, while a career (apart from vocation) is “just work.”

Suttle connects work to our relationship with God. Vocation infuses labor with meaning. It is a spiritual thing, even holy. Nothing irks me more than considering work “secular” and ministry “sacred.” Such a dichotomy is toxic to our lives and to our culture. Those who view “ministry” as more important than what is usually considered “secular work” are missing the full impact of the concept of work.

Suttle is encouraging to those looking for a soul-sustaining vocation (not a soul-crushing job). To a degree, just changing our perspectives can change how we experience our work. Suttle writes, “Christians are supposed to be living into the reality that Jesus is Lord. We are meant to live each day as though eternity has broken into time. We have been created to organize our lives so that we image God, so that we become salt and light.” He contrasts two men who work the exact same job. One viewed it as miserable, the other thought it was the best job ever. The difference? To one it was toil. He was a slave, miserable. To the other it was holy. He was free, joyful. Suttle concludes, “If Jesus is making all things new, then Jesus is making our vocational life new.”

This chapter excited me for many reasons. It was highly reflective, asking as many questions as offering propositions. The majority of our days and the majority of our lives are comprised of labor, so it stands to reason that the concept of transforming how we view our labor is critically important. In fact, it can make or break a person. If you’ve ever been part of a soul-crushing job, you know what Suttle is talking about. Likewise, if your job brings you joy and fulfillment, you know what fulfilling your vocation feels like. This chapter offers relevant questions that point us in the right direction.

Our work is part of the mission of God to redeem the world. We find meaning in our work when we understand how it connects to the web of life. Suttle rightly understands that when we understand the big picture of what God is doing in Jesus, we will embrace our work as worship, not as toil.

As a Christian who has spent four years endeavoring to understand economics, Suttle’s work could go further if there were more room. At the end of the chapter, one question is, “How does what you do serve society?” For me, it’s impossible to answer that question without having the semblance of an economic way of thinking. If our vocation is to take care of the earth, knowing this isn’t enough to successfully do it. What kind of cooperation is necessary? How do we decide where scarce resources ought to go? What role does profit and loss play in resource allocation? What are the critical components of a stable economy? What happens when those stable factors become manipulated by the powerful? On a personal level, how does our role in the economy play a factor in social and productive progress? How would we view our jobs if we knew it was an unsustainable line of work that is contributing to economic collapse?

While some of these questions border on philosophical, it would be very difficult to answer these questions accurately without an economic way of thinking. Economics provides useful tools by which we can understand social cooperation and human action. I can think of nobody better than F.A. Hayek in describing the role of economics:

The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they know about what they imagine they can design. 

Making work meaningful is a task for the long haul. It doesn’t happen overnight. Part of that task ought to be understanding how we fit into the bigger puzzle. Doing so requires that we embrace God’s vision for work, which means we take seriously what we do as serving God and our neighbor. It also means taking seriously the limitations of our human desires, and work within the constraints we have as humans and with a planet of scarce resources.

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Liveblogging “Public Jesus”

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Tim Suttle, whose first book I reviewed here, recently published his second work, Public Jesus. The copy the publisher sent came with an accompanying DVD and discussion guide, though these are optional (if you just read the book, you get a video transcript in each chapter).

Though we disagree on a few things, I’ve greatly appreciated Suttle’s take on Christians relating to society, and I believe libertarian Christians can learn from what his contribution to the faith. For those cynical about a Progressive contributing meaningfully to the libertarian paradigm of thinking, I’ll respond by quoting Steve Horwitz, “The world is not just about good guys and bad guys, but about real people whose ideas are good and bad in various mixtures. We need to appreciate them when they are good, even if it isn’t all the time. If we don’t, we will throw away good arguments for freedom.”

In the coming weeks I will be liveblogging all six chapters. For each I will share a brief synopsis, reflect on the content, contrast how I would have written the chapter myself, and explain why libertarians could benefit from what Suttle has to say.

If you’re so inclined, read it along with me. It is not very lengthy and is available on Kindle. In doing so, you could contribute in the comments and greatly add to the discussion. Expect a weekly posting, though I reserve the right to chew on a chapter longer than normal.

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