Being Public Christians

This is the first in a series posts liveblogging Tim Suttle’s book, Public Jesus.

Most people tend to believe that faith is only a private matter. Christians in America tend to go along with this, believing in a personal space (faith) separate from the public space (politics). Jesus came to save our souls and let us escape to heaven, they say, and politics is just a way of getting along while we’re here awaiting our escape from earth.

I’ve come to believe that this is a myopic way to view life. While the purpose of Jesus’ life, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection can be debated, it is hardly believed by serious devotees of Jesus that the only purpose was to save our souls for a future state of non-earthly bliss. We know intuitively that whatever it is that Jesus came to do, we are to embody that purpose here on earth. Both conservative and liberal strands of Christianity feel passionately about social issues, often based on the teachings of Jesus. Separatists excepted, most followers of Jesus see faith as relevant to at least some aspect of public life.

While Satan may operate and have dominion over certain aspects of this world, there is only one “sphere” in which we live. It is God’s. Tim Suttle introduces us to the premise of Public Jesus by writing, “God belongs in the public square because the public square belongs to God. God is not only the one we pray to in the privacy of our own homes, but God is out and about in cultures and societies, working in every corner of creation to bring about God’s good purposes.” Suttle’s understanding of “the public square” will be explored in the rest of the book, but all should welcome idea that the Christian faith has much to say about engaging the world around us.

In the beginning the Spirit of the Lord hovered over the face of the waters of chaos. God then brings order out of chaos. Echoes of this are throughout the Scriptures and in Jesus’ own ministry. He calms a storm (chaos), not merely proving he was divine, but demonstrating sovereignty over it. Suttle’s application to this biblical theology is to say that “part of our calling as children of God is to attempt to organize our world so that chaos doesn’t reign in public life.”

The way to create order out of chaos, says Suttle, is to embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ. Whatever eschatology we embrace, the future according to the Scriptures is clear: sin, death, and decay will be finished, dead, a thing of the past. What Jesus did in his life and resurrection was live out this future reality in the present. He called his followers to do the same. When we believe eternity has been brought to the present through Jesus, we anticipate the age to come by how we live together right now. We are not simply members of some club, but participants in a new community, a new humanity. Christ shows us how to be truly human.

God also created human beings as caretakers and keepers of God’s creation. As stewards, we are always to be asking, “What would the world be like if God were in charge?” and live in that reality.

It is important to imagine and explore the answer to that question, because even on our best days, imagining a world operating under the rules of the Kingdom of God is rather difficult. Most people can’t even imagine a world where the state doesn’t build the roads! How much more difficult is it to imagine a world of true shalom!?

However the question is answered, Suttle believes it looks like Jesus. That’s what he explores in this book.

Suttle’s introduction begins a process of answering what the world looks like under the Kingdom of God. By starting with creation and ending with knowing what the future holds, he makes it clear that Jesus is where we find meaning in the present. He provides much for Christian libertarians to reflect upon. In calling ourselves “Christian” we are embracing a way of life, a way of order, a way of being human. Libertarians are very good at pointing out what life shouldn’t be like. But that’s the easy part. We ought also to be able to demonstrate what it means to be human in the world. Suttle addresses those issues in the first chapter.

Stay tuned for the next installment of this liveblogging series, and if you want to follow along you can purchase Public Jesus from Amazon and support LCC while you’re at it!