This post is Part Two of a modified form of the talk I gave at Christians for Liberty 2015. Read Part One here. The purpose of the talk was to explore why valuing peace is a critical point of integration for being a Christian libertarian. I wanted to answer the question, “Who are we, as Christians and as libertarians.” If you were present at my talk, you’ll benefit from reading content left out due to limited time.
Part One ended with a question: “How is the world rescued from violence?” A big question deserves more time than a talk or a few articles, but in order to get at the answer we need to understand the narrative of Scripture and a theological concept called telos.
Jeffrey Tucker said at Students for Liberty in February, “If we knew what would result from freedom we wouldn’t need freedom.” This seems like an ambivalent way to treat outcomes, and it illustrates why Libertarians are not known for being people concerned with ends. “The ends don’t justify the means,” we often say. We talk about the legitimate use of force, which turns into discussions on the rightful place of state as an institution of force. I think Christian libertarians can offer something that is missing from this argument. That is, the means are the ends.
In a way, libertarians are concerned with the ends, just in a different way. Our “ends” are peaceful, non-aggressive, and free-from-violence processes from which emerge outcomes that indicate shalom. The “ends” are a way of being in the world.
So libertarians are about means and Christians believe the end is shalom. We believe this because we know there’s a future toward which humanity is heading. We have insight into the divine telos. That’s a Greek word, meaning “end, goal, completion, fulfillment.” It reminds us of the Jewish belief that YHWH would someday come to earth and set the world right by establishing justice and shalom. That was the telos toward which the world was headed.
Brian Zahnd cleverly titles a chapter in his book, Beauty Will Save the World, “I Am From the Future.” What he means is this: Jesus accomplished on the cross and through the resurrection the seeds of Christian hope: resurrection and new creation. Theologians call this “inaugurated eschatology.” Jesus is not Lord-Elect, Jesus is Lord today. This is why Paul can say, “If anyone is in Christ, there is new creation!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Brian Zahnd eloquently states what was being declared:
The world now has a new Lord. It is Jesus the Christ. The proof of this is that God raised him to life again after the principalities and powers of this age put him to death on a cross. All who believe this proclamation and confess Jesus as Lord are forgiven of their sins. Now, rethink your life and act accordingly.
If we are from the future but we live in the present, then we must introduce shalom to a world which does not have the insight we have. They don’t see “new creation,” but we must show them.
In the end, heaven comes down to earth and God rules, and there is shalom. I believe that imagery applies today, so that where we see Jesus reigning and ruling today, heaven is on earth. In fact, that’s what Jesus taught us to pray: “on earth as in heaven.”
Let’s be clear, here: if God needed the state to carry on the kingdom, there would be little need for the Church. Yeah, I know some people say there’s a role for the state to do its part for the Kingdom of God. But considering Jesus rejected those options, I’ll take that as a repudiation of the violence and thus the state. Babylon had plenty of strength and could have been used to extend the knowledge of YHWH throughout its empire. God could have used the power and extensive reach of the Roman empire to send the message of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. But what we see is God becoming flesh at a time when empire was at its pinnacle, during a time when “son of God” was a title given to Caesar Augustus, during a time when declaring Jesus is Lord was a highly charged counter-claim to empire, namely, “Caesar is not!”
The end to which history is heading – heaven on earth – is one away from reliance upon empire and toward reliance upon God as king. And just how does God act as king? Let’s take a look at the first group who were the people of God, Israel.
What we see in the story of Israel is a people thoroughly immersed in a grander narrative that framed their identity. Their oral tradition, which we have as literature today, were identity-forming stories. That’s why generations long after the exodus, the Israelites were celebrating, or enacting, Passover, because that was their past, and it was deeply ingrained in their identity.
They were shaped by their past but oriented toward the future. And what was the future? The day when things would be put right – shalom!
Let’s go through a brief tour of Israel’s history.
The Big Story
Starting with Adam we see that humanity wants to be god-like rather than god-ly. Our propensity is to usurp God’s true authority, whether through being “like god” by eating the fruit of knowledge, building a tower to heaven (Babel), or asking to have a king like other nations. Human beings often seek some other authority other than God.
When Israel asked for a human king, they were rejecting God’s kingship over them. God relented, but we must remember that this was Plan B, not Plan A, where God ruled. 1 Samuel 8 is such a weighty passage that the astute reader might think that later in the Old Testament, God will probably say, “I told you so.”
But even then, God adapts to the new reality, letting Israel be free to choose a human king, and the rest of the Old Testament is Israel’s story centered on the story of David:
“I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever.” (1 Chronicles 17:14)
“Of all my sons—and the Lord has given me many—he has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel.” (1 Chronicles 28:5)
“Praise be to the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on his throne as king to rule for the Lord your God. Because of the love of your God for Israel and his desire to uphold them forever, he has made you king over them, to maintain justice and righteousness.” (2 Chronicles 9:8)
Remember, though, that a human king on the throne was God’s Plan B. It wasn’t God’s first desire. So under human kingship, the end result was, as we know, exile. In exile Israel must hope for God to someday rule again. When would that happen? Reading Amos 9:11, we read
“In that day ‘I will restore David’s fallen shelter—
I will repair its broken walls
And restore its ruins—
And will rebuild it as it used to be.”
The restoration of God’s rule was then framed in terms of the Davidic kingship. We should not read this as though God reflects and says, “Well, I guess the king thing worked out after all.” No, David left a legacy that hearkened back to a time when life was good for Israel (relatively speaking). So we see God telling Israel God will be restoring something again. There will be a new beginning. Their eschatology was awaiting a messiah that would be the new David.
So when we get to Acts 15, James verifies that exile is over because Jesus is the new beginning. God is once again on the throne and ruling the land. When Jesus is announcing the Kingdom of God is near, he is saying exile is over and God is now the rightful king.
Notice something about the phrase “Kingdom of God.” “Of God” is important, because as much as we see God’s newly restored people as a restoration of the Davidic Kingdom, it isn’t so much a better Plan B, but a Revised Plan A. When we think of Kingdom of God, or Kingdom of Heaven, it isn’t so much about a location or place of operation as it is a space here and now being occupied for a new purpose. It is a contrast between the rule of humans, even one so nostalgically remembered as David’s, and God’s rule.
One way to think of what happened 2,000 years ago is that God had brought the future for the world into the present. And the Early Church embraced this future orientation rooted in the history of Israel. In a very real sense, when the Church acts as the Body of Christ in the world today, we make the future happen in the present. It was demonstrated by God’s Son, and carried on through his Body – the Church – led by the Spirit. Insofar as God’s rule and reign is manifest today, we are witnessing the future.
The Renewed People of God
The incarnation of Jesus and his message of the Kingdom make it clear that the purposes of God will one day be fulfilled. How? It will be accomplished through the Body of Christ, the Church — who N.T. Wright calls “the renewed people of God” — led by the Spirit into this new Kingdom reality. Our call and vocation as followers of Jesus is to build for this Kingdom.
So if the gospel stories were written to proclaim that God has become King, and Jesus’s main proclamation was, “The Kingdom of God is arriving in me,” then we have no reason to doubt the King’s power to advance his kingdom, in spite of all that stands in its way. Jesus’s way was peaceful, nonviolent, and self-sacrificial. This stands in stark contrast to the political kingdoms of this world (see Matthew 20:24-26).
So let me be clear here about our identity as Christians: the church is political through and through because its identity is counter-truth to the empire of lies. But let’s not be mistaken about what it means to “be political.” This doesn’t mean we ought to be more politically involved. What it means is that we are to embody what the reign of God looks like. Involvement in politics, if we choose to be involved, is a minor chord in God’s grand masterpiece. We don’t need the state. We need to embrace the message of Jesus and embody it in the world. In contrast to the state, we demonstrate clearly that human beings cooperating, sharing, or even living in community are capable of producing more goods and providing better services than the state ever could.
When we live as resident aliens in a world of empire, we have been given the creative task of speaking prophetically to that empire.
Part Three will explore what it means to have a prophetic voice in a world dominated by violence.