Friday, May 06, 2005

Jim Wallis and Jesus? Jim Wallis and Constantine?



One of the things that have drawn me to Jim Wallis, and his stances and writings, is the fact that 1. he claims his evangelical tradition (he knows where he came from), 2. his emphasis on social justice and poverty, and 3. he stands above the "liberal/conservative" political agendas (or does he?).

As a lot of people know- Jim has hit the road making many stops all across the US promoting his book- God's Politics: Why the Right gets it Wrong and Left just doesn't get it. I've been eagerly anticipating his stop in Nashville, May 24, and I still am, however I just read the post, "Constantinianism of the Left?" at Jamie Smith's blog that makes me wonder how much I'm going to agree with Wallis and if he is indeed promiting "God's Politics" and not just more ideology.

I love the way Jamie ends his post about Wallis: "Instead of Wallis' leftish civil theology, I'll continue to believe that our most important political action remains the act of discipleship through worship."

It would seem that Wallis might be selling the Church short for being God's greatest hope for the world and seeing the answer to the world's ills to be- Christians getting out the vote- for liberals.

I've said it many times before and I'll say it again- the Church's mission is to embody the teachings of Jesus, teach others how to live out the teachings of Jesus, and embody the Love of God to the world. In essence the Church is TO BE THE CHURCH. How much more political can that get?

Check out the rest of his article here, it's worth the read and he says it a lot better than I can.

19 comments:

postmodernegro said...

phransus,

I found this quote interesting:

"I think the only hope for justice is a robust church, which requires an ecclesiological account of the formation of disciples."

I do heartily agree with this up to a certain point. But I would add that it is easy for my man to hope for a robust church. There are many people languishing in poverty and poor healthcare...right now. Waiting for a robust church isn't going to help all that much. I am wary of constantinianism myself...lord knows I got Hauerwas, Milbank, and Yoder on my brain...but I always find it odd the people yelling "Constantine"! Its normally the people who ain't languishing!

Ant

St.Phransus said...

Outstanding point!! I just finished reading an article on the emerging church critiqued as a bourgois movement. It plays into that same kind of system.

The funny thing is, the same guy who wrote the article criticizing Wallis is the same one who is criticizing the Emerging Church... hmmmm. I need to sleep on that one.

thanks ant.

St.Phransus said...

"I think the only hope for justice is a robust church, which requires an ecclesiological account of the formation of disciples."

Maybe the entire premise lies with the word "HOPE".

Just a follow up.

peace

John said...

Pardon me for being a simpleton, but I think that any theology that would be incomprehensible, if carefully explained, to a 1st Century Judean peasant, is false.

But I might change my mind in seminary.

John said...

I didn't fully think through that comment before I had to hit "Publish" and flee the reference desk. More:

At a certain point, delicate philosophical constructs extend away from the Gospel message, which is fairly simple and does not have much to say about politics, unless one engages in prooftexting.

But, again, it maybe that I'm simply ignorant (Jonathan, you don't have to nod so vigorously) and will change my mind in seminary once I am enlightened.

postmodernegro said...

John,

I don't think you are a simpleton. I think you have brought fruit for thought to the table. You said:

"At a certain point, delicate philosophical constructs extend away from the Gospel message, which is fairly simple and does not have much to say about politics, unless one engages in prooftexting"

When you say "politics" what do you mean exactly? Are you referring to how politics is done in American society? Before I would delve into this I would be interested in knowing what you mean by the word "politics".

I believe the gospel is inherently political, but not political in the popular sense of the word. I define politics as how humans organize their societies around particular beliefs, ideas, and practices. It is in this sense would I say the gospel is "political" because Christ's body, the Church, is a "polis" on a hill. It is supposed to be God's way of organizing a group of human beings. The gospel seeks to create a social body that bears witness to the kingdom of God...that is very political...cause we are dealing with human bodies and how they treat each other.

Anthony

St.Phransus said...

Hey John, there's nothing simpleton about your thoughts- ever.

I was basically going to write word for word what anthony said (not really word for word).

Over the last year- two books have really influenced my thinking about church and politics:

1. A Peculiar People- Rodney Clapp
2. The Politics of Jesus- John Howard Yoder

If you ever have any spare time (if you're like me you have a book pile that reaches the ceiling that you'll be lucky to ever get to) these two are worth the read.

I would say that the Church is not about mixing faith and politics- The Church IS a Politic; or a "Polis", the alternative community/the kingdom of God. For me this means that my identity as a Christian who is part of a peculiar community called THE CHURCH informs every other aspect/social role in life.

And it is by participating in this unique culture that we are transformed, and others experience the Good News of Jesus.

Ok, so this is that kind of pie in the sky talk, but I really connect with this- this informs my theology, my ecclesiology, my way of life, my teaching, and my overall outlook. Sorry for the REALLY REALLY long ramble.

shalom brothers.

John said...

Well, what I mean is that the Bible does not mandate a particular form of government (e.g. aristocracy, republic, or parliamentary democracy). Nor can solid Biblical support be found for specific policy motions, such as gun control, health insurance regulation, or monetary fluidity.

I'm very passionate about my political views (hawkish libertarian), but I think that I would be fantasizing if I tried to find real Biblical support for them. Not all of the answers to life's questions can be found in Scripture.

And as a result, when we assert that specific policy proposals are God's choice or not, we exclude members of the Church irrationally. That's why I think that churches should, as much as is practical, avoid involving in politics and instead focus on evangelism, discipleship, and Kingdom work (e.g. homeless shelters).

St.Phransus said...

I agree John. I'm advocating that scripture says anything about a particular gov't, nor do i think jesus was advocating forming a gov't.

but as i see it jesus was all about a communal expression of God's presence on earth, ie The Kingdom of God. this presence embodies that vision of shalom that the prophets envision and talk about- where lion and lamb co-exist, where sword are beaten into plowshares, where war is practiced no more, where all have what they need... etc.. etc...

if the church is the physical embodiment of christ- now- then we ought to be living that same idea out- a communal expression of God's vision of shalom. It is here that the Church is a polis- not a gov't but a unique culture that through the peculiar way it's people live- give witness to the world how to live 1.peacefully together and 2. in relationship with God.

Now the million dollar questions are "How do we do that?" and "What does that look like?"

Thanks for continuing the conversation. I LOVE IT!!!

postmodernegro said...

John,

I agree with you to a certain extent as to what "policy proposals" the church affirms or disapproves of. The only problem I have with the notion that the church should be only doing "discipleship, church stuff, and evangelism" is that if it were not for Christians getting involved in the political process to some extent me and you wouldn't be blogging together right about now. When I think about the abolitionist movement, women's suffrage, and Civil Rights movement I see a Church getting involved in the political issues of the day. I think the Church should be non-partisan as much as possible, but I believe the gospel should compel us to take public stances on issue relating to justice. I am grateful to God that Christians like Sojourner Truth and Martin Luther King Jr. didn't stay in their churches discipling, "evangelizing", and other stuff that would be considered outside the purview of politics. I wonder if Christians views of "politics" would transform if we were on the other end of injustice?

Anthony

postmodernegro said...

One more thing. I don't think its a matter of being political or not political. I think its a matter of "how" one is political. Is it commensurate with the gospel of the kingdom of God? I don't believe the gospel endorses one political or economic system over another, but it does speak to how people should treat each other...which is a political issue. I think the primary political witness of the Church is its worship and community life. By demonstrating and bearing witnessing to the kingdom of God the Church bears witness to a "politics" that is inspired by the Spirit of God. What it does is create a community that is a counter-community to the world...a contrast community to a world demarcated by the politics of the world based upon self-love and power.

Anthony

St.Phransus said...

"The only problem I have with the notion that the church should be only doing "discipleship, church stuff, and evangelism" is that if it were not for Christians getting involved in the political process to some extent me and you wouldn't be blogging together right about now. When I think about the abolitionist movement, women's suffrage, and Civil Rights movement I see a Church getting involved in the political issues of the day."

Ant, if that's not discipleship and evangelism- we might want to redefine what discipleship is.

John said...

I agree that there are wonderful examples from history where Christians stood firmly for sound political causes, such as abolitionism and desegregation.

But I worry that the boundary between acceptable church political activity and unacceptable is rather fuzzy, and varies from person to person. It's too easy for someone to say that because (some) Christians wisely opposed slavery, then Christians should oppose Social Security privitization and support affirmative action. And you're not a good Christian if you don't take these views!

I strongly belive that we should legalize all drugs, disband Social Security, and aggressively break rogue nations through military invasion. All of these ideas are predicated upon a noble goal: freedom. But if I climbed into a pulpit and espoused these opinions, I would alienate good Christians who simply disagree with me.

Why bother risking such division? Let's concentrate on spread the Gospel message of salvation. Let's encourage people to sanctify their lives from sin. And let's build a homeless shelter from our church revenues. All of these goals can be accomplished without dividing congregations over politics.

postmodernegro said...

"Why bother risking such division? Let's concentrate on spread the Gospel message of salvation. Let's encourage people to sanctify their lives from sin. And let's build a homeless shelter from our church revenues. All of these goals can be accomplished without dividing congregations over politics."

John,

For some reducing the gospel to personal salvation and building homeless shelters can be divisive. Some would say that such an understanding of the gospel is un-biblical and hopelessly reductionistic of the nature of biblical salvation. I think the questions these kinds of discussions raise are questions like..what is the gospel? what is salvation? what is the church? what is the kingdom of God? For some Christians addressing issues relating to Social Security are pretty intertwined with issues raised by the gospel relating to justice. For some Christians "political" issues aren't side dressing to the "real" work of the gospel. For some, getting involved with political issues is a part of living out the gospel. Some don't make a distinction between political activisim and gospel-works.

So it would seem that Christians have different takes on the very nature of the gospel itself.

Anthony

postmodernegro said...

"Ant, if that's not discipleship and evangelism- we might want to redefine what discipleship is."

phransus,

I agree with you. These issues are pretty much a part of what I consider evangelism and discipleship. When King preached his I Have a Dream speech and His "Beyond Vietnam" speech he was implying the gospel in his message. King didn't separate his political activism from his call to be a preacher of the gospel. He saw it as an outworking of his convictions regarding the nature of the gospel...like most Christians that have made this country a better place to live for those that were historically marginalized. Those Christians in the past that got involved in the streets in a more political activist mode did this, not as political side dressing, but as a very profound outworking of the faith in God and their understanding of the gospel. The abolitionist didn't confront slavery simply on the issue of "freedom". For many Christians it was a theological issue...it had to do with their fellow human beings, African slaves, were imago dei...the image of God.

Anthony

St.Phransus said...

I think the word "politics" in and of itself may be the part this is troubling for John, at least that's what I'm getting from the discussion.

Maybe it might be helpful to reframe politics so that it does not identify itself with a political party.

Another way of looking at the role of the Christian and politics might be to see the Church as living out "Prophetic Politics"- that to me is the kind of politics that King lived out of. Prophetic Politics is not concerned with siding with a "right" or "left" party but to live out faithfully God's call to care for others- especially those whom are marginalized and without a voice- and to do so in concrete ways.

This may mean that part of the solution is the quick fix of providing charity. But part of the solution is also empowerment to give a voice and tools to those who have not. And part of the solution is to ask- what structures are in place that contribute to "this group" of marginalized people and then looking for ways to change the structure to be more just.

More to chew on....

Dale said...
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Dale said...
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Dale said...

Excellent conversation here. I also find much on this blog here, Jonathan, that would lead me to believe that we share quite a bit of commonality in our theology (ie. your listing Hauerwas, Sojourners,
Bonhoeffer, and --- the way I found your blog : another blog friend is taking a "Radical Orthodoxy" class from a university in SanDiego, taught by his pastor, and is reading James KA Smith's book. After reading your interview of him, I have decided to go get that book in just a few hours here.

On topic here, I have been engaged in quite a bit of "defense" of Wallis lately, as many criticisms of him have come out as God's Politics has been "on tour". I attended the event in Nashville (I live southeset of town) on May24th.

My most recent posts on this topic are
here and
here

I agree that Wallis has spoken directly only sparingly of the Church (and I would rather have heard more of that), but I believe that is much to do with his "public square" audience, and perhaps also to do with "first things first" (doing some "clearing of the ground" to allow the faith community to be something other than "scary theocrats" -- which is something that Wallis has identified as being the barrier that has kept many a sincere and compassionate person from taking the church seriously)

I would also remind many who admire the life and work of MLK --which many of the people leveling this critique at Wallis do--(and I am one; I was deeply shaped in college by my retrospective of his writings and life), of this:

that even MLK did not do much talking about the church in his most public speeches, although he certainly saw the primacy of its place as the home for the movement. Yet very few theological liberals would want to lay criticism on Dr. King for not talking enough about the church. I know that Wallis has an incredibly rich theology of church, and envisions church , for his movement and the Sojourners community, as "THE base"; this is clear from a wider reading, and I didn't notice that about God's Politics , since I knew of their history, and the centrality of the church for them.

So I'd say Jamie is wrong about Wallis, and it doesn't sound like he's too familiar with the history of Sojourners or Wallis' other writings over the past 30 years.