Evangelicals and the Kingdom of God


When two leading figures in the Religious Right, James Dobson and Tony Perkins, sent a letter to the National Association of Evangelicals to protest the fact that the Association's policy director, Richard Cizik, was emphasizing the problem of global warming, this highlighted a common misconception about evangelicals. The popular imagination holds that evangelical Christians are the same thing as the Religious Right, that they are all one big happy homogeneous political bloc. The reality is something different--namely, that evangelicals are actually divided among themselves on political matters.

Whence comes this common misperception? The fact that Dobson and Perkins would even have sent such a presumptuous letter to an organization that they don't belong to provides the answer--it is in the interests of the Religious Right to equate their politics with their religion, and to claim to speak for all of Christianity in defining what is "legitimately" Christian and what isn't. Acting as self-appointed pontiffs of the Religious Right, Dobson and Perkins presume to speak for all of Christianity, and thus demand compliance to their conception of what it means to be a Christian. The leadership of the Religious Right has been doing this ever since the days of the Moral Majority, if not earlier, and the news media has largely bought into this stereotype.

But just a few years ago, when George Bush went to speak at Calvin College, an evangelical institution of higher learning, he faced--gasp!--protests from some students and faculty. What's this? You mean all evangelicals aren't die hard conservative supporters of George Bush? How could this be?

I obviously have my theological differences with evangelicals, but I can certainly put aside those differences when it comes to fighting for social justice in the effort to build the Kingdom of God. And, contrary to what many people might think, there are radical voices among evangelicals.

Zack Exley has written an article for In These Times magazine, titled "Preaching Revolution", in which he describes the phenomenon of evangelicals who use two "R" words that have largely been missing from the American political vocabulary, especially in recent decades: "radical" and "revolution". Citing the examples of Rob Bell and Shane Claiborne, Exley writes:

In Grand Rapids, Mich., a 36-year-old evangelical pastor named Rob Bell regularly describes his ministry as “revolutionary,” “radical” and “an insurgency.” Far from alienating people with such language, Bell’s Mars Hill Bible Church draws thousands of new worshipers each year from the mostly conservative and white suburbs of west Michigan.
He also notes,
Bell and Claiborne are two of the better-known young voices of a broad, explicitly nonviolent, anti-imperialist and anticapitalist theology that is surging at the heart of white, suburban Evangelical Christianity. I first saw this movement at a local, conservative, nondenominational church in North Carolina where the pastor preached a sermon called “Two Fists in the Face of Empire.” Looking further, I found a movement whose book sales tower over their secular progressive counterparts in Amazon rankings; whose sermon podcasts reach thousands of listeners each week; and whose messages, in one form or another, reach millions of churchgoers. Bell alone preaches to more than 10,000 people every Sunday, with more than 50,000 listening in online.
One should not, of course, deny the differences that exist between many theologically progressive Christians and these evangelicals. Even those evangelicals who are "anti-imperialist and anticapitalist" nevertheless tend to be conservative on certain social issues, such as sexual morality (although the article does point out that these evangelicals do accept and embrace women in leadership positions), and their views on Jesus, the Bible, and God tend to be quite orthodox. I have serious theological differences with religious orthodoxy, which includes evangelicals of all stripes. But where I find myself in agreement with the "anti-imperialist and anticapitalist" evangelicals is in their rejection of political orthodoxy.

The article points out:

Yet the Revolution is not primarily a reaction to Republican attempts to politicize the church. What sets it apart from mainstream evangelicalism is not a liberal rejection of Republican politics, but rather a more radical rejection of conservatism and liberalism, and anything else that is not the “kingdom of God.”

To the Revolutionaries, what seems righteous or commonsensical to humans does not matter; all that matters is what God wants. Boyd writes in Myth of a Christian Nation: “To the extent that an individual or group looks like Jesus — dying for those who crucified him and praying for their forgiveness in the process — to that degree they can be said to manifest the kingdom of God. To the degree that they do not look like this, they do not manifest God’s kingdom.”

And that is where anticapitalism and anti-imperialism come in. Capitalism doesn’t look like Jesus. Empire doesn’t look like Jesus. In their critique of the political and economic institutions of the “kingdom of the world,” the Revolutionaries are following in the tradition of early Christianity.
This is not mainstream politics. It isn't about Republicans and Democrats. And, despite the amazingly radical nature of the message, it has a following:
The thinking and dreaming of this movement is as utopian as the most far-out sect of antiglobalization anarchists, yet they are living it right at the heart of mainstream America. And they are organizing with unbelievable success, attracting thousands of new participants every week and spawning hundreds of new churches and thousands of new small groups and house churches every year.
This is not the typical impression of Christianity that the mainstream news media portrays. James Dobson would like to present himself as the face of "Christianity", but, in reality, as in so many other ways, Christianity is much more diverse than that.


Gary said...

emotional, and spiritual lows. Why?

In Baptist theology, your Justification and your Sanctification---your essence as a follower of Christ...if you boil it all down...is really dependent on you and your feelings.

Do I feel saved? Do I feel I really repented in my born again experience? Do I feel that I truly had faith when I made a decision for Christ; when I prayed a version of the Sinner's Prayer? If I am really saved, why do I feel at times that my faith is so weak? Maybe I need to do the born again experience again; maybe I need to pray the Sinner's Prayer again, just to be 100% sure that I am saved. I want to know without any doubt that I am saved, and if I do not feel saved, I begin to doubt my salvation.

Baptist/evangelical theology tells me that I will always feel Christ's presence and strength inside me, if I am a true believer. But what if I don't feel him there sometimes? If it is true that I should always be able to hear God speak to me, in an inner voice or feel his inner presence move me/lead me to do his will, what is going on when I don't hear anything or feel anything? Have I committed some unknown sin and he is refusing to hear me? Or is the reason that I don't hear or feel him present within me... is because I'm not really saved!

I was so incredibly happy to find Lutheranism and find out that my feelings have nothing to do with my Justification, my salvation, nor with my Sanctification, my walk with my Savior and Lord! My salvation was accomplished 100% by God.