My kids love to choose what they eat for dinner. Actually, in an ideal world they don’t have to choose between entrees or sides. They have all-they-care-to-eat pizza, Jell-O pudding, french fries, apple slices, Cheetos, and Blue Bell ice cream. Come to think of it, I’m a lot like my kids! Choices are hard. Why not just try everything? The answer, of course, is because that kind of diet will make you fat, clog your arteries, and might bring you face to face with a diagnosis of diabetes. Children don’t always have to choose wisely, but adults must if they are to avoid the things that kill (or at least greatly damage) them – body, mind, and/or spirit.
Routinely, I find myself making a choice about how I am to receive and process the news of the world. Daily I choose to either put all of my hopes and dreams into failing politics and culture, or go “all in” on a theology of faith, hope, and love birthed from the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are not the same. Not even close. In fact, as I witness a western philosophy gasping for breath, and its attempt to take back the conversation thus becoming great again, I see and hear the great clash of kingdoms talked about by Jesus (e.g. Matthew 5:20, 6:33, 7:21,11:12, and 23:13), and seen by John in his Godly revelation (e.g. Revelation 18:1-19:10, 21:1-27 and 22:3-5).
You can choose politics, or you can choose theology; but you cannot choose them both equally. One will always take authority over the other and will cause you to view the world solely through the lens of your choosing. If you choose theology over politics, you will make honoring God and keeping His word – all of it – your primary motive for thinking and acting. If you choose politics over theology, you will be more convinced of the authority of the constitution than the urgency of the gospel for your life and our culture. You may have heard similar words to these before, but they are worth adding to this discussion: Man/woman can’t choose politics AND theology. She/he will love the one and hate the other.
It may not be obvious, and you may not think that you are loving one and hating the other, but more than likely, you are. Even if you have a fond affection for both, you likely prefer one to the other. The gospel of Jesus is neither a “co-gospel” nor an equal to any other philosophy or paradigm. No matter how good, no matter how close the alternative seems to be to God’s way, the gospel stands alone. This is because the gospel of Jesus Christ is not of this world. Rather, it has come to this world to overthrow kings, disarm armies, and put away the threats of violence and death. Such activity began with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and continues even now… AND WE ARE EITHER INTO IT OR OUT OF IT ENTIRELY. It cannot even be close for us. We are either obsessed with the theology of Jesus or controlled by the politics of Greece, Rome, America, and all other empires that attempt to rule the world with power and pride.
In case you are wondering if you are most influenced by politics or theology, here is a litmus test, of sorts. It might be a way to help you choose more wisely your actions and your attitudes. Perhaps it will help you view more clearly which of the two you are most in love with, so at least you can be honest with yourself and those you are most in conversation with.
– If you are hopeless and disgusted with the way of the world and long for a return to another time, you are reaching for a political answer. Theologically, we are living day by day with our hope in God and our heart engaged with the brokenness of people and the places of the world that need Him. Escape is neither possible nor imagined. God is at work here and now, and we must volunteer to join Him.
– If you are angry and contentious, rather than prayerful and patient, toward people who differ from you, you are seeking a political victory in lieu of a peaceful resolution. Theologically, we find more value in people than we do in places or things, traditions or templates. Choosing an ideology over an individual is selfish, fearful, and not of God.
– If you have placed your hopes and future in a person, a President, and/or a party that is not named Jesus, you are making a political choice over an eternal decision. If you place an amendment, a court ruling, or an election ahead of a commandment or confession of full faith in Christ, you are making a choice that majority power rules and only fools play to lose. Theologically, we find Jesus choosing to be humble, giving up his voice, resting in the protection of the Father, calling his disciples to lay down arms, and even avoiding debate with those who cannot or will not hear the gospel.
– If you believe that the intellect, patriotism, or the faith of others is tied to their political affiliation, you have allowed a secular influence to neuter the Christian way in your heart. Theologically, we are to live in harmony with others and seek shalom in all our relationships regardless of political position or alignment. Even if we can’t get along with everybody, we can choose not to condemn, reject, or excommunicate another person or people group. That kind of isolationist and arrogant social action would have been a foreign thought to the early church and should be so now. Judging others in the name of Christianity is a great misadventure of missing the whole point of grace, faith, and holiness in our life.
– If you think that your freedom to voice your opinion, debate the details, and mandate your agenda over the weak, the disenfranchised, and those on the margin of our society is your God given right, sadly, you have allowed politics to crucify the gospel in your life. The Jesus who died on the cross for your sins is now dying at your hands as you choose to defend your identity as a Democrat or a Republican, a conservative or a liberal. Theologically, we must choose to voice the love of God in our world, denounce any rights we have to be in power over others, and mandate nothing except our allegiance to the kingdom of God.
Politics will kill you. I don’t mean that politics will take your life in a physical way, but I do believe that politics is being used as a lethal weapon. Politics will kill your relationships with those who you should be most connected to and led by. Politics will kill your reputation as a reasonable person. Politics will greatly affect your career, even though you may think you are winning. Politics will cause you to become bold in your self-righteousness and certain that your personal convictions are the standard of truth for everyone. Politics will lead you away from the true Christian life and might very well push out any resemblance you ever had to the Christ. Politics will kill you, and you probably won’t even know that you are dead.
Jesus came into the world. He lived and died under the cruelest of regimes. The culture in which he lived was as full of sin and debauchery as anything in the alleys and clubs of LA, NYC, or the ATL. The best I can tell, he never argued with anyone (save the Pharisees about his confession that he was the son of God, and most of the time he ignored them and their petty attacks). He did not plot to overthrow Pilate from his governor’s seat or mount a rebellion against Rome. He just loved the world. He even loved those who had differing political views and different ideas about what God was doing. The love of Christ was not guarded by his need to be right or have the last word. He just loved. Politics killed Jesus, but it was love that raised him from the grave.
“Don – Can a person be a Christian and a politician or a Christian and be interested in politics? YES!”
There is no doubt that people can and many people have been a Christian who had a political career or a faithful political perspective. However, it is impossible to be a politician who moon lights in Christian thought and practice. Those that have been successful at keeping theology before politics have almost always gone alone as a prophet in their time trying to point others in the right direction. See William Wilberforce, Abraham Kuyper, Abraham Lincoln, Mary McLeod Bethune, Martin Luther King Jr., Dag Hammarskjold, and more recently Condoleezza Rice for good examples of Christians called to address political issues in a faithful way. They served as shining stars among their peers because they weren’t actually doing politics with their policies or speeches. They were doing deep theological work on the issues of their day. When a Christian takes up a political office or point of view it must always be in submission to the call of Christ to first take up their cross and follow him. Following Jesus may have us walking through a political crowd, but we are not marching towards the pent house. We march with Christ towards the cross because we love the world that God has created and we love those people that bear His image. That love is greater than a love we may have for a victory, for party vindication, or a vitriol rant about our rights.
I, personally, am not afraid of freedoms that are lost, but I am terrified of an irrelevant faith and church. I, personally, do not fear the changes in the world, but I am fleeing the temptation to give up hope that God is at work. I, personally, am not convinced that love is to be reserved for those most like me, but I am compelled to be active and persuasive in loving others daily regardless of our agreement. God has created us for more than being divided by debate and the current debacle of our country. He has called us to put our whole life in His hands and let Him shape us for His glory in the world. That is theology [talk about God] and it does not kill us. It gives us life.
Thanks be to God!
———————————————————————————————————————— Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and the most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ The whole Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)