Monday, August 14, 2006

Christians and the world of politics: a challenging issue

Bob Robinson (here, here and here) and dlw (here) on their blogs, are grappling with and critiquing Gregory Boyd's new book, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church. In the book, Boyd, an evangelical pastor known for his stands and books as a proponenet of open theism, complains about Christian involvement by evangelicals of "the religous right" as well as those of the religous left.

Paul E. Koptak in the NIV Application Commentary: Proverbs in his "Contemporary Significance" section of Proverbs 28:1-28 (pp 632-633) seems to me to steer a course between, on the one hand Christians refusing to bow to the state ("Caesar") as Lord. But rather living as those to whom Jesus is Lord, and doing so as those of another kingdom, counter and subversive to government in this world. Yet on the other hand hopefully sought out to serve in areas of leadership in government and thus bringing this other kingdom, the kingdom of God, as an influence on the state or government (local, state, national, international). He quotes Robert Webber: "The social and political work of evangelicals is counter cultural. However, the calling of the church is not to 'clean up America,' but to be the church, a radical counter cultural communal presence in society. The ultimate question is not 'How is America?' but 'How is the church?' (from R.E. Webber, Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World)

Koptak, after acknowledging Christians serving in community leadership roles adds: "We should cooperate and lend support when we can, but we should also speak when we disagree---and at root, Christians disagree with the rest of the world over the question of political authority, that is, who really is in charge. If we serve and speak as though we had no higher allegiance than the One who calls us to learn and live wisdom, we may be cheered, but we may also be jeered or something worse." He then quotes William Willimon: "...the church is, for better or worse, God's answer to what is wrong in the world. Just let the church begin telling the truth, speaking the truth to power, witnessing to the fact that God, not nations, rules the world, that Jesus Christ is really Lord, and the church will quickly find how easily threatened and inherently unstable are the rulers of this world." (from Willimon: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry)

Koptak's position probably aligns to some extent with Boyd's (and hopefully I am representing his position in this commentary, accurately). Bob Robinson and dlw, influenced by Abraham Kuyper (two links), see Boyd's position as at least tending towards a dualism that would evidently see God leaving the state to itself, God's rule being in the Church, and providentially- including even through the state (e.g., Cyrus and Caesar), aside from and in spite of the state. The state not being the entity of God's rule and kingdom, but nevertheless ordained by God to humans and accountable to him. Though some of Boyd's thought may be inconsistent (an interview in which he states that he is not saying Christians shouldn't serve in politics or be an influence there), the burden of what he seems to be saying is that Christians are to bring God's kingdom to earth in Jesus through fulfilling their calling as the Church. And that to be heavily engaged in politics (such as those of "the religious right"), is to at least be in danger of missing our calling as Church.

At this point I would side more with Koptak's thinking. I do believe the two extreme positions of H. Richard Niebuhr's classic, Christ and Culture: Christ against culture, and Christ transforming culture, have truth from Scripture on Christians' relation to culture and government. This is where the difficulty lies for me. We in Jesus as salt and light to this world, are surely to be influencers for good of human culture, which is simply all that is involved in how human societies live. And part of humanity's original call from God was to rule over the earth, which would inherently involve order and cooperation with other humans, itself a part of culture. Something most theologians do not believe was ever taken back by God because of the fall of humankind.

At this point I'm not sold on what I understand of the Kuyperian view. It seems to see Christ's victory at the cross, over the powers, as opening the door wide to God's full rule in government. I believe that is true. But though, this is post-cross and resurrection, and the beginning of the new creation through God's kingdom establishing itself on earth in Jesus, I just can't see all of this as fulfilled yet (such as in Psalm 2 or Revelation 11- note especially verses 15-18) in such a way that we can think of the possibility of the kingdom of God fully at home in any one human government/state. This seems to me to be a case of the present tension of "already/not yet", in that the kingdom of God is already present in Jesus, but has not yet come in its fullness as in the final judgment and restoration of all things.

What do you think on this, I believe- difficult and challenging issue?


Bob Robinson said...


Great post. The thoughts of Koptak are helpful.

The "two extremes" that Niebuhr speaks of are "Christ against culture" and "Christ of culture." The 3 mediating positions are "Christ above culture" (Thomas Aquinas and many Roman Catholics ever since), "Christ and culture in paradox" (the Lutheran position), and "Christ transforming culture" (the Dutch Calvinists). Some would say that Boyd is in the "Christ against culture" camp. I am in the "Christ transforming culture" camp.

Kuyper's view is summed up with three main emphases:
(1) Sphere Soveriegnty. All individuals, communities, and institutions in society are ordained by God and have responsiblity for their own sphere and are accountable to God for their actions. This includes everything: church, family, school, business, labor union, marriage, art, club, and state. Neither the state nor the church is over any of these spheres, only God is. When one sphere enters inappropriatly into another sphere to do its work, this creates imbalance and conflict (as in church-state relations).

(2) Common Grace. God's Spirit gives grace to all humanity so that order can overcome chaos. This means that not only are Christians capable of governing, non-Christians can govern as well. This means that God commonly gives grace in all the spheres, giving his grace to the arts, to business, to institutions across the board.

(3) Antithesis. However, the human race is fallen, and therefore all these institutions have the tendency to show the effects of the fall. This is why injustice and unrighteousness pervades all the institutions (from church to state to business).

Therefore, the Christian mandate is to promote Sphere Soverignty and Common Grace and do what we can to redeem all institutions from the effects of the fall, knowing fully that this work cannot be completed until Christ returns and finishes the job.

Since Boyd sees government not as an ordained institution from God but a tool of Satan, he says that government is unredeemable. Thus it is best to be "Christ against government." I say that a better stand would be "Christ transforming government."

Ted Gossard said...


Thanks. And thanks for your helpful, clarifying comment.

As you express it, I see more clearly, truth in the Christ transforming government position. I also wonder if from Scripture there is an element of Christ against government, at times. For example how the Apostle John in his first letter warns Christians not to love the world, then describes it as antithetical to love of the Father (James also is hard on the "world"). I would like some mediating position inclusive of Christ transforming human institutions through his people, and Christ confronting human institutions through his people.

Thanks again for your helpful comment.

Ted Gossard said...


Maybe my thought about confronting God-ordained institutions is with reference to "the world" that is found in them, i.e., as in spirit opposed to God. All a part of Christ transforming those institutions through his people.

I still have difficulty with Christians full participation in institutions of the state. Where and when I think they are antithetical to our faith. Though I need to study much further on this.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Great and helpful post. Thanks!

I have two thoughts. Niebuhr's book Christ and Culture is a classic for good reason, but Niebuhr writes the book in such a way that everyone who reads it wants to claim the last position, Christ the Transformer of Culture. So, Niebuhr is not simply presenting a neutral account of the diffrent views, but writing it in such a way to convince the reader that the last position is the correct one.

Second, the question, it seems to me, is not whether Christians should work to transform the culture, but by what means. Here I appeal again to John Howard Yoder who states that the means of transformation is not the sword and coercive power, the but cross and resurrection.

How to implement this is not easy, but it presents a fundamentally different approach to the power games played by the world and unfortunately the church.

Ted Gossard said...


Thanks. And thanks much for your helpful comment. This provides another good angle to study and think on, in considering this issue.

The Kuyperian view, as Bob so well explained it, seems to me to be pretty solid Scripturally. And I would think that such a view, though surely modified as a result, could be included with some anabaptistic theology, with reference to living a cruciform life, as you so well mention here.

It seems to me that both postitions (Kuyperian and anabaptist) can benefit from taking something of the emphasis of the other.

Bob Robinson said...


I am with you 100% when you say, "It seems to me that both postitions (Kuyperian and anabaptist) can benefit from taking something of the emphasis of the other." I found Yoder's The Politics of Jesus to be an excellent book. One that I recommend all to read. I am personally trying to navigate a mediating position between neo-calvinist and anabaptist (with quite a bit of postmodernity thrown into the mix!).

I think that those of us who have read NT Wright are on our way to this middle ground. He is so spot-on with his assessment of Jesus versus Empire. See also Walsh and Keesmaat, Colossians Remixed.

DLW said...

I'm not strictly a Kuyperian or an anabaptist. I am a Swedish Baptist Pietist and have been influenced strongly by the USAmerican philosophy of Pragmaticism as developed by CS Peirce.

At the end of the day, there's no biblical or empirical evidence for treating the state as irreparably pagan or dominated by Satan until the end-times. Boyd and Anabaptists want Christian witness to radically distinct and yet they also want us to affect others with power under. However, if we've(or aspects of the message behind Jesus's life, death and resurrection) been power-undering for some time then can we not per se expect what our missional witnesses to not be so radically different than what others do?

I was a volunteer graduate employee union organizer for the last two years of when I was a grad student. What I did was not radically different from what the many non-Christians or liberal Christians who made up the majority of the volunteers/leaders. However, I did prove to be the most reliable organizer, despite the fact I had nothing to gain personally from the union's success as I was on a distinguished fellowship or savings and loans for the last two years.

This also was sacrificial love and it gave me the opportunity to interact with many non-Christians and witness to them and it was political and controversial(particularly among many of my fellow Christian Grad students at MSU). But Boyd's book would seem not to affirm this, at face value, it would categorically deny it as part of the spreading the kingship of God. And that seems rather wrong to me, especially given the nature of his exegesis of several NT passages...


Ted Gossard said...


Thanks again for your further clarification. Having been raised Mennonite I appreciate the good I have seen and am again recovering, from my heritage. I've also seen what I thought/think is often the failure to not be IN the world (with much of what I saw, not true of them all). So I've seen how the "Christ against culture/government", by itself, can fail to really engage and live in the world, as Jesus did. Though I do believe in a subversive way they did affect their worlds at times. So overall I'm more positive as I look back on them, than not.

On the other hand, having lived in Grand Rapids area, Calvinist country, for around two decades now, I've seen an attitude of living in culture, Christ transforming culture, that I've thought, at times, maybe gets amalgamated/co-opted in a way that may hurt the Christian witness. Though the best of what I've seen here, I think does not.

Most importantly though is to reflect the Biblical witness, and particularly that of our identity in Jesus. So I find most interesting where you're going in your study and thinking. And very helpful, as well.

And thanks for the books you mention. I do need to read *Colossians Remixed*. I have picked up from N.T. Wright something of what you're talking about. I have Yoder's book, and much appreciated what I read. I do need to press through it. But with my schedule I do get very tired and it normally takes me awhile to get a book done, especially one like that. Though his book is written hard to read, I really shouldn't let myself get sidetracked from it as I did. Thanks.

Ted Gossard said...


I find your perspective very interesting, and great for this conversation. From what I understand of what you write here, I find your activity good, and engaging in a way that is like our Lord. Certainly in doing what you did, you were, in a sense, I think, taking up your cross to follow Christ. I am seeing that (or, beginning to see that) as certainly not meaning one is not to be functioning in a good work in society. Not at all. It's how people do the good work, and why they're doing it, that makes all the difference, surely.

I need to read this C.S. Peirce I think I've seen you mention before. Probably you have something on him in your blog(?).

Your words:
"Boyd and Anabaptists want Christian witness to radically distinct and yet they also want us to affect others with power under. However, if we've(or aspects of the message behind Jesus's life, death and resurrection) been power-undering for some time then can we not per se expect what our missional witnesses to not be so radically different than what others do?"

I read them in light of what you say in your next paragraph. I don't quite grasp them, especially your last sentence. To be under, instead of over, as in Boyd-speak, I'm not sure means not doing some of the same things others do. Yet
Boyd does seem to opt for a view that would see Christians more or seemingly exclusively (though he may be a bit inconsistent in his thoughts here) as those who live subversively as of another kingdom, as in the Sermon on the Mount.

Thanks much for your helpful words here. Look forward to hearing and learning more from you.

RonMcK said...

This is an important issue.
I believe that the answer is both/and. Christians must confront the political powers. We must also work with God to tranform culture. However, the timing is important. Christians cannot have much influence on the political culture, while they are a miniority. If we try, then we just end up attempting to impose Christianity on those who hate it. If America is a pagan nation, as Greg Boyd suggests on his sermons, then the timing is wrong for trying to change the political sphere. This is the time for speaking prophetically. I sympathise with you ambivalence with aligning with the political state, particularly in its USA form.

However, if we are successful in preaching the gospel using the methods that Greg describes, we might just get to a place where most people have accepted the gospel. We should then be in a position to transform the political, culture, if we know God's will for the political sphere. We should be doing some serious study of scripture, so that we will be ready if and when that time comes.

The problem is that Christians generally go straight to Marx or Mises for guidance, instead of to the scriptures. Greg Boyd seems to go to the NT, but does not find a Christian political/social theory there, so he assumes that none exists. I believe that we will need to do some serious study of the OT, including the law, before we will get the political creed that is true to the NT. Fortunately, we have plenty of time.

In addition to timing, we need to get our Strategy right. I agree with Allan B that a key issue is the means to be used. We must not use force to make people behave like Christians. So as the Kingdom of God expands, political power will shrink and difuse.

I am more confident in the ability of the Holy Spirit to do the job than most Christians. I also beleive that Jesus won a greater victory over Satan than most Christians realise, as per Psalm 2, Col 1 Heb 2 and Rev 11. The key reason is that we are still in the First Half of the game; the best is yet to come.


drewmoser said...

ted--great post. tough an emerging anabaptist, i take the following position (in a nutshell, of course).
--i have very little faith in politics, and believe that the call of Christ is a call to not only conversion, but subversion of the powers of THIS world. that's the nonconforming anabaptist in me. i'm interested in politics, and participate in it (departing with many of my fellow anabaptists), but i see it for what it is: a game.
--however, my extreme anabaptist brothers and sisters who seclude themselves (amish, old order mennonite, dunkard, etc.) i believe have it wrong. we are to be 'salt and light', in word and deed. thus, i do believe in TRANSFORMING CULTURE through engagement, interaction, impact, and dialogue. thus, we are active, active, engaging, engaging, agents of the KINGDOM, not swayed by politics or political parties. (that's the emerging in me).

Additionally, as an Anabaptist, I resonate with the anabaptist vision of peace and justice, following the example and teachings of Christ. These foci, coupled with a strong sense of nonconformist subversion, could have a profound impact on our world that the political realm can't even touch (though i wish they'd at least try).

The Christians on the 'right' (directionally, not a statement of their truthfulness) have given up the larger culture in order to focus on a largely ineffective SUB-culture: politics. It saddens me.

Does this mean that followers of Jesus have no place on capitol hill? Of course not. I want to see Christ-followers in govt. But I think we put too much stock (and waaaaay too much money) in what they can actually accomplish.

Bob Robinson said...

On what RonMc said:
I think that an appropriate understanding of eschatology as it relates to politics is essential as well. But the point is not that we must wait for more in our culture to become Christian before we can act, but that we will act in spite of being a minority, bringing the eschaton into the present as best we can. And also trusting in God's Common Grace in the political sphere (you see, God does not need Christians to be in political power in order for his will to be done).

On what Drew (and Ted) said:
I think we all are looking for an "emerging" Christian approach to public policy and politics. Something that is "post-anabaptist," "post-kuyperian," "post-social-gospel," and DEFINITELY "post-religious-right!"

RonMcK said...

With regard to Ladd's now/not yet, Jesus returning does not solve the political problem. He would have two options. He could force people to obey him or he get the Spirit to change people's hearts, so that they will choose to serve him. He does not like the first option, so he will probably do the second. However he does not have to return to do the second. They Holy Spirit can change peoples hearts now.

I have more hope in the Holy Sprit in the age, than I do in Jesus returning with respect to this problem. Jesus will have to avoid the temptation of becoming a Bushian Republican

RonMcK said...

Can you explain how common grace is working in Darfur or Iraq at the moment. Or is Saddam Hussein a better example of common grace; God bringing order through an evil ruler. :-)

Ted Gossard said...


Glad you joined us. I find your writing on your blog (link) clear and interesting. I don't subscribe to your eschatological view which is apparently some form of postmillennialism, or at least something that has similarities to it?

Your thought that we have to go to the OT and the law to understand government for today, is for me quite interesting. Off hand, I do think there is much we can learn with how God views and deals with governments/nations in the OT. However I see the kingdom of God that Jesus brings and describes, as fulfilling the OT in such a way that it actually TRANSCENDS it, while certainly carrying out its demands, and in actuality, achieving its true goal.

I see the tares- the children of the evil one, as present until the end of this age, when the angels come and separate them from the wheat- the children of the kingdom.

So our paradigm must be the kingdom of God revealed in Scripture and in Christ. And in that revelation, I see an appeal to human conscience through God's law, written in the human heart. (and "common grace" at work).

I'm sure you agree with much of what I and others here say. But have a different take, as well.

Would you characterize your view as Christ transforming culture, subversively through the gospel and the church? And government being at the tail end of that transformation? Then Christ returning?


Ted Gossard said...


You said:
"On what Drew (and Ted) said:
I think we all are looking for an "emerging" Christian approach to public policy and politics. Something that is "post-anabaptist," "post-kuyperian," "post-social-gospel," and DEFINITELY "post-religious-right!" "

Yes. I agree.

Ted Gossard said...


Thanks! And thanks much for your helpful contribution. It's so good to hear from a true Mennonite. I love Mennonites. I always feel at home with them, I guess because I was raised one (but I ran away from that home....another story, though I do love going back there to visit!)

You state your position so well. And also you add more for me to ponder.

I do think the anabaptist position contributes something very important to this discussion, which seems to me largely lost by the religious right and most evangelicals I know. Again, your thoughts of following Christ, are most helpful in considering that.

I do see it as next to impossible for an anabaptist to serve on capitol hill. (notice I said, NEXT TO) This is because an anabaptist's view of the kingdom of God in Jesus, and the bearing it should have on earth now, is so radically different. As in, from what I've seen from some anabaptists, simply viewing the state as a servant of God something like Cyrus in the OT was. In the picture, but not for God's people to participate in as a part of.

Am I off here, I wonder?

Len said...

I wonder if Niebuhr is helpful at all, or only obfuscates the issue. Clayton (I think it was) and Hauerwas argue that Niebuhrs paradigm was thoroughly Constantinian.... a Christendom frame. Now in post-Christendom we have the opportunity to view the church as a unique culture.. where the kingdom of God is breaking into our present world and where we live with an entirely different allegiance. Can you say purple politics?
Perhaps we can work with what Friesen calls an “embodied Christology, one that places Christ in the context of his Jewish culture in first-century Palestine.” One must begin with “a view of Christ as the concrete presence of God in the world of culture.” The Jesus whom one encounters within the diverse documents of the New Testament offers a particular vision of life, a vision that sometimes conflicted with other cultural visions. The real tension, then, is not between Christ and culture but between competing cultural visions. The key question for Friesen is how a cultural vision of life, identified “in the New Testament as the ‘good news of the gospel,’ can be brought into relationship with other cultural visions.”

RonMcK said...

Thank you for your comment. Your last paragraph somes up my position (awful expression) fairly well.

However, I not like the label post-millenial. First, American post-millenialism, as I understand it, was a political movement that believed political power could bring in the kingdom. That is the opposite of what I believe. Secondly, I do not like the word millenium. Most modern descriptions of it make it sound more like Bush on steroids, than the kingdom Jesus died to establish.

The parable of the wheat and tares is intereting. Before becoming an economist, I worked for five years as a farmer. My experience was that the wheat and weeds do not grow evenly. If the weeds grow as well as the wheat, they choke it, the crop would not be worth harvesting. I remember one crop that we had to plough back into the ground, because the weeds choked the wheat. A good crop of wheat will grow faster than the weeds, so that most of them are choked out. The fact that there is a good harvest in the parable means that the wheat has outgrown the weeds. 

In the same way, I expect the kingdom of God to outgrow the kingom of the world, because the Holy Spirit is greater by far than the Devil. In my view, it is not contest. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to establish the Kingdom. I expect him to do the job. Nothing I read in the newspaper can convince me that the Spirit of God can be a failure?

Ted Gossard said...


Thanks for your comment. Good thoughts and a new slant to this conversation.

By what you share, Jesus' culture (or cultural vision) he brings to earth in the kingdom of God, is in competition with all other cultures (cultural visions)?

I think of the vision of shalom, of God's good kingdom rule, that I am supposing Israel was to bring to the world. And I am also supposing that we in Jesus (Jews and Gentiles) are the new Israel, scattered throughout the world as a holy nation. To bring God's cultural vision in Jesus amidst and against (competing, as you say) every culture of this world. As God's good news of his kingdom having come in Jesus.

But does Jesus' culture mean that the impact of the gospel on worldly cultures will result in precisely the same expression, or uniformity of redeemed cultures throughout the earth. I think the core values will be the same (love God, love neighbor, "the Jesus creed"), but the expression of them will surely be as varied as the different peoples God has made of the one human race and family.

I can't help but see it as not far removed from Niebuhr's
Christ against culture, and I would add to that, so as to transform culture. Am I missing something here? (It has been years since I believe I read that book. I'd like to reread it.)

This creed


is just one example among many of the varied expressions of the one life we have in the Son.

Perhaps what you're saying is not at odds with this at all(?).

Ted Gossard said...


Thanks for your clarification.

"Most modern descriptions of [the millennium] make it sound more like Bush on steroids, than the kingdom Jesus died to establish."

Good one, Ron.

As for your thought on the wheat and the tares: I just can't read that into the way Jesus told it.

(Have you been influenced by Charles Finney?)


Michael W. Kruse said...

Wow, Ted. Great discussion. I see why you suggested I high tail it over here.

My two cents.

I think the Anabaptist conceptualization views “culture” and its institutions as too static objects disassociated from individual participants. The dynamic actions of individuals form cultures and institutions even as those cultures and institutions in turn form individuals. It is an organic reality that can not be so easily divided. While I have great respect for the Anabaptist friends I have had over the years, I think this is a serious weakness in the perspective.

Ron raised the issue of the wheat and tares. I read not long ago that the word translated tares did not relate to weeds in general but to a particular species. The weed looked so identical to wheat that even an experienced farmer would be hard pressed to differentiate them. The only way you could tell them apart was when the head blossomed.

Like Ron I have a sense of both increasing good and increasing evil unfolding. Rodney Stark’s “Victory of Reason” gives a wonderful account of the overall leavening effect for good Christianity has had on the world over the past 2,000 years. I don’t know how it all comes out when Christ returns but I don’t rule out growing good until Christ returns and bridges the gap that brings everything to fulfillment. (I am in a Bible study on Revelation right now and we are going chapter by chapter looking at four views. My head hurts after every Friday morning.)

I would highly recommend Toward an Evangelical Public Policy edited by Ron Sider and the late Diane Knippers. The book was released last year and has 16 excellent essays. I read it months ago and I find myself frequently go back to it as a resource. (I did a chapter by chapter blog in April: Toward an Evangelical Public Policy: Index)

Thanks again for steering me here.

RonMcK said...

I have read some of Finney's writing, but it never really grabbed me. My limited understanding is that American Political Postmillenialism partly emerged out of Oberlin college, so it did not produce good fruit.

I hope I am more influenced by the scriptures, and the joy of haresting a good crop of wheat, despite the weeds that could not be removed without harming the wheat.

DLW said...

Hey Ted,

I think my sentence was unclear. I agree with Boyd that power under is key to the advancement of the kingship, or rule, of God. I think part of power under is Christian discipleship, but the specific sets of disciplines we learn and help inculcate into others were not set out for us once and for all in the Bible. I also believe this will inevitably affect the manner in which the sword of the state is wielded as a power over. Part of the disciplines we Christians shd undertake is the ways we deliberate on how we might affect the manner in which the Sword of the State is wielded or the nature of rights/duties for our political system.

We can view politics as a game, but it would be stronger language to say that it is where we work out our most serious conflicts in life and for us to be able to do so peacefully in a manner that provides more security and opportunities for more people does seriously abet the spread of the Gospel and the kingship of God.

Anyways, I'm told Boyd is going to read my Pragmatic Prolife Manifesto and I'm praying that he may feel led to write a sequel soon that would include a dialogue between us, reflecting some of the diffs between Pietism and Anabaptists.

Pietists, originally, by the way, were Lutherans who learned from Puritanism an experience-enabled form of Reformed Christianity, as well as anabaptists and mystics and others. It critically influenced Kant, Hegel, Schleiermacher or Liberal Protestantism and modern philosophy. It also influenced Abraham Kuyper, who I believe was a Liberal Christian, that rediscovered Reformed Orthodoxy as a pastor and helped to foster a revival of sorts that had a significant political/holistic notion of the kingship of God.

That's part of why I don't buy into the radically distinct views, as I see many secular humanists, or even atheists, as influenced by Christian thought and doxy and praxy inevitably go together.

It kind of reflects the question that Tertullian posed in the 2nd ctry CE, "Of What Relation is Athens and Jerusalem?" I disagree with his answer that the two have nothing to do with each other. From what I've read about Pythagoras and other 6th Ctry BCE Greek Philosophy, they imported a great deal of ideas. I think a good deal of it likely came from post-exilic Judaism(although, it seems plausible that the slave-owning Greeks may have downplayed the extent of their cultural indebtedness to that group of former slaves.). It seems to me that a decent portion of Greek philosophy may have been deliberations on aspects of Jewish thought, making it worthwhile for Christian consideration and also making praxy for Christians not as radically different from non-Christians who were quite possibly also influenced some by post-exilic Judaism.

The bottom line is that there is nothing unclean so long as it is missiologically useful.

Michael W. Kruse said...

I would add that politics is "downstream" from everything else in culture. If you have waited until something becomes a political issue to address, you are often to late.

Most shapping of culture happens in families, classrooms, in front of TVs, at work and sometimes even in the church. :) Politics is most often a ratification of what is already practiced or believed in society. That doesn't mean we shouldn't be there. Just means you aren't going to truly trasform culture from governmental offices.

DLW said...

I gotta differ with Kruse. It goes both ways. "Culture" is not something easy to define for a reason. The Polity, Economy and Society are all intertwined and mutually affecting each other.

How we act politically does affect our economic freedoms/duties and whom we socially relate with and are able to share about our faith with.


Michael W. Kruse said...

dlw wrote.

""Culture" is not something easy to define for a reason. The Polity, Economy and Society are all intertwined and mutually affecting each other."

Actually, I agree with you here. This goes to my earlier post where I noted that I am not Anabaptist because I think the distinction between government and society can not be that easily made.

"How we act politically does affect our economic freedoms/duties and whom we socially relate with and are able to share about our faith with."

My reference to downstream isn't that it is of lesser importance but neither should it be our consuming focus. I am basically saying what you are. We need to be working upstream, downstream and everywhere inbetween. The problem (IMO) is that too many Evangelicals have bought into the idea that this is first and foremost a poltical campaign to be won. That leads to a downstream emphasis to the neglect of the other aspects of culture and is therefore ineffective.

Does that alter your perception of my remarks? I think we are saying very similar things.

Ted Gossard said...


Thanks for joining in. I really appreciate your contribution to this conversation. Very helpful.


Thanks! This will be one of my favorite posts (of this blog) to go back to. Much helpful thought and good discussion here. I undoubtedly got much more out of this, than what I put in it.

Anonymous said...

Michael, I wouldn't be surprised if there were a good deal of similarities between what we're saying.

I think a good deal of the failings of the RR wrt their policy objectives reflects the weak habits of many of them wrt deliberation on politics and how they too easily accept the frames that their leaders, many of whom oft may be compromised, give them.

I pray and hope that Boyd will put his words into action perhaps by writing a sequel to his book with me, where we'll have some real dialogue...

Michael W. Kruse said...

Thanks for inviting me Ted. Thanks dlw and others. Good stuff.

I'll be back.

CTK said...

I am a latecomer to this interesting conversation. I stumbled on to it surfing the web from the Middle East. Civil government is clearly a God-ordained institution (Romans 13, I Peter 2). Any modern failings of this institution can be traced to our sinfulness and not to the nature of the institution. The problem is one of purpose or jurisdiction. Too many want civil government to be something that it is not. Civil government's primary role is one of protection (Romans 13:4). Calvin clearly articulated the difference between and the purpose of the church and the civil government in Book 4, Chapter 11 of his Institutes. Keep up the good work.

Ted Gossard said...

Thanks so much for your comment.

Yes. I want to study all of this more, particularly as to nuances in reference to God's ordaining of human government. I'm not sure that I have seen it enough in light of all of Scripture. I want to better understand the precise relationship between God and states/governments.

I will look up your reference to the Institutes. And again, thanks for your comment and kind word.