Tuesday, March 8, 2011

What would Jesus cut? Two kingdoms confusion...

I came across this column via this post at the Spectator Blog . Jim Wallis, the column's author and "progressive" Christian of Sojourners fame is concerned as to what programs the U.S. Congress will choose to cut in order to rein in seemingly out-of-control government deficit spending. He writes - "Already, in a first wave of response to the proposed cuts, thousands of Christians told their members of Congress that they need to ask themselves, "What Would Jesus Cut?" They believe, and so do I, that the moral test of any society is how it treats its poorest and most vulnerable citizens. And that is exactly what the Bible says, over and over again... Taking the cutting knife to programs that benefit low-income people, while refusing to scrutinize the much larger blank checks we keep giving to defense contractors and corporate executives, is hypocritical and cruel."

My point here is not to argue what should or shouldn't be cut. I'm sure I would have some differences with Mr. Wallis, as well as some areas of agreement. Rather, I want to take issue with the use of Jesus' name as a means of rallying people to a political cause. The question What would Jesus cut? exposes, at a minimum, an ignorance as to the nature of the kingdom of this world vis-à-vis the kingdom of God - and Christ's mission as Savior.  I added a comment on the Spectator blog and then a follow-up to respond to another commenter. I'm posting a summary here to expand on my point:

"Jesus, what would you cut?"  I don't think he would answer such a question with a list of programs. The closest he would ever get to opining on tax cuts is probably what is recorded in the Gospel of Mark:
14-They came and said to Him, "Teacher, we know that You are truthful and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth. Is is lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not? 15-"Shall we pay or shall we not pay?" But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, "Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to look at." 16-They brought one. And He said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" And they said to Him, "Caesar's." 17-And Jesus said to them, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."  And they were amazed at Him.

Wallis is simply misusing/misappropriating the name of Christ for his own well-intended personal/political agenda in Caesar's kingdom, just as the questioner was attempting to do in the above interchange.

Someone replied to my initial comments with the following: "I am no theologian and would welcome any informed input. I have always regarded this passage as meaning that things of this world, including money and material goods are ephemeral and unimportant when contrasted to the kingdom of heaven. Christians please do not take offense if I say it seems similar to Buddhist teaching."

I replied that the above passage has more to do with the nature of Christ's kingdom and mission than the relative importance of material things. Jesus came not to remake this present world kingdom, but to call lost souls out of it; out of this kingdom of darkness and into his kingdom. This is similar to the passage in John 18:
35-Pilate answered, "Am I a Jew? Thing own nation and the chief priets have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done?" 36-Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence."
Jesus was not advocating pacifism, but again was speaking to the nature of his calling, his kingdom as contrasted with the kingdom of this world, and the means his followers would and wouldn't utilize for his cause.  The kingdom of God is not established by the sword. It is not advanced or inhibited by the power of earthly governments. God's kingdom is not brought about by the transforming of societies through various legislative schemes and programs. Though Christians, in this sense, are not "of the world", they still are "in the world". So actually the point is not that earthly things don't matter or are unimportant (money, jobs, possessions, governments). Christianity is very non-Buddhist in that the things of this world are important.  They're just not the things of Christ's kingdom.  They're things of this world.

A Christian is a citizen of two kingdoms. As a citizen of Christ's kingdom, he has a responsibility to follow Jesus' command to "Love thy neighbor as thyself" as the thankful and obedient response to the love and grace he, a sinner, has been shown by God. As a citizen in this world the Christian also has a duty to take seriously what would lead to the betterment of society around him by whatever legal and wise means he deems best; voting for whatever policies that seem the most likely to be just and effective towards particular societal goals. He can and does seek to help the disadvantaged and those who are suffering. But doing so through the means of his involvement in the political process is simply just being a good citizen of this world, as embodied in the teaching of Romans 13: 1-7. Mr. Wallis blurs the line (as Christians also often do from the political right) between God's kingdom and that of this world by equating certain legislative schemes (good or bad) as "Jesus' preferred policies."

The commenter responded: "Thank you. Your reply is quite informative. It's good to get past some of the nonsense and this site and make contact with intelligence."

Me: Well, that was very gracious of him, especially as this is only a partial sketchy outline of a much debated and misunderstood teaching of Scripture. For those who want to delve into this doctrine of two kingdoms more deeply I recommend the David VanDrunen book Living in God's Two Kingdoms.  

From Jesus' prayer in John 17: 9-23-
I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for those whom thou hast given me; for they are thine:
 and all things that are mine are thine, and thine are mine: and I am glorified in them.  
And I am no more in the world, and these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are.  
While I was with them, I kept them in thy name which thou hast given me: and I guarded them, and not one of them perished, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.  
But now I come to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy made full in themselves.  
I have given them thy word; and the world hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.  
I pray not that thou shouldest take them from the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil one.  
They are not of the world even as I am not of the world.  
Sanctify them in the truth: thy word is truth.
  As thou didst send me into the world, even so sent I them into the world.  
And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. 
Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word; 

that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us: that the world may believe that thou didst send me.  

And the glory which thou hast given me I have given unto them; that they may be one, even as we are one; 
I in them, and thou in me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that thou didst send me, and lovedst them, even as thou lovedst me.


  1. Jack, as a 2ker I’m very sympathetic to the larger point here. But what I find curious is the idea that “As a citizen in this world the Christian also has a duty to take seriously what would lead to the betterment of society around him by whatever legal and wise means he deems best; voting for whatever policies that seem the most likely to be just and effective towards particular societal goals.”

    But what about those of us who are much more agnostic about the power of politics and legislation to accomplish such lofty goals? There are some of us who think that politics and legislation are simply imperfect ways to order public life and get everyone from one day to the next without too much bloodshed. I don’t only have a problem with enlisting the church for political ends, but also with the idea (sacred or secular) that politics and legislation really can “better society.” So why is it my duty as a Christian to have more faith in politics than seems warranted by wisdom?

  2. Hi Steve,

    I think you may be reading more into what I've written than intended. Our responsibility as citizens in this world is to essentially be a good citizen by whatever means we "deem best." No one is required to vote, argue for legislation, or get involved politically. Some deem it a good idea. Some don't. My point is simply that those things are common kingdom enterprises and not a means of extending or bringing about Christ's kingdom. The "duty to take seriously what would lead to the betterment of society..." could be summed up simply as "love thy neighbor as thyself." That we, as Christians, take seriously.

    By the way, I do have a problem with the church 'as an institution' promoting various political platforms or ends. The church is the redemptive kingdom-outpost here on earth and not of this world - with the expressed narrow purpose of being witnesses of Christ's redemption and specifically to "make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I [Christ] commanded you..." That purpose becomes compromised, I believe, when the church seeks to put its name behind or upon a political program of the civil kingdom. Individual Christians are free to promote this or that political end, as they are citizens of this world kingdom. The church is about the business of another kingdom and another King.

    best regards,

  3. Thanks, Jack. I like your second statement here better than the one in the post proper. I'm not sure I was doing too much eisegesis, though, with certain words like "Christian duty, justice, policies and voting" strung together.

  4. Hi Steve,

    Well, I do admit that my phrase could have been more qualified. It was part of my comments on another blog specifically about Wallis' political involvement and his asserting an explicitly Christian (or Jesus') position on legislative policy re: budget cuts. My point: this has nothing to do with Christ's kingdom. If the Christian is going to be involved politically he should use his best judgment and not drag the kingdom of Christ into the matter as a means of persuasion.

    Thanks for chiming in and giving me opportunity to clarify any misunderstanding in my original post.