Thursday, June 23, 2016

Where Do You Place Your Hope?

Is this political year getting to you - and depressing you - like it is to me? I renewed my hope by reading this piece by Stephen McAlpine - Christ's Parousia Is Our Salvation Not Christian Politics
Hey I went into Christian bookshop, Koorong, this morning (just for academic research purposes of course), and guess what?
Hidden  on the shelves behind The Women’s Devotional Study Bible, The Men’s Devotional Study Bible, The Spirit-filled Life Application Bible, and The Prosperity Gospel Bible (is that even a thing?) was the 21st Century Western Christians’ Guide to Modern Politics Bible
What a find!
And the latest edition comes with “how to vote” cards in the upcoming US Presidential election, the soon to be upon us Australian Federal Election, and the Brexit campaign in the UK. Pretty nifty huh?
And as is my wont  with new editions I went to a specific text to see if they got it right. And here’s how one of my favourite test-case texts, Colossians 1:3, reads in the 21st Century Western Christians’ Politics Bible:
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ when  we pray for you, since we have heard about your faith in the political process, and of the love that you have for those Christians on your side of the political fence, because of the hope laid up for you on election night.
Nailed it right there.  Faith. Love. Hope.  All directed in this age of course.  All focussed on the goals and plans of this age.  The 21st Century Western Christians’ Political Bible should sell like hot cakes.  Maybe not in Syria, but Sydney certainly.  Maybe not in Poland, but definitely in Perth.
Ok, I jest, but is it that far from the thought patterns of many Christians in the West (both progressives and conservatives) today?
For two things struck me after the dust stirred up around my Hanoi Jane post had settled, in which I called out progressives for their lack of gospel eschatology.
Firstly, if Facebook comments  – often merely faux intellectualism posing as academic rigour – are any indication, we’re in trouble. There’s Buckley’s chance of a civil conversation with the secular framework about our social disagreements if we can’t have a civil conversation amongst ourselves.
Modern Western Christians are struggling to do Gospel conflict well at the moment.  Pure and simple.   They have drunk deeply from the tainted Kool Aid in the political punch bowl.
But secondly, and more importantly, eschatology has fallen off the Christian radar, particularly, though not exclusively from the progressive crowd.
So much so that my state conviction that our hope is grounded not in this age, but in the age to come, was sneeringly referred to as “neo-fundy”.
Now to be fair, this lack of a robust eschatology is a politically conservative problem too. Or it was, right up until the point in which many conservatives realised that the culture war was lost.  After all, the hope of the Moral Majority in the US was to “take this country back”. Since that’s not going to happen, where should we look? (No, the answer is not Donald Trump).
Here’s my concern: Since when did it become an arcane historical curiosity for Christians to believe what we’ve believed since the resurrection? Since when was it reactionary  to believe this: Christ’s parousia will ultimately rescue us, not Christian politics?
For that’s what we believe, right?  That Christ’s parousia will ultimately rescue us, not Christian politics? Don’t we?
That’s why Colossians 3:4 states (in the ESV)
When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory
Note the use of the word “ultimately” in my statement. It’s a great caveat. A robust eschatology does not negate doing good in this world, or render it redundant, but rather, it gives it shape and meaning. Our ultimate rescue is through Parousia not Parliament.
What does a robust eschatology give to our politics? Here are three things to start with:
1.Humility.
Modern politics is so often proud, angry, and determined to have its way.  We fall into that trap all too easily.  The primary reason it is so, is that politics imagines that it alone is our salvation.
Our eschatology reminds us that we are ultimately not going to change the world to fit our own image.  In fact we are to be conformed to the image of Christ, and our ultimate conformation will occur at His return.
2. Charity.
There’s not a lot of that in politics, and precious little of it among Christians in the political process.  And that goes for all sides.
How can we, who will share eternity with each other, in which Jesus is undisputed, self-declared, unelected King, think for one moment that our side is the right side on everything, bar none?
3. A High View of Human Life
Eschatology, rightly understood, means that you will pray for and help the refugee who comes here by boat, and you will pray for and help in any way possible, the unborn child.
The progressives will hate you for the one, and the conservatives for the other.  And rightly so, for you are shaped by the politics of the age to come, not the politics of this age.
The Lord is returning to judge the world in righteousness because it’s His! He owns it.  He owns every life on the planet.  He gets to decide its worth. Every human life on the planet is created Imago Dei.  That means you don’t get to scorn or shun the boat arrivals, and you don’t get to scrape the unborn out of a womb.
It matters not a jot where you think the official journey of the asylum seeker originated – Afghanistan or Indonesia – they belong to God and are created Imago Dei.
It matters not a jot whether you think life begins at conception or life begins at birth, that life is not yours to take, it was created for and by God.
God owns all life and his judgement on the final day through Christ will silence a lot of loud-mouthed naysayers on both those issues.
Now whatever else you call this perspective – neo-fundy, non-academic, no-room-for-it-in-the-academy, let’s be clear: eschatology is central to the Christian faith.  When it falls off the radar then all sorts of utopian fancies stir within us. Utopian fancies that are proud, loveless, and view humans who do not meet their criteria as “persons” with disdain and indifference.