Home > Miscellaneous > A bunch of thoughts on a general political theology

A bunch of thoughts on a general political theology

These are utterly incomplete, it just might be a while before I get around to thinking about this again… any responses would be helpful.

Complexity. Ambiguity. Difficulty. Those concepts run through my head when I think about how I am to act in the political realm as a follower of Jesus. I am theologically challenged by it. For the first time in a while, I’m taking the challenge and seeking the answer in Scripture.

I begin with the new testament because I’m living under the new covenant. I also begin with the words of Christ, as He is my Rabbi and His interpretations of Scripture are those that I choose to live by. Sorry for the lack of Scripture references. It becomes a little tedious to cite every single reference to Scripture. Those familiar with the NIV version will likely notice a lot of similar language.

Jesus had no issue eating with tax collectors. He never told them that they should leave their profession because it was inherently sinful to work for the government as a Jew. He praised the faith of the Centurion who fought for the ruling authorities. He doesn’t even work directly against the authorities when they are being unjust (as with John the Baptist). His confrontation seems to exclusively be with the religious leaders instead of the political system, despite the reality that the political rulers and system was pretty screwed up.

Generally, as demonstrated by his discussion of paying taxes to Caesar (Mthw 22:15-22), Jesus avoids conflict with the government and doesn’t hold them responsible for the social wrongs, even though He does warn His followers to watch out for the yeast of Herod – warning them in some way of how his sinful way of life can spread through the culture and negatively affect their actions (Mk 8:14-15). This is more about general personal morality and Herod happens to be someone who can negatively affect that because of his position. The warning stands today I think: do not fall into the trap of being sinfully impacted by the religious or political authorities. He blames Satan and He blames the Jewish people who have not been the light of the world. It is the responsibility of those people that know God to bring all YHWH is to the world. The Gentile government cannot be expected to right what is wrong, especially since the government of the world is under the influence of the king of this world. Certainly it can be said of my Lord and Savior that He did not talk or live as if the best way to build the Kingdom is to be heavily concerned by the actions of the government. The best way to bring YHWH is to pray, to talk of Him, to battle the Spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms, and to actively love people by rectifying what is wrong in the lives of individuals.

Even at the end of his life, being killed by the Roman government, He minimizes the responsibility of Pilate. Pilate appears confused about Jesus’ lack of verbal self defense, asking Jesus, “Don’t you realize that I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus responds in a way that is surprising in that it is neither haughty, nor self-defensive, nor intimidated. Jesus simply, gently, tells the plain truth. Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

Jesus minimizes the responsibility of the government for the wrong being done and emphasizes the responsibility of those who are following YHWH. It is a very interesting move because Pilate does have full control over whether or not Jesus is executed. But those living under YHWH have a greater responsibility than the government. If rectifying the government were the answer, then Jesus would have talked more about the rectification of the government. But He doesn’t.

The Messiah talks about how to live at peace with the ruling powers and as for their injustices, Jesus gives some peaceful ways to gently resist the ruling authorities and elucidate the unfairness of their laws (Matthew 5:39-41). These things are political actions, but they make up a small portion of Jesus’ teachings. He doesn’t fight against them, condemn them, or work toward righting the evils of the Roman Empire. Jesus is about those chosen by and who chose YHWH being the light of the world, and so it is to the Jews that Jesus directs His injunctions to be the light of the world by living justly, mercifully, lovingly, walking humbly with YHWH. As followers of this man we must take responsibility rather than placing it on someone else. Living righteously – both in how we act and how we relate – is vital to being a disciple, vital to making real change. Political work is ancillary.

Satan as ruler of this world

Kingdom of God, lead into OT

Exemplifies avoiding govt. controversy and focusing on people of YHWH

The government certainly seems to be a thing of the world, made necessary by the fall, but not the ideal (these ideas will be discussed in more detail when I touch on the Old Testament). Jesus is pretty clear: “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” There is so much in this statement for us to receive as political acters. The way things are done in worldly kingdoms is not the way things are done in God’s heavenly kingdom. Although physically we all reside is an earthly kingdom, our citizenship is in heaven first and we should not be surprised to find ourselves thinking and acting like aliens in a foreign land. The use of political power as such is a pretty earthly idea and is not the way that things are done in the kingdom of God. Jesus showed that pretty plainly.

When the followers of the Messiah tried to make him a political king, he wouldn’t allow them and he got out of the situation. He wouldn’t accept the political position. That was not his form of power and that was not the way that he was going to redeem humanity and make everything right. He wouldn’t allow his disciples to fight for him. Jesus even called Peter Satan because Peter had a problem with the way that Jesus said that his kingdom was going to come about. Pilate’s questioning of Jesus reveals his confusion over this unorthodox king.

It is confusing. The wisdom of the kingdom, of God, appears foolish to us, but it is the great wisdom, insight, brilliance, and foresight of God. It is the best way. The way to life. It is not the way that we think about kingdoms. It is not the way we think about making things right. The crux of it is in ways and thoughts that are higher than ours.

As far as it depends on us, we are to live at peace with everyone, doing what is right in the eyes of everyone, that we may be in the best position possible to preach the message of Jesus Christ to everyone. It usually doesn’t work to preach to a person one has a discordant relationship with. This living at peace with everyone is the same way that we are to act politically. The disciples in Acts demonstrated this interaction with political power perfectly.

As Stephen is being put on trial by the Jewish government (functioning within the Roman government) he does not criticize the faultiness of their trials or discuss their politics, but he speaks into their hearts and lives as individuals and as a religious community. He comes to them as a brother and speaking of their history leads up to Jesus Christ and who He is for them as YHWH’s chosen. The focus, even when in court, a centerpiece of politics, is bringing the spiritual message of Jesus.

Paul is an even better example of a man who works within a political system to spread the gospel. Jesus tells his disciples to be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. That’s a solid manner of describing how Paul maneuvered politically. After his conversion, he preached about the good news of Jesus like none other. Some people didn’t like this. It certainly didn’t jive with Roman ideas of authority. Paul pissed off the Jews preaching the gospel. He then had a trial, where he preached the gospel, and was thrown into prison by the Romans, but used his Roman citizenship (having been born in Rome) to obtain a fair trial rather than the injustice he was receiving. Guess what he did at the trial? He spent more time preaching the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is how he interacted with the political community… as if they were all just people in desperate need of the grace of God found in His love through Christ Jesus.

Other New Testament stuff:

Ephesians slaves and masters

Romans 13

1 Cor courtrooms

1 Thess 4:11-12

Titus 3:1-2

1 Tim 2:1-4 – “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for everyone– for kings and all those in authority, that we may love peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior…”

Old Testament:


Kinglessness – God as king

Eden ideal

Prophetic ideal

Kingdoms of the world?????

Categories: Miscellaneous
  1. Morpheus
    March 31, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    interesting thoughts, and I actually agree with a lot of what you’re saying. however I think we need to make a careful distinction between using the power of the government to bring about the Kingdom and using the power of the government to bring about justice and order. We can’t legislate the Kingdom into furtherance, but we can legislate codes of conduct that are necessary for a society to exist and allow justice (which is one of the exact ends of government itself). We can’t solve the spiritual problems behind escalating crime rates, abortion, and disorder by enacting harsher punishments on criminals, outlawing abortion, and enforcing martial law; these are political solutions to very real political problems. As followers of Christ we are in the best position to ascertain the spiritual problems and bring forth solutions as Christ would, but we also need to remember that while we are not of this world, we are certainly in it, and we need to be sure that the society in which we live is just and secure: two principles that have a very distinct Judeo-Christian ring to them.

  2. jeremiah
    April 2, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    Definitely, had I wrote more on this, much of what you said would have been in my final two paragraphs.

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