I have been reading a lot of N.T. Wright lately. The Anglican New Testament scholar and theologian has been helpful as I try to think about how to speak faithfully in our current political moment in the United States. In his book God in Public: How the Bible Speaks Truth to Power Today, Wright offers what he calls a “rough sketch of a Christian political theology.” His sketch includes four points:
…the creator God wants the world to be ordered, not chaotic. The order in question is to be a human order: that is to say, God intends that there should be human structures of government. God does not want anarchy. Just as God intends the world of plants and crops to work under human management, so God intends that human societies should be wisely ordered under human stewardship. This pattern, of delegated authority if you like, goes all the way back to the human vocation to be God’s “image bearers.” It corresponds to the pattern of God’s actions in and through Jesus Christ. That is what Paul says in Colossians 1:15-17.
Colossians 1:15-17: “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
…if God intends that there should be power structures; if he wills that humans should find ways of running the world and bringing it to wise order–then, within a world in rebellion, this call to power translates all too easily into a temptation to the abuse of power. As soon as you make someone a steward of creation…you challenge them to navigate past the temptation to use that power for their own advantage, to become, in other words, part of the problem to which they are supposed to be part of the solution….
…it is part of the inalienable task of God’s people, of those who worship the creator God, whom we see in Jesus and know through the Spirit, to speak the truth to power. This calling will mean reminding governments, local councillors, authorities in every sphere, including church leaders, of their calling to selfless stewardship. It will mean pointing our fearlessly (but also humbly: arrogance will spoil the whole thing) where this trust is being abused, in whatever way. Once more, God is not nearly so interested in how rulers get to be rulers as he is in how they behave as rulers. That is why the church has the vital task of reminding them of their proper vocation and of calling them to account.
…it is the task of the followers of Jesus to remind those called to authority, in whatever sphere, that the God who made the world intends to put the world rights at the last. It isn’t simply a matter of reminding the authorities of duties they have always had. It is a matter of calling them to acts of justice and mercy which will anticipate, in the present time, God’s final setting of all things to rights, God’s wiping away of every tear from every eye. This calling–which many authorities and rulers dimly recognize, though many alas glimpse it and turn away to more seductive options–is, whether people recognize it or not, the call to live under the lordship of Jesus Christ.
The doing of justice and mercy in the present time by those called to power locally, nationally and globally is thus to be seen within the framework of the historical victory of Jesus in his death and resurrection and of the future, coming, final victory of God over all evil, all violence, all arrogant abuse of power.
It’s no good saying “Jesus is telling you to do this” to someone who has no time for Jesus. But if the church can translate what we believe Jesus would say into the language, and the coherent argument, of the wider world then such obedience can become a possibility.