political Christianity

Let me open with an if/then statement.  If Christianity is anything more than B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth), and I heartily believe it is, then it necessarily has to do with how the wholeness of life is played out in the here and now.  This means Christianity necessarily has a political component to it.  And here’s a yes/but statement.  Yes, there is vastly more to Christianity than politics, but it is not apolitical.

The sweeping Story of Scripture presents a Gospel that cannot be contained by any single political party, even a ‘Christian’ political party.  Indeed, the values and imperatives of Scripture cover pretty much the entire political spectrum.

The ‘right’ end of the spectrum will find its emphasis on personal responsibility affirmed and strengthened by Scripture.  Consider Proverbs 6:6-11 as motivation to as right-wing folk will say, “get off your rear and work as much as you can, and stop relying on the government.”

The left end of the political spectrum, with its convictions about basic rights and freedoms, will find just as much support from Scripture; from the golden rule of treating your neighbour as yourself, through to the more sharp and radical command to love your enemies.  Everything from social welfare, ecological preservation and non-violent pacifism have direct links to Scripture.

Even a controversial issue such as same-gender relationships finds the whole spectrum covered by Scripture.  Conservatives will find their convictions about sex, marriage and gender affirmed by passages which echo through in both the Old and New Testaments.  Progressives will find abundant biblical support for their passionate concern for the protection of the person-hood and identity of all regardless of any of their personal characteristics.

In addition to offering support all along the political spectrum, Scripture also offers subversion and opposition at all points as well.  To the arrogant ‘conservatives’ wanting to stone the woman caught in adultery, Jesus the ‘liberal’ steps in to defend her basic freedoms with non-condemning, patient love, whilst at the same time pointing a stinging finger at the hypocrisy of those who are more interested in shaming someone else for their sin than they are at humbly acknowledging their own.  To any and all at the progressive ‘left’ who slide into complacent and compromised affirmation of things that go against Scripture, Jesus represents someone who held to the authority of Scripture, even as he sought to direct people past erring traditional interpretations of it.  Jesus was not interested in building a theocracy to manipulate people into obedience, nor was there any ‘moving on’ from fundamental Jewish convictions to make the faith palatable.

In other words, the Gospel of Scripture is always big enough to offer both comfort and challenge to everyone.

moral fear

Ethical discourse, I suggest, is degraded and corrupted by fear.  I’m not talking about the healthy protective fear that flows from love, but rather the unhelpful power-grasping fear that is its own source.  Below I’ll suggest two equal-opposite examples of this power-grasping fear, and then I’ll offer a suggestion about a third, ‘middle’ way.

On the one hand, we can see a fearful response to ‘misbehaviour’.  This kind of fear is reactive, and wants to (at best) guide or (at worst) control human behaviour.  It often takes the form of wanting to ‘raise’ ethical standards, or perhaps turn back the clock to prior times where standards were ‘higher’.  The logic seems to be along the lines of:

  • People misbehave
  • People misbehave because they don’t know what is good behaviour, and/or cultural moral standards are too permissive
  • Therefore, to improve behaviour, more moral instruction and/or more strict morals is needed

On the other hand, there seems to be a fearful response, not to misbehaviour, but to the effects of perceived misbehaviour.  This, too, is a reactive fear, and wants to protect people from (at best) false guilt or (at worst) any guilt.  It often takes the form of ‘updating’ or loosening ethical standards.  The logic seems to be something like:

  • People harm themselves and others
  • People harm themselves and others because they feel acute moral guilt
  • Therefore, people will harm themselves and others less if we loosen ethical views that are too outdated and/or strict

The point here is not to say that morals never need to be adjusted in either direction.  Arguably, they can be unhelpfully permissive or unhelpfully strict.  The point has to do with the way that fear plays a role, both in the desire to make morals, ethics, and laws, more strict, or less strict.

As suggested above, fear can be helpful.  Among other things, we should have a healthy fear of false guilt. Auckland-based theologian Neil Darragh calls this ‘disabling guilt’, signalling the way that victims of it are disabled from feeling and acting and being as they should.  But this false guilt is flanked by what he calls ‘enabling guilt’, which – contrary to what we often hear – is actually helpful in that it assists us to face our wrongdoing, take responsibility for it, and amend our behaviour and grow morally and personally.

The problem with the two types of reactive fear above is that they tend to short-circuit moral discourse and reflection.  Fear cements people, cornering them into angry and aggressive (or passive-aggressive and condescending) dismissal of those they disagree with.

Patient discussion is better.  People may not instantly agree when it comes to a particular activity and whether or not feeling guilty about it is enabling or disabling.  But at least they might be able to understand one another.

ordinary sin

The doctrine of Sin has been something I’ve had an interest in for a while, and some of my research and writing has touched on both sin and the forgiveness of sin.  I think it’s a very important doctrine, and thus very important to understand with clarity and balance.

Scholars of Aristotle and Aquinas will be able to articulate it better than I, but I find the concept of the ‘mean’ or middle to be helpful here as at many points (nod to Aristotle).  Just as a ‘virtue’ seems to be flanked on both sides by two opposing ‘vices’ (nod to Aquinas), so also a healthy view of a doctrine (or dogma) seems to in between two extreme distortions of it.  Here’s a quick attempt to sketch this with regard to Sin.

The extreme of “totally evil” 

At one extreme, the “totally evil” view is based on the persistent and tragic experience of everything from indifference, busyness and rudeness to violence, terrorism and death.

The positive of this view is its ability to summarize (though perhaps generalize) and account for all of this activity with a single concept.  All of this ‘bad stuff’ is eventually the result of ‘sin’ at the personal level, and ‘Sin’ at a cosmic level.   Humanity and all of creation is ‘fallen’.  Like it or not, there is a great deal of accuracy for this view, both in terms of experience of reality and interpretation of Scripture.  A patient and discerning assessment of human nature can see past the cosmetic self-righteous and moralistic posturing that masquerades as ‘goodness’.  The best statements of so-called “total depravity” are about the full sweep and scope of Sin, reaching to every part of nature and human nature.  There is no ‘part’ of creation that is free from the influence of Sin and evil.  The brokenness and rebellion goes ‘all the way down’.   And the irony is that trying to deny one’s sinfulness and assert one’s goodness is itself one of the surest examples and breeding grounds for sin.

The negative of this view is… well.. its negativity.  In extreme form (hence me calling it an extreme view), it doesn’t appreciate or recognize any goodness to human nature.  And a thoroughgoing doctrine of Grace is thus undermined, because Grace creates and sustains at least some good in all people.

The extreme of “basically good”

This leads to the positive “basically good” view.  In a way, the very presence of the word “basically” is illustrative.  Philosophically, it can signal a nod to Locke’s notion that the ‘basic’ or original state of human nature is a ‘tabula rasa’ or blank slate.  In terms of modern usage, it can also signal a tempering of what could be seen as an absolute rejection of any evil in human nature.  Few people would want to say that humans are “totally good” and I’ve yet to meet anyone who serious defends human perfection.  So the “basically good” view is a very attractive option for those who wish to assert the dominance of human goodness, whilst not totally denying the ‘accidental’ circumstances of human ‘wrongdoing’.

The positive of this view seems to be the fact that it inherently avoids the absolutism of saying that humans are perfect.  It allows us to enjoy the widespread acceptance and agreement of modern society, which is quite nervous and concerned about those who think that there is something ‘wrong’ with us.  After all, that kind of talk makes people feel bad, and feeling bad is of course what makes people (accidentally) get tripped up into doing bad things, whether to others or to themselves.  Surely the way to fix things is to avoid this talk of ‘sin’ and restore people’s self confidence!

And here we see the weakness of this view.  At its core, this view is basically a way to justify oneself, and avoid responsibility for the ‘bad things’ that happen, either in the world or in one’s own life.   It is a ‘weak’ view in that it is not strong at helping to understand, account for, or of course do anything to change, the very real and tragic things that people do.  And wise therapists, social workers and addicts will testify that taking responsibility for one’s actions is the best way to work for change.

It seems that these extreme ways of looking at human nature tend to feed off of one another, rather like (and probably not unrelated to) right wing and left wing politicians. The more one person asserts human evil (more need for government and legislation?), the more another will assert human good (less need for government and legislation?); and vice versa.  What is needed is a view that avoids the extremes and includes the positives.

The Doctrine of Sin

It could be true that the biblical content on human nature may tend towards an emphasis on human guilt rather than human glory.  But the first thing to say about the Judeo-Christian notion of Sin is its remarkable breadth.  Humans are “very good” (Genesis 1), and “crowned with glory and honour” (Psalm 8).  To be a human is a glorious thing.  But at the same time, there are “none righteous” (Psalm 14 & 53), and too often it is true that we continually think evil in our hearts (Genesis 3).

The second thing to say is that there is something quite ‘ordinary’ and everyday about sin.  Every week at my church (Anglican/Episcopal), we are led by the worship leader or the priest in a confession that includes that we have sinned “in ignorance”, “weakness” and “through our own deliberate fault”.  That seems true to my life and the lives of people I trust to be honest.  Another great local Anglican confession prayer observes that “some sins are plain to us, some escape us, [and] some we cannot face.”  I’m thinking here of the vast spectrum of ways in which we all “get it wrong”.  We walk past one another without giving the human acknowledgement we all deserve.  We steal and cheat.  We parade our acts of charity on social media.  We lust after power, sex, status, moral standing, theological achievements, acceptance and a thousand other things that may be fine to pursue, but not lust after.  Even the ‘best’ person we can think of, if they are honest, has all manner of ‘ordinary sins’ the would admit to.

The third thing to say about Sin has to do with the implications… the ‘so what?’ of Sin.  So we are sinful.  So what?  Well, if we are sinful, then we ultimately need forgiveness, and need Ultimate forgiveness.  The forgiveness on offer through the gospel of Christ is something that is both a single once-for-all Act that cannot be repeated, and an on-going continual work that we must enter into more deeply.  Another bit of local Anglican brilliance announces that “God forgives you”, as a once-for-all fact.  But the stark announcement is followed by a gentle admonition: “forgive others… forgive yourself.”  This is an ongoing process to deepen for the rest of our lives.

the church caught conducting a SSM

(a ‘targum’ of John 8:3-11)

3 The representatives of a group of churches brought in one of their churches which was caught in the act of blessing a same sex marriage. They made it stand before Jesus 4 and said to him, “Teacher, this church was caught in the act of blessing a same sex marriage. 5 In our understanding of our denominational processes, we have authority to discipline this church. We have spent two years drafting propositions to this effect, and some dare to want to edit our propositions.  What then, do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to ensure that the gathered assembly kept their original wording exactly intact, not a jot and tittle amended or softened, lest anyone suspect them of being soft on sin.

But Jesus walked past the microphone and sat down next to the pastor and gay delegate from the accused church. 7 When they kept on asking him to speak, he walked to the microphone and said to them, “Let any church which has never blessed any other kinds of sin be the first to kick this church out of your union.” 8 Then again he sat down next to the pastor and gay delegate from the accused church.

9 At this, those who heard began to lay down their voting papers one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the pastor and gay delegate from the accused church sitting next to him. 10 Jesus motioned to the empty room and asked them, “Church, where are they? Has no one kicked you out of their group of churches?”

11 “No one, sir,” they said.

“Then neither do I shame you, condemn you, or kick you out of my family,” Jesus declared. “But now, go and no longer bless what is sinful.”

just do it – a lot

All is/ought distinctions and naturalistic fallacies aside, whilst monogamy does occur in some non-human species, apparently humans have a evolutionary and biological predisposition of sorts to polygamy.

But is this really newsworthy?  Even the most prudish of “just lay there and think of the queen” conservatives would admit off the record to the fact that being married to one person doesn’t remove all attraction to all other potential mating partners.  Yet again, science is giving us technical and detailed accounts of what we already knew.  We like sex.  We like sex a lot.  We like a lot of sex.  Which is good news for the pornography and prostitution industries, though perhaps not for monogamy.

If both the above science and near-universal human experience is correct, then monogamy necessarily always involves a kind of saying ‘no’ to a desire that is as natural and normative as it gets.  There are two interesting points of relevance here for the current global discussion of same-sex marriage.

1) Legal same-sex marriage and legal multi-marriage are logically related.  It is hardly ‘scaremongering’ to point out that polygamy is the next step in the current progression, if not one of the next steps.  There is no shortage of online pro-polygamy groups which have been arguing for its legality for years (and plenty of challenging of other ‘no-marriage-for-you’ lines un-challenged in the currently proposed legislation).  Methinks that those pushing for the law change don’t want to talk for too long on this point, so they play the ‘scaremongering’ (or religious ‘fear’) card as quickly as possible.

2) Saying no to sexual desires may not be so inhumane after all.  If indeed the natural tendency toward polygamy is there in the vast majority of humans, then the widespread monogamous habit of routinely dousing of the flames of desire for multiple sex-partners is infinitely more backwards and sexually repressive in scope and number than expecting a relatively small percentage of the population to do the same with (homosexual) desires which are arguably just as natural, though incredibly less common.

But of course I do not think that sexual self-control is repressive or backwards.  Neither do I think that sexual expression (or marriage for that matter) is some kind of thing that makes you human – and therefore is a ‘right’.  All this goes directly against messages both implicit and explicit in movies, media and advertising whose suggestion is hardly a gentle one: namely that to err is virgin, and to get it on is divine.

And the church doesn’t help much either.  Marriage is on such a pedestal that single people feel like unfortunate, illegitimate, inconvenient accessories accompanying we normal married folk.  We need to affirm those who are both single and celibate as being just as human as any other.

on the word ‘marriage’

All over the world, the word ‘marriage’ is being redefined.  Here in NZ it’s a peaking issue.  A friend of mine just shared a status that threatened de-friending if they didn’t act according to their views.  And when people threaten to de-friend, you know it’s huge…  So I wanted to take a post to clarify what I think and believe about not just the word ‘marriage’, but what it describes – or has up until recently.   But first, a mamby-pamby, wishy-washy, soft liberal (MPWWSL) comment about my take on politics.

((Begin MPWWSL comment: The kingdom of God, as taught (and inaugurated) by Jesus, is not merely a personal/private ‘kingdom in my heart’.  It is also political in scope.  Having said this, Jesus didn’t lead marches against Rome to get them to change their laws. ((Though, for example, Jews of the day would have been happy to edit the Pax Romana if they’d been given the chance))  Being ‘conservative’ (as I am on many issues) doesn’t mean that you automatically want to force your religion upon others via legislation.  Having said that, the slogan “You can’t legislate morality!” rings hollow, for everything is moral.  Show me an area of law that is amoral.  The point is that, whatever you are aiming for, social transformation a) takes time and patience, and b) happens at a level deeper than law.  So whilst you will find (below) a blog post on my (relatively conservative) views of marriage, you’ll not find me marching down a street against same-sex marriage.  And you will also find me opposing any marginalisation or persecution of gay individuals, who are paradoxically some of the most popular and at the same time most ostracised people in modern western society.  End MPWWSL comment))

So here are my thoughts on the word ‘marriage’:

Firstly, however defined, it should be obvious that whilst it is obviously one of the most basic and important human institutions, being married is not what makes a person human.  Non-married people are just as human as married people.  This, to me, makes it hard to frame ‘gay marriage’ as a human rights issue.  Whilst I can appreciate the strong desire (and hurt feelings) of those who want to legally call their relationship a ‘marriage’, it’s worth noting that we’re talking about the definition and use of a word here, not a withholding of fundamental rights that denies anyone their humanity.

Secondly, the word ‘discrimination’ is used a lot, and all I’ll say is that let’s remember that in all kinds of decisions we make in life, ‘discrimination’ is both a good and bad thing.  Strictly related to marriage, we rightly ‘discriminate against’ people wanting to marry who are too closely related or not of what we deem (rightly or wrongly) to be a sufficient age, or want to marry multiple people, etc.  It is not scare-mongering to ask the question: “Why not polygamy?”  If the only requirement for getting married is consent, then it seems a perfectly valid question.

Thirdly, all agree marriage is a ‘union’.  Vague enough for mass agreement.  Tick.  All (except zoophiliacs) agree between two people. Tick. But now the debate is over whether it must be only between a ‘man and a woman’.  The key shift here, which is almost never stated, is that the ‘marriage union’ referred to a conjugal (‘with-joined’) and ‘consummated’ (‘with-completed’) relational state.  Indeed, whilst this is not an argument in itself, in some places, marriages that are not completed via ‘consummation’, that is, sexual intercourse, or coitus, can be annulled on this basis.  This signals the bond (pun intended) between marriage and intercourse.  To state the obvious, whatever ‘sexual’ activity they engage in, same sex couples  are  not naturally equipped for the specific, singular, consummating, conjugal, and thus ‘marrying’ act of sexual intercourse.  This observation is hardly ‘discrimination’ in the pejorative sense.  It’s merely an observation that two humans of the same sex cannot – biologically – have a conjugal, consummated union.  This is why you will sometimes see quote-marks around the word marriage when it follows same-sex (i.e. same-sex ‘marriage’).  It is a (perhaps unhelpfully?) short-hand way of summarising the view that same-sex conjugal unions are not physically possible. Interestingly, this sense of the word ‘union’ would also have relevance for ‘civil unions’ as well.  Nonetheless, the issues here are inescapably semantic, so patience is called for.  However much I (or others who make these points) might empathise with those whose semantic desire is to use the word ‘marriage’ of their same-sex relationships, I cannot pretend that I’m not aware of the above. ((This is a helpful and detailed and conservative treatment: http://www.harvard-jlpp.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/GeorgeFinal.pdf))

Finally, there is the question of adoption, and I agree it is very much a part of the discussion.  A very clued-up gay friend of mine recently related to me over coffee his summation of research on best parenting combinations for children, that biological parents provide the most stable child-rearing environment, of course including that committed gay couples were better than (it would seem obvious to me?) a single parent with little community support.  But again, it seems uncontroversial to me that biological parents are best. ((someone can critique the sources cited in the bibliography here: http://www.acpeds.org/Homosexual-Parenting-Is-It-Time-For-Change.html))  Now, I don’t know what this spectrum from best to worst means for legislation.  Honestly.  I have no problem saying that a committed, socially stable gay couple would do a better job parenting than an uncommitted, criminal couple, whether gay or straight.  It does seem helpful, however, to delineate these qualifiers, though.  Committed is better than uncommitted.  Socially stable is preferable to criminal.  And biological parents are to be desired over a gay couple.  I think my gay friend would agree to these last few sentences.  The question remains, which qualifiers should be enough to lawfully un-qualify a couple for adoption rights?  A criminal record? Obviously.  Being gay?  Hardly obvious.  A useful solution might be for the birth mother (if possible – or the closest kin) to decide – which I think might be the current law in NZ.

So that’s quite enough words from me on the word ‘marriage’.  I’m a relatively conservative Christian, but with a liberal heart for real people with real emotions and feelings and desires, and most of all I want to see people discuss it patiently and honestly.  And frankly, I see more heat and aggression coming from the pro-gay-marriage side than the other side.  Certainly that was the case this morning on Breakfast when Labour MP Louisa Wall got more than a little incensed at Family First’s Bob McCoskrie.  Social justice does warrant bringing heat.  But again, over the definition and use of a word?  I’m not convinced the heat is necessary here?

None of the above, has touched (directly) the related issue of the morality of homosexual behaviour. My intent is that the above is stated in a way such that a homosexual – or homosexuality affirming – person could agree, and that therefore any discussion below will focus on the issue of the definition of marriage, and not on the ethics of homosexuality.

adversarial self-righteousness

((What I’m about to describe happens not all the time, but enough to notice it…))

Christians are not only against things, we are also for things.  (Indeed, for everything you are for, you are therefore against anything that hinders what you are for!)  Nonetheless, because of the Christian conviction that the Creator is for wise, loving, creative order in the cration, for two-millenia, Christians have been against all manner of things they see in the world, which they see as falling short of the order that God designs and desires to be brought to bear upon the creation: violence, slavery, abortion, unjust pay for workers, various kinds of sexual behaviour (sex with those who are: too related [incest], too young [paedophilia], too similar in bodily sex [homosexuality], not willing [rape], etc.), cruelty to animals, pollution, anarchy (and it’s equal opposite evil, oppressive dictatorships), greed, sloth, etc., etc.

In the old back-and-forth between the Church and State (‘the World’), there have been two main areas of BOTH disagreement AND agreement:

a) ethics: what is right and wrong (i.e. what we should be for, and therefore also against)

b) politics: how to wisely govern and order society (including how to promote/legislate in ways that promote this)

Sometimes the Church & State agree happily, and ‘religion in public’ is not a problem to most.  Other times, the clash drives people to try to force religion into private life.  And it’s different in different times.  William Wilberforce fought the slave trade against much opposition.  Now both Church and State oppose it happily.  Church opposition to drunkenness is often met with groans against self-righteousness, etc.  Recently (certainly in NZ as seen in various mainstream media), however, ‘problem’ or ‘binge’ drinking has a level of opposition that is very high.  Sometimes it goes the other way.  The list of times, places and issues could go on.

My main observation here is that it is not only the Christians who (at times) look down their nose at ‘the World’ in self-righteous moral superiority.  The ‘world’ often repays them in kind.  Whatever one’s views on sexuality and marriage are, it is not hard to see, at present, a posture of more-moral-than-thou, more-modern-and-progressive-than-thou directed from (much of) ‘the world’ to (most of) the Church.  Whether it is Facebook interaction or a survey of MPs, there is a ‘name and shame’ methodology that seeks to identify and villainise anyone who disagrees with popular cultural leanings on this topic.

This posture of adversarial self-righteousness, whether in Christians or otherwise,never helps when it comes to a) discussing an issue, or b) making a difference in society.  ‘Nuff said.

domain of discourse (of fear)

I’ve obviously changed a lot since moving to NZ.  I hate how tooting-my-own-horn this sounds, but I like the changes.  Both my theological and political views have been sharpened.

I used to be a cookie-cutter, conservative, two-issue-voter (you know which ones), republican-Christian.  Now I’m a liberal-conservative (in a centred,  rather than fence-sitting way), wide-screen voter (because all issues are ‘moral’, not just two), moderate Christian.

What was involved in the change?  Well, I think I had to breathe different cultural air than I was breathing back in the buckle of the Bible-belt.  Only people without lungs are truly affected by trying to breathe underwater.  You only react to daylight when you suddenly step outside with eyes that have adjusted to the pitch black room you’ve been in.  You can see a lot better where you’ve been when you’re no longer there, but are somewhere along the trail looking back.

I think I was so regularly exposed to certain domains of discourse that I didn’t learn to critique the view I held.  This air I was breathing was hot with fear.   My wife and I tasted the tang of this fear when we visited the US a few years back and ‘ObamaCare’ was being discussed… no… damned… on Christian radio.  Now, I’m under no illusion that Obama or ObamaCare are without fault, but the simplistic and fear-inducing way in which both were demonised was just crazy to hear with fresh ears – having stepped outside the darkroom for a while, the pitch black was startling.  I’m opposed to abortion (save to save the mother, which isn’t really abortion), and wouldn’t like my tax  dollars funding one, but that seemed to be the crack in the system they were clinging to.   That, and the general paranoia about government getting too involved in our lives.  As many other countries can attest to (not least here in NZ), public healthcare can work quite well, and until the age to come, no system will ever be ethically and fiscally perfect.

And ‘government control’ also comes into the current gun control discussion.  It’s another discourse of fear.  I’m amazed at the paranoia of the countless imaginary people who these people have to defend themselves against.

I went for a photo shoot last night alone, and walked down some very dark and a bit spooky pathways.  For whatever reasons, I carry some of my childhood fear of the dark.  I imagine that someone could be laying in wait, under my car, ready to chop my legs off as I approach… etc.  You get the drift.  I caught myself planning out my response to this imaginary attacker.  “Take a camera stand to the face buddy!”  Now, I know that this precise form of attack has actually happened to some unfortunate souls.  But I want to make a point.

There will always be someone who is either more prepared or more equipped or has bigger or more guns or body armour than you.  If you spend your life in fear, ever-preparing yourself for what someone might do to you, then there’s a word for that: paranoia.

Now, some people in some places and times have more reason to be prepared for self-defense than others.  And that is one reason why I’m not for a total ban on all guns for all people.  But whilst a hand gun is a simple, relatively safe way for most to protect themselves, and whilst you can surprise an approaching attacker by pulling out a concealed weapon on them, you only have the element of surprise if you see them first!  Bottom line: as we develop our technology (including guns), the power will always be found in the hand of both criminals and non-criminals, and it often comes down to the element of surprise.  Which is why the whole thing is not about guns, but about paranoia, constant suspicion and fear.

a different zion(ism)

Stephen Sizer is in NZ.  He preached this past Sunday at our church, and is doing a seminar called “7 Biblical Responses to Popular Zionist Assumptions” tomorrow night.  It’s been good revisiting the whole Zionism issue again, and refreshing my understanding of the issue.

The Zionists are concerned to demonstrate that God will not ‘forget his people Israel’, and that we should not either. For them, God’s faithfulness to Israel (including his modern day restoration of them back to their ancestral land) should be accompanied by our support of Israel – theologically, financially & politically.  My understanding, however, is that the New Covenant inaugurated by Jesus exceeds and eclipses all (not some) aspects of the Old Covenant.  The types and shadows of Israelite religion (prophet, priest and king, law, land/’inheritance’ and temple) reach their climax and fulfillment in Jesus, who is the final Prophet, the High Priest, the King of kings; and in the Law of Christ (‘love’), the Inheritance of the entire Earth, and in Christ the new Temple.  In short: God keeps God’s promises in God’s way, and he has chosen to keep them in and through Christ.  God has been faithful to his own purposes for humanity (including Israel) and creation in and through his self-giving, self-donating, loving act in and through Christ.  Nothing more is needed for God to demonstrate his faithfulness.  Christ is enough.  As Paul says (2 Corinthians 1:20), “For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes.”

There is one response I want to address, and it is the complaint of ‘over-spiritualising’ God’s promises.  These people are unhappy with an understanding in which all of the tangible, here-and-now promises of God are ‘spiritualised away’.  Here, I’d want to point out that it is Christ and his people, the Church which fulfill the promises.  It’s just that the aspects (prophet, priest, etc.) are lower-case, post-Christ versions of their ultimate fulfillment in and through Him.  There are prophets in the Church, and we still have a priestly calling to the world, to bring his kingdom.  We are the ‘living stones’ of the new Temple.  And the law of Love is quite literally the most down-to-earth thing you could imagine, to be lived out in the entire earth.  Only in a radical dualistic framework would ‘spiritualising’ something make it less relevant for physical, ‘earthy’ things.