More Like Prayer 5

Perhaps the biggest need for Christians in the USA is to develop less of a trust in the federal and state governments and more of a biblical posture toward government.

Do you see the government connected to the “powers” or is the government — local, state, federal — neutral? Is it inspired by the powers? Does government have a natural proclivity toward the powers?

John Howard Yoder’s last book, published posthumously on the basis of his lectures in Warsaw (Poland), Nonviolence – a Brief History: The Warsaw Lectures , devotes a lecture to the “powers.”

There have been two big postures toward what Paul means by the “principalities, powers and authorities.” First, the conservative view is to connect them/it to demons and to see them as defeated spiritually. Second, the liberal view is to connect them to outmoded beliefs in archangels and the sooner we get beyond that kind of thinking the better.

Yoder knows the work of Hendrik Berkhof, a Reformed theologian of the Nazi years, who examined the “powers” in a powerful book (Christ and the Powers). The powers are creatures of God; they are created to serve God and mankind; they are fallen but not destroyed. They have become instruments of subjugation and oppression. The best word for the “powers” in our language is “structures.” They are corrupted or can be corrupted.

Jesus was both victim of the powers and a victor over the powers.

To confess Jesus as Lord, therefore, is not just personal; it is cosmic. The gospel is cosmic. It assaults the idolatrous desires of the powers.

The solution to the powers is not to redeem them but to form an alternative community under the Lord Jesus Christ. Our confession and our community is a witness to the defeat of the powers.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://www.justinpheap.posterous.com Justin

    “The gospel is cosmic.” This is like, better than epic, haha! Love it.

    “The solution to the powers is not to redeem them but to form an alternative community under the Lord Jesus Christ. Our confession and our community is a witness to the defeat of the powers.” – My initial thoughts without much process are,

    1. I didn’t think we “formed” anything, rather we are joining in/participating in what GOD has already formed/is forming…?

    B. If the solution to the powers is not to redeem, would it be sufficient to say, reconcile?

    The gospel is cosmic ;]

  • Brianmpei

    “Powers” as demons and such is much easier than “Powers” as structures. We can meet together, sing, pray, yell at the “Powers” in Jesus’ name and go home to the same old same old feeling like we’ve made a difference and we’re seated with Christ in the heavenlies. Please don’t dispossess us of this notion.

  • Brianmpei

    “Powers” as demons and such is much easier than “Powers” as structures. We can meet together, sing, pray, yell at the “Powers” in Jesus’ name and go home to the same old same old feeling like we’ve made a difference and we’re seated with Christ in the heavenlies. Please don’t dispossess us of this notion.

  • Rick G.

    Scot,
    Have you read “To Change The World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World” by James D Hunter? He critiques progressive and conservative Christian attempts to use political power, which he calls the worst part of our culture, to attempt to change the culture. He agrees with what he calls the ‘neo-anabaptist’ position on power, but disagrees with their approach. I thought it was a very thought provoking read, though I’m not sure his solution is a viable one. Was curious what your thoughts might be (if you’ve read it).

  • Randy Gabrielse

    Here is the best way that I have found to understand this issue, particularly in relation to government and other insitutions:
    The powers are ALL of those objects, institutions, relationships and associations,and other sources of authority that lead us into captivity to decisions over things we are not in control of or do not know the results of.
    This would include governments, but would equally include corporations and businesses that pressure us, or appear to pressure us away from making decisions entirely on the basis of our alliegence to Christ under the two great commandments.

    I applied this when speaking on Jesus’ words “Forgive them Father for they know what they do” this past Good Friday. I reflected on how we usually picture Jesus saying these things regarding Pilate, the soldiers, the Sanhedrin, etc. But we need to hope that he speaks them for us as well.

    It is really hard work to find out where our food comes from, how it has been treated, how the laborers have been treated and compensated, etc. In simply purchasing food we effect people in ways we do not know.

    This is what I think of every day when I pray those lines from the Lord’s prayer:

    “LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION, AND DELIVER US FROM EVIL.”

    Similar issues relate to heating our homes or otherwise using energy produced by coal or by natural gas.

    Similar issues relate to food subsidies and exports.

    Similar issues relate to our military action.

    Because we do not know all that we do.

    Peace,
    Randy G.

  • Scot McKnight

    Rick G., we did a series on James Davison Hunter’s book, and here is the last post in the series called On Changing Culture:

    http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2010/05/03/on-changing-culture-10/

  • Richard

    I may be misunderstanding the main thrust of this. When I hear, “The solution to the powers is not to redeem them but to form an alternative community under the Lord Jesus Christ” I think pull back from the world square and retreat to the church community. If I’ve misunderstood you Scot, please let me know.

    How does “not redeeming the powers” interact with “God reconciling all things” and God bringing the powers into submission? Isn’t that redemptive language? While it would be arrogant to think we do this, we definitely are called to name it and live in light of it (which may be what you’re scratching at with “bear witness to it”).

    While this appeals to my anabaptist roots (and was probably spot on in a time of kings and caesars), I think this is too shallow an understanding of “powers” in its application. We cannot “withdraw” from the structures of our world – we are in the world but not of the world. Instead we offer a different way of being in the world. Afterall, what does withdrawal and alternative society look like in the US – not voting, not paying taxes, not serving in the military, etc?

    I would propose Cross-shaped engagement rather than withdrawal. Maybe that is what you’re proposing Scot.

  • Darryl

    My roots while not anabaptist were probably influenced by them–American Restoration movement. David Lipscomb would probably be very much at home with Yoder’s position. He saw governments as part of the “this world” structure. He did not vote or participate in government. However, he was not a man who was disengaged with society or with culture.

    I still struggle with this and wonder how this works in a representative-republican form of government. How do we avoid reading our culture into Jesus’ tongue-in-cheek view of government including Caesar and the ruling elites of Jerusalem and how do we take Paul’s use of his Roman citizenship to advance Kingdom agenda (and his somewhat positive assessment of the task of governments in Romans 13:1-7)?

    I also wonder if the “powers” refer both to human/political structures and to demonic forces as well.

  • Dean

    Less trust? How can it be less than 0?

    This is the new and fully emerged reality of one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all…

    Voting is meaningless and additional participation would include monetizing influence in some way. Both the campaign and the tax structure are now totally bought and paid for.

    In short, like all nations that came before it the shining premise and idea of America is expiring on the cross of individualistic politics and money.

    RIP.

  • Randy Gabrielse

    Scot’s Post and Richard’s Comment (#7) reminded me that I have long considered the New Monasticism and like movements as bringing to reality Stanely Hauerwas’ vision of the church.

    Much of Hauerwas’ writing centered on a vision of the Church as (somewhat) separate from the world and as “a sign for the world to know it is the world. But I never found Hauerwas able to move from vision to reality. In the New Monastic movement of recent years I see them — whether they are following Hauerwas or not — bringing his vision to reality. See “12 Marks of the New Monastisicm,” edited by the residents of Rutba House.

    Peace,
    Randy G.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I believe I have two examples of this, one in reality, one congectured.

    The real one involves the attempted redemption of Bill Gates, by none other than Bill Gates. He built one of the power structures that you reference, and did not instill any notion of help for the poor in it, as he should. The powers are as the powers are. He has a fiduciary responsibility to build a power/structure by the rules.

    But now the good Mr. Gates is forming a alternative community under the lordship of Jesus (whether he is doing that consciously or not I cannot tell). He must have really hated being known as the lord of the evil empire. I believe this is a great example of what you are talking about.

    The hypothetical alternative is similar to the Gates one, but applied to the political system in the US. There is a podcaster out there called Dan Carlin and he has some great ideas.

    His idea is to have some of the wealthy in the country get together and buy politicians to do their bidding with explicit rules around enforcing campaign promises and such. In other words, employ people to run for office then explicitly control them. For those of you who shudder at this, realize that politicians are mostly bought with money today, but the buying is done by what Scot calls the structures, companies. Individuals can form an alternative community under the lordship of Jesus and employ people to actually work in the public interest.

    Even though this idea seems wild, it is quite rational when you think through how it is now and what this could change toward.

    Fun thoughts.

  • SamB

    Bob Dylan: “All politics is of the devil”.

  • Darryl

    DRT #11 – I have a very difficult time with your suggestion. Perhaps I am not thinking it through objectively. But it seems to me this is merely manipulating the powers rather than influencing them.

    It seems to go against the idea of the one who would be leader must be slave. And it also smells something like bribery to me. Maybe I misunderstand. Even if buying politicians is already being done, it doesn’t make it right or moral.

    I also wonder if we are being somewhat prejudicial when we say politicians are “bought”. Perhaps they are (and I am certain many are. But is it buying when a politician seeks out donations from people who agree with him and then he votes accordingly? Are missionaries “bribed” when they seek like minded churches to support them and they go and preach the same message?

  • Jeff L

    SamB at 12: What is your point? I like Dylan quite a lot but he also wrote “Everybody must get stoned.” A quote out of context doesn’t tell us much about your thoughts on this issue.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Darryl#13, you raise good points that I will incorporate into my thinking.

    The issue I have is in coming up with an end scenario that fits the bill of Scot’s last paragraph, namely

    “The solution to the powers is not to redeem them but to form an alternative community under the Lord Jesus Christ. Our confession and our community is a witness to the defeat of the powers.”

    I am presuming that any structure will be fallen, I think that is a premise, therefore it can’t be a structure, it must be individuals. It is more easy to come up with reasons why it won’t work, the secret is to try and come up with something that will work.

    As far as the “buying politicians” thing, think of it this way. Say I am rich and I hire people to work for me. What I do is I say that my company is a non-profit dedicated to bringing the KoG here. I then interview and find the best people to do this, and give them the job of getting elected to office. I have interviewed them extensively and and pay them quite well so I know they are good so they will be good for my objective. Presumably I can also convince enough people that this approach works and my Good People get elected. Is there anything inherently wrong with that? It’s all on the up and up.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    How about if we get even more specific. Say we found out that Warren Buffet has put this non-profit together and interviewed to find out the best people to bring a Jesus shaped community to our country and he wants Minnesota to elect this guy who has pledged to uphold the values that were laid out. Would people vote for him? Remember, Warren Buffet is giving all his billions away to do good in the world. It would be difficult for people to find fault there……

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Oh, I forgot to mention the best part of getting the rich to follow the path. We will put a big statue of them out there for all to see ! Whoop!

  • Wade Sikes

    I see the govt. as a flawed construct of fallen creatures. God ordained govt., but as with all we lay our hand to, it has an inherent level of corruption due to our fallen nature. When truly evil men gain control, then I do think that the “Powers” come into play (witness the demonic actions of a Nazi regime, the Khmer Rouge, the Rwandan genocide, etc.)When we rely on the state to do the things that church is called to do, we surrender authority to a godless (in the practical sense) entity. I believe in a government that is as small as possible, and an active church that reaches society with the love of Jesus. An active church would always be preferable to a nanny state, since the Church points to Christ, and the state will always point to man.


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