If you are, say, Voltaire, or a postmodern journalist, then the failure of Christianity is the way to tell the story of the course of history. Of course Christianity gets muddled, but there’s far more in that story about love and creativity and beauty and justice and healing and education and hope. So N.T. Wright, in How God Became King (p. 162-163). The world without the gospel of Jesus, Wright claims, would be “the cultural and ideological equivalent of those horrible 1960s buildings that were structures without spirit, boxes without beauty, all function and no flourish” (163).
The Enlightenment had to tell that story because it had to tell history with itself as the goal and the center, while Christianity had an entirely different eschatology — so the Enlightenment pushed religion into the private world and told it stay put. The storytellers may say otherwise, but the Christian story is good and goes on because it has an anchor in the cross and resurrection of Jesus, because Jesus is the reigning king, and because the kingdom will come.
How do you differ Wright’s kingdom theocracy with the four views below? How and why hav the cross and the kingdom been separated?
But too much of Christianity bought the Enlightenment’s story and it led to dualities: cross Christians with saving-for-heaven agendas and religion vs. kingdom Christians with social justice agendas and politics. Tom Wright’s thesis — of all his writings mind you — is that kingdom and cross belong together and that the kingdom vision is simultaneously social and spiritual.
Which just shows one more time how important eschatology is: the NT eschatology is one in which the kingdom has already begun to appear but still will happen completely in the future. But what has happened is not just the internal, religiousness or spirituality but instead the kingdom has been inaugurated holistically — social, cultural, political, cosmic and spiritual.
Wright steps up his critique of how the church has read the Gospels, though there are exceptions: Wilberforce, Tutu, William Temple, Reinhold and H. Richard Niebuhr, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. [I wonder what N.T. Wright thinks of Wesley, of Edwards, of Kuyper, of Finney.] Wright finds four reactions to what has happened in modernity:
1. “This” [world, kingdom, etc] doesn’t matter; we’re going to heaven when we die; we’ll leave this old world behind us. Wright accurately observes this gets too close to gnosticism.
2. Neo-Anabaptists: get the church in order, live as a beacon of light, “but without actually engaging with the world.” Well, that is precisely not what the Neo-Anabaptists argue or do; instead Tom is here speaking of some forms, perhaps most, of Anabaptism. The original Anabaptists — we’re speaking here of Grebel, Blaurock, Hubmaier — were social protesters fighting Catholic taxes. Anabaptism did go through a quietist and sectarian, separatistic period, but the modern “Neo-” Anabaptists are anything but quietist and uninvolved. Think Sider and Yoder or Claiborne and McKenna… very involved.
3. Right-wing Christian activism. Those who exulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden; FoxNews.
4. Left-wing Christian activism. Those often fighting for the poor and pushing a new sexual ethic are often aping liberal modernism (166). The UK Christians are grumpy pragmatists, Tom says. He parrots them with a caricature: “What do we want? Gradual change! When do we want it? In due course!” [LOL]
And there are the Reformers (who assumed by justification what late medieval theologians meant and were discussing) and the modern proponents of empire criticism (who assume when Paul spoke into empire that he meant by that term what we mean today).
So we need to read the New Testament afresh.
The Jewish vision was a theocracy — an on-earth, creational theocracy, ruled by image-bearers (Eikons of God). This is not what left-wingers today perceive. He sees a temptation toward anarchy in the left-wing. [Well, yes, but also strong centralization.] Nor is the right-winger small government the solution. So, in spite of the Anabaptists who gnarl at Tom on this one, creational monotheism works best with humans ruling as wise stewards under God.
Power isn’t the problem; the problem is who does what with that power. In other words, the biblical approach is not a fear of rule or power or leaders; it is a fear of bad rule. Neither anarchy nor small government is the way forward; the way is good government. Theocracy, then, is the right word.
And the right theocracy is messianic rule by the Messiah/King.