Possible? Impossible? Barely Impossible?

What’s your view? Is it possible to be a disciple of Jesus and a politician today?

Tim Suttle, on Paul Ryan, gets to this question and then offers a set of options:

Should politicians really be telling theologians what to think?

I wonder if this is even more evidence that 1) you can’t be a politician on the national level and be a Christ follower. It just makes you a walking contradiction. Your party/ideological commitments will force you to do things that your Christian faith won’t allow. 2) If you are following Jesus it will put you at odds with Democrats at some points, and at odds with Republicans at other points. Conversely it will put you in harmony with Democrats at some points and at odds with Republicans at other points. If your primary allegiance is to Christ, you cannot join with either political party.

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.

  • Mark Edward

    It’s the inherent flaw with having political ‘parties’. I don’t think it’s impossible to be both a Christian and a politician, but the moment you start identifying as a specific political party, you’ve begun to bind yourself to that party’s overall position on a number of issues that you, as a Christian might disagree with. At worst, you begin to conform your secondary Christian thought to your primary political party thought and risk distorting your Christian thought (e.g. some Christians who self-define as ‘Republicans’ write books claiming that such-and-such form of capitalist democracy is what the Bible teaches as the ideal form of government and economy).

  • http://trinitariantheodicy.wordpress.com Trin

    I do not believe it is possible. There are two kingdoms – God’s and the world’s. The Kingdom of God has come and Jesus calls us to now be members of that kingdom. His kingdom is an “upside down kingdom” (Kraybill), an antonymy to the kingdoms of the world. How can one be an authentic member of two fundamentally opposed systems?

    Having said that, do I believe some politicians are disciples of Christ? Yes. Do I believe God uses us where ever we are, that he is the one who redeems? Yes. Have politicians affected society in ways congruent with the kingdom of God? Yes.

    But God’s way is not power based, and all world systems are. Ultimately, the two cannot co-exist.

    ….however, I’m not American, and I’m a pacifistic Anabaptist to boot…so what do I know… ;)

  • Joe Canner

    It used to be possible for Democrats to cross the aisle and vote with the Republicans and vice versa, but politics has become so polarized in recent years that doing this risks the wrath of the party as well not getting re-elected.

    To expand on what Mark Edward said above, I would venture to say that there are many Christians who have conformed themselves so totally to one party or the other that they have come to believe that it is entirely possible to be a Christian in politics and remain consistently faithful to both Christ and the party.

  • Howard Walker

    This is something that I have been thinking about lately. How do we go from the political/economic climate of first century to today? To be upfront about it I tend to be libertarian, favoring freedom from government intervention in the social sphere and freedom from government intervention in the fiscal as well.

    I know we are to render under Caesar and all, but I think that is more a pronouncement to eschew earthly wealth and to focus on what is really important, namely kingdom building. I find it ironic therefore that the people most vociferously advocating kingdom building are the same ones who are advocating high taxes and high government intervention…

    It’s a stewardship issue. Who is going to do a better job of kingdom building with our money? Us or Caesar?

  • Jeremy

    I don’t know if it’s impossible, but it would be hard. The parties can punish members that break ranks in a number of ways. You either buy in or you have no friends. Nevermind that anytime religion is involved, the constituents get vicious. Everything about politics is guided by the wrong things.

  • http://www.kinnon.tv Bill Kinnon

    Effective governance demands compromise. Something I don’t see a lot of as a Canadian looking south (and find the left/right divide becoming more evident in Canadian politics, as well).

    I would suggest that a Christian entering politics must decide on what issues he/she can and cannot compromise. And then be willing to buck the party line on those issues, if and when necessary.

    Might William Wilberforce be a good example of a politician who is a Christian first — or Bonhoeffer, a Christian who was willing to engage politics at a level that cost him his life.

    Where are today’s Wilberforces and Bonhoeffers?

  • http://gladstreams.wordpress.com/ Pat Lynch

    I tend toward the “impossible” position. It is more than party affiliation, although that is one of the main problems with American politics. Both sides treat politics like a high school football rivalry (sorry, I’m from the south) and nothing is more important than my time. My side has to win. But there is more. While we are living in the “already and not yet,” civil government gets entangled allies and enemies. Your friend today might be an enemy tomorrow. The purpose of the state is tied up with economic survival. This means that human government has to be world-centered. God makes his kings write down the law in their own handwriting (Duet 17:18-20) as a reminder that his representatives are not entitled to make it up as they go along. Human government often seems to be running contrary to God’s plan. Furthermore, Christians have dual citizenship. divided loyalties. We are citizens of a heavenly country (Phil 3:2, Heb 11:16). Jesus is exalted at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:33) and his church, his body in the world, is influencing human affairs. Christians are called to humility and service. That hardly seems compatible with the power dynamics of American politics. (You could check out this post, http://wp.me/p270xt-S)

    On the other hand, it might be a good thing for some gentle, humble followers of Christ to be part of the political scene. God respects and establishes human government. You can read all about it in Romans 13 (also Dan 2:21, Job 12:18), even the uncomfortable part about paying taxes. Yes, Paul may be a bit too optimistic about our rulers, but it is hard to argue with the general principle of respecting authority as set up by God.

    Whether or not Christians join political parties, we are not allowed to sit on the sidelines of public life. It’s the “salt and light” thing. The danger of becoming too involved with a political factions is that fallen human beings will always let you down. When the views of Christ-followers are expressed, formed by prayer and study, one must avoid the name calling, mud slinging, and distortions of truth that are so common in the political dialogue. Believers in Jesus Christ simply do not get into that kind of destructive and sinful behavior. Remember, we do not expect to “win” until Jesus finally returns to put things back in order.

  • http://mycontemplations.wordpress.com Cobus

    In a different context, David Bosch had two things which had to be kept in tension: the church (he tend to speak about the church, rather than about individual Christians) can never sell out to any particular political party or ideological commitment. The church is always an alternative on all these options, since every system is totalitarian (his words, and he included democracy in this).

    BUT, he then also says that you cannot want a system of governance and refrain from actively participating in it. Any governing structure we see as necessary we need to be willing to participate in (although then with the first perspective in mind). Yes, and he says this as a pacifist himself, and as one deeply indebted to the Anabaptist tradition.

    Maybe we’ll just say that a Christian politician can expect to find her/himself in tension with the political party to which they belong sooner rather than later, else the party has replaced Christ.

  • http://learningtomove.blogspot.com Erin

    The post assumes that there is a single Christian position. I used to think that was true, and I didn’t understand how anyone could ever vote for politicians identifying themselves as pro-choice.

    Now I see that sincere, God-seeking Christians can disagree based on the biblical values they revere the most. I value equality and justice, education, caring for those who have been historically subjugated. I do not believe the economic freedom (low taxes, less government) is a default Christian position. Regulation can be a good thing if it protects individuals from scrupulous businesses who value the bottom line more than they respect life and health and fairness.

    I do not think Obama is godless.
    I do not think Democrats are immoral.

    Most of the time I keep my opinions to myself because I suspect I will be judged by Christians who disagree. To share what I’m thinking would disqualify me from ministry in many of my circles.

  • http://mikesnow.org Michael Snow

    When the late Frank Reynolds interviewed the late Senator Harold Hughes (who was also considered a possible presidential candidate) and asked Hughes ‘why?’ he was giving up his senate seat for Christian work, Hughes replied that it was nigh impossible to be faithful in politics. He did not say impossible.

  • http://timsuttle.blogspot.com/ Tim Suttle

    The qualifier ‘on the national level’ is pretty important here. At that level votes are cast which would require one person to kill another in the name of the state. That seems like dubious territory for the Christian.

  • http://trinitariantheodicy.wordpress.com Trin

    Erin: “I do not think Obama is godless. I do not think Democrats are immoral. … I suspect I will be judged by Christians who disagree. To share what I’m thinking would disqualify me from ministry in many of my circles.”

    I think this is common.
    But what a sad statement it is in regards to community, isn’t it?…in regards to knowing and extending the love and grace of God to one another. “If you think differently from us, you’re out.” My goodness. Jesus would never have made it with that kind of crowd…he didn’t, in fact. What kind of truth is that!?!!
    Lord Jesus – help us.

  • http://www.continuedconversation.blogspot.com Ross Christopher

    These days I’m feeling more and more compelled as a Christ-follower to be A-political.

    Luther wrote, “The birth of Christ took place exactly when the Emperor Augustus sent out a decree that all the world should be taxed. This was no accident…At the very first moment of his life, Christ and his parents had to give evidence of obedience, not to God, but to the heathen emperor, the enemy of the Jews. This is the strongest proof that Christ’s Kingdom is to be distinguished from that of the world. Christ did not erect a kingdom like an earthly king, but wished to be subject to a heathen government.”

    So here we are, 100+ days from another presidential election, and where I stand is that we recognize the heathen government(s) we are subject to, and to remain A-political.

    If you’ve read my blog lately you might read that I view politics as a big joke. Politics give us pizza as vegetables, allows abusive churches (Catholic) to lobby for shortened Statute of Limitations (New York) to quiet the abused, and can be “pro-life” while also being pro-capital punishment and war.

    It’s politics.

    It’s a joke.

    And for that, I think A-political is where I stand…today.

    -Ross


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