Politics and our Eschatology

Somewhere overnight or this morning the eschatology of American Christians may become clear. If a Republican wins and the Christian becomes delirious or confident that the Golden Days are about to arrive, that Christian has an eschatology of politics. Or, alternatively, if a Democrat wins and the Christian becomes delirious or confident that the Golden Days are about to arrive, that Christian too has an eschatology of politics. Or, we could turn each around, if a more Democrat oriented Christian becomes depressed and hopeless because a Repub wins, or if a Republican oriented Christian becomes depressed or hopeless because a Dem wins, those Christians are caught in an empire-shaped eschatology of politics.

I can’t imagine 1st Century Roman Christians caught up in some kind of hope whether it would be Nero or Britannicus who would succeed Claudius.

Where is our hope? To be sure, I hope our country solves its international conflicts and I hope we resolve poverty and dissolve our educational problems and racism. And I hope we can create a better economy. But where does my hope turn when I think of war or poverty or education or racism? Does it focus on my political party? Does it gain its energy from thinking that if we get the right candidate elected our problems will be dissolved? If so, I submit that our eschatology has become empire-shaped, Constantinian, and political. And it doesn’t matter to me if it is a right-wing evangelical wringing her fingers in hope that a Republican wins, or a left-wing progressive wringing her fingers in hope that a Democrat wins. Each has a misguided eschatology.

Now before I take another step, it must be emphasized that I participate in the election; and I think it makes a difference which candidate wins; and I think from my own limited perspective one candidate is better than the other.

But before I take the next step I’ll say this: if our candidates lose won’t make one bit of a difference for our obligation to follow Jesus today. Not one bit.

Participation in our election dare not be seen as the lever that turns the eschatological designs God has for this world. Where is our hope? November 6 may tell us.

What I hope it reveals is that:

Our hope is in God. The great South African missiologist, David Bosch, in his book Transforming Mission impressed upon many of us that the church’s mission is not in fact the church’s mission but God’s mission. Our calling is to participate in the missio Dei, the mission of God in this world. So, at election time we can use the season to re-align our mission with the mission of God. Therein lies our hope.

Our hope is in the gospel of God. God’s mission is gospel-shaped. Some today want to reduce gospel to personal salvation while others want to convert into public politics and secularize the kingdom of God. The gospel is about Jesus the King and the gospel is about kingdom citizens living under the king regardless of who is in “power.” Therein lies our hope.

Our hope is in the gospel of God that creates God’s people. God’s gospel-shaped mission creates a new people of God. In fact, the temptation of good Protestants to skip from Genesis 3 (the Fall) to Romans 3 (salvation) must be resisted consciously. The gospel creates kingdom citizens who indwell the church and live that vision.

We need to soak up how God’s gospel-shaped work always and forever creates a gospel people. The first thing God does with Abraham is to form a covenant people, Israel, and Jesus’ favorite word was “kingdom” and Paul was a church-obsessed theologian-missionary. Herein lies the challenge at election time.

We are tempted to divide the USA into the good and the bad and to forget that the gospel has folks on both sides of political lines. Even more: we are tempted to think that the winners of the election are those who are blessed by God when the blessing of God is on God’s people. God’s gospel-powered mission creates a new people, the church, where we are to see God’s mission at work. Therein lies our hope.

Our hope is in the gospel of God that creates a kind of people that extends God’s gospel to the world. Chris Wright’s big book, The Mission of God, reminds us that election is missional: God creates the people of God not so the people of God can compare themselves to those who are not God’s people, but so that God’s people will become a priesthood in this world to mediate the mission of God, so that all hear the good news that God’s grace is the way forward.

Our hope is in God’s mission in this world, and that mission transcends what happens November 6th.

 

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.

  • Luke

    Amen to this Scot. Beautifully said

  • http://www.2ultra.com 2ultra Christianity

    Amen. Well written commentary. America, is on the path that God has chosen for her. The people, have spoken. America is changing. Although I fear not changing for the better. America has never seen a Nation sweeping revival since the early 1900′s. Oh, we have seen revivals in our communities, our churches and personal revivals however, we haven’t seen a Nation moving revival in our life time.
    Almost 20 years ago, it could be more, Leonard Ravenhill, made a statement that that I am afraid America might be on that path.
    He stated that if America, doesn’t see a revival in the next 10 years, she will see it in concentration camps.
    God be with us. Amen

  • http://www.windowinthesky.wordpress.com Josh

    Amen and amen! We participate in the American political system as foreigners, as pilgrims, for our true citizenship is that of a kingdom which cannot be shaken, a country and a people which has no borders. Furthermore, our mission, the missio Dei, cannot be reduced to the party line, on either side of the aisle.

  • Terry

    I love that you used the phrase, “Chris Wright’s big book,” because that is one big book!

  • MattR

    Amen!

    Yes, elections do matter. But that is not where our ultimate trust should be. And our eschatology is revealed by our response.

  • Clay Knick

    Yes, yes, & amen! Preach it.

  • http://www.dennisredwards.com Dennis

    indeed! thank you. and I agree with Terry about Chris Wright’s “big” book!

  • Chris Oakes

    And all the people said, Amen! Scot, thank you for your writings which continually point us to our higher calling and greater mission.

  • Matt

    Great thoughts Scot. I think what we’re seeing is the result of giving people options and choice over who governs them. If we didn’t have a choice over who governed us and weren’t asked to help decide, we probably wouldn’t put so much hope into it. I’m not saying that excuses our idolatry. But since America is built on the idea of choice and our leaders representing us, it takes people down a path they wouldn’t ordinarily go down. So I can’t imagine 1st Century Roman Christians getting caught up like WE do either, but then again that was a whole different situation altogether wasn’t it?
    That being said, your emphasis on God’s blessings and our need to trust in Him is much-needed. Thanks again.

  • John Brown

    Powerfully important thoughts that I resonate with completely. Although I have to admit that my eyes hurt a little bit from running that gender-neutral God language obstacle course.

  • http://thepracticeofdiscovery.wordpress.com/ nathan

    well said scott. couldn’t agree more! must make sure we don’t have a mis-placed faith in gvt. or elected officials. love the thought of an empire-shaped eschatology! prob. going to use this on sun. thanks brother!

  • http://byzantium.wordpress.com Kullervo

    Amen! Elections and presidents–and even governments and nations– come and go, but Jesus’s message is that the Kingdom of God is at hand.

  • Jim

    Thanks Scot. At one point I felt that we were experiencing a playoff sporting event with a winner / loser mentality that didn’t care about the real issues that either candidate wanted to raise. You are reminding us that there are important things to pay attention to, beginning with God and His mission in the world. Thanks again.

  • metanoia

    I enjoyed this short essay very much. I was a little puzzled by your statement: “I can’t imagine 1st Century Roman Christians caught up in some kind of hope whether it would be Nero or Britannicus who would succeed Claudius.” Surely you didn’t mean to suggest that they weren’t engaged in discussing the ramifications of one ruler over another, did you? Citizens, whether Christians or not, ruminate over what their lives would be like if a ruler was replaced by another. About the only way that I can imagine a scenario where there was a disengaged populace would be because they didn’t have a choice in who would lead them. But 21st America isn’t such a place and engagement if paramount to the direction the country will go. Of course Americans are engaged. Discerning what we believe to be the call and direction of God in our voting is an exercise in fulfilling Jesus’ prayer that “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”

  • Wags

    A lot of hand wringing today – thanks for a little perspective Scot.

  • TerryR

    Is god with us as a nation, I wonder! He gave us self determination so I wonder is he just letting us make thing right or make a mess of things politically. Thats up to us what we want it to be. He is with each of us as people; but, politically I don’t think so. I too vote every year and I hope I am voting correctly. I offen wonder what would Jesus say.

  • Seth

    I am young and probably overreacting and may change course between now and next election cycle. But, I am ready to head for the desert and become a non-participant. At the moment anyway it seems as if individual congregations are hardly big enough to house (with equal standing) divergent views. It has been pointed out to me that at the end of the day “we have to vote w/ scripture” as if that should settle matters (either I am a faithless pagan who loves to disobey scripture or this idea of “voting with scripture” is fraught with shortcomings or some combination of those two)… so the kingdom of this world draws us into the divisive game called elections and we seem the worse off for it. Yes we need to keep eschatalogical perspective, but I wonder if we can do so if we keep on politickin’?

  • Beth Jones

    Where are your women’s voices?

  • Patrick

    To 1st century believers, the state was Caesar. That = God’s opposition.

    Those first believers had the option of worshipping Caesar Nero or Christ as Lord, God and Saviour. Choosing Christ 3X(according to Tacitus they were given 3 opportunities to apostate and save their lives) earned you a trip to a cross or maybe a lion’s meal.

    In that context, I don’t think our forefathers were wondering, “gee, maybe the next pseudo god Caesar will spend more on the roads in this region or maybe subsidize the schools more”??

    I think this is what Scot’s point was, our forefathers knew to look to Christ and not human princes for sustenance. http://bible.cc/jeremiah/17-5.htm

  • Mark Day

    This post didn’t draw nearly as many comments as I thought it would. Perhaps these words are too sober and not sexy enough for the ramped-up rhetoric of election season. I agree with what you say here Scot, and am deeply challenged by it.


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