Christians show a mixed bag of thinking about the church and the state or the Christian and the state. Most seek in some way to anchor their thoughts in what Jesus said. What did he say about the state? Political thinker Alan Storkey, in his Jesus and Politics: Confronting the Powers, proposes a four point summary of how Jesus challenged the state, and I wonder if it figures large enough in how Christians — both Left and Right — posture themselves toward the state.
If you had to summarize Jesus’ posture toward the state (Antipas, Pontius, Rome) in one word, what word would you choose? Why?
Jesus taught the rule of God, the kingdom of God, the government of God, a rule/kingdom/government that challenges the state in four areas:
First, it subordinates the state to God and to the law. “The principle of the rule of law properly understood requires ruler and ruled to submit to God’s precepts of justice, respect, and neighbor love” (127).
Second, the ruler-god is unacceptable. That is, the temptation to ruler-god by political leaders is idolatrous. Political rulers are officeholders.
Third, totalitarianism “involves the state pretending to possess powers it does not properly have” (127). That is, “We live before God, not the state…”.
Fourth, this kingdom vision of Jesus “makes a society pluralist, where family life, work, religion and church, education, the arts, community all have a place before God and are not to be controlled or swamped by the state” (127).
Storkey leans toward the Reformed sphere sovereignty theory of Kuyper as the Christian perspective on the state. Family, church, state, economy and society each answers to the rule of God while in many frameworks family, church, economy and society answer to the state. This perhaps explains what happens when he turns to Jesus’ political principles, which are these, each defined with some finesse and alertness to bigger themes in Jesus, but one wonders if he’s not found modern themes of importance as found also in Jesus. So the issue is Where Storkey begins — with what we need to hear or with how Jesus framed politics? Anyway, here are his themes:
1. Equality of all
4. Integrity vs. popularity
5. Power reshaped into freedom
8. Compassion for the poor
9. Political toleration, and here Storkey shows that “toleration” was the challenge to “conformism” (and one form of conformism is Constantinianism).
But this is followed by a potent section on what ruling looks like after Jesus, and here the whole is turned upside down. Jesus’ statecraft begins with the Servant King, where the ruler is to serve the people, and by the Law of God not the law of man, where love is the central theme. Here is found the pre-political sense of what is right and wrong. Constitutionalism follows from this: rulers and people are under God’s law and no one is outside or above the law. Justice then is about being right with God, with self, with others and with the world.