The Politics of Jesus, Message Two: David Nelson’s “Adorning Our Savior’s Teaching: How the Gospel Matters for Public Life”

Last night Dr. David Nelson, Senior Vice-President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty of Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, delivered a noteworthy address at “The Politics of Jesus” conference at the First Baptist Church of Durham, NC.  The talk was entitled, “Adorning Our Savior’s Teaching: How the Gospel Matters for Public Life”.  The following is a transcript of the notes from Dr. Nelson’s address.

v      Introduction

Ø      Reflection on Titus 2:10

§         Instruction to slaves to live in a manner consistent with the gospel so that the Savior’s teaching would be attractive.

§         Principle that our manner of life influences the way in which the gospel is perceived by those to whom we bear witness and with whom we live.

Ø      My aim:

§         To trace some of the implications of the gospel for public life

§         Not: to promote a particular political theory or position

§         While aim isn’t to promote a theory, I recognize that Evangelicals suffer from  the lack of any well-formed political theory or philosophy, and I hope my reflections could be generative of such a theory

v      The Gospel

Ø      What is the gospel?

§         The saving power of the righteous God for all peoples and the vindication of God’s righteousness in the execution of his judgment upon sin.

§         God’s powerful transformation of sinners from death to life, and the transference from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God.

§         It is the impartation of the life of God – God himself in Christ by the Spirit – to undeserving sinners.

Ø      How does the gospel (in general) matter for all of life?

§         The gospel is about God – about God saving souls

§         I also believe the gospel has implications for all of life such that believers must ask how faith matters for culture

§         I believe the church must care for souls and the people culture or it does not adequately exercise its stewardship of the gospel.

§         And caring for the culture or “the city” is not simply about pointing out what is wrong, but it is about actually caring for people. As Carl F. H. Henry complained of the church: “Whereas once the redemptive gospel was a world-changing message, now it is narrowed to a world-resisting message.”

§         It is “caring for the people of the culture” that brings us to the subject of “politics.”

v      Politics

Ø      “Politics” defined – Something like: “The act of governing a society” – e.g., city, state, nation – or the “art or science of government.” And of course we use it to refer to it in large measure to refer to the electoral process itself – often in a negative sense – “playing politics.”

§         Want to adjust our understanding of this in the context of the gospel – focusing on the notion of “caring for the city.”

Ø      Jesus and “politics” – a passion for “the city” (Gospel of Matthew)

§         4:8ff – Perhaps the first political decision Jesus had to make – Worship and serve God only – this is more significant that possessing “the kingdoms of the world and their glory.”

§         4:17 – Subsequent to the temptation narrative, we have Jesus preaching the kingdom of heaven. Thus we have competing kingdoms laid side by side – Kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of Heaven. City of man, City of God.

§         Matt 5:14 – Ideal of a bright, shining polis that points to the glory of God – God’s people as salt and light. We enhance and we shed light – this reveals that the world needs improvement and that it is filled with darkness – but it’s trajectory is one of benefit to the world, not attack.

§         Matt 6:10 – A real desire for Kingdom to be established on earth – where the people are gathered in “cities.”

§         Matt 22 – An example of appropriate subjection to governing authorities, answering how we are to live “politically” – pay your taxes

·         Consistent with other biblical instructions about “how to be governed well” (Carson)

¨       1 Tim 2:2

¨       Rom 13

¨       1 Pet 2:13

§         Cities as places of sickness, pain, injustice, evil and lostness over which Jesus weeps with compassion and warns of sure judgment. A truly Christian “political theology”, which should be the basis of our political theory or philosophy, must place such realities at the core.

Ø      The Christian and Politics

§         Politics as gospel-centered living in the polis

·         Pursuit of certain things: truth, justice, mercy

·         Ways of understanding the times or exegeting our culture

¨       Creation-fall-redemption-restoration – typical for us to reflect on these themes to explain Christian political theory

¨       Creation-covenant-kingdom-cross-church-new heavens & new earth

Ø      Provides us with a certain telos – God is taking the world to a particular end

Ø      So, to what extent do we work toward that end by political means?

v      How the Gospel Matters for Public Life (we are focusing on one aspect: political life)

Ø      The gospel conditions the way we look at public life in the political sphere

§         We primarily see politics as a means of serving society (the city) from a gospel perspective

§         Not as a means to merely “political” ends

·         If you find yourself always agreeing with one party or the other, I doubt seriously that the gospel is conditioning your political views.

Ø      The gospel demands that we relate to people in particular ways

§          (2 Corinthians 5)

·         We take sin and depravity seriously

§         We take Christian charity seriously

§         E.g., Ethnicity & Socio-economic differences – the gospel induces intolerance for such injustices.  

Ø      The gospel guides us to speak in contextually-appropriate ways

§         Need for “bi-lingual” skills (Jean Bethke Elshtain) in the political realm – know language of Bible and of the political arena, and learn how to speak the language of the latter while mediating the language of the former into the strange land of politics.

§         What we say: Scripture and natural law

§         How we say it

·         Use of invectives and attitude of hatred seem disconsonant with this principle

·          “Bumper-sticker” theology is inconsistent as well

Ø      The gospel (aided by proper ecclesiology) functions to preserve us from faulty views of the relationship of faith and culture

§         Relationship to Various Authorities

§         Relationship of Faith to the Various Cultural Dimensions of Society

§         Appropriately recognize relationships in various “spheres” of society:

·         Individual, Family, Government

·         Also, the church

¨       Gospel keeps our allegiances in proper order (ordered loves)

Ø      The gospel conditions believers to view political activity in eschatalogically appropriate ways

§         We pursue truth and fight for justice and extend love with the recognition that we live in this age, not the age to come.

§         We recognize that expending resources disproportionately on certain political outcomes might be counterproductive to Kingdom purposes

§         This is what helps you to sleep peacefully the night that you lose an election. Because the principle work of the Kingdom given us today – the ministry of the gospel – continues regardless of political outcomes.

v      Conclusion


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