Commonplace Book #99

Jesus and His disciples also demonstrated a profound mistrust of power–especially political power.  The focal point of Christ’s ministry–the objects of most of His energies and affections–were the downtrodden, the social outcasts, the powerless.  Regarding a Christian’s place in the world, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”  None of the disciples led anything approaching what we would consider a political movement, and all of us are urged to be “strangers and pilgrims” in the City of Man.  Finally, there is Christianity’s most sacred symbol, the cross–an emblem of agony and humiliation that is the antithesis of worldly power and victory.

History, especially the history of the church, may seem to offer its own reasons for demarcating Christianity from the sphere of politics.  According to the social philosopher  Jacques Ellul, every time the church has gotten into the political game, it has been drawn into self-betrayal or apostasy. “Politics is the Church’s worst problem, ” Ellul wrote.  “It is her constant temptation, the occasion of her great disasters, the trap continually set for her by the Prince of this World.”

Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner, City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era25.

6 thoughts on “Commonplace Book #99

  1. John,

    Well, I was attempting to be uncivil to Gerson and Wehner, but if you perceived it that way, others might also have done so. We all have our blind spots, and I might even have more than a few.

    As far as Jesus’ words to all humanity vs. his words to Israel, there are difficult hermeneutical issues. For the most part, the Synoptics are very Jewish in character. “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter Ye not. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Matt. 5:5,6. Obviously there is a current spiritual application to everything Christ taught, but it has to be interpreted through a Pauline perspective.

    By the way, thanks for the generally positive remarks you made on my initial comments.

    James

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  2. Jacques Ellul made a good point about mixing church and state, but Gerson and Wehner started their remarks with a gross oversimplification. Specifically, Jesus focused on all of Israel’s humanity and not simply upon “…the downtrodden, the social outcasts, the powerless.” That is arguably one of the most shopworn platitudes uttered in certain churches. Nicodemus was a “ruler of the Jews” and together with Joseph of Arimathaea had social and financial standing. Levi, a tax collector, was hardly powerless. In fact, he probably had too much power. Zacchaeus was rich. Joanna and other women had enough excess resources to support Jesus financially. The sons of Zebedee were probably not wealthy, but they did have a seemingly successful family fishing business.

    Reading the quote from Gerson and Wehner leaves the impression that Jesus ignored all but Israel’s downtrodden. Nothing could be further from the truth. Do these contemporary writers even study the Bible?

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    • I think the degree of attention He paid to the downtrodden was remarkable. Lepers, adulterous women, the common people bullied by the religious leaders.
      Perhaps some folks like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimithea were intrigued by Him precisely because He was different in that He spent so much of His attention in the downtrodden.

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    • I think the degree of attention He paid to the downtrodden was remarkable. Lepers, adulterous women, the common people bullied by the religious leaders.
      Perhaps some folks like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimithea were intrigued by Him precisely because He was different in that He spent so much of His attention in the downtrodden.

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      • Jeff,
        I did not state that Jesus paid no attention to outcasts. On the other hand, erroneously tried to create the impression that the focus of his ministry was only to a certain class.
        James

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    • James: I was fine with your original comment until the last sentence. Why stoke the flames? Try to be civil. I have mentioned this to you before. It seems like you have a hard time breaking free from the culture wars.

      I should also add that these quotes are meant to be provocative. I choose them for two primary reasons: 1). I like them. 2). I hope people will read them and have an interest in pursuing the larger context.

      You chide Gerson and Wehner because they do not consider the words of Jesus that apply to all of humanity. In other words, you believe that they are not considering the full context of Jesus’s teachings. But the quote from Gerson and Wehner is also part of a larger context. By not thinking about that context (and attacking them like you do in the last sentence) you are failing to understand the full breadth of their argument. Go read the book.

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