Leaving Jesus Behind

I am becoming increasingly interested in the unfortunate polarization of our country. We see it in everything from the red and blue states to the PC/Mac wars (one in which I hold a definite bias). What is most unfortunate, however, is the way in which this polarizing tendency plays out in the church. For a while then, I plan on posting some thoughts on this topic. Mostly though, I will post others' thoughts on the topic and maybe offer a few of my own comments. This topic closely relates to the focus of my dissertation, though there I concentrated on a much smaller spectrum and cast the spotlight on the term "meaning." For this broader discussion I'll start off with a former Fuller grad and prof.

Miroslav Volf writes in a recent article in Christian Century:

Evangelicals who belong to the religious right insist that Jesus is their Lord and Savior, yet many of them hardly ever talk about Jesus, at least not in public. They talk about politics—how to get their people elected to local, state and federal governments so as to advance their religious, moral and political causes.

There are many ways of leaving Jesus behind. Take the famous Left Behind series. Jesus is all over these books. But what kind of Jesus? As I was flipping through the pages of the series, I felt I was more in the world of Terminator movies than in the world of the Gospels or even the world of the book of Revelation.

Think of the irony. The religious right is abandoning Jesus! The charge that the religious left has abandoned Jesus for its pet political causes has been the religious right's standard line of attack against its enemies for quite some time. That charge isn't unjustified, of course. There is a consistent pattern in the ways many theological liberals have thought about Jesus: Out with the Jesus of the Gospels and in with the historically reconstructed Jesus—which is to say, out with the Jesus who is a stranger to us and can challenge our prejudices and in with a Jesus who is cast in our own image and fits with what is politically expedient.

Others on the religious left have chosen not to reconstruct Jesus, but to disregard him. I've sat through many sermons that were all about this or that cause, and about how this or that social or psychic technique will solve the problem if only we would roll up our sleeves. It is not that I disliked the causes on the whole, but I kept wondering, Where is Jesus in all this?

Complaints that the religious left has abandoned Jesus are not new. Now the religious right has fashioned itself in the inverted image of the religious left. If this is even roughly correct, the writing on the wall is spelling the doom of the religious right. Just think of this: the political power of the religious right is parasitic on its religious power, and its religious power is the direct result of the erstwhile centrality of Jesus in the life of its communities. Discard Jesus and you've not only foolishly replaced the one true God with idols of your own making; you've also cut off the branch on which you sit as a political actor.

The challenge for a religious right and a religious left that want to think of themselves as Christian is to show that Jesus matters more than politics. Only then will both be true leaven in the world of politics.

Thanks again Jordon (via Ryan; via Carlos; via Father Jake)


Anonymous said...

The history of religion mixing with politics is not a particularly happy history. Historically, quite a few people have died at the hands of politically sanctioned religious persecution and wars. More often than not, Christians who seek the power to force other people to do things their way are not usually people who really "get" Jesus.

It is sad to say this, but I don't trust a Christian political group or Christian politician any more than I trust any other politician.

Igford said...

Does polarization really exist or is it something created by the media? Aren't the terms "right" and "left" just applied as a way to write sweeping generalizations about people?

Seriously, what does it mean to be a liberal or conservative Christian? Should I start sorting out my Christians friends and labeling them?

It may appear that I know what I'm talking about, but I don't. These are just random thoughts.

beth said...

i wish christians could realize that being a christian is who you are, through and through, not a label you parade around with. thus, christian politicians, would simply be politicians. because the christian would be so inate as to be unnecessary to be stated. Christ in their hearts and minds and wills would govern their thoughts and words and actions, but not be a soap box or ballet tagline.

i long for honesty and genuine people.