What do you all think of the current conflict in Israel and Palestine?
- Do you believe Israel stands on just ground, launching their current offensive?
- Do you believe Hamas stands on just ground, launching missiles indiscriminately into Israel?
- As a Christian, do you believe, theologically, that Israel has authority that is sanctioned by God?
- If you support the nation of Israel, theologically, what of your brothers and sisters in Christ who live in Palestine?
This is a complex problem, and we knew it would be (given the conflict between Ishmael and Isaac) from the beginning of time. We certainly know that Israel was chosen by Yahweh as the mediator of salvation to the world; not through their own national identity (i.e. that the nation itself was/is Yahweh’s salvation to the nations), but instead through the Messiah whom they mediated to the nations (including Palestine). What this says to me, theologically, is that while the nation of Israel has, and always will have, a special role in Yahweh’s unfolding salvation history; that they are not the goal or point of that history. Instead, the goal of Israel’s history was to mediate the Savior of the world to all the nations (cf. Gen. 12:1-3); thus being superseded (but not forgotten cf. Rom. 9–11) by the Person of God’s life, disclosed in Jesus. Here is how Torrance says this:
Since all through that progressive movement of revelation the Word of God was pressing for fuller realisation and obedient expression within the life and mind and literature of Israel, the role of Israel as the servant of the Lord in mediating that revelation inevitably pointed ahead of itself to a fulfilment in the Incarnation. When that took place in the birth of Jesus, Son of Mary and Son of God, the whole prehistory of that mediation was gathered up and brought to its consummation in Christ in such a way that while transient, time-conditioned elements fell away, basic, permanent ingredients in God’s revelation to Israel were critically and creatively taken up and built into the intelligible framework of God’s full and final self-revelation to mankind. Incarnate as the Jew from Bethlehem and Nazareth Jesus Christ stood forth, not only as the controlling centre of the mediation of divine revelation in and through Israel, but as himself the personal self-revelation of God to man, the eternal Word of God made flesh once for all within the objective and subjective structures of human existence. Thus Jesus Christ, not Israel the servant of the Lord is nevertheless included by God for ever within his elected way of mediating knowledge of himself to the world. Since Israel as a whole is given a permanent place in God’s revelation of himself, the Old Testament mediation of revelation must be appreciated and understood from the perspective of its fulfilment in Christ. On the other hand, Jesus Christ is to be recognised and known as Son of God and Saviour of the world, in accordance with his own claims, from the normative framework of basic preconceptions divinely prepared and provided in the Old Testament Scriptures. Thus to detach Jesus from Israel or the Incarnation from its deep roots in the covenant partnership of God with Israel would be a fatal mistake. (T. F. Torrance, “The Mediation of Christ,” 31-2)
The fact that Israel is ‘special’ does not necessarily serve as the basis of her national sovereignty, politically; that is, anymore than the United State’s political legitmacy is founded upon Christian principles. When we try to establish theocratic states, apart from Christ’s direct rulership, we end up taking the LORD’s name in vain. Whether premil or amil, we all know that the only One who will bring peace, and create borders (so to speak) is Jesus Christ.
I think sometimes, what makes it hard for me, to not root for Israel (even indiscriminately) is her special role as Yahweh’s covenant people; and in particular, her mediation of Jesus to the nations. But that is what is important to keep in mind, while Yahweh has a special spot for the nation of Israel, likewise, He has one for Palestine. Maybe the problem comes in when we try to mix geopolitics with the Gospel; when we support one nation over another, simply because we think that one nation has ‘special nation status’ with Yahweh — but of course we know that this is wrong!
I guess I’ll chime in on this issue as well, that is what our society at large is currently ensconced in—i.e. the presidential campaigns. The following will be a ragtag reflection on my part, in other words don’t hope to find anything too profound here; in fact it will probably just be more stream of consciousness than anything.
First off has anybody else noticed that many evangelical Christians are voting for the infamous Obama? How does this work? I thought Barak was pro-choice? Isn’t the Christian worldview explicitly pro-life? I would be really really interested in hearing an argument or justification for Christians voting for Obama. In other words, if you are a Christian and you are voting for Obama I would like to see how you cohere the incompatible values (re.: to the issue of abortion) that Obama holds contra Christ centered Christian values. If you are a Christian, and you are voting for Obama, how do you avoid being complicit with Barak in the taking of innocent life?
As far as McCain, I really don’t have a lot of hope with him either. But my conscience allows me to vote for him because he is pro-life. I really don’t think he will work to reverse the culture of death we currently inhabit, in fact if anything he seems to be a closet Christian.
Personally, this whole issue, i.e. the inter-relationship between the sacred and the secular is very difficult to work through. I think Karl Barth’s framing of this issue is the most helpful, but it is still pragmatically speaking, not so nice and neat in reality. The tension that I feel comes in when I see what God has diagnosed as the real problem for humanity, and the political diagnosis. They are different. One is based on the reality of a depraved heart, and thus the structural evil we see in our own country as well as in the world. The other is based on pragmatics and externalism. In other words, the political approach will never ever ever ever address the real problem, the problem of depraved, deceived, desperate hearts. That is why I really have no hope in McCain or Obama. They are both products of the political approach I mentioned above, and they are part of a political machine that is shaped by a kingdom that loves the darkness.
There is no doubt that God has ordained the powers that be, and ultimately this is my hope; that God raises up and puts down the kings of the world. He sovereignly and apocalyptically is working in historic time accomplishing his purposes. Now this almost sounds like a copout, right? in fact, I don’t think it is. God’s purposes and ways always supersede what we think is best. Thus when I see the inadequacies of the governments of this world it pushes me into the Lord. We walk by faith not by sight, at least that’s what I thought Christians did? That does not mean we should be politically inactive or uninformed, au contraire! Rather it means that we should be subversively working toward establishing a kingdom which cannot be shaken; and in so far as this kingdom breaks into the kingdom of man (the governments of this world) we will be who we should be—prophets—making the kingdom’s of this world THE KINGDOM of our KING!
The implication: our primary duty is not to be obssessed with what this world is, but with what the “real” world is concerned with. Remember this:
“. . . Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. . . . For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” ~ Matthew 6:9b, 13c
Christians of all people should be eschatalogically minded, realizing that the kingdom is “NOW” (and not yet); instead what I see, often times, is Christians becoming more impassioned by political season and the gospel of commodities than we are by the true gospel. Certainly the true gospel has a whole set of values (i.e. in fact is presupposed by the sanctity of life “God’s Life” that is) implicit to it—but as soon as we forget that the gospel is a person we are able to marshal the gospel into an abstraction that serves us instead of a Life we are to serve.
That’s enough for now. One more cloak and dagger statement, I think Evangelical’s Pietism has caught up with them (whether pro-life or death)—ironically, the Evangelical has become the “Liberal.”
So often we hear about the all impacting decision of Roe versus Wade, but hardly ever, in fact never do we hear about the other pivotal Supreme Court decision that was made on the same day: Doe versus Bolton. J.P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae in their book “Body and Soul: Human Nature And the Crisis in Ethics” alert us to this other all-important decision, let’s hear what they have to say:
Since 1973, with the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, abortion has been legal throughout the entire nine months of pregnancy. The court in Roe arbitrarily divided up the nine months of pregnancy into trimesters with increasing protections for the unborn in the last trimester. In the first trimester, abortion on demand is legal. In the second trimester, the state can place restrictions on access to abortion in order to safeguard the health of the pregnant woman. These include restricting the availability of abortion to licensed medical facilities and requiring them to be performed by licensed physicians. It is widely perceived in the culture at large that abortion is only legal up until the point of viability or, at the time of the Roe decision, roughly at the end of the second trimester. What is not widely known, however, is that on the same day that the Supreme Court handed down the Roe decision, it also handed down another abortion decision, Doe v. Bolton, which expanded the availability of abortion beyond what Roe by itself provides. The Doe decision expanded the exception clause in Roe that allowed for post-viability, or third trimester, abortions in cases in which the life or health of the mother was in jeopardy. The Doe decision expanded the notion of the health of the mother in a way that could be interpreted to justify abortion for virtually any reason. The court interpreted the health of the mother to include more than simply her physical health. It also included her physiological and emotional health, and it could be construed to include her financial health as well. The Court put it this way:
That statute [the Georgia law in question] has been construed to bear upon the physiological as well as physical well-being [of the mother]…. We agree that the medical judgment [of the mother’s physician, as to whether continuing the pregnancy constitutes a threat to the mother’s health] may be exercised in light of all factors—physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman’s age—relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors may relate to health [of the pregnant woman].
Thus if in the judgment of the mother’s physician any of these factors, which include much more than simply medical indications, are present, a post-viability abortion would be legal. Not only are the factors broaden well beyond medical indications—aspects of a woman’s health that her physician is not trained to assess—but also the judgment is the physician’s alone. The physician can authorize a post-viability abortion for virtually any reason, ranging from a threat to the life of the mother (which rarely occurs today) to a range of nonmedical reasons that could include the mother’s financial ability to raise the child in question (familial factors, as cited by the Court). The well-publicized late-term, partial birth abortion method is often used in these third trimester abortions, and though it is widely claimed that these are only performed when a woman’s life or health is at risk, it is well documented that the majority of partial-birth abortions are performed for birth control reasons and are not based on the risks of continuing the pregnancy to the mother. The combination of the Roe and Doe decisions opened the door to abortion on demand at virtually any point in pregnancy. (J.P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae, “Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics,” 237-38 )
So while Roe v. Wade opened the door for the legality of abortion, it does not stand on its own, as the Doe v. Bolton decision illustrates. In other words, Doe gives feet to Roe. Interestingly, the Doe decision, I believe, reflects the real reason and motivation for the legalization of abortion on demand—it comes from a framework of systemic evil at work in our culture and world at large. Clearly abortions in America are not primarily performed for medical intervention (and even then I find it unethical), rather they are performed to meet the needs of a consumerist sexualized culture—and Doe indeed provides the juridical framework for that to happen.
Anyway, I thought I would just highlight this, since this decision is not typically mentioned relative to discussion surrounding abortion. What really prompted me to think about this was the “Saddleback/Rick Warren” interview of Obama, and his brilliant response to the question of when life begins (i.e. “that’s beyond my pay grade”). But not to digress, I think the real solution here is to engage in the kingdom work of Christ; to forward the in-breaking shalom of the Gospel. If the world is going to be turned upside down, apocalyptically, then we Christians need to live apocalyptic lives. We need to preach the gospel with our lips and our actions, so that the crooked can be made straight; and the poor made rich by the superabundant grace and bounty of Jesus Christ. It is only when the values of this world become shaped by the values of heaven that I believe any Supreme Court decisions will be overturned.
To be quite frank, I don’t place a lot of hope in either Obama or McCain in providing measures that will create a societal context in which a “kingdom ethic” will flourish. Thankfully Jesus didn’t leave us as orphans …
Often times, most times, America, and her origins, are claimed to be Christian . . . thus our self-proclaimed Christian Nation status. While it is true that our nation was originally to be a haven of refuge for “religious freedom,” and many of our founding Fathers were “Christians” (well some); it is not necessarily the case that the Christian ideals that were brought to the Americas were actually that Christian, conceptually. Scholars: Noll, Hatch, and Marsden certainly don’t think so; and they express their doubt very well in their book The Search for Christian America. Here is a summary of the first piece of their thesis in developing their argument:
1) We feel that a careful study of the facts of history shows that early America does not deserve to be considered uniquely, distinctly or even predominately Christian, if we mean by the word “Christian” a state of society reflecting the ideals presented in Scripture. There is no lost golden age to which American Christians may return. In addition, a careful study of history will also show that evangelicals themselves were often partly to blame for the spread of secularism in contemporary American life. . . . (Mark A. Noll, Nathan O. Hatch, George M. Marsden, “The Search For Christian America,” 17)
This is hard teaching, who can hear it? Does this bother you, these kinds of probing points? To clarify, these historians are not arguing that America does not have any “religious past,” note: . . . [I]n making our case, we do not want to contend that Christian values have been absent from American history. . . . Their presence, we agree, justifies a picture of the United States as a singularly religious country (p. 18). The key language, is “religious,” they will continue to argue that America does indeed have rich “Christian heritage;” but unfortunately what passed as uniquely Christian, was in fact, Christianity baptized in “Natural Theology,” and rationalist Enlightenment principles. Here is an example of what I am talking about, found in the Declaration of Independence:
. . . We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. . . . (full text here)
Notice the language of “self-evident,” this is Enlightenment Natural Theology, which starts with Nature/Creation as the methodological entry point for discussing spiritual things. In other words, and very simply, natural theology starts with man and works out/up from there. This is just one example of how our countries’ founding was not necessarily Christian. Here are some more penetrating questions offered by these historians, on what criteria should be used to determine if indeed America’s founding, heritage, and origin should be labeled Christian:
One set of questions has to do with how much Christian action is required to make a whole society Christian. Another way of stating the same issue is to pose it negatively—how much evil can a society display before we disqualify it as a Christian society? These kinds of questions are pertinent for all of early American history. When we look at the Puritans of the 1600s, do we emphasize only their sincere desire to establish Christian colonies, and their manifest desire to live by the rule of Scripture? Or do we focus rather on the stealing of Indian lands, and their habit of displacing and murdering these Indians wherever it was convenient? Roger Williams, one of the Puritans himself, asked these very questions and came to much the same conclusion as we have more than 300 years later. Again, do we place more emphasis on the Massachusetts Puritans’ desire to worship God freely in the new world or their persecution (and, in four cases, execution) of Quakers who also wished to be free to worship God in Massachusetts? (Mark A. Noll, Nathan O. Hatch, George M. Marsden, “The Search For Christian America,” 17)
Some tough, penetrating questions. How would you answer these? Are we a “Christian Nation?” And if you think so, or not, why?
Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful to be an American, and am thankful for the “freedoms” we have in this country; but I don’t think it does anyone any good, especially for “people of the Truth,” to pretend like we had a Christian nation in the past; and continue to have one today (although I think most would agree that we definitely don’t live in a Christian Nation today). This takes us full circle, then, what is a “Christian Nation,” to begin with?
Oh yeah, you all need to read this book at some point!
I don’t know about you, but I have been watching the Republican and Democratic debates in New Hampshire. I must admit it sounds just like all the other political rhetoric that I’ve heard in previous years leading up to the presidential election. Nevertheless as Christians we should be engaged at some level with the politics of our country; since governments have been ordained by God — they aren’t separate abstract entities divorced from the kingdom of Christ, rather they have an instrumental function relative to accomplishing God’s purposes.
While in seminary I took a class called “Church And Culture” taught by Dr. Paul Metzger. Basically the class entailed us working through Metzger’s Ph.D. dissertation on Karl Barth’s engagement of the sacred and secular — at that point it hadn’t been published, but since then it has and can be purchased on Amazon.com. Anyway, I think Barth as mediated through Metzger offers a timely word for how the church should relate to the political machine we are all subjected to at the moment. The following will be a lengthy quote from Metzger’s dissertation on Barth:
. . .Thus, as stated above, the church should resist any temptation to attempt to impose its will on the state. Now why is this? The reason is that when the church demands privileges and an audience in the secular sphere it forgets its own vocation and that of the state as well, thereby abandoning its freedom in the process. “Whenever the church has entered the political arena to fight for its claim to be given public recognition, it has always been a church which has failed to understand the special purpose of the state,an impenitent, spiritually unfree church.”
Now if the Church were to demand that the state accept its Word, would not the church in effect displace the state? If so, how could the church continue to serve God and the state in a nonpartisan way? Its word would then be bound, not free. Only as a church remains a spiritual institution will it have secular, political responsibilities, namely, those of exemplifying the ideals of the kingdom to the state and proclaiming God’s Word of the kingdom to the state. However, the reverse is not the case. If the church functions as a secular institution, it will forfeit its responsibilities in a sacred sphere.
The church must call on the state to listen to its Word, the Word of the kingdom, since the message of the kingdom concerns the state. But it must not demand that the state listen. The church must not use force, the instrument of the state, imposing its message on its hearers, but must seek to persuade its addressees of the need to receive its message through reasoned argument alone in the event of Christian proclamation, appealing to the state to take to heart its word rather than compelling the state to do so. The church must not demand but discuss, not presume upon but reason, appealing to the state to take its claims to heart, claims not about the centrality of the church, but about the centrality of the kingdom which both church and state are parts. Now if in God’s providential workings the state bestows on the church certain benefits and rights, even taking the church’s message to heart, the church must not come to expect such benefits, rights, and respect as irrevocable, permanent privileges, which must be preserved at all costs, but rather as gifts from God’s hand, gifts which may last but for a season. (Paul Louis Metzger, “The Word of Christ And The World of Culture: Toward a Synthesis Of the Sacred and Secular in the Theology of Karl Barth,”[dissertation form] 225-227 )
There are a couple things I want to highlight: 1) notice the relationship that Barth places between the church and the state, i.e. they are both part of the Kingdom of Christ. The effect this has is to create a noncompetitive relationship between the Church and the State; i.e. it avoids the typical we/they siege mentality that we currently see with evangelicals and politics. 2) Nevertheless there is still distinction between The Church and State, the distinction being that the Church has access to revelation which it witnesses to the state. I see this as very significant and pertinent relative to the way that evangelicals, i.e. the political right, has collapsed and politicized the Gospel in its engagement of the state — the consequence being that the state believes the Gospel to be the sum total of various ethical concerns versus the real Gospel which is a person, Jesus Christ. As Metzger notes with Barth, in this case, the case of the American church today, she has ceased being the church; and in this sense has robbed the state of being who God intends for her to be relative to her instrumentality and proclamation of His Word.