Two very scholarly pieces caught my attention this morning. One is a review and commentary by Alan Bean in Baptist News Global of the book “Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus” by Reggie Williams. The other is Mark Tooley’s editorial launching a new journal attempting to do for modern times what Reinhold Niebuhr did with his journal in the build up to WWII. Both pieces are deeply religious and deeply political. Both pieces have great points in both arenas. (Both also have some points in each arena with which one could take exception.) But it is the tension between the arenas that I find most interesting.
Consider two people, one reads the Bean review and the other the Tooley editorial. Now imagine that this is the first exposure those two people have ever had to Christianity. The two people would walk away from their readings with very different concepts of God. That is worrisome. That is a sign of imposing politics on God rather than allowing God to impose on our politics. Before the “theocratic” alarm bells go off, let me assure the reader that such is not what I am calling for. What I am saying is that for Christians, and certainly everyone involved in these articles are Christians, God should be the unifying concept, not the dividing one.
There is a tendency when we discover the wonders of being a Christian to want God to join us on our journey. But that is not what God is all about. God wants us to take the journey that He has for us. That does not mean we somehow leave what we care about to do “God stuff.” Politics is, in fact, the journey that God has for some, and in America where all vote, it is a journey that all will take to some extent. This is a mater of priority. We must know God first, politics second.
The bridge between religion and politics is not an idea, or a stance, or an issue – it is us – it is people. If we know God first, politics second then the politics we do will be the politics God wants from us. But if we know politics first, then we are more likely to let our politics shape our concept of God than we are to let God shape our politics.
The Apostle Paul visited the church in Corinth at a time when the church was deeply embroiled in political struggle. There was struggle with the Romans and their pagan religion. There was religious persecution. There was struggle within fledgling Christianity between the Jewish Christians and the Hellenized Christian. There was struggle in Corinth about leadership and the charismata. Later, when Paul wrote to this church he said:
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
The political struggles we find ourselves in in this country at this point in history are significant and deeply meaningful. But we cannot let the urgency of the struggle override what we must first know – Jesus Christ and him crucified.