Saturday, February 14, 2015

KC (15) Constantinian Temptation

I thought the best part of Kingdom Conspiracy by Scot McKnight was Appendix 1, where he challenges the what he calls the Constantinian Temptation. Here are some pertinent quotes.

Kingdom theology today faces a Constantinian Temptation, which I call the Constantinian Temptation: the temptation to get the state to combine its powers with the church’s powers to accomplish, institutionalize, and legalize what is perceived to be divine purposes.

He began the process that eventually led to what we call the Holy Roman Empire. That empire, often called Christendom or Constantinianism, 1 combined the church’s beliefs with the state or the state with the church so much so that the state’s power was used to legalize, enforce, and coerce those who threatened the state or the church with disagreement.

The Puritans were a godly Constantinian and Christendom movement.

Let’s name names: both Jim Wallis and Ralph Reed operate on the basis of a Constantinian blending of church and state. Both want Washington, DC, to enact their brand of Christian virtue. Whenever church and state get connected, the word “kingdom” quickly takes on the sense that it is the sociopolitical and church government of a given city, state, or country.

The Christian Left and the Christian Right are doing the same thing— seeking to coerce the public or, more mildly, seeking to influence the public into their viewpoint through political agitation and majority rule.

Christians are advocating for Christian views on the basis of the Bible and Christian tradition and are making use of “secular” logic so it will appeal to the “common good.”

Winning in the Christian influence theory is getting the state to back up the Christian voice. Do we see what this means? It means we give the final authority to the state.

The neo-evangelical revival of the Christian influence theory has come at a severe cost, in part because it is yet another manifestation of Constantinianism.

I remember when it happened in the 1970s and 1980s. Active Christian leaders, like Francis Schaeffer and James Kennedy, joined hands with active Jewish leaders to form what some called a “Judeo-Christian ethic.” This combined ethic created religious, moral, and political power behind a common political aim.

There is no such thing as an ethic that is both “Judeo” and “Christian,” for one simple reason: the “Christian” part of the ethical equation adds Jesus as Messiah, the cross as the paradigm, the resurrection as the power, the Holy Spirit as the transforming agent, the necessity of the new birth, and the church as the place where God is at work. Hence, a “Judeo-Christian ethic” either strips the Christian elements or turns the “Judeo” part into a Christian ethic. What it usually does is secularize the ethic of all involved. Instead of letting each ethic stand in its own separable power, a common denominator is found, which both modifies each ethical system and creates a brand new one. Whether conservative or progressive, it is a political ethic with the veneer of a religious claim in order to create moral force and gather support from those with differing faiths. This, in other words, is a civil religion.

Civil religion works by denying everything unique and distinct to a religion and seeking the common ground of cooperation, all to accomplish a political goal. In the process, proponents and participants in this civil religion alienate the opposing political advocates and turn the Christian (or Jewish, or Mormon, or Catholic, or Baptist) set of beliefs into a political platform. Civil religion, then, surrenders faith to politics and turns the church into a tool of the state. Civil religion denies the cross, the resurrection, and the lordship of Christ over all, and therefore cannot be squared with the gospel.

This “civil religion” emerges in American history in another way, the way of baptizing the nation by using biblical language for our civil hopes, civil unrest, and civil activism.

A most remarkable turn of events accompanied liberation theology: the church was decentralized and the state was centralized. What began with common grace, and was pushed even further into the state by the social gospel, was slowly emerging in the Western world as a progressive belief in the capacity of the state to deliver redemption. Kingdom work became political work. Justice became social justice. Salvation became social and economic and racial and sexual liberation. In short, American liberal progressivism and kingdom were now wedded to one another. The kingdom is peace, justice, economic equality, and equal rights.

This vision of kingdom is essentially social gospel and liberation theology in an American context largely voiced by privileged whites. Its hallmark is benevolence, but benevolence is what the privileged and powerful and wealthy give as a donation to the poor and marginalized as a form of social redemption. One must ask if benevolence is not something more oriented to the privileged than to the actual transformation of society. Benevolence, then, is donation to the poor that promulgates the very injustices it seeks to ameliorate. One has to wonder if at times this kind of benevolence is not better called “reparations.”

The focus of energy in this theory of the kingdom is the political process. Instead of seeing the church as the central place of kingdom expression, public activism for the common good, especially through acquiring votes and establishing public policies, becomes the place where kingdom work gets done best.

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