My final aspirational prediction comes on the heals of the house impeachment process and the reactions of various members of the evangelical community (e.g. the Christianity Today article entitled “Trump Should be Removed from Office”). As we express concerns or choose sides in political debates, Christians need to ensure that we keep politics in perspective. Whatever you might think about the CT article’s call to remove the president, I would suggest that we have far more challenging matters to consider than whether or not evangelicals should support the removal of a sitting president. The challenge, in my estimation, is that we’ve lost a theological vision of reality. I predict that the future church in the United States will recapture that theological vision.
What might such a vision look like? First, I think it is the sort of vision that understands the roles and responsibilities, as well as the limits, of the various institutions and leaders God has put in place. My fear is that we’ve become too enamored with our rights and our ability to choose and influence. I don’t see that we should abandon efforts to impact the broader culture around us; however, I do believe we need to recognize that politics, laws, policies, and governmental leaders aren’t the solution. While our governmental leaders have been put in place to uphold God’s order, they do not demonstrate who God is in the same way as the church. The church is called to testify in word and deed to the reality of God…to demonstrate the possibilities that exist when God is with us.
Second, we must move beyond “moral” positions rooted in some sense of universal human rights. While we are all made in the image of God and have inherent dignity, a theological vision of reality can never disconnect that dignity from the Triune God revealed in the scriptures. As Christians, we are mistaken if we think, for instance, that raising children who do not murder, steal, or lie is an accomplishment with which we can be satisfied. We are to raise children who glorify God and embody wisdom. Reverence for the Lord is the beginning of that wisdom (Ps 111:10; Prov 1:7).
Third, we cannot settle for generic conversations about character disconnected from the God who is the definition of love (1 Jn 4:8) and goodness (Mk 10:18). At some point, the church will need to remember that it’s primary identity isn’t one forged by the state, but by the God who sent His Son to live and die that we might have eternal life. Our goal is not to become the citizens that Will describes in The Pursuit of Happiness and Other Sobering Thoughts:
“Men and women are biological facts. Ladies and gentlemen—citizens—are social artifacts, works of political art. They carry the culture that is sustained by wise laws and traditions of civility. At the end of the day we are right to judge society by the character of the people it produces. That is why statecraft is, inevitably, soulcraft.”
Rather, we are to become citizens of heaven shaped and formed not by the state, but by the Kingdom of God and it’s Sovereign.
Our theological vision is not one that is tied to a nation…but to a Kingdom. Yet, we are dispersed amongst the nations and must learn to participate in the world as representatives of that Kingdom. I believe the next generation church in the United States will rethink the way Christians engage in lobbying for political candidates or hot button issues. I believe the future church will come to recognize that offering a faithful testimony will require far more than backing the candidate that least offends our Judeo-Christian sensibilities. To offer a faithful testimony, the church will need to reckon with who God is, who we are in relation to Him, and what implications who God is has for the way we think about and move around within the world. We will need to determine how to preserve a theological vision of reality when we choose our leaders by ballot rather than, for example, choosing them by lot.
While I am not advocating for some utopian return to New Testament spirituality as if the church in the New Testament were somehow pristine and irresistible, I do want to raise the importance of a particular question. It is a question that the future church will, I believe, ask and answer more regularly and with more seriousness than it seems we are today: with all that we have accomplished and with all that we are doing, how much of it are we doing without God? To put it another way…have we, in the midst of agendas, strategies, moral outrage, and legitimate concerns fashioned God into a deity of our own making so that He will look increasingly like us rather than us being transformed to looks increasingly like Him?