Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Politics Of Jesus

Was doing some spring cleaning and found this email dated April 2003 by a friend... he's a slow typist, but when he writes... Boy! That guy can really write...

I think it's worth a bit of wider circulation.... you can feel the prophet Jeremiah's passion and lament in this one :)

May take some time to digest but a lot of interesting concerns latent here, close to the heart of wat I hope the Msian church could be like as well.

He wrote:

hi dave and all,

"This struck me as a clear and present danger especially in colleges where Christian youths read Comte, Marx, Jean Paul Sartre in classrooms and in churches, fed with a steady diet of "Prayer of Jabez" type of Christianity... the enormous gap between faith and reason seems more unbridgeable."

at the risk of sounding like a jeremiad,lamenting about how bad things really are, i can't agree more with u,dave. this may be a caricature and over-generalization on christian youths in malaysia, but the problem does not lie with the youths
only. it is the malaise of the privatization of the christian faith, as well as the deadening effects of dualism (spiritual/secular false dichotomy) on the church at large. of course, i only speak of the stream of evangelicalism that i'm a part of in malaysia.

i wouldn't presume to speak about catholicism or any the other mainline denominations like the anglicans. one thing's for sure, the catholics do have a much more social interest in their missional outlook. wouldn't be a bad thing that we learn something from our catholic brethren in this respect. it is frustrating
to see our youths, who could handle books written by philosophers like sartre, marx etc., or scientists like hawking or dawkins...but given such little intellectual stimulation in our christian discipleship.

don't get me wrong...i'm not condemning stuff like prayer of jabez etc... i think there is need for that kind of teaching in the church, less we turn into a bunch
of deists,blinded by rationalism.

but given our culture today, a culture of affluence and pain-avoidance, there is a danger of domesticating the christian faith into a middle-class "malaysian dream", comfortable religion. too much of our christianity had been "imported" from liberal america. as christian ethicist, stanley hauerwas, said " yippee!!!it's so good to be a christian in long as you keep your christianity private". i can't agree more... as long as we view our faith as another option in the supermarket of
consumer society, our youths will always receive a bad deal. it trickles down. if our leaders are of a certain kind, it's just normal to see that our young
would emulate what they see modeled to them.

i don't mean to criticise our leaders...

in any case, i am only speaking about and from the charismatic/evangelical stream that i belong to. i have been deeply challenged recently by the anabaptist tradition, particularly their stress on the public dimension of our confession. our gospel is the gospel of the kingdom of god.(pardon my usage of "god" in small disrespect intended) god's lordship in all of life. the resurrection of our lord affirms the goodness of the created order. the greek for the
word "salvation" in the new testament refers to the whole person...there isn't a soul and body divide as such, as if what is ultimately saved is just the soul, while the body is scrapped. no. the body is so,so important.

a study of the whole bible also reveals that heaven is never an ethereal, "other-worldly" reality. it is this earth, the one we are living in now,the one who's ozone layers are depleting by the day, albeit renewed at the consummation of history.
yes, new heavens and the new earth. we don't get whisked away, and leave this so-called "evil world" behind. no..that would have been a sign of god's defeat. creation is never abandoned. creation is caught up in god's good redemptive purposes, and the church is the firstfruits of new creation, inaugurated through the death and resurrection of our lord, approx. 2000 years ago. maybe the great miracles we have been hoping for in the church, is not some kind of "revival" where more "souls" are saved. that's important...but we'll all be shortchanged if that's all we concern ourselves with. what a renewal of the original christian mandate to steward creation in ways that honour and worship god.

could a greater christian ecological consciousness constitute a great miracle in its own right, given how little the church cares about it today. or maybe christian initiatives toward greater and deeper racial reconciliation and appreciation. the church is a sign and a wonder to the world, a sign that god's rule in the future has already begun in the world, among a people, as motley as ourselves. the church is meant to be our most basic, fundamental social unit, undercutting even our biological familial relations. no wonder, jesus' words about who is his mother or
brothers, as well as his challenge on not calling anyone on earth our 'father',except, the lord in heaven, are so,so radical. it was literally a new creation that he has come to constitute, a new people, where forgiveness is
our badge of identity. wouldn't it be great that christians are known to others in society by their practices, eg. they are known as people who forgive each other,does not abort our young,faithful in our marriages, those who love each other in word and deed. "that they may know you who sent me", our lord said.

all that is said above is political. politics is basically making decisions that affect a social group, in terms of ethical priorities, values,economic allocation of resources. all human, social groups do that. in this sense, aristotle is right... all humans are political animals in that sense. if u believe that morals/values are important for the individual, politics is just those same morals albeit on a macro-level. there is no two ways about it. no man is an island. we are all social creatures. the autonomous,detached individual is a modern myth. if that's the case, the church is political. that must go down as the greatest understatement in the
history of mankind :D we are a royal priesthood, a holy nation. nations have distinct characteristics, not least how they organise themselves.

can we ever hope to recapture the body politics of the early church, as seen in acts?(please don't misunderstand me...i'm not pushing for theonomy or encouraging the
setting up of a christian state/nation. far from it. in fact, in many ways the liberal conception of the nation state today can be seen as an idol, where countless millions put their trust in, when that allegiance should only be reserved
for our lord. to explain this point, would need another email :D)

bottom-line is...both dualism, private religion(ala gnosticism) must go...the church is exremely earthy. spirituality is earthy. it has to do with how we wash our dishes, how we play with our kids, how we spend our money, how we have sex...we do
all this things in a peculiar fashion because our god is a peculiar kind
of god. he has been revealed to us as father,son and holy spirit. he is the god who revealed specifically in our lord jesus christ. not a generic "god" that all civilised, religious people can casually refer to, and we all think that we are talking about the same person. a distinct kind of god requires a distinct form of ethics, a distinct kind of politics, but politics nonetheless. let us not kid ourselves that the church is spiritual and holy, while all the corruption of politics belong to the world. if we think this way, we have already capitulated to the public/private divide, which modern liberal democracies are so happy for
"christianity" to remain in, private and toothless.

please forgive me in typing the mail in small caps including all my references to our lord. it only betrays the fact that i'm a slow typer. this email wld have been impossible without small graces like this. i wish all of you a good weekend,
challenged daily to bear our crosses, for his glory and the world's salvation.

christus victor,


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