Powers and Principalities as Created Beings, part II

Some more reading, particularly into the thought of William Stringfellow, a predecessor of Walter Wink, turns all of the thoughts of my previous post on their head.  Check out this quote from McCutchan:

“William Stringfellow examines the concept of “Principalities and Powers” and suggests that in contemporary times we give the “Powers” such names as institutions, ideologies, images, movements, causes, corporations, bureaucracies, routines, races, nations, idols, etc. It is important to remember that Paul did not see such “Powers” as evil in themselves. Thus we are not talking about an anti-institutional stance. “The Powers” are the fixed points by which we bring order and sense to the world. “For by him God created everything in heaven and on earth, the seen and the unseen things, including spiritual powers, lords, rulers, and authorities . . . and in union with him all things have their proper place” (Col. 1:16-17 TEV). They became demonic when they lost their sense of vocation and their role in God’s world. In biblical terms that is known as the “condition of the Fall.” It is in light of our full realization of their fallen state, that we must examine the interplay of some of the “Powers” in the development of some of the major themes of our culture.” – Stephen McCutchan, “Church, State, Principalities, Powers” in Theology Today, 33 no 3 O 1976, p 245

Specifically, the point that the powers are not evil in themselves, but created by God and fallen along with the rest of creation (which, I’m inclined to point out again, is pictured biblically as the result of human sin, not the rebellion of the powers – with the possible exception of Satan). Scholars in this camp seem to be divided over whether or not there exist good powers; Ellul sees all powers as being in a state of rebellion against God, while Stringfellow and Wink stress the need for the powers to be redeemed, which of course leaves room for powers that are functioning as they are supposed to. I’m having trouble articulating the notion, but there seems to be a mutually reinforcing corruption in the powers and in human beings, the interplay of world (powers) and flesh (human sin) that leads to Death (Satan, the evil one behind it all, the source and destination of all rebellion against God).

Here’s a quote about Stringfellow’s view, in an article about the uneasy alliance of powers of Church and State in America:

The objection might be raised here that no evidence has been presented that anyone in these various “Principalities and Powers” ever made a conscious decision to ally with this or that “Power.” This is to fail to recognize, however, “the creaturely status” of the “Principalities.” “Human beings are reluctant to acknowledge institutions—or any of the other principalities, as creatures having their own existence, personality, and mode of life . . . the illusion of human beings [is] that they make or create and, hence, control institutions and that institutions are no more than groups of human beings duly organized.”The truth is that “Powers” make their own decisions to enter alliances for their own purposes. – Stephen McCutchan, “Church, State, Principalities, Powers” in Theology Today, 33 no 3 O 1976, p 246-247

So it is precisely the creatureliness, a status shared by human beings and powers and principalities, that defines our relationship. Though we believe ourselves to be the makers and sustainers of institutions, we do not act alone – or even of our own initiative, if we take McCutchan and Stringfellow to their ultimate end on this (though Jacques Ellul, a friend of Stringfellow and another major inspiration for Wink, would probably disagree somewhat on this point). Created purpose governs all creatures: we have the purpose of ruling over creation, and the powers have the purpose of organizing our society for our benefit. But at the very least this implies some sort of partnership, some overlapping of domains and the agencies involved in maintaining them: even if powers influence us to ‘create’ and become involved in the institutions that govern our society, they themselves do so on the basis of the agency given them by God, and we ourselves still possess that same agency. We exercise rule over the earth, the powers exercise rule over us, but God is sovereign over all and gives us the authority through Christ to exercise our own agency over the powers themselves; there’s opportunity for human agency to work against the powers, and a higher authority supports us in this. So in a sense, we have the ability to participate in the dominion and redemption of the powers, even though they technically rule over us! Of course, we cannot ever, ever forget that any and every dominion or authority that we hold is only in our role as representatives of God, and therefore in our submission to Him. Just as when principalities rebel against God they lose their legitimacy and thus their authority over us, human beings who use their position as ambassadors and representatives of God for their own ends cease to have any authority over creation or the powers, and instead are participating in the rebellion and system of the powers. Even in exercising our authority over the powers, we must recognize that we have no inherent authority: we intercede, and God acts. A good example is in exorcism itself: when we pray, demons are cast out; but when we name and command demons, utilising particular formulas or techniques, we are in fact performing Christian magic – we’re actually participating in the powers, or as the pharisees put it, “casting out demons by the prince of demons.” Jesus slapped this notion down, hard.

This clears things up somewhat, and I hope overthrows any notions that might be peeking through my previous post that human beings have any sort of creative power or ruling authority apart from participation in the work and rule of God in Jesus Christ.  Even so, how amazing is it to think that we can participate in the redemption not only of worldly institutions but of the powers and principalities behind them!  But this raises another question entirely:

If the whole creation is being redeemed by Christ, and through him is reconciled to God, does this truly include spiritual beings?  We often think of them as being outside of creation, but this is only because of our spirit/material dichotomy, a separation that is not very evident in scripture.  Wink says that the powers and principalities must be redeemed, and this would be implied by the redemption of creation, but how does this relate to Jesus’ ministry of exorcism?  What happens to demons that are cast out?  Jesus says that they roam around, looking for another host to live in/off of.  Can they be reformed?  Is deliverance ministry/exorcism combative, or reformative?  It’s easy to apply this notion of redemption and reformation to “powers and principalities” as Wink defines them, but not so easy when we’re talking about personal spirits.  Thoughts?

Powers and Principalities as Created Beings

NOTE: Much of this post is repudiated or reframed in the following post; this is the nature of my blogging coming through – it helps me think through problems.

I had an interesting thought tonight as I read a summary of some of Walter Wink’s thought on the powers and principalities, and my thought was confirmed as I read on.  In brief:

The powers and principalities are the spiritual aspects of social institutions that were created by God for the benefit of human beings.  Like everything else in creation, they are fallen – but like everything else in creation, they can be redeemed.  They were created for our benefit, but are fallen in that they now exist for their own benefit, no longer fulfilling their God-given task but instead taking part in the “Domination System”, which is headed by Satan.  A good example is capitalism: we need an economic system to order our society and distribute wealth, but capitalism has become a system that victimizes most people and corrupts the rest; when capitalism combines with other fallen powers, such as nationalism, consumerism, racism and sexism, we’re faced with a Domination System that systematically victimizes the entire “developing world”.

The thought that came to me, and was confirmed as I read on, was that social institutions and structures influence human beings, but they themselves are influenced by human beings.  While consumerism gives power to corporations, corporations give power to consumerism.  Human beings take part in the creation, and corruption, of these institutions that Wink calls the powers and principalities, these fallen spiritual forces that to some extent rule the world, and against whom the Church stands in proclamation of the reality of their defeat in Christ Jesus.  We might say that a man is overcome by consumerism, which controls his society, but at the same time he may be the CEO of a corporation which can either fulfill its God-given function of benefiting humanity or else can contribute to the Domination System – and that choice comes down to him.  So who corrupted whom?

Genesis tells us that the serpent tempted human beings, so we’re quick to give credit for the fall to spiritual beings, who must have fallen first.  But we only know of one who fell before human beings; all of the other references to Satan and his angels having a war in heaven before the Fall are apocryphal and apocalyptic, or else the product of later Christian epic poetry.  After all, the reference to this event in Revelation portrays it happening much later and involving the saints and their testimonies.  So, being left with Genesis, we can say that Satan (if we take him to be the serpent) is the father of the Domination System, the father of lies, and the first to fall; but we are the second to fall.  Did we take down a heavenly host with us?

If the powers and principalities are really created beings, then the question arises: do we create institutions, or does God?  Or does God through us, with us taking part in creation?  Or does God grant us the authority, as bearers of his image in the earthly realm, to create them?  How far does the authority of God’s image in us go?  Wink talks about how fallen institutions, like the rest of creation, should be redeemed, but also that sometimes the only thing to do with a fallen institution is to destroy or replace it; this would imply either that these spirits are given a new guise in a new institution, or else that they are destroyed and new ones are created.  I would lean toward the former, not only because Jesus’ teachings and examples with demons was to cast them out, not to destroy them, but also because social problems never really seem to go away;  they pop up somewhere else instead.

And if we create them, and/or if they are created after our fall, then are we responsible for corrupting them?  Are cultures created by God, then fall of their own accord?  Or are they created, and then corrupted, by humans themselves?  Or, are they created by God, or by us, and then corrupted by personal, invisible spirits who fly around and attach themselves to such institutions?

I’m not sure what’s blowing my mind more right now: the implication that human beings have been granted the authority and task of being, to some small extent, co-creators with God; or the implication that we are in large part responsible for the rebellion or corruption of spiritual forces.

We have no record of Satan’s activity before the serpent tempted Eve; perhaps Satan’s and Eve’s falls were simultaneous, with Satan’s sin being to tempt Eve and Eve’s being to disobey God?  I don’t want to be overly anthropocentric, but…that whole chapter is anthropocentric.  In Genesis 3, Satan, and even God, are secondary characters; the weight of the fall is squarely on our shoulders, and I think the general notion is that this was the beginning of evil in the world; speculation about when Satan fell, as though it happened before we did and somehow lessens our guilt, misses the point of the passage.  I think I’m okay with saying that human sinfulness is at least as much a cause as it is a result of corruption in the world, and even in spiritual beings.

As for the other, I’m not sure my speculation about the extent of God’s image in us is accurate or even on the right track.  We are given the command to rule over and subdue the earth, and the language of “image” is one of “steward” – i.e. the representative of the true ruler.  This seems to have been marred in the fall, so that the earth itself no longer really responds to our authority in this, fighting against us and making a lot of work for us – the curse of God, it might be said, was to lose our God-given authority over creation, even if our task of subduing and ruling creation still stands.  We are given our position back through Christ, who makes us co-heirs of God and calls us brothers; by becoming human he has redeemed humanity; rather than humans becoming gods, God becomes human; and the distinction between God and human, sacred and secular, is blurred.  All authority in heaven and earth is given to him, and he gives us whatever authority is necessary to act in his place, once again the human representatives of God and his rule on earth, and part of this authority is to cast out demons in his name.  But did any of this authority – either pre-fall or post-Christ – ever relate to creating?

Surely we have a part in creating institutions, even if our creative acts are merely God creating things through us.  But the shocking implication of Wink’s theology of the powers is that, since institutions have spiritual essences just like other created beings, when we create an institution we actually create a spiritual being.  Can this possibly be true?  It seems much more likely that the spiritual essence of a newly-minted institution has been around for a long time, if not since the beginning, and we have only known it under different guises.  Our creation of new institutions, then, would be more of a way to change the impact of that spirit on society, hopefully by submitting it to Christ and giving it a fresh chance to fulfill its God-given role of benefiting and ordering human society.

Or maybe it’s just because it’s after midnight, and none of this actually makes sense.  Thoughts?

On Religion as a Force for Good in the World

The Munk debate between Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens just finished, and I feel the need to weigh in.  For those who are unaware, the debate was about the statement that “religion is a force for good in the world.”  Saying yes was Tony Blair, former British PM and founder of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, which seeks dialogue between the world’s major religions.  On the “no” side was renowned atheist and current cancer patient Christopher Hitchens, author of the book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.  Some initial comments, and then I’ll get into my own position on this.

First, Christopher Hitchens has cancer.  It’s great that he agreed to participate in this debate in spite of this, but I think the amount of time spent on it at the beginning did him a disservice.  While we appreciate the man, we’re here to evaluate his arguments, not his health, and he really does not require any excuse for doing a poor job – indeed, he was much more professional, both in his attitude and the quality of his arguments, than I had anticipated.  Tony Blair, on the other hand, was introduced as the man who has done the most for good in the world in the past few decades; who can live up to that?  Unfortunately, Blair’s Faith Foundation is a pluralistic foundation, and essentially requires him to reduce his concept of religion to the “essence of all religions” – a phrase he repeated probably more than a dozen times – which amounts to loving and serving God through doing good in the world.  There was some tallying of charity and atrocities in the name of religion during the first half, with Blair finally (and repeatedly) making the point that religion doesn’t have a monopoly on atrocity and atheists do it too; and with Hitchens finally getting around to the obvious point that many of the wrongs he kept pointing out are not the result of misinterpretation of scriptures but of belief in them (which is arguable, but he argued it with convincing zeal).  Both sides told stories of their own humanitarian work, both claiming that people were motivated either by religion (Blair) or the simple human desire to do good (Hitchens), with someone from the audience finally pointing out (in the form of a question) that they were both talking roughly about exactly the same thing.

Overall, I was disappointed.  Not with Hitchens; he was surprisingly well-mannered at most points, and for the most part gave credit where it was due – though when asked what he felt Blair’s most convincing argument was, he didn’t offer much at all.  Blair was a disappointment mostly because of his definition of religion: it was very vague, and almost indistinguishable from humanism inspired by a sense of the transcendent, which was something that Hitchens himself would obviously grant as important.  In the end, his one and only argument was “religion inspires some people to do good in the world, and we ought to encourage that even though it may inspire others to bad things.”  At the very least, that’s how it came across (with the help of Hitchens, who steered the whole debate).

The faults of arguing that religion is a force for good in the world seems too obvious to me, and I’m shocked that nobody picked up on it at the debate: religion itself is not a force at all, whether for good or evil.  Religion itself is a human understanding of and response to God, and like all human endeavours it is both flawed and insufficient, and often inconsistent to boot.  Religion can be used for good or evil, just like a knife or NATO or economics.  For every example Hitchens gave of atrocities and conflicts caused or supported by religion, Blair gave an example of religion being a primary force in bringing resolution to that same conflict.  The reason is not that religion is somehow good or evil, but that people are good or evil, at any given moment.

Religion is something invented by human beings, and it can be used for whatever purpose we put it to.  Jesus Christ did not invent Christianity; he revealed God to us, and we set up a system to venerate him and propagate his message – but that message itself is not religion.  Neither Blair nor Hitchens brought up the actual content of the Christian message, at least in part because they were supposed to debate religion in general but also quite likely because it’s easy to dismiss claims that Jesus himself gave a message of subjugating people or starting wars or performing atrocities.  It is not Christ who causes atrocities, but human beings; the fact that we are sometimes armed with disturbing notions of Christ and his teaching says nothing about Christ himself.  Hitchens did point out that the atrocities of the Bible are in large part in the Old Testament, and he lamented the fact that we elected to keep it as a part of our scriptures; Blair countered by saying that events of the distant past seem strange to us, and are not easily understood by people today.  Both acknowledged that the OT seems to demand atrocities of people; Blair offered no explanation, and Hitchens likely insists that there is none necessary, that the OT and religion itself is barbaric.  But in either case, to put the praise or blame for the actions of human beings on a system and understanding that human beings created is actually the reverse of what they were both trying to say: Blair insists that religion inspires us to do good things, and Hitchens insists that it requires us to do bad, both resting those arguments on a system that we created and continue to control to whatever good or evil purposes are within us.

There are real forces acting in the world today, for good and for evil.  For evil, there are powers and principalities in the heavenly realms, social and cultural forces that affect our every decision, and sin within us that turns us to evil.  For all of these things, religion is a tool to encourage evil.  They use it to discourage the good things such as reason, truth, humility, charity, etc. – all things that Hitchens claims religion does away with.  Blair is hard put upon to counter that claim, because religion itself is in the hands of these forces, a system in a fallen world of fallen systems.

On the other hand, God himself is a force for good, and religion attempts to describe him.  Religion is good when it describes God’s goodness in a way that inspires us to also be good or do good, namely, participating in what God is doing in the world.  When religion is bad, it fails to describe God at all.  When it fails to perform this purpose, we could actually say that it ceases to be religion, and the claim that religion is bad evaporates.  Illegitimate religion needs its own term, I suppose, but in a pluralistic society (such as the one Blair represents with his Faith Foundation) it would amount to the same thing, with everyone claiming that everyone else’s religion is actually this illegitimate religion.  So, in a way, Blair was doomed from the start: his insistence on relating to a set of core values that are supposed to represent every religion leaves him no room to define illegitimate religion except by the terms of humanism, which is Hitchens’ field.  Thus religion, like humanism, must be a force for good or evil itself rather than simply pointing to what God is doing, because we become unable to point to God himself and maintain a pluralist notion of religion’s good “essence”.

In short, true religion describes what God is doing and invites participation in that.  In that sense, religion is not a force in the world at all, but points to the true force, God, who himself inspires us to do good.  Hitchens wins, not because the atrocities committed in the name of God outweigh the good done in his name, but because secularism and pluralism set the terms of a debate that in the end had almost nothing to do with God.  Post debate, the tally stands at 32% pro (believing that religion is a force for good in the world) and 68% con (pre-debate was 22% pro, 57% con, and 21% undecided); but given the terms of the debate, I’d say the whole thing misses the mark.  Without pointing to God, religion not only is not necessarily a force for good in the world, but it isn’t really much of anything at all.

Ask a Seminarian: Does God Still Speak Today?

I’ve been asked to write a column for the Prov Pamphleteer, the college magazine, on the topic “Does God Still Speak Today?”  Let’s talk it through.

We should start by asking “How does God speak?”  God speaks to humanity through general revelation (what we can learn about God by observing him at work, i.e. in creation) and special revelation (His self-revelation, i.e. Scripture, which is embodied perfectly by Jesus Christ).  When He speaks, God reveals Himself and His divine nature, as well as His divine will – who He is, and what He wants.  So how does he do this today?

General revelation not only still happens today, but happens at a greater rate and higher level than it ever has before.  More than ever, scientists are unlocking secrets of the natural world, discovering the massiveness of the cosmos and the microscopic building blocks of life, all of which give us insight into the wonder of God’s creation and His ability to work in ways we would not suspect.  At the same time, the social sciences have had a major impact on our view of the inherent value of humanity and the way we interact with one another, our environment and institutions, and even God.  Our knowledge of what God has done in the world is accumulating at an astounding rate: after all, “all truth is God’s truth” – that is, everything that is actually true reveals the reality that God has created, a reality that special revelation tells us is founded by and founded on Jesus Christ.

God’s special self-revelation reached its culmination in Jesus Christ, who is “the image of the invisible God…For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him” (Colossians 1:15, 19).  “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Hebrews 1:1-3).  The Old Testament builds up to the coming of Christ, and the New Testament describes this incredible Person in human words.  Because Jesus is the exact representation of God, we don’t need any further special revelation of God’s nature: “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known” (John 1:18).  But what about God’s will?

God’s will for all creation – including us humans – can be discerned by reading Scripture and analyzing the way He works; in this way we can figure out his general plan for the world.  More specifically, God’s will for human beings is laid out rather simply: He gave Israel the Law (among other commands, e.g. Genesis 1:28, etc.), which would govern the way that they related to Him, to each other, and to the rest of the world.  Jesus affirmed the Law by underlining the values behind it and the extent of its ethical demands, particularly in the Sermon on the Mount (e.g. Matthew 5-7).  The Apostles then applied those values to particular situations faced by early Christians, giving advice about how to live as Christians in their world.  But who applies those values for us?

When Christ ascended into heaven in physical form, he sent the Holy Spirit to be the presence of God on earth (Acts 1:4-9).  The Holy Spirit works in us to illumine the Scriptures, helping us to understand and accept God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ, but that’s not the only way He speaks.  In John 16:5-15, Jesus explains the importance of the Holy Spirit for his disciples:

Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’  Because I have said these things you are filled with grief.  But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away.  Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.  When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer, and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.  But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.  He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.  He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.  All that belongs to the Father is mine.  That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.

From this passage we can see that the Holy Spirit, who indwells us, continues Christ’s ministry of revealing God and His will to us.  He acts to convict us of our sin, to reveal the righteousness of Christ in us, and to condemn Satan’s powers and principalities that rule the earth unjustly.  In his letters to the churches, Paul talks about the gifts of the Holy Spirit: supernatural power to do miracles and build up the Church in continuation of Christ’s ministry, including speaking in tongues and prophesying – that is, receiving words directly from God.  The Spirit still gives these gifts to Christians today, speaking directly to us through prophetic messages, sometimes even through unknown languages and then providing interpretation through the mouth of another gifted believer.  The important thing to remember with these gifts is that the Spirit only speaks what Christ speaks, as we see above, and just as Christ only spoke what God spoke.

God speaks to us all the time.  He inspires us to discover Him in creation; His Holy Spirit illuminates the Scriptures for us anew each day; He convicts us of sin, reveals the righteousness of Christ in us as He sanctifies us, and judges evil in the world through our witness; and speaks to us directly through the operation of spiritual gifts.  In all of these ways, God speaks to us for our edification; not to say anything new, but to affirm and encourage us in our discovery and proclamation of Jesus Christ, outside of whom there is nothing to say.

Christ as Victor over Satan

In reading differing views on the nature of the powers and principalities, I’ve noticed quite a few common points; it’s clear that both views stem from the same texts, and represent differing emphases rather than completely different theologies.  Both views see the Powers and Principalities as spiritual powers created by God with good purpose; one side sees them as fallen angels, and the other side sees them as the spiritual elements of fallen earthly institutions.  Satan was created by God, and is a servant of God, yet has fallen in his attempt to usurp God’s authority and position – whether as a chief of demons or as the representative of an entire system of socio-economic domination.  And what is clearly shared by both views, something that no Christian would ever deny, is that Christ defeated Satan, and with him the rest of the powers and principalities, on the cross.

But what does this look like?  By the first view, the fallen angel Satan had a plan to destroy Christ, and this plan backfired and caused Satan to lose his spiritual power over humanity: Satan’s spiritual power is now limited.  By the second view, Christ exposed the injustice of the governing institutions, causing them to lose their moral authority, and thus their social power over humanity.  This is beautifully and thoroughly described by John Howard Yoder in The Politics of Jesus.

But what does this really mean?  We still see the evidence of Satan’s power over humanity all over the place, and the very fact that we engage in spiritual warfare says that Satan isn’t beaten yet.  I find the constant explanations of “already but not yet” unsatisfying.  Is Satan beaten, or not?  If the cross was such a resounding cosmic defeat of Satan, why is he still around?  How can we say that he is beaten at all?

Satan is beaten because he has lost his authority.  Satan has lost his spiritual power over humanity because Christ has provided a remedy to sin and death: resurrection!  Satan (in the form of unjust institutions) has lost his social power over humanity because Christ has exposed it as being unjust and showed us the true, just authority, in God’s Kingdom.  We are no longer slaves to sin because, by dying to sin we are alive in Christ; we are no longer slaves to empires and authorities because, by willingly taking up our crosses we expose the injustice of the system and show that it is unable to coerce us any longer.  Both of these are possible because we, like Christ before us, are willing to die.

Christ died in our place so that we may live free from sin and death, by fulfilling the Law that made sin so utterly sinful and taking away the finality of its penalty, which is death; Satan is defeated in the battle for our souls.  We recognize that Christ died in our place, and say that our sinful selves died with him; we are spiritually resurrected, though our bodies have yet to follow.

Christ died in our place; now we die in his, as his representatives on earth.  We are the body of Christ; when we die (as martyrs – that is, standing against unjust authority in the name of Christ) it is Christ who dies, and Satan is defeated in the battle for our physical selves.  Our bodies are as whole burnt offerings, given to God alone and unable to be destroyed by evil.  We can give up our physical lives, just as Christ did, because we know we will be resurrected.

But why do we need to die at all if Christ has died on our behalf?  Because God, in his grace, includes us in his plans.  We are not a passive audience to watch his plan unfold, nor are we puppets to carry it out unwillingly.  Instead, God has given us his very self, in solidarity through Christ and more directly through the indwelling of his Holy Spirit.  We are able to participate not only in his doing (standing against unjust authority to proclaim the Kingdom of God) but in his very being, by bearing both his image and, more distinctly, his Spirit.  When we do as Christ did, in a sense we are Christ.  We do not have to die; we are privileged to die, crucified with Christ, to proclaim his lordship over all and in so doing expose Satan’s defeat.  But if we do not die, then we live to proclaim Christ’s lordship over all, and in that we also expose Satan’s defeat by the very way that we live.  So that in all things, whether we live or die, we embody Christ and proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God and the overthrow of Satan – an overthrow that occurs every time we proclaim the once-for-all death of Jesus Christ and his resurrection.

It is not that Satan must be overthrown more than once, but that his defeat must be made known to every person; it is the knowledge of our freedom that truly makes us free.  Those who believes themselves to be in bondage are not free, even though their chains are broken.  Those chains have been broken by Christ, but their imprints still hold people in bondage, people who still feel those chains against their skin.  Christ leads us to follow in his death because in our willingness to die for what is right, Satan’s defeat is exposed: we learn the truth of the matter, that he has no power over us.  “My chains are gone, I’ve been set free; sin’s curse has lost it’s grip on me!”  The Law of sin and death gave him spiritual authority, and the fear of death gave him earthly authority, but when we embrace death with Christ both of these are broken.  So in this way, in death there is life.

What I am trying to say is that it is by Christ’s death that this is accomplished, yet he did not tell us to take up our crosses for nothing.  I do not believe that we can follow him without cost, whether it be personal cost through our spiritual dying-to-self or ultimate cost of physical death through martyrdom.  This is how we incarnate Christ, by doing what he did, and what he did was die.  This is how we incarnate the Kingdom, by showing that we live and die by a higher authority than this world.  This is how we bear witness, but this goes beyond mere evangelism; by living (and dying) the Kingdom we live in reality while the world lives a lie.  By doing this we truly are heirs and brothers to Christ, because we embody the true authority to which the powers and principalities are accountable.  “Do you not know that we will judge angels?”  This is the scandalous grace that has been given to us, that where we were justly condemned to die we have instead been raised up, glorified with Christ as we embody him; yet to embody him, we die.  So it is by the one death of Christ that we are saved (and thus Satan is defeated, both physically and spiritually), yet the knowledge of that salvation leads us to die with Him spiritually, live for him physically (as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God), and proclaim his death and resurrection until he comes again, even (especially) if doing so costs our physical life.  This is how Satan is defeated, and praise God that we are a part of it!

Sorry for the rambling; in short, thank God for the resurrection!

A Review of To Change the World

Here’s a formal review of To Change the World by James Davison Hunter.

Hunter, James D. 2010. To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, New York: Oxford University Press.

James Davison Hunter is LaBrosse-Levinson Distinguished Professor of Religion, Culture, and Social Theory at the University of Virginia, Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, and the author of several books and articles.  In To Change the World he attempts to answer an academic question that holds deeply personal significance: “How is religious faith possible in the late modern world?” (Hunter. 2010:IX).  In this regard, the book is both a scholarly treatise and intended for a broader audience, and his writing reflects this mixture; though it is accessible to most audiences, the level of language would be challenging to most.

The books is divided into three essays: the first essay describes why typical Christian attempts to affect cultural change have failed; the second essay critiques the relationship between three major Christian groups and power; and the third essay articulates an alternative to the aforementioned groups’ models of culture-change.

In Essay I Hunter describes the usual Christian attempt at cultural change from the bottom up, using a historical survey to show that large-scale cultural change always occurs from the top down.  American Christianity in particular, then, is poorly positioned to affect any real cultural change; while we excel at producing low- and mid-level culture, we are notably absent from the upper echelons of academics, law and public policy, and the fine arts.  The Christian aversion to elitism has caused us to avoid becoming elites, and thus we are forced to pursue cultural change among the masses.

In Essay II Hunter describes the relationship of the Christian Right, the Christian Left, and Neo-Anabaptists to power: the Christian Right and Left attempt to use political power to affect cultural change, in bids to return to a moral culture or to affect social justice, respectively.  Neo-Anabaptists, on the other hand, define themselves in terms of opposition to political power; in this they are as dependent upon it as the others.  While these three views each stem from genuine issues, the attempt to Christianize politics has led to Christianity becoming politicized instead.  Further, the relationship between each of these groups and the secular world is one of negation, providing no recognizable alternative to the world; this, Hunter identifies as nihilism.

Yet we must still provide an alternative: in Essay III, Hunter describes the role of the Church in relation to culture as one of affirmation and antithesis.  We must recognize that there is an overlap between Christian and worldly culture, and we must affirm the good that exists in the world, rather than simply negating all worldly culture, and provide an antithesis to it by producing a rich culture of our own.  Hunter calls this a theology of “faithful presence”; if the Church has a rich culture, including producing elites that rise in every field, then we will truly have a cultural alternative to offer the world as well as be in a position to offer it.  Faced with the twin challenges of pluralism and dissolution, the faithful presence model is preferable to the “defensive against,” “relevant to,” and “purity from” models of the Right, Left, and Neo-Anabaptists in regard to cultural engagement.

Hunter’s arguments are logical, consistent, and well-supported by 49 pages of endnotes and an 8-page bibliography.  He acknowledges that his sketches of the Christian Right, Left, and Neo-Anabaptists are broad and stereotypical, and that his selective examples from these movements are at times extreme, but he takes care to show that they are somewhat representative, at least of the leadership, of these movements.  He interacts well with both social theorists and the leading theologians from each of these groups, but much of the book is an extended criticism that incorporates both historical trends and vivid contemporary examples and soundbites; the book is thus light on theory and heavy on context.  By comparison, Hunter leaves very little room for application, and this is fitting for his conclusion: “faithful presence” can be boiled down to its essence, to live life to the fullest and let the richness of our culture be our influence on the world.  To make a plan to use faithful presence to systematically take over the broader culture would be to fall into the same power trap that holds the Christian Right and Left.  Consequently, no further application is provided, though Hunter urges others to further explore faithful presence and creatively flesh it out.  I applaud Hunter for aiming a scholarly treatise at a wider audience – surely the nature of the subject matter proves that we all need to hear it for it to be effective – and while I think that the language and concepts presented are relatively accessible, Hunter’s writing style itself can sometimes be rather dry; I found myself re-reading the same page several times because I had repeatedly let my mind wander.

I resonated strongly with Hunter’s description of faithful presence, yet at the same time I felt similarly during his description of the three main Christian groups, particularly Neo-Anabaptism.  Hunter, too, resonates with Neo-Anabaptism (and often compares it to Radical Orthodoxy, though the connection is not fleshed out), often applauding its sentiment while pointing to a fundamental shortcoming that undermines it.  Faithful presence could possibly be taken as a tweaking of Neo-Anabaptism, agreeing with its subversion of injustice and its expression of an alternative through the Church while moving away from its sectarian impulses.  My exposure to Neo-Anabaptism has been brief, consisting mainly of John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus (which Hunter credits as being representative of the movement), but I did not detect these sectarian and negational impulses.  Hunter’s theology of faithful presence, then, is what I had always thought Yoder was talking about.  So while Hunter’s theology is not new to me, the book remains extremely useful in its critiques, showing the dangers inherent to our best intentions, the downside I had not yet seen of the Neo-Anabaptist model.

While Hunter acknowledges that Christians tend to eschew elitism, he does not go into how his model can depend on elites while avoiding elitism.  Is it possible for us to strive toward the highest positions available in our society, relying on the influence that comes through elite positions in order to change that society, and not succumb to elitism?  To frame the question differently, is it possible for us to have a society that includes elites and disproportionate social power yet that maintains equality between members?  Paul reminded us that in Christ there is neither Jew nor gentile, man nor woman, slave nor free; in essence, that there is no such thing as status division in the Church.  Can we have influential Christians in the marketplace and the institutions, who empty themselves of that status when they enter the doors of the church?  Jesus tells us not only that it is possible, but that it should be the norm among us.  But in practical terms, what does this look like?  This is one of many issues to address for which Hunter lays the foundation.  Another is the question of the appropriate level of Christian involvement in politics: are we reduced to acting publically as citizens and only privately as Christians?  The temptation to Christianize politics, he shows us, only leads to politicizing Christianity; so how then shall we vote?  We cannot take the Neo-Anabaptist path of avoiding the state entirely if we are to affirm the good it does and provide an antithesis to the bad.  Our answers to questions such as these will form tomorrow’s society, and will be the true legacy of this book by James Davison Hunter.


A Christian Perspective of Global Social Problems and Change

Christians aren’t the only ones trying to change the world.  Social environmental movements, to name only one issue, are proliferating at incredible rates.  Like the Christian groups described by Hunter, these groups function from the model of bottom-up change.  The recent documentary Fuel by Josh Tickell (2010) features interviews with celebrities such as Woody Harrelson, Sheryl Crow, and Willie Nelson describing this paradigm of social change at length in regards to the issue of fuel consumption and the alternative provided by biofuels.  At the same time, the documentary profiles Richard Branson, owner of the Virgin group of companies, who has donated all future proceeds of his company, some estimated 3 billion dollars over the next decade, to fight climate change.  The initiative for social change is here coming from every direction: celebrities, representing middle and low-brow culture, urging the public to take action; and ultra-rich entrepreneurs funding and advocating for change from the top down.  The methods of public action urged include making personal changes to consumption as well as contacting political representatives in order to demand changes in laws and policies to support a greener future.  Perhaps sadly, there is a much greater chance of a green future than there is of a Christian cultural change, and from Hunter’s perspective there are two main reasons: First, because initiative for the environmental movement comes from every level of culture; and secondly, and more importantly, because environmentalism offers a constructive solution, an antithesis, to the problem of pollution.  This change is not just the acceptance of the values of a minority group by political institutions; it presents the offer of a better future for everyone, and is embraced and advocated by people at every level of society and power.

Engaging with social problems presents a personal problem: how do I use my limited power, whether of influence or money or ingenuity, to make a difference?  I can begin by selecting an issue that I think has the most negative impact on the world: global capitalism seems to feed every other problem, and so does global climate change, but oil feeds both of these issues; therefore, Canada’s expanding tar sands operations are a good place to start.  Having selected an issue that may have the most comprehensive effect for good, the question remains of how I am to use my power to affect social change?  Do I change my own personal habits, so as to not contribute personally to the problem any more than necessary?  Do I utilize my political power and contact my political representatives to urge them to take action on the issue?  Do I leverage my personal influence, starting public awareness campaigns to convince others to do the same?  I could use my researching skills to present possible alternatives to decision makers; I could use my ingenuity to engineer a new energy source or process; I could expand my social networks by joining with a group to do all of the above; or I could use my money to pay someone else to do any or all of these things on my behalf.  The trouble is, all of these things have already been done and continue to be done by others, at every level.  Scientists have developed multiple alternative energy sources whose use depends on technology that has been proven but not committed to enough to bring them up to scale; international think tanks have provided scientific consensus that global climate change is potentially catastrophic if action is not taken immediately[1]; environmental organizations ranging from grassroots activists to political parties have been raising awareness and lobbying politicians for decades.[2] It’s not even an issue of no single method working on its own; sadly, even with every type of power leveraged, social change still seems elusive.

Faced with this, what is the Church to do?  First of all, we must agree that social problems are the Church’s problem.  Climate change is iconic in this regard: no other issue has divided Christian opinion this much since the civil rights movement, if then.  Hunter’s notion of the politicization of Christianity is proved by the Church’s response to the issue of climate change, with the Christian Left jumping on the Democrat’s bandwagon to make the necessary social changes right away, and the Christian Right not only becoming climate change “deniers” but also claiming that the entire issue is a clever trick of the devil and/or socialists to distract American Christians from the truly important issues, being the moral issues of abortion and same-sex marriage.  Neo-Anabaptists, in large part, have pursued a strategy of non-complicity (reducing their personal impact) and otherwise non-engagement.  The first task of the Church as a whole, then, is unity.

At the very least, the Church can all agree that we must love our neighbour.  Assuming that we can agree to take this command seriously and affect social change, how are we to go about it?  What is the special and unique role of the Church in making the world a better place, in reaching out to the lost, and in showing the love of Christ?  This is where Hunter’s principle of affirmation becomes most helpful.  The assumption that the Church is the only source of good in the world, when combined with the Christian desire to safeguard our good values, has hardened us against the world, against those we are supposed to reach out to.  Not only does this turn the lost into potential enemies, but it assumes that while God is at work in our hearts, he is not at work anywhere else!  When we can see that God is at work in the rest of the world, and that there is a cultural overlap between the Church and the world that we can affirm, then we no longer need to build parallel institutions (Hunter. 2010:80) that tackle the same issues from a “Christian perspective”, but rather we can join with like-minded people to work toward the same ends, and have input through that partnership on the means used to achieve those ends.  We can, as Hunter suggests, maintain a “faithful presence” within these organizations, including grassroots movements, structured organizations, and even political parties.  In a sense, for Christians to be effective in affecting social change it will be better for us to stop worrying about being involved in a distinctly “Christian” way and start affirming the “Christian” character of efforts that are already underway.

Does this mean that we must stop proclaiming Christ in order to see his will done?  Absolutely not: our Christian character is further exemplified by our willingness to cooperate with others to make positive changes to our society, and there is no reason that a Christian cannot (tactfully) make it known that it is Christ that drives them to do so.  But does this mean that the role of the Church in this respect is passive, allowing other organizations to do the work, but with the support of the Church?  Not at all, and here we must distinguish between the Church as an institution and the Church as the body of believers: it is not necessary for the institutional Church to publicly advocate any particular group, so long as its members are actively engaging the issues.  While the institutional Church should be publicly advocating change, at the very least as an act of discipleship and repentance and easily as advocates of justice in society, to attach itself to a particular agent of social change is to become politicized.  Instead, individual Christians, like individual citizens and at every social level, have the responsibility to act for the good of their neighbours.  This is not a passive option by any means.

The area where Christians can provide a distinctive influence in this struggle is in prayer.  Whether a conservative Christian who sees the “powers and principalities” as demons who have attached themselves to individuals, territories, and social institutions,[3] or a liberal Christian who sees them as the spiritual aspects of social institutions that affect individuals and areas,[4] Christians all agree that the struggle for this world is spiritual in nature.  We believe that prayer is an effective weapon in this spiritual battle, and that whether demons are affecting our social institutions or are these fallen institutions themselves, prayer calls on God to bring change in them, bringing release from spiritual bondage and the renewal of fallen creation.  Like Christ, we must not only reach out to those in bondage but we must face the powers that put them there, dealing with both the victims and the causes of the issues.  There are many in the world who are reaching out to the victims, and as Christians we must exercise a faithful presence among them, even being the first among them to reach out; yet that faithful presence also requires us to contribute the spiritual aspect of the battle that others are unaware of.

The Christian response to social problems, on its own, is at least as problematic as Hunter has shown; there is more chance of positive change happening without us than there is of us affecting it on our own, in negation of the world.  But rather, if we can recognize that God is at work in the world itself, and partner with the world by affirming the good that God is already working there, then we can make a distinctive and vital spiritual contribution that is required in order to deal with the systemic roots of injustice in our society and around the world: the fallen creation itself.  May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ make us equal to these tasks, by his grace and for his glory.  Amen.

[1] The accumulation of greenhouse gases is causing a warming effect that will seriously damage the ecosystems and natural processes of the planet, including an estimable rise in sea levels.  Described by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in their 2007 report “Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report, pt. 3, Projected climate change and its impacts” accessed November 7, 2010. http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/syr/en/spms3.html

[2] For extensive research efforts, policy suggestions and lobbying regarding the Alberta tar sands, see The CCPA Monitor. Volume 17, No. 4, September 2010.  For more on the related issue of biodiversity, see Alternatives Journal. Volume 36, No. 6, 2010., which focuses on the biodiversity.

[3] For representative conservative/charismatic views, see Wagner, C. Peter., ed. 1991. Engaging the Enemy: How to Fight and Defeat Territorial Spirits. Ventura, California: Regal Books.

[4] For a representative liberal view, see Wink, Walter. 1998. The Powers That Be.  New York: Galilee Doubleday.


Christian Politics and Negative Identity

I’ve been reading the book To Change the World:  The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World by James Davison Hunter for Global Problems and Change.  It’s very interesting; so far, he’s explained that Christians always want to change the world, but we think that we can do so if we’re just Christian enough.  This, he says, is naive of us: culture changes from the top down, rather than the bottom up (but that’s a post for another day).

What I wanted to talk about today is the three groups of Christians (in America, of course) who are most vocal about changing the world: the Christian Right, the Christian Left, and Neo-Anabaptists.  All three of these groups attempt to use politics to change the world, though the latter group has a very different definition of politics, which I’ll discuss below.  What’s discouraging about all of this is not only that we’ve thus far failed to “change the world” or make a real impact on politics, but even moreso that we’ve p0liticized Christianity rather than Christianizing politics.  The conflation between these two realms does a disservice to both, but particularly to Christianity: Christian claims about reality are now reduced to political rhetoric.  The result of this is that Christians are considered a special-interests group at least (usually among the Christian Left), or even a major party (typically Republican, usually representing the Christian Right) at most.  What this means is that Christian identity is partisan, and predominantly, negative.

Hunter explains that these groups (Christian Right and Left) are based on and supported by selective mythologies that have a real basis in truth.  The Christian Right is based on the myth of a Christian Nation, ‘as the founders intended’.  This is represented by morals and values which, to the Christian Right’s view, must be protected by law.  The rise of pornography, abortion, same-sex marriage, etc. all threaten this vision of a moral, even Christian, society that they believe once existed.  In their view, the golden age of the founding of the US truly had this moral character, a character that has been taken, or destroyed, or…insert any negative verb here.  The Christian Right is thus identified by (and feeds off of) being in conflict, and that conflict is moral.  They are defined by what they are against, what they hate, what they fight against.  Westboro is obviously an extreme example, but what do they believe in except the judgment of immorality?  Do they see anything positive, or perhaps more importantly, do they do anything positive?  And would they even exist if they weren’t given so much attention due to their constant enmeshment in conflict and controversy?  The Christian Right (like everyone else) distances themselves from the Westboro Baptist Church, but in many ways the same charges are leveled at them.  Sure, many in the Christian right do celebrate the good in the world and take part in good actions rather than strictly in negative judgments, but those positive things don’t make the news, and they don’t make it into any political statements that Christian groups make.

The Christian Left is almost as bad, or perhaps even worse, in that their identity is based on a response to the Christian Right.  The Christian Left is a much smaller and less vocal group than the Christian Right, but that wasn’t always the case: historically, they were champions of suffrage and civil rights movements, to name but a few.  But the Right has been rising since the 80’s, and gets all of the headlines – and thus has been identified by most non-Christians as the definitive Christian group.  The Christian Left wants to “take back” Christian identity from the Right, just as the Right wants to “take back” political power to reproduce their moral utopia.  While the Right is campaigning for legislated morality, the Left is campaigning for legislated social justice – and thus it’s no coincidence that both are labelled as partisan groups supporting the Reps and the Dems respectively.  While the Right wants a return to a moral utopia, the Left sees the potential to arrange for a truly just society: the gospel enacted rather than (just) believed.  So while the Christian Right is identified by being against immorality and the denigration of family values, the Christian Left is identified as being against social injustice (often identified with corporations) and the Christian Right, condemning the Right for being complicit in social injustice.

The Neo-Anabaptists are often identified with the Christian Left, but their type of politics differs from the other groups.  Yes, they are interested in social justice; and to an extent, they may even be interested in personal morality and family values.  But Neo-Anabaptists are unique in that they don’t try to use the State to further their ends, whether as a special-interests political group (like the Christian Left) or as the majority vote of a major political party (like the Christian Right).  Instead, NA’s are content to simply be the Church; they are accused of being sectarian, because they distrust the State, distancing themselves from it.  I’ve read a few things about Jacques Ellul recently, and would have pegged him as a part of this movement, but his bio on wikipedia labels him as a Christian Anarchist – which would be a more extreme version of Neo-Anabaptism.  Hunter doesn’t think that NA’s have escaped the negative identities and outlooks of the other two groups of would-be world-changers.  He writes,

“What is even more striking than the negational character of this political culture is the absence of robust and constructive affirmations….The neo-Anabaptists are not greatly different in this regard.  By no means do they hold or cultivate abhorrence toward life itself.  They are anything but Stoics.  Nor do they dislike people or nature.  It is the social world and its institutions around them that are the problem.  In effect, theirs is a world-hating theology.  It is not impossible but it is rare, all the same, to find among any of its most prominent theologians or its popularizers, any affirmation of good in the social world and any acknowledgement of beauty in creation or truth shared in common with those outside of the church.  Rare too are expressions in their public discourse of delight, joy, or pleasure with anything in creation.  Their targets differ from those of the Christian Right, but their dominant witness is also a witness of negation, and their language can be as hard and aggressive as that of the Christian Right.  Thus, they offer little alternative to the world they critique except the existence of the church itself.  This is fine as far as it goes, but its silence toward every affirmation except doxology and Eucharist means that the neo-Anabaptists have little to say to those outside of their own particular (and very small) community besides judgment.” (bold emphasis mine).

Is this being unfair?  Maybe a little, though I don’t think that he’s wrong.  Simply put, I think that people in general tend to point out the bads and gloss over the goods; if you disagree, count the negative stories vs. the positive ones on the nightly news.  We live in a society of critics, so it’s no wonder that the Church is made up of critics as well.  Even when Christians personally and privately enjoy and exult in creation and even their society and culture, this enjoyment and affirmation is not what binds them together as a political movement.  I think perhaps this is what Hunter is getting at: as a movement, we exist to criticise and work against certain issues (negative), even if as a Church we exist to love and serve the Lord (positive).  The problem is that our political movement has usurped the Church itself, at least as far as public action (and culture) goes, because all action and much culture is given over to the Christian political movement rather than seen as a necessary manifestation of the Church.  If we are critical and negative, it must be as an aspect of the Church and not as a political entity; otherwise, the political entity devours and replaces the Church.

Groups tend to define themselves by what they are for and what they are against.  Even their names reflect this: “Friends of the…” and “People against…”.  I’ve decided that I’d rather be for something than just against its opposite; this is the difference between criticism and judgmentalism.  Criticism is a corrective with a certain goal or ideal in mind, while judgmentalism is condemnation of something in its own right.  It’s okay to criticise something; the prophets did it all the time, calling condemnation against Israel; even Jesus did it, condemning the Pharisees.  The thing is, they called this condemnation on those who said they were upholding an ideal, but actually falling far short of it.  In the Israelite monarchy the people practiced a high form of religious piety – but their actions lacked the ethical requirements of such piety.  Therefore, the prophets’ criticism exposed the illegitimacy of that piety and their condemnation was warranted.  Likewise, the Pharisees practiced a similarly empty piety, but took it to new heights by adding additional requirements for people to follow – requirements that improved their pious image but opposed the ethical element of the Law rather than simply ignoring it.

When the Christian Right, Left, or any other Christian political organization tries to use the power of government to enforce our aims, we become pharisees: we create rules for people to follow that, though they may reflect God’s commandments, add to people’s burdens something that God himself has not put on them.  Not everyone (even in America!) is a Christian, or even a Jew; most people do not hold Christian morals, and for most people the social justice imperative of the Left is not a priority.  When we of these groups criticise the government, or society, for failing in these moral or ethical obligations, we cannot compare ourselves to the prophets or to Christ, because our context is completely different.  If we want to criticise negatively (or judge, if you like to call it that) then the only context we can do it in is among ourselves: Jesus and the prophets were Jews, and they criticised Jews for claiming piety while practicing injustice.

Whenever a prophet judged the injustice of an outside party (another nation, etc.), they judged positively.  That is, they lived out the justice that they wanted to see, and when that conflicted with the laws of that state they paid the penalty for it.  Daniel didn’t start an uprising when the Persians said nobody could pray to anyone except the king; he just prayed, and then paid the cost.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did likewise with the Babylonians.  Jesus did likewise with the Romans; he criticised the Pharisees openly, to which he had every right, but to expose the injustice of the Romans he simply lived in a way contrary to their expectations and then walked to his own execution.  [The only exception that I can think of to this is Jonah’s excursion to Nineveh (even the other prophets’ oracles against the nations were written for the sake of the Jews), and even Jonah’s story is told as a criticism of Israel, not of Nineveh.  Whether or not it actually happened is for another day, but its purpose as criticism of the Jews is clear.]  I call this positive judgment because in it we don’t have to call anyone else down or criticise them; their injustice is exposed by their own actions, by their opposition to what is clearly a good (i.e. Daniel’s freedom of religion; Jesus’ criticism of his own religious institution; etc). 

This is the theology of the neo-Anabaptists, and the reason that the third group is different from the first two (i.e. Christian Right and Left).  They are not vying for the power of the state to reinforce their own agenda; rather, their goal is to live out the gospel, to live justly, regardless of whether the state does it or not.  William Cavanaugh’s essay in the Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics describes Christians who, in violation of US law, brought aid to Iraqi civillians during the war; it was the right thing to do, and if they were caught they would willingly serve their time (or even their own execution, if it was a treason charge); another Church heard about the conditions of third-world production of consumer goods and, rather than lobbying their government to change laws, decided that they could make an impact through their own lifestyles and buying habits.  In this way, the neo-Anabaptist church is autonomous from the government, agreeing with the government where they agree and going their own way where they disagree.  The Church is not the State, nor does it use the State for its own ends.

That being said, our interaction with the world outside of the Church tends to be negative.  Yes, we don’t necessarily openly criticise those outside the Church, but our relation to the world is one of conflict; the neo-Anabaptist movement depends to some extent on being the underdog.  If there were no other option, no culture for us to be held up against, then we would cease to be autonomous from the political world: we would be the political world.  If that were the case, I’d welcome the disappearance of the movement, because it wouldn’t be necessary anymore – and that is not to say that I’m aiming to make everyone in the country agree with me, but merely that if it were to happen then there would be no need for a counter-cultural movement that holds itself apart from the rest of the population. 

But at the same time I don’t want to be known as a member of a group that exists only to oppose everyone else: everyone knows what we’re against, but what are we FOR?  Where is our leisure, arts, music, literature, think tanks, etc?  We’ve managed to get over the public/private issue when it comes to what we don’t like about society and culture, so why do we still keep our own positive culture private?  Do we have something to offer the world other than the symbolism of the Eucharist?  How can we make our understanding of the truth about life, the universe, and everything a positive expression in our world?