Saturday, February 21, 2009

Human Rights? Well... you see... er... uh...

"Human rights cannot interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crises," Clinton said in talks with China's foreign minister.

Yes, that would be Hillary Rodham Clinton, our new Secretary of State.

We here at What Blogs May Come just want to applaud the new administration's commitment to social justice across the world.



Anonymous said...

Hello! :)

Anonymous said...

Umm, your quotation isn't exactly what she said, at least according to the source you linked. There, it is not "human rights" themselves that she does not want to interfere with our work with China on other important areas of global concern, but rather "our pressing on those issues." As I read it, this seems to be saying that we will try to work with China on other issues, even while we continue to disagree with and press them on their stance on human rights. Am I reading this wrong, and if not, what is so objectionable about it?


Chuck Wade said...

Assuming you are correct about the reading of this article, do you really, honestly not see a problem with the idea that China's flagrant abuse of human beings is being put on the same level as discussion of global climate change? Really? It's not just "other areas" as you say, it's specifically "global warming".

So am I reading you correctly in saying that these are issues that deserve the same face time with our secretary of state?

Anonymous said...

Chuck Wade,

First, the article does mention global warming, but among other things. "[T]he global economic crisis...and the security crises" are also mentioned.

Second, regarding global warming, I guess that the importance you attach to it depends on how seriously you take the warnings about its effects. If you think (as many do) that global warming is a serious threat that will significantly alter the face of the planet, bringing about numerous natural disasters and threatening life as we know it, then perhaps you would consider it worth addressing, even with China. But, if you think that global warming is a silly liberal myth, then obviously this minor joke of a concern is not worth talking about. Not being a scientist myself, I don't know if global warming is all that serious or not, and thus if those in charge deem it to be so, I don't feel like I have the kind of expert knowledge necessary to challenge their judgment on that issue.

Third, are these things really being put on the same level? I'm not sure that this is necessarily implied by being willing to talk about these other issues. Perhaps it is just a bit of pragmatic realism; we know that we probably won't make any progress in human rights, so we talk to them about areas where we might see some change. Don't we do this all the time in life? For instance, although we might think that the biggest concern we ought to have with Catholics is to see them truly embrace Christ, sometimes we just talk with them about who to vote for as a matter of co-belligerence. We leave the most important matter aside (their salvation) for a pragmatically more feasible goal that is ultimately of much less importance.

Finally, I don't really know how to answer your question about what issues deserve "face time with our secretary of state." I guess I am just too ignorant about what secretaries of state in the past have spoken about with China (or any other nation, for that matter) to have a sense for what this role usually entails, and how Clinton's selection of topics compares with other secretaries. On pragmatic grounds, however, what the report says does make sense to me. Nevertheless, in the end, I plead ignorance.


Rockel said...

Hello Mr. James... all my best to you and your family... and also to Mr. Wade, Orwell, and any other fellow contributors...

I'd like to preface what I'm sure will be a lengthy comment with, firstly, an apology for the (assumed) length and perhaps off-topic-ness that this may achieve, and, secondly, a question:

Did Christ get it wrong?

I realize that this question is quite broad and underdeveloped at this time, but I urge you to take it seriously. The obvious first response from the vast majority (I think it safe to assume) of readers of this blog is one of, "No, of course not." From there one may progress to calls of heresy or merely snubbing off any further reasonable communication due to perceived bully behavior. Please stop short of the latter behavior as this is not the intent, and allow me to extrapolate.

This post is seemingly political. A political official travels to a foreign nation to discuss political tasks/aims, ending in a (I think it safe to assume) sarcastic call of praise for a political position/stand.

But the matter being discussed is one of prioritizing various positions, and the language of "human rights/social justice around the world" is not truly one of politics - or, to say more directly, American politics - as the US government is held up against an authorizing document (the US Constitution) that in no way bestows the authority (or, to put another way, the responsibility, thereby indirectly assigning authority) to command other sovereign states, or preserve the "human rights" of non-citizens.

Thus, it is not a political failing that it being scrutinized, but, rather, the failing of a conscience when it perceives that a "human" is being prioritized below that of money matters ("global economic crisis") and matters of weather ("global climate change crisis").

It strikes me, therefore, as much more a human issue; one that effects humanity, and each human, to the core: the sufferings of a fellow human being(s) and the desire that those sufferings ought to be removed. This is, in a sense, the heart of Christ.

So my question ("Did Christ get it wrong?") deals not so much with the empathy for the suffering nor the bringing about of the end of suffering, but rather the method.

I live in America, and as far as I know I am proud to be an American. I know no test of allegiance in modern times outside of the tried-and-true, "would you fight to defend your country?" As a pacifist, I would not. Does that mean I don't enjoy the freedoms of this country? No. Does a man who was born blind "miss" his eyesight? No. We are, to an extent, creatures of our environment. And although we may live in one of the most free countries in the world, we ourselves are not free from human indecency. Our country/our government allow us the right to free speech... however, that does not mean that there are not households/communities that do not suppress words and ideas. Our country/our government does not tolerate racism, sexism, or other forms of bigotry being taken into account when determining aptitude for a hiring position or qualification for a raise/promotion, etc., however, there are certain families/communities within our country that do not tolerate those whose race, national heritage, or sexual preference may differ from their own.

But I draw further from my question. Let me return.

Christ came into the world at a time of global unrest, empires, and taxation without representation. He came to a place where there was no political involvement. He came at a time when slavery and sexism were commonplace. He came while people were expecting a king - a powerful, earthly ruler with a far-reaching empire - and passed on his message of redemption, and salvation, and freedom from eternal suffering, to twelve close friends who had no real political, social, economic, or any other standing of material or earthly importance.

Many conservatives as well as libertarians (of which I consider myself one) alike, agree that many things are better left out of the hands of the federal government. There are, however, some times when the government can come in handy (I think a nationalized defense by way of the branches of the military far outweigh a state/civilian militia program, for one), and it may seem like human rights is one of these issues.

The argument oftentimes comes down to, "Yes one person/several people can do great things in a community (missionaries and other civilian social/emergency agencies), but to affect change on a national level helps many more." And it seems perfectly logical. But we arrive back at the question:

Did Christ get it wrong?

If Christ were serious about desiring the sufferings of his people cease, and if he truly wanted people to attend to both the physical and the spiritual needs of those in need, why would he bother performing miracles in person to several people in a crowd here, several people in a town here, and communicating his Gospel to a few close friends, when he could have very easily assumed a position of political/territorial power.

Granted, at the time of His death, there were more than 12 people who were aware of His presence and good news, but the point is that Christ chose to be personally active (over politically active) in the lives of those he touched and allowed Caesar to remain Caesar.

Chuck Wade said...

Rockel, welcome back to the realm of political banter. I appreciate your question and the short answer is "no". Jesus did not get it wrong. He fulfilled the exact purpose which He came to earth to do. I think (and correct me if I'm wrong) that the gist of your question is "if Jesus didn't 'X' then should we 'X'?" So if Jesus didn't get involved politically, should we. If that is the meat of your question then I'm going to say that I disagree with your conclusion. Christ was "personally active" so we should be but I think the error here is that means we should not be politically active. For instance, Jesus laid hands on people and healed them, I don't think that precludes Christians from being doctors. So if people are being treated as less than human, I don't think that Jesus handling a similar problem in one way precludes the problem being handled in a different way. If the government can stop brazen acts of genocide then it should. If I've misread your question then I apologize.

Rockel said...

"I think... that the gist of your question is 'if Jesus didn't "X" then should we "X"?'"

It certainly isn't unfair to distill the (long-winded) question down as such, but it is distilled all the same. Let me attempt to clarify:

I think that the gist of my question is "if Jesus seemingly went so far out of his way to avoid "X," then should we put so much faith/hope in (or - if you prefer - rely on) "X?"

To expound: Christ saw suffering and responded of his own power and in a personal way (many examples of this, including your own where Jesus "laid hands on people and healed them"). Likewise we should respond to human suffering of our own power and in a personal way (many examples of how this is possible, including your own where a doctor, of his own learned knowledge, assists the physical needs/sufferings of a fellow human).

This is not to suggest that we ought not care about those who suffer continents away, however, bear in mind that although Christ traveled substantially (taking into account the transportation methods of the time) during his short time on Earth, in the broad scheme of things, he stayed in one relatively small portion of the world. (Note: And I do not say this to educate, but again, to remind that if we believe in an Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent God, then it was by His choice that he came to the place he came, at the time in which he came, and did what he did where [and to whom] he did it)

I do not necessarily disagree, then, that "If the government can stop brazen acts of genocide then it should."

However, I think I would simply state that as none of us (to my knowledge) are employed by the federal government (and certainly not at a level to inform policy), that we ought to consider how we view the actions of (and what we believe the moral responsibilities are for) the US federal government, which is essentially a secular club (albeit a representative body of people) and therefore not exactly the target audience of the Scriptures.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for offering some thoughts. Your question is very important, and I am sympathetic to your concerns, but in some respects I feel compelled to ask my own question:

Did Rockel get Christ wrong?

Now, please don't over-read that statement and think that I am accusing you of some type of heresy or completely misunderstanding Jesus; I only mean it with respect to one particular aspect of your argument above. What I wonder about is whether or not your presentation of Jesus as a non-political figure is accurate. The reason I am bringing this up is not because it inherently means that your practical conclusions are wrong (that should be judged on other grounds), but because the political aspects of Jesus are so often missed by most American Christians.

Consider the following data:

According to the NT, the main content of Jesus' preaching was the coming of the kingdom of God. The NT consistently presents Jesus as Israel's Messiah (King). Given these two realities, it is easier to understand that choosing 12 disciples was not a way to keep his group small and personal, it was an action loaded with powerful political symbolism (think 12 tribes). The NT further presents Jesus as the true "Lord of all," which was a title that Caesar claimed for himself. Although most Christians think that the NT only means these things "spiritually," the division between "religion" and "politics" required for this move is really a quite modern invention. I could go into much more detail on all this, but these sorts of strands of thought in the NT lead me to conclude that the NT insists that Jesus was an inherently political figure. There are a lot of ways in which this needs to be explained and qualified, but I think that it is massively misleading to suggest that Jesus was not politically active.


Jared James said...

Hello Everyone,

Thanks for all of your comments. I really do enjoy interacting with you, though perhaps the vigor (or timeliness) of my responses/posts may prevent you from seeing that.

I've been quite busy lately, but I hope to at least throw out a few comments of my own.

Jared James said...

That is, I meant to say, soon, not now!

Rockel said...


Thanks for your insight.

While I think there's a terrific chance that I "g[o]t Christ wrong" in some manner or aspect, I think our main area of difference lies within the definition of "politics."

As I did not have the luxury of the time and space of a proper debate, I dispelled with the defining of terms, in hopes that the sought-after definitions would reveal themselves through the argument. This may have been an error on my part, as I did not intend to present Jesus, on the whole, as a completely "non-political figure."

While I'm not sure I can go along with your insinuation that "Messiah" is synonymous with "King," I will concede that the prophecies (as well as the very claims of Christ) labeled Him as "King of Kings," "Lord of Lords," "Lord of all," and etc.

And while there is a stark difference in claiming to be "King of Kings" rather than "Grocer of Grocers," I think it a grave misstep to assume that Christ called himself "King of Kings" so that we would associate him with the political figures of this world (or, at least, the time) and not because he wished to communicate to a world that recognized castes/divisions/classes that he was the ultimate authority.

"...choosing 12 disciples was not a way to keep his group small and personal, it was an action loaded with powerful political symbolism (think 12 tribes)."

Likewise I think it a misstep to ignore the fact that he did "keep his group small and personal." There are plenty of ways to use 12 (or any other significant number which He had control over) symbolically (though, I don't see how choosing 12 people is a "politically" symbolic move). For one example, Christ could very well have assumed an earthly throne - let us assume, for purposes of this example, the Roman empire - and divided it into 12 separate "states" (or territories, the term here really being insignificant), presided over by 12 representatives (or "lords," etc., once again the term being irrelevant). The symbolism would be just as adequate, but the means would be severely different, and I think there was a reason He chose not to go about it by those means.

"Although most Christians think that the NT only means these things 'spiritually,' the division between 'religion' and 'politics' required for this move is really a quite modern invention."

I'm not really sure I can go along with the concept that something was too "modern [an] invention" for Christ to employ. Especially when He seemed to employ it quite often in the NT. "Give to Caesar what is Caesar, and to God what is God's," was not only a radical statement at the time due to how "modern" the idea of separation of church and state may seem, but also because the people who were waiting for a savior did not want their savior to be merely one of "church" and not "state." They were looking for a new earthly kingdom, but Christ assured them that his Kingdom/his throne was not of this world.

"I think that it is massively misleading to suggest that Jesus was not politically active."

I agree, and we arrive back at the crux of the issue (the issue, that is, between the two of us): the definition of "politics." If, by politics, we mean to say "the body, or process, by which to govern," then yes, Christ may be the most political figure of all time, as He (if we believe in the triune God) is the body and the process by which we all shall, inevitably, be governed. If, by politics, we mean to say "of, or relating to, the state or city," I'm not sure you could say Christ was political at all, as He constantly drew attention away from the world/kingdoms of man to the Kingdom of God. If, by politics, we mean to say (as did I, and did not make clear) "having to do with modern imperial-type governances and world-orders," I don't think there is any way you can say that Christ was political, as he came into a world filled with empires and never dealt directly with any of these political powers, save to say that He was the authority above them.

Anonymous said...


Thanks so much for engaging with my critique. And, be assured that I’m very aware that I too get Christ wrong in some ways, as my actions all too often show.

Now, on to your response. Indeed the definition of politics is close to the heart of the issue. Overall, I think that what I want to claim is that Christ's rule has much more to do with rulers-of-earth politics than you allow. I don’t think that his only dealing with them was “to say that He was the authority above them.” I think the NT also wants to say that he is the authority who has replaced and will replace them.

Perhaps the thing that I want to say most is that Israel had not misunderstood God in expecting a political kingdom. This is what God himself had led them to expect. For instance, in Daniel 7, Daniel’s vision presents the subsequent history of the world as consisting of four successive evil kingdoms whose dominion is then taken away and eternally given to the people of God (represented by the “one like a son of man” figure). The meaning of Daniel’s vision there is irreducibly political. The parallel dream in Daniel 2 of the statue representing four kingdoms broken by the rock that will destroy these kingdoms and become the one eternal kingdom makes much the same point. And that is precisely what “the kingdom of God” meant when Jesus came proclaiming it. It was the restoration of Israel, with her king (the Messiah/Son of Man) as the ruler of the world.

Consider the beginning of the gospel of Matthew. It starts with an extensive genealogy that focuses on Jesus’ descent from David and then narrates Herod’s attempt to kill him. Why this collocation of reports? Because the point of asserting Jesus’ Davidic lineage is to insist that he (and thus not Herod) is the true king of the Jews.

Or consider Luke’s birth narrative. In the announcement to Mary, it is stated that “the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:33). Then, both Mary and Zechariah’s songs focus on God’s deliverance of Israel in terms of defeat of enemies and the exaltation of Israel. Mary says of God, “He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (Luke 1:52). These words are still ringing in the ears of Luke’s readers when they come to the birth narrative proper and find a description of Caesar exercising his power juxtaposed with Jesus’ humble birth. Luke then goes on to apply to Christ key terms of first century imperial propaganda. He is “savior,” “lord,” and the one who brings “peace on earth.” His choice of terminology is quite like someone today in America saying that Jesus is the one who brings “liberty and justice for all.” It doesn’t reduce Jesus down to the level of the other rulers; it shows them up for the parody that they are and insists that their time is up.

Given these juxtapositions between Christ and the rulers of his day, it seems to me that the NT does want us to think more politically about Jesus than most Christians that I know often do. His decisive and irrevocable exercise of the power of judgment at his return, when he will destroy all the kingdoms of the world and the kingdom of God will enjoy complete and sole political authority, is not to be thought of as “religion” and not “politics.” If it were, the NT would not so intentionally juxtapose God’s kingdom with earthly kingdoms and King Jesus with other kings. The NT insistence is not simply that Jesus is the authority over empires and world-orders, but that he is the authority instead of empires and world-orders, and his kingdom will crush all of theirs. After all, the resurrection is the reversal of a judicial verdict delivered by both the Jews and a representative of the Roman Empire. An important part of the gospel is the news that these kingdoms and their oppressions are not the final word.

I’m concerned about calling Jesus non-political because I think that people fail to think about the gospel in these terms, especially with respect to their own governments (if they like them). They think of Jesus as bringing a spiritual rather than a political kingdom, and fail to remember that in the end, he will destroy “every rule and every authority and every power” (1 Cor 15:24). Instead, I think that the kingdom of God is the ultimate political reality, and we ought not to think about politics outside of this NT framework.

Okay, that’s my general response. Sorry that I haven’t responded to all of your particular points (i.e., “Give to Caesar…”); I do have thoughts about them, but I’m afraid that my response is already so long that there are some who would complain about it. Feel free to ask again if you would like elaboration on anything in particular. I hope that what I have written clarifies where I am coming from.


Rockel said...


"I hope that what I have written clarifies where I am coming from."

It most certainly does; for me, at least (which is all I can really speak for). I think our differences, if any remain, are minute and I think the main issue is two separate arguments/ideas, which I will get into with several comments to the body of your latest comment.

"...I think the NT also wants to say that he is the authority who has replaced and will replace them."

I agree that the NT says that the kingdom of god "will replace [the kingdoms/governments of man," but I don't believe it goes so far to say that it has replaced them. Or, at least, not in the way that I believe you are suggesting.

Your analysis of OT text (where I am admittedly less learned) is appropriate to the discussion, but I think that your application of it into the NT/Christ's actions results in the disconnect I see in the "Christ's kingdom has replaced/will replace" argument.

I think that Christ's claim of "Caesar->Caesar, God->God," was a radical (and perhaps jarring) claim to His followers at the time because those who had read the OT stories/prophecies were perhaps looking for Christ's first coming as the time when the Kingdom of God "would" replace the kingdoms/governments/empires of man. And as much as Christ may have dealt with the empires of His day more than "to say that He was the authority above them" (I will yield that, perhaps overly hyperbolic argument), His main message was to His people (and not to the empire[s]) to look to His first coming for their salvation and to look ahead to His second coming when His Kingdom "will" replace all those of man.

"...It doesn’t reduce Jesus down to the level of the other rulers; it shows them up for the parody that they are and insists that their time is up."

Agreed, however, my argument lies within the fact that Christ allowed the parodies to remain. Although, as you stated, the NT makes clear the case that Christ, and not Herod, was the true King of the Jews, He commanded His followers to still participate in the parody governments/empires (Caesar->Caesar). And although Christ rose from the dead, reversing, as you put it, "a judicial verdict by... the Roman Empire," this action was, in effect, a strike to the heel of the political institutions, demonstrating that He truly is the authority over them, and not a crushing blow to the head, destroying the earthly kingdoms/political institutions of man as foretold in the OT texts you cited, which will occur at the second coming.

As you say yourself:

"His decisive and irrevocable exercise of the power of judgment at his return, when he will destroy all the kingdoms of the world and the kingdom of God will enjoy complete and sole political authority, is not to be thought of as 'religion' and not 'politics.'”

But that moment is not yet here.

Overall, I share your concern "about calling Jesus non-political." I think many of your arguments have supported this well, and I hope that my responses have shown our overall agreement.

However, my initial argument (obscured as it has become by my lack of substantive definitions/arguments and the ensuing discussions) still remains that when Christ came to earth He came to save His people and point them toward His second coming, and not to reform/overthrow the political institutions/empires of man (something that, I think we both agree, will occur at the second coming).

If you do find the time, I would love to hear your thoughts on “Give to Caesar…” as it may challenge more directly my original claim/argument.


p.s. - Jared, thanks for letting us run away with your blog here. I look forward to your "few comments" soon.

Jared James said...

Hello everyone,

I did indeed write my few comments (it was actually quite a long comment altogether), and posted them, or so I thought, but for some reason blogspot did not see fit to paste them on the page. I almost slapped my computer.

Since then, I think the discussion has moved beyond them, and, as I explained in their preface, I didn't think they were ultimately that valuable or persuasive.

All that to say, I don't think I will re-post. But I appreciate everyone else's comments, and I look forward to actually interacting in the future.

Anonymous said...


Thanks yet again for a thoughtful response. In order not to miss talking about "Render to Caesar" again, I will discuss that first before I further clarify what I am saying about "has replaced/will replace."

And, as Rockel has already expressed, thank you Jared for allowing our discussion; I too look forward to your forthcoming comments.

Okay, "Render to Caesar." Of course, this aphorism should not be read out of the context of the story within which it occurs. I have not totally decided which reading I think is best, but I think it unlikely that it is intended to be a general principle of separation of church and state or religion and politics.

Consider the context, the question is obviously intended to be a trap, and Matthew and Mark both make a point of saying that Pharisees and Herodians came to ask him this question. What is the trap? Well, the Herodians are obviously representatives of the government instantiated by Rome, and so if he denies that people ought to pay taxes, he will be in trouble (this is the only side of the trap that Luke emphasizes). But what is the problem if he affirms paying taxes? What appears to be the most likely answer is that some Jews thought of paying taxes as capitulation to the empire. No person who cooperated with the empire could truly be the Messiah,and thus if Jesus agreed with paying taxes, the Pharisees could easily claim that he is not the Messiah.

How then does Jesus answer the question? The reason I think that it is not simply with the division of religion and politics is because of the emphasis on the coin. If the answer were simply the division, the coin was an unnecessary prop. However, Jesus does ask for the coin, and then demands to know whose "image and likeness" is on it. At this point, I think that he is probably pointing out the idolatrous nature of the coin itself. Jews were prohibited from making "images and likenesses" of anything or anyone in the OT. Thus, one could read Jesus' answer as "Of course, give Caesar back his idolatrous coinage! We are Jews, faithful to YHWH!" Some further develop this reading to claim that humans are God's "image and likeness" and thus the second half is intended to say "give yourselves wholly to God." This may be, but it seems a bit too clever to me.

Alternatively, some scholars think that there is an allusion in the term used to say, "Render to Caesar." They point out that the verb used there was the same verb that occurs in Maccabees when the revolutionaries say to "Pay back the Gentiles" (i.e., "give them what they deserve!"). On this reading, Jesus avoids both horns of the trap by delivering a deliciously ambiguous response. On the one had, his response could be heard as saying "give him his taxes," or on the other as "give him what he deserves!" Thus, no one could accuse him of having proclaimed or denied revolution.

Given the above possibilities (as I said, I am unsure which I ultimately prefer), I find it doubtful that this phrase will travel the mileage on which a separation of religion and politics reading sends it.

Okay, now to clarify what I mean by "has replaced/will replace." I'm not sure that I mean "has replaced" with the full significance that you have read into it (which is my fault due to a lack of clarification), but I do think that it needs to be said (and I don't know if you will disagree once I clarify myself). I think there are four aspects that I want to get across.

One, Jesus' death and resurrection is already the decisive defeat of all other kingdoms. He has faced their ultimate weapon which they use to subjugate their people (death) and proved his victory and their futility.

Two, Jesus is already enthroned. The NT consistently insists that Jesus is presently on his throne at the right hand of God the Father.

Three, the kingdom of God has in some real sense already come. Now, first I should say that I heartily agree that there are some aspects that are "not-yet." But, I do not think that it is good to say that what is not yet is the "political." If that were the case, I think it would be inappropriate to call what is present now "kingdom," as Jesus so clearly does in his proclamation. However, what Jesus does is to proclaim "the mystery of the kingdom." The NT usually uses the word "mystery" to refer to the fulfillment of an OT hope in a surprising way. And that is exactly what happens here (and it is the point of many of Jesus' parables). The kingdom does not come with a big bang and a violent revolution. It comes like a mustard seed being planted and slowly growing into a huge tree. It also comes with a different type of rule. It is not (and in the age to come will not be) like the Gentile kings with their "lording over" others, but is rather a kingdom where the servant is the leader (Luke 22:25-27). I think that it is because it is thus not a violent kingdom, using swords and coercive power, that many want to call it non-political. But I think that it is more accurate to say that Jesus advocated a very different kind of politics.

Four, and given the qualifications you have made, this may be the only point of real disagreement, I don't think that is completely accurate to say that Jesus did not seek to reform/overthrow political institutions/empires. Of course he did not seek to overthrow anything through violent revolution. But it appears to me that he is seeking to form a community as the true Israel, in critique of and in place of Israel in its current state, with its illegitimate leadership and corrupted religio-political institution (the temple).

In the end, I think that it is appropriate to call all of this "politics," especially in the present time. I think that many Christians under-realize the extent to which they are a kingdom and presently possess a heavenly citizenship that should inform how we think about other kingdoms.

Okay, once again I have gone on for far too long. Thanks for reading this if you made it to the end. I'd love to know what you think if you have time to write.


Rockel said...


Excellent points, once again. I have just a few brief thoughts to your "Render unto Caesar" argument before I get to your four points.

"No person who cooperated with the empire could truly be the Messiah..."

This is a difficult issue to challenge, because in many ways His actions could be seen as "cooperating" with the empire, as He didn't advocate any type of outward revolution (violent or otherwise) to the status quo, but spoke about (and demonstrated) love and salvation. I'll hopefully address this further when I address our difference in the "has/will" argument.

"...I think that he is probably pointing out the idolatrous nature of the coin itself."

Would this not make the US Dollar (or, for that matter, any other monetary note/coin in the world... I use USD as I am an American and shall assume the same of you and the majority of Jared's readers) equally idolatrous? Should we not then likewise say "Of course, give the US Treasury back their idolatrous paper! We are the children of God (from Jewish descent or no), faithful to Christ!"?

p.s. - I'm not saying that I do not entirely disagree with the message of poverty, and, for the record, I truly enjoyed your "clever" idea (that I had never heard before in connection with this passage) of "giv[ing] yourselves wholly to God" being the flip-side of the coin (pun somewhat intended).

"(i.e., "give them what they deserve!")... "give him what he deserves!"

This second reading is equally interesting, however, if His intended message was "give him (Caesar) what he deserves," I don't see how the prop (coin) was needed.

To the four points:

"One... decisive defeat of all other kingdoms."

I'll still have to moderately disagree as the word "decisive" carries with it a finality to it that Christ's action (arising from the dead) did not fulfill, and the worldy empire remained (for a while), and worldy empires remain to this day

"Two, Jesus is already enthroned."


"Three... The kingdom... comes like a mustard seed being planted and slowly growing into a huge tree.... a kingdom where the servant is the leader... a very different kind of politics."

Terrific assessment, but again (and this may further clarify my original position) we're talking about two different things. I'm not maintaining that Christ was non-political (or anti-political), but rather that his "different kind of politics" existed within a realm of worldly politics, the institutions of which he didn't decisively defeat (where we disagree).

"Four... it appears to me that he is seeking to form a community as the true Israel, in critique of and in place of Israel in its current state, with its illegitimate leadership and corrupted religio-political institution (the temple)."

Continuing on the last point, you'll notice that you didn't say "He formed a community as the true Israel." Christ's political stand was not one that trumped existing worldly ones (at least not in an outright, observable and final way), but sought to prepare Christians for the inevitable one; the two existed simultaneously, and I find a surprising disconnect between the way modern Christians view our worldly political institutions and the way Christ dealt with the empires of His day.

"I think that many Christians under-realize the extent to which they are a kingdom and presently possess a heavenly citizenship that should inform how we think about other kingdoms."

I definitely agree to an extent. The limit to that extent probably lies around Christians over-thinking the extent to which "other kingdoms" will/do effect Christ's (i.e. - the "Christ will judge Americans on the actions of her government" argument). Although He wasn't speaking of political institutions at the time, I think Christ's "Speck->Plank" argument fits: Christ didn't necessarily ignore the empires of His time, but he did not spend a lot of time discussing/worrying/reforming them (the speck) because seeing to the business of His kingdom (the plank) was of much more importance. That argument was thrown in rather quickly and poorly developed but hopefully you were able to fill in that Christians ought not be too distracted/concerned with the speck that they forget about the plank.

All-in-all, thanks again for engaging in what has been, for me, a fun and challenging discussion. If you find the time to respond, I will certainly read your thoughts on this, most likely my final comment on this topic.


Anonymous said...


Thanks for once again offering a helpful response. I’m so sad to hear that you will probably not be writing in again; I have enjoyed our dialogue immensely. Nevertheless, I will go for one more shot and dream to myself of what you might have said in response.

On “Render to Caesar:”

You are right that the second reading I offered seems to make the coin a prop again, and is perhaps thus unlikely. On your comment regarding my first reading regarding the idolatrous nature of American coinage, I’d have to say that yes, the same logic does apply, but I’m not sure that we understand what I said in the same way. I don’t think that Jesus was saying that no Jew should ever possess Roman coinage; I think that in pointing out its idolatrous nature, he cleverly attenuates the seriousness of the charge that paying taxes is collusion with the Roman government. But are images on coins in some sense mini-idols? Probably so. Jews did not allow coins with images into the temple for that reason, and thus money-changing was a huge market in the temple area. I’d have to say as well (and here I’m getting slightly off-topic, but I just want to say it) that I think big “memorials” of national leaders, and graven images of an eagle on top of a flag are idolatrous symbols as well. Ironically, Rome also used the eagle symbol to represent its nation, and Jews offered to die rather than allow these symbols in the temple. In my estimation, American Christians are far too comfortable with patriotic idolatry of the nation. I mean, we put American flags in our churches and pledge allegiance to the country when we are supposed to be gathered as the people of God’s kingdom united by allegiance to one King. It makes me want to throw up. But, as I said, that is all slightly off topic.

Back on topic: perhaps the place where I was least clear in my last post was in my use of the term “decisive defeat.” I will try to use a few analogies to clarify. I think that you are objecting to this term (and “has replaced”) because you are latching on to something very real that my language doesn’t seem to be accounting for: the continuing and seemingly uninterrupted existence of the other kingdoms in the present age. They have not been crushed/wiped out of existence, and thus (I think) you feel that it is inappropriate to use the language that I have employed.

I am very sympathetic to your objections here. However, I still want to use my “decisive/has replaced” language because there is another aspect of things at which I feel like this gets. That aspect is the decisive nature of Christ’s victory in the resurrection. In my reading of the New Testament, through Christ’s death and resurrection, the decisive battle with all evil (political/spiritual/physical) has already been fought and won. What I think you hear me saying is that the final battle has been fought and won. This I do not mean. (Finally my analogies,) what I mean is more along the lines of saying that the army has fought D-Day, the decisive battle in WW2, but V-Day, when the enemies sign the treaties and stop fighting, has not yet arrived. Or, perhaps, a new president has defeated an incumbent in an election (the battle/election has been won), but he has not yet taken office, and the policies of the lame-duck have not yet been reversed. Both analogies have problems if pressed too far, but I think that they help to clarify that I mean terms like “decisive” and “has replaced” in a non-consummated sense. The final physical expressions of these realities are not yet here, but they are in some real sense true, nonetheless. (I think you might affirm this, but perhaps I will never know…)

You seized on the fact that I said Jesus was “seeking to form” rather than “Jesus formed” a community as the true Israel, but here, in fact, I did intend the latter. This is actually where I think that the political significance of choosing twelve apostles comes in. This was to signify that his movement was itself the reconstitution of Israel. The movement becomes a community, the church. In my estimation, the church is the political community/kingdom that Jesus sought to form. Now, you are right that this exists alongside the other kingdoms, but it is interesting that you get commands in the NT like in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 where Paul exhorts the church to avoid the public courts and judge matters for themselves as much as possible (of course, no non-Christian would show up to receive judgment by the church). They were thus expected to eschew one of the primary instruments of imperial control in favor of their own institution. This certainly seems suggestive for how the early Christians viewed the church community, and in the end might come around to support your suggestion that there is a “surprising disconnect between the way modern Christians view our worldly political institutions and the way Christ dealt with the empires of His day.”

Regarding your concern about “Christians over-thinking the extent to which "other kingdoms" will/do effect Christ's,” I don’t think that my thoughts are really tending in that direction. The only way that they could be bent that way (that I have read thus far) is to claim that the ordering of laws and governments according to Christian principles (whatever that means) is an appropriate way to reflect Christ’s victory over them in the present time. However, my theses could equally well be employed to claim that Christians ought to be concerned with their kingdom (the church) and its work, and simply let the other kingdoms be the parodies of the true kingdom that they naturally are. I don’t yet feel like I know which of these routes is better to follow. This latter direction, however, seems to be an even more radical expression of your initial practical suggestions. As I said to begin with, I didn’t intend my comments as a critique of your practical suggestions; I simply took issue with what I perceived to be an unduly circumscribed definition of politics that I thought underplayed some of the real significance of Christ’s work.

Overall, I feel like this has been a great discussion. Thank you so much for your courtesy, generous tone, and exceptional thoughtfulness throughout our dialogue. And thank you as well to the early voices who (unfortunately) dropped out. I enjoyed interacting with you all. Thanks again to Jared for allowing this discussion; I was sad to learn that some of your thoughts were eaten by the computer. And thank you to the Academy…whoops, wrong forum. Anyway, I’d love to hear a response from anyone, but I understand if everyone is exhausted with this topic, thinks I am crazy, or simply doesn’t have time. Regardless, for those of you who have bothered to read the whole thing, may the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.