The angst exhibited in the post is fairly typical of what one finds among those evangelicals who are anxious to remain faithful to their core Gospel convictions, but, for varying motivations, want to embrace a more socially activist way of living. And that’s a problem.
Don’t get me wrong, we have it on dominical authority that we are to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit those in prisons, visit the sick. And we also know, if we but just gaze navel-ward for a few moments, that we are, most of the time, the goats. This obligation to care for the poor, destitute and needy in our midst is non-negotiable, and, if I am any measure, much-neglected.
So, why am I starting off with such a negative take on the linked post above? Let me demonstrate.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think the government can save us or bring about a perfect world. No one political party has all the answers or will automatically make this world a better place. But I don’t think that is reason to just abandon politics or give up altogether. And (as I’ve mentioned before) I don’t think working to bring God’s Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven” can just be written off as the modern myth of progress either.
Here is the false dilemma: either progressive politics or just abandon the practical reality of a more just world. But notice also how the author first dismisses one horn of the dilemma, only to smuggle it back in. (Which is what a false dilemma is meant to do.)
Now, having rescued a utopian ideal from itself, the author goes on to conflate two things: radical discipleship in a fallen world, with the salvation and healing of the fallen world.
To take to heart Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” – would imply that one actually believes that it can be done. If we are following in the way of Christ, living out the Kingdom values, and teaching others about the things Jesus taught then part of the idea is that we are attempting to make this world a better place. If we follow in Jesus’ footsteps to “preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” then we should be actively working for those things believing that God has the power to make them happen. So in seeking to feed the hungry, to heal those with AIDS, to stop sexual exploitation of children, and to end slave like conditions in the factories we are not just buying into liberal ideas of progress through science, we are following Christ’s commands.
Let’s stipulate these claims for now, but let’s question the premise: will these activities truly bring about a better world? In a word: no. These activities most certainly care for a person’s physical needs, but a full belly, healing from terminal diseases, prevention of sexual exploition, and ameliorated working conditions will not save a person’s soul.
In other words, by creating the false dilemma (between the bodily and the spiritual), the author inadvertently turns her face away from a hierarchy of good. Feed the body yes. But take greater care to feed the soul.
But apparently to think that any of that will actually work is wishful Utopian thinking. And to think that the government or technology might assist in bringing those things about is to place our faith for salvation in such organizations. At least, so I have heard. But I’m not buying it.
Which is to say, to accomplish this better place in the present age, we should utilize the tools and resources of this present age. But once again, this better place is the material existence. It cannot address the spiritual.
Then the author once again tries to drive her ship to opposite shores. First, let’s activate the earth-bound.
The world is broken – God’s kingdom is not on earth as it is in heaven. And often it has been the very people who claim to follow Christ that have caused the brokenness. If there is something that can be done to bring healing and reconciliation to the World, is it not a good thing to do it? And if a big organization or a government (many of whom caused the problems to begin with) are in a position to help heal the ills of the world, why the hell would I not support that? Even Jesus when the disciples reported that they had seen a man driving out demons in his name said, “Do not stop him, for whoever is not against you is for you.”
Note the difference: driving out demons (spiritual activity), feeding the hungry (material activity). One cannot drive out demons apart from Jesus’ power. But many demonic enterprises have feed the hungry. Or, rather, call to mind, Dostoyevsky’s “The Grand Inquisitor.”
Now that we’ve foundered on this shore, let’s drive to the other. (Note the bold.)
I don’t think the government will save us or that they have all the answers. I don’t think that the world will just get better and better because of the wonders of technology. I am not deluded into thinking that Utopia will just appear if enough people vote a certain way and start recycling. But I do believe in Jesus and the mission he has called us to. I do believe that as Christians we are expected to care for others and to stop the injustices in this world. And I have no problem using the government or technology to help make that happen if that is what it takes. The mission is bigger than the fear of being consumed by an secular agenda of progress. And if working to make Kingdom values a reality gets dismissed as an Utopian delusion, I really don’t care. I’ll just keep on following Jesus.
Herein is the chiliasm referenced in my post title. We are not called to “make Kingdom values a reality.” Nor are we called to establish Christ’s Kingdom on this earth. Christ’s Kingdom, as he himself said, is not of this world. If Christ wanted to establish his Kingdom on earth in this present age, he had plenty of opportunity before Pilate. An opportunity he rejected, as I recall.
The author is correct, though, in her heart and motivation. Christians should be about the business of acts of corporal mercy (as well as, and in tandme with, the acts of spiritual mercy). But in contradistinction to the author, we do not do so to accomplish some vast project of “making Kingdom values a reality.” “Kingdom values” (whatever that phrase means), cannot be a reality in hearts and minds set at odds with Christ. And Scripture, and the Fathers, are clear, things will go from bad to worse, even to the point that Christ himself asks whether there will be any faithful found? Antichrist must come. Great tribulation lies ahead. We delude ourselves into thinking that somehow, if we just work hard enough, we can make spiritual realities obtain in worldly hearts and minds.
“Kingdom values” only become real when they are the motivating energies from which a believer acts. One cannot institutionalize them (even in a religious institution), because, apart from their Divine Sources, they cannot exist outside the human heart. We change hearts. Not diets.
Again, let me be clear: let us feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison. But not because we want to “make the world a better place.” But, rather, because we are working out our salvation with fear and trembling, and, Lord willing, in so doing, we convert those around us.
There’s a reason the phrase “His Kingdom will have no end” was inserted in Creed at the Second Council. It was to emphasize a) the Kingdom is a reality now (not some mythic future thousand years)–it is not something we have to work to make real; and b) the Kingdom is not of this world.