You The Jury: “political expression” of the Kingdom?

From the Christian Socialist Movement’s “Statement of Values”:

We believe that Christian teaching should be reflected in laws and institutions and that the Kingdom of God finds its political expression in democratic socialist policies.

Hmm. Any thoughts on this? I can think of any number of objections (whether from a “two kingdoms” or “Christian anarchist” perspective, or just by a casual deconstruction of the term “democratic socialist” in the context of the CSM’s New Labour leanings) but would welcome your views in the comments.

Bonus marks for identifying any other organisations which believe that “Christian teaching should be reflected in laws and institutions”. 😉

Edit: I should add that I’m not objecting to “democratic socialist policies” as such, but querying the implied claim that those policies enjoy divine sanction as the “political expression” of the kingdom of God, rather than being a merely human political position.

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14 Responses to You The Jury: “political expression” of the Kingdom?

  1. joel says:

    The Constitution Party calls for a return to an American republic “rooted in Biblical law”:

    They seem to recognize that law is never neutral but always reflects a religious or irreligious view.

  2. John H says:

    Joel: Thanks. And yet – I’m just hazarding a guess here – the actual policy positions of the Constitution Party probably differ quite radically from those of the Christian Socialist Movement… 😉

  3. Phil Walker says:

    It’s funny, isn’t it, how we like to pick and choose the “Christian teaching” which we think ought to be applied. So, when Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world,” did he really mean, “My kingdom will find political expression in democratic socialism”? Or, for that matter, democratic capitalism, or Marxist-Leninism, or any other -ism?

    Here’s a few scatter-shot thoughts.
    1. “The Lord is King! who then shall dare resist his will, distrust his care, or murmur at his wise decrees, or doubt his royal promises?” Conder got it in one: it’s a funny sort of kingdom where the King is widely reviled and openly distrusted.
    2. Back in the day, we used to equate the kingdom of God with the Church. Which bit of the Bible had we missed?
    3. The kingdom of God will find “political expression” one day, when the King is revealed and every knee bows and he returns and trumpets sound and all that stuff.
    4. When the kingdom attains its “political expression”, it ain’t gonna look like any “political expression” we’ve ever seen.

  4. John H says:

    Phil: at the risk of channelling N.T. Wright, I’d want to add that the proclamation that “Jesus is Lord” is itself a political statement – but a political statement that overthrows, or at least relativises – all other political claims, including those of democratic socialism.

    If the statement said “We believe that democratic socialist policies are a means by which we can seek to bring the social, economic and political life of this world into greater alignment with the values of the kingdom of God” then that would be a different matter. I mean, you can agree or disagree with that position, but at least it’s not claiming that the policies are themselves an expression of the kingdom of God.

    Or perhaps even better: “We believe that, as Christians, we are called to live out the values of the kingdom of God by loving God and loving our neighbour. And while no human political system can be identified with God’s will or with his kingdom, we believe that politics provides one setting in which love for neighbour can be expressed. Furthermore, we believe that democratic socialism is a better way to achieve this than other political positions”.

    But then I suppose you’re left with “Christians who are also socialists”, rather than “Christian Socialists”.

  5. Jeremy says:

    Now I got nuthin’ to say because John stole my answer. My answer to his own question, nonetheless.

  6. Phil Walker says:

    “Jesus is Lord” is itself a political statement

    I come and go on that one a bit. I wonder if there’s a difference between being a political statement and being heard as a political statement? I don’t get the impression that the apostles viewed themselves as political dissidents, even though the emperors certainly did. Certainly the Gospel relativises anything that isn’t the Gospel!

    I had a big long response to your second paragraph, but you cheated and changed your comment. 😉 So the gist was that I’m not a post-millennialist, so I don’t think it’s our job to make the kingdom of this world to become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ. Which your third paragraph deals with well, although I think that any “Christian -ist Movement” has to handle the question of why non-Christians should be bothered about Christian values?

  7. Jim says:

    “I wonder if there’s a difference between being a political statement and being heard as a political statement?”

    Yeah, I think there’s an asymmetry here — the Romans heard “Jesus is Lord” as a political statement, but the Christians did not mean it as wuch, or at least did not aim it at Rome.

    The prince whom Jesus came to engage and destory was Satan, not Caesar. Jesus dismisses Rome in Jn 19.10-11.

    To be sure, Rome’s in the game. But the “‘Jesus-is-Lord’-is-a-political-statement” crowd seems to obsess on Rome.

    It seems to me that focusing on Rome as Jesus’ main rival is sort of like saying that Italy was the allies’ main foe in WWII. I mean, sure, Italy was there and everything, but focusing in it would pretty much miss understanding what the war was all about.

  8. Jeremy says:

    I could have sworn that Luther said somewhere that Aristotle is useful for ethics, but not for theology. (Unfortunately my Google skills have failed and I cannot find a reference.) This would seem to imply that, for Luther at least, Christians are free to look for ways to integrate their faith with their politics in any way that doesn’t flatly contradict the teachings of Scripture. This also seems to be implied in the distinction between the two kingdoms. It is for this reason that I am wary of any political ideology that attempts to present itself as the true enactment of biblical principles, whether it’s Christian socialism or Christian agrarianism or Christian anarchism.

    But this attitude also tends in the direction of privatizing religious faith, which is one of the objects of Wright’s wrath. That is, Christianity is about saving your soul so it doesn’t really matter what your politics are. Lutheran theology has been criticized for just this sort of thing, perhaps rightly.

    This is where I present my solution to the dilemma. It’s around here somewhere …

  9. Chris Jones says:

    When people claim that “Christian teaching should be reflected in laws and institutions,” I always wonder what part of “My kingdom is not of this world” they do not understand. The only relationship between the believer and the state which is obligatory is that of obedience, and we have no calling as Christians to influence the policies of the state in any way; and certainly we have no duty to use the coercive mechanisms of the state to compel others to behave according to Christian values.

    Those of us who happen to live under a democratic polity have the opportunity to share in the governance of our countries, and we ought to do so according to the principles of justice. But to think that that is the same as advancing the Kingdom of God is a dangerous delusion.

    Of course individual Christians are free to be socialists if they believe socialism is the most just political philosophy. But “Christian socialism” as such is poppycock.

  10. The Scylding says:

    John – Organisations: Here’s a South African one: – of course it later came out that one of its main founders, Ed Cain (died 2002) was on the old National Party payroll.

    Of course, all the reconstructionist/Rushdoonyite/Gary North-morphs out there will take you on here. Especially if you were to touch the “most sacred of Christian political principles”, namely capitalism. Try dodging the missiles when you claim that neither capitalism nor socialism are Christian per se.

  11. joel says:

    John, you guessed correctly. The Constitution Party are a kind of Christian, libertarian movement. Rather attractive, really.

    Chris, it’s not a confusion of the two kingdoms when Christian lawmakers seek Biblical wisdom in governing their constituents. All the Scriptures were written for our instruction, including the civil laws given through Moses. There may be disagreements over how Biblical wisdom is best applied in our own day, but certain things I would expect Bible-believing Christians everywhere to agree upon, such as the desirability of having civil laws that protect human life from conception.

  12. Josh S says:

    Inevitably, someone promoting a “Christian social order” proposes some social and economic theory that was developed some time after 1700, very likely 1900. It’s always fascinating to me when the the “kingdom of God” gets equated with “20th century social theories.” Why did it take so long to figure out? I suppose it’s a doctrinal development.

  13. The Scylding says:

    “I suppose it’s a doctrinal development. ” Good one!

  14. wayne p says:

    This is an interesting dilemma. I think it was a Dictionary of Modern Thought reference that said that the biggest problem with Christian Socialism was that it sought to enlist Christ in the cause of socialism,rather than the reverse.
    I am wary of left wing Christian groups that see social action as being the core of the Gospel ,rather than it being a part of the personal holiness that comes with being a new creation in Christ. BUT ,I am also wary of conservative Christian groups ,that seem to support the status quo;that exercise a pathetic rather than a prophetic ministry when the status quo needs to be challenged in the Light of Christ.

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