Visions and illusions

January 25, 2021

How the world has changed since my last Weekly Word before Christmas last year!

Four weeks ago today, Romkje and I stepped out through the security fence of our managed isolation hotel in Auckland into a world of hugs, handshakes and unrestricted gatherings. Here we began to catch a glimpse of the post-corona society: with home work-stations, de-urbanisation, decentralised education and hybrid churches.

Meanwhile, in most parts of the world, the battle against the COVID virus rages with overwhelmed health services, closed shops and restaurants, imposed lockdowns and curfews and deliveries of vaccines falling far short of promised quantities. 

On the political front, the Oval Office has a new occupant after an unprecedented violent mobbing of the Capitol incited by a sitting US president, the first twice-impeached POTUS in history. 

New Year’s Eve saw Boris Johnson finally getting his last-minute hard-Brexit, to the chagrin of many Brits now waking up to the rude shock of what that actually means. Musicians, students, fisherman, stock-market traders and lorry drivers alike are discovering the disruption it means for  their lives and hopes. 

At the grass-roots level, many Christians have actively reached out to those suffering isolation and loneliness, without food and income. However, on the political scene, these past few months – even years – have not been our finest hour. 

In the United States and well beyond, Christians have become polarised over Trumpism. Critics of the outgoing incumbent were accused of having ‘hate-Trump’ demons. Widely proclaimed ‘second-term’ prophecies, especially in charismatic and pentecostal circles, have led to much confusion, accusation and recrimination after last week’s inauguration. To their credit, some ‘prophets’ have had the humility to apologise and ask forgiveness for their unfulfilled predictions  – yet have reaped vitriolic criticism and even death threats from fellow-believers for ‘betraying the cause’!

Deep tensions

Deep tensions between leavers and remainers in Britain, or between mask-wearers and those refusing to ‘be robbed of their liberties’, unfortunately have spilled over into the Christian community. One factor common to both the US and the UK is the influence of Christian nationalism, that is the idea that God has a special historical role for one’s particular nation, yet often becomes linked with militarism and xenophobia. As one commentator put it: “The metamorphosis of Jesus Christ from a humble servant of the abject poor to a symbol that stands for gun rights, prosperity theology, anti-science, limited government (that neglects the destitute) and fierce nationalism is truly the strangest transformation in human history.”

Unfortunately, our evangelical tradition has often fallen short when it comes to equipping for public square engagement, e.g. in civil society, politics, economics, journalism and justice issues. John Stott, in his introduction to Issues facing Christians today wrote of ‘a half-century of neglect’, referring to evangelical withdrawal from socio-political matters last century. Our gospel too often has been focused on the salvation of the individual rather than the restoration of God’s shalom in all spheres of life. This has left a legacy of evangelical naïvety concerning the public square, reflected, from my perspective, in the unfortunate role some Christians have played recently in politics on both sides of the Atlantic.

Much confusion also reigns concerning the role of churches concerning politics. While the principle of the separation of church and state is now widely accepted and is enshrined in constitutions of many western nations, the pulpit is still too often used to promote political options, most notably in America. 

Clear voice

One clear voice in the midst of this confusion is Canadian David Koyzis, who points to the idolatry behind political ‘-isms’ from capitalism to communism in his insightful book Political visions and illusions (commended by Tim Keller among others). 

David will be the guest on our next Schuman Talk on February 9, at 18:00 CET (06:00 for me in NZ). I will ask him to comment on the role of church leadership in affirming biblical truths and exposing the seduction of political idolatries without straying into political debates beyond the church’s calling and competence. David will also talk about two Christian views of the state which avoid the trap of idolatry and seek the common good of all. 

Historical perspectives also help us to rise above narrow political polarisation. I invite you to join me on an online Celtic Heritage Tour for two hours each day next week, February 1-5, and/or an online Continental Heritage Tour, March 1-5, revealing the interconnectedness of the British Isles with the Continent throughout history, and our calling as Christians to promote the common good of all.

Write to me for details.

Till next week,

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