Bristol Baptist College – Politics Sessions

If you were at the Thursday (30th Nov) session on politics I recommend having a look through the ‘Government‘ category on this site.

Some summary points:

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  • Politics is basically the relationships that give us power over others.
  • Power over others is a facet of fallen society.
  • Power over people is being superseded by the new enabling power of the New Kingdom.
  • The New Kingdom ushers in an upside down paradigm – the last shall be first, the least, the servant, submission, love.
  • The Messiah was expected to be a political power – to relieve Israel from the conquering nations that had troubled it and the Romans who occupied it. However, Jesus Christ did not so much as lift a finger against the Romans, who’s empire later caused immense damage to the church.
  • We see the story of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-25) who Christ recommended to give away all of his wealth. This would result in the giving up of power.
  • The church has historically decided to utilise the power of the state and has not kept itself as a separate entity.
  • Evil is separation from God and as such cannot be stopped by legislation.
  • We are judged on our heart, our motives, not our actions (although our actions display the nature of our hearts!).
  • Sin is simply separation from God – the acts we do are not either more or less sinful, they are either sinful (coming from our separation from God) or not (coming from our relationship with God). When we focus on sinful acts we tend to forget that the thing that matters is the sin inside – the Beattitudes (Mat 5:21 etc.) illustrates this sea change from the Old Testament where the focus was on sinful acts.
  • Law cannot bring justice, it is merely privilege and counter-privilege piled high.
  • Justice and freedom only come through a relationship with God. The New Kingdom of submission and love for one another is the only way that we will see true freedom and justice.
  • Accept persecution rather than legislate to prevent people doing it to us – Romans 12.
  • Even though we become Christians we remain in a world that continues to oppress us. Christ was oppressed, but simultaneously had freedom from oppression. Similarly Christ has relieved us of oppression and set us free.
  • In the same vein we can still be fulfilling God’s mission for us even when we are in submission to the authorities and powers that God has allowed to rule (Romans 13, Matt 22:15). However, everything we do should be in obedience to God – just that a lot of that will also be obedience to government or simply submission to others.
  • We do see a difference between how Jesus acted towards the leaders of God’s people and towards others. He did bring critical prophetic word to leaders of God’s chosen nation of Israel.
  • We see ‘easy Christianity’ where people just have to chant a formula to apparently meet God, but we mustn’t forget that we often practice ‘easy evangelism’ where we duck out of the ‘hard’ submissive, powerless lifestyles that Christ’s example urges us to take. Often we try to paint an attractive picture of Christianity after we fail at living a sacrificial life.
  • Using legislation to force our society to do ‘good’ to others actually includes forcing people to pay more taxes or lose their ‘freedoms’.
  • George Muller of Bristol never asked for money for his five homes for orphans. He focussed on God’s task and God proved to be the provider, meaning that George never needed to push people to provide.
  • Non coercive power is basically the power to persuade people whilst giving them freedom of choice. Christ’s power is persuasive, but he does not negate people’s free will.
  • We do see that Christ will bring judgment, vengeance, get rid of oppression, rule with an iron rod, but this is to come and is not now.

Some points that I missed:

  • Talk is our major form of interaction with others and as such can be our major source of coercion as we attempt to bend people to our wills. We need to ensure that our talk liberates others.
  • Other forms of coercive control include temptation. This could include deceptive marketing (as per lifestyle consumer goods) . Are certain forms of evangelism merely types of deceptive marketing that don’t spell out the truth of the total cost and the total gain of following Christ?
  • Look at the accounts of Jesus reaching out to various people throughout his lifetime – do you see a tendency to control?
  • Moderation of those inside the church appears to be by exclusion rather than control. We are called to judge inasmuch as to understand whether it is healthy or productive to our mission to spend time with particular people. However, our response is still to love, but bearing in mind that we are called to love others too.
  • Some in the church are trying to usher in a utopia, trying to create a poor copy of the New Kingdom, by using fallen methods such as coercive control.
  • Education can be a form of non-coercive power. It is therefore very political, but in a very different manner to attempts to control the behaviour of others. However, education done without humility is often coercive. Education is best imagined as a fellowship of explorers rather than a structure that brings one person’s ‘truth’ to many.
  • We need to ask ourselves whether we should be utilising the power of the state – such as using the police (as we have a civil right to) or using our vote.
  • We see that the most extreme form of persecution, martyrdom, is a greatly effective and persuasive act. However, it takes the ultimate sacrifice (this is not to be confused with being killed whilst killing others).
  • If we feel that we need to abandon behaviour that seeks to control others we should not only question whether we should work in the military sphere, but also whether we should participate in various areas of law enforcement.
  • We also need to assess whether our trading habits involve unfair control of others. Are our trading partners on a level playing field with us? Do we reinforce the controlling behaviour of some businesses by trading with them? Do we strengthen the hand of exploitative and manupulative employers?

I recommend visiting the Ekklesia web site. It is an interesting approach to politics for Christians. Whether they get the balance right is up for debate, but this is a very interesting outline The King Maker buy from which I have learnt much.

8 thoughts on “Bristol Baptist College – Politics Sessions

  1. Hi Mark,

    Good to see you post again. I think we may have corresponded on some of the content of post elsewhere. And suppose I need to say from the outset that I just don’t get this type of theological position – it makes little sense to me. I must live on a completely different planet theologically because this stuff makes NO sense to me at all or maybe I’m just thick!!

    Overall I think the points that you have quoted from this lecture are made within the context of a theoretical position that have little relevance for practical application. I feel that most of the points made seek to separate spirituality from the practicalities of life which I feel does a huge disservice to what Jesus came to do – namely to bring all things back together. Yes Sin = separation – Sin = dualism ….this separates us from our self, each other, God, and creation. It splits the spiritual and physical, earth and heaven and secular an sacred – I believe Jesus restored all this – isn’t this what the incarnation is about – divinity and humanity coming together – everything belongs.

    Theology always has a context and I believe that the points you highlighted are made from the following context.
    • White middle class professional male
    • Academia – knowledge and rational centred
    • Comfortable safe and wealthy individuals
    • Ivory Tower idealistic processes with little practical engagement.
    • People with power in knowledge and position.

    Mark , I need some sort of practical working out of these ideas…. Can you help me try and understand this position and theory in the following circumstances…

    • I’ve lost my job and my children are starving – what do I do – Pray, get state help or steal…or is there another way?
    • I live on an inner city estate, my kids are getting attacked and my house fire bombed because I told some kids to stop harassing a neighbour…what do I do? Call the police / pray for them / move / ???
    • My wife is raped my a gang of lads who show no remorse when caught …what do I do? Forgive and plead with Judge not to send them to prison / befriend them / move / ??
    • The world is being destroyed by carbon emissions – what do we do – hope the rich will self-regulate / hope the Christians will stop driving 4 x4s and reduce to 3 foreign holidays a year / do nothing and let the poor people as usual pick bury their dead
    • Apartheid – what do we do? Nothing and just accept the persecution and oppression or fight it?
    • I could go on……

    Thanks . James

  2. Hi James,

    I’m sure you’ll appreciate that my post is not meant to be an argument for the position taken, but rather merely a list of points, some of which briefly illustrate some reasoning.

    My context is: Culturally middle class, economically working class, white, entirely unqualified professionally, yes comfortable and safe, power in knowledge and position (that I’m trying to relinquish – we all have some degree of power in knowledge and position) with practical application of trying to live my life so I’m not taking power over others (e.g. trying to trade fairly, live sustainably, choosing not to vote, etc). To some degree this does feel like an ivory tower as I realise that I’m not suffering much persecution.

    However, I do believe that the position that I’m taking is in no way theoretical but is deeply practical and life changing. It does in fact bring together spirituality and physicality. I can’t see any gap between theory and practice here (unless I were to preach it and not live it!).

    The examples, of choices that have to be made, that you give are very hard. They all illustrate the hard choices of choosing to live according to the New Kingdom and they all illustrate the temptation we have to fall back on fallen practice.

    1. Lost job, starving kids: Great, if someone provides fantastic. If we can provide fantastic, the other ways are to die (that’s a normal part of life) or for miraculous provision. I don’t believe entering the battle of ‘me against them’ does anything to promote the New Kingdom.
    2. Kids getting attacked, house firebombed. We can either react in kind, with power or we can turn the other cheek.
    3. Rape – same again. Incredibly hard to do.
    4. World destroyed by carbon emissions: We can use our power over our own selves to do something about it, we can be an example. We aren’t going to stop the world being selfish by exercising power over them. We aren’t going to bring a utopia by methods of worldly power – the world is a history of attempting this and failing.
    5. Apartheid – I guess this isn’t too dissimilar to the oppression of the Roman Empire whom Jesus didn’t lift a finger against. However, he did seek to act in equality. Jesus would have ignored apartheid – like he did with the Samaritans/Jews. He was entirely opposed to that apartheid – how he carried out his opposition was radical and didn’t fit in with expectations.

    My question for you:
    Society is attempting to make things better by wielding power over each other – how does this type of behaviour illustrate Christ’s redemptive power and usher in his Kingdom? How is it part of our mission?

    I can’t see that it is.

    I think that we are here to live out a changed life. The onus is on us to illustrate that our behaviour comes out of faith. I have done that for my behaviour. As a brother in Christ I challenge you to illustrate how acting our of power over others comes from your faith in Christ. Perhaps a new post would be a good platform for this?

    Thanks being open to discussion,


  3. Mark,

    I’m not sure why the issue of power has become so central to your understanding of the gospel and kingdom values. I think power is important and but I also think it is neither good or bad – it just is. If we avoid it or are unaware of it in our life then it will lead us to either abuse it, misuse it or allow it to control us.

    I agree that people who have power in our society are often corrupted by it and use it in negative or selfish ways. I believe that until people start to understand and embrace their actual powerlessness then they will always abuse power.

    I think we also have to realise that we have power everyday o our lives. Just to be born white and male makes us more powerful then half of the world’s population, to be a parent means that we are powerful and we can so easily abuse that power. To be in any relationship will bring power issues sexually, emotionally, physically and spiritually. I think it is important for us all to examine the way we use our power, to deny it will not help.

    At Christmas we are reminded of the incarnation – God becoming a baby, putting himself into the hands of humans, relying on men and women to look after him. He became one of us. I believe that Jesus was fully in touch with his power as a man because he was in touch with his weakness and his powerlessness – most men are not. In the society he lived he demonstrates this in the tender and loving way that he treats women, children, sinners, the poor and the outcasts in the society that he lived. His presence challenged the systems and society of the day and I believe were political acts. Because he knew his own power he knew the power of powerlessness.

    Jesus resisted the powers of the day in the way he kept his silence and the powerful words he spoke when in front of them, he spoke and acted form a different consciousness. Jesus knew the power of love, the power of compassion, the power of touch, the power of being with people, the power of sacrifice, the power of justice and equality. He broke cultural tabbos , he questioned the law of the day, he challenged the political and religious authorities, he empowered people.

    I believe that Jesus calls us to learn to love ourselves – if we can do this appropriately then we can learn to love others and where their there is love, their will be no abuse. I am also struck by some of Jesus’ last’s words to us about the sheep and the goats

    Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come , you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

    So to answer your question – I don’t think power is the issue here. We live in a broken world and if we have the power to do something about it – then we should do it. Power to relieve suffering of aids, famine, war, drought, abuse etc is gospel stuff, to do nothing is not an option.

    ‘A person who is rich (powerful) and yet refuses to give food to the hungry may cause far more deaths then the cruellest murderer’ Pelagius.

  4. Hi James,

    Yes, it is not power that is at question, it is the nature of that power. A guy on the course pointed out that Jesus had an enabling power, but he chose not to use controlling power.

    We know that God’s power is stronger than the power of evil, but it’s very interesting how that is being played out.

    If you can show me where Jesus used controlling power and denied people their free will then I’m interested. He did not try to change people from the outside, but rather from the inside – truly changing them.



  5. Hi Mark,

    I’m not sure if this is going to get us anywhere – I am alwyas tempted by a good debate though. Perhaps I am trying to assert my power of knowledge over your knowledge – perhaps it is my male ego wanting to prove a point and to sort you out / get you on the right path, get you to beleive what I beleive.

    To be honest Mark, I think we are singing off different hymn sheets on this one and I don’t think I will convert you somehow to my way of thinking. Neither should I.

    For me – Jesus Loved – full stop, thats why people changed – it was radical heart felt, warm and tender love that was often sacrificial – he meant it!! I beleive that people will still change when they are loved, accepted and listened to.

    Thanks Mark


  6. Thanks for the post, the comments and the high standard of debate. This is a very timely issue, what with the increasing voice of many faith groups keen to promote their vision of society – even Christians seem to be speaking up a bit at the moment.

    I think we’d all share the concern that power corrupts, a concern that’s generating some debate in the US at the moment about the influence (which is another form of’power) of the Christian right in political life.

    We live in a society that’s been shaped by what might be called ‘Christian values’ for several centuries. Some of that shaping has been through the use of power, particularly political power, but much has been achieved by a different kind of power, that of ideas. People who were Christians spoke about and lived out ideas that were radical in their time (abolition of slavery, universal schooling, practical care for the disadvantaged) but which became adopted as part of national life because they were seen to be ‘right’. George Muller is a fine example of someone living out a Kingdom centred approach to his work.

    The Kingdom of God is, of course, more than an idea – it’s real and it works, and our lives (should) demonstrate it. But to someone who is not a Christian, and that’s most people, it’s just an idea until they see it in action or experience it for themselves. The slightest suspicion of the use of power to achieve a Christian agenda in society seriously undermines people’s understanding of the way of Jesus. God gave people free will to choose for themselves and, unfortunately, that means they don’t always choose God’s ways of getting things done. I think the real power is in showing people that the gospel works and trusting that they ‘get it’. Though it’s frustrating when they don’t…


  7. Great comment Tim. Thanks.
    I think part of the key is that, in relinquishing controlling power, we can focus on ‘showing people’ the way of Christ. We are less distracted by diversions that don’t display Jesus.


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