Q & R with Greg Albrecht – How does the gospel influence life and politics?
Let me start off by thanking you for your excellent resource which is a blessing and encouragement for those of us who have stepped away from institutional Christianity. So a big thank you for that.
I’ve never found cause in any of Greg’s writings before to want to write but wanted to comment on his blog post “Lost and Alone.” My concerns are not with the theology but the social-political comments which I think highlight some areas for awakening and growth among US Christians.
I’m an American ex-pat living in Europe where the Christians are surprised by the apparent lack of social conscience in America towards the homeless, poor, other races, unemployed, disadvantaged etc. and what appears to be a reluctance to share resources and wealth with those less well off, regardless of if they are ‘deserving’ . I feel Greg’s comments about low-income housing reflect this to some degree. Low-income housing is the norm throughout Europe makes housing available to many people with mental health and addition problems, as well as those who lack the education or opportunity to earn enough to own a home.
In fact, the philosophy is that you should have a stable home environment before you can tackle some of those issues. I believe this is consistent with coming to Jesus first (home) and then having a platform and the support to find spiritual healing, not in reverse. This also ensures that the gap between the rich and poor is a lot narrower than in the US which is one of the highest in the world. We rich Christians might not like it but Jesus was more of a socialist than a capitalist .
Most European countries operate a social democracy whereby the more well-off contribute more so that there are services for all such as health care, education, housing, child support, and more. Everyone benefits. There is a huge difference between socialism and social democracy which is far more just and fair. I would love all of us promote this as a path to righteousness and healing in our respective societies. Would Greg consider tackling these political-social views and implications for really having the gospel influence life and politics?
Thanks for your input from across the pond. I am aware of the general socio-political milieu of which you speak, contrasting Europe with the US, as my wife and I lived as ex-pats in the UK during the mid to late 60s and early to mid 70s and during that time traveled extensively thru-out Europe.
Since that time we have returned to Europe and the UK many times, so our boots on the ground understanding of the general European zeitgeist is not limited to the time when we actually lived there. Your thoughts deserve a longer response – I shall enumerate several aspects hoping for greater brevity in my response:
- While there are Christ followers who believe that much of their mission on earth is related to social justice (aka social justice warriors) I resist such a goal and focus. I believe that as Christ-followers we will, because he lives within us, improve the lives of those with whom we come into contact. But, I do NOT believe that the gospel is based on the assumption that Christ followers will be involved in making the world a better world. In the last presidential election I decided that both Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton represented corruption in such a way that I felt moved, as a Christian, not to vote for either. As this next US presidential election nears, it looks like I may be inclined again to decline to participate. I do not recommend that others follow me, but I do believe I am free in Christ to make such a decision.
- I do not perceive the gospel as being a blueprint intended to actualize Christ followers into “changing the world.” Indeed, if the gospel is indeed about changing the world, then history since the death and resurrection of Jesus is evidence that Christendom has failed. Yes, part of this world are better now than then, but even those parts (what we often call the first world) have not advanced and improved in every aspect. And can Christianity take all the credit for the improvements that have happened? When it comes to the world at large – we can say this world now is not better than 2000 years ago – we can say it is different but still filled with lust, greed, abuse, evil and human inhumanity toward other humans. Yes, I believe Christ followers have been involved in have certain advances in technology and medical science that benefit modern humanity, we have advanced in terms of civil rights, and the treatment of children, and abolishing (in certain parts of the world) human slavery, in terms of women being treated as equals of men, but we also have plenty of “advances” that have made the world a more dangerous place – without listing them all I would begin with nuclear bombs. But advances in our world have also happened through the work of atheists and those who do not follow Jesus. Furthermore, such advances are not, in my opinion, the purpose of the gospel – they are a byproduct of what God does in the lives of Christ followers. Then there are those examples where individual or institutionalized Christianity has been responsible for great evils in our world.
- That might sound, to those who feel more inclined to be activists, like a cop-out. But no, I argue for the purity of the gospel, which maintains that our lives as Christ followers are wrapped up in voluntarily asking God to work in us as he sees fit, for we become, in Christ, his new creation – his workmanship – his handiwork. As we follow Christ we suffer in and with him and in fact our lives are not primarily defined in terms of success, victory and material progress, for ourselves or those around us. If indeed our immediate village or town or neighborhood, or state or province, or nation, is improved by the life Jesus lives in his followers, then that is a side effect, a spin off, not the focus and goal.
- I believe that the temptation to fight those movements and isms that we believe to be our enemy not only distracts us but it can consume us – so that we become political activists and change makers and organizers first, and our faith is a distant second, and in such cases our faith is so watered down it is often defined in terms of the political goal that mesmerizes us. The gospel is not about controlling and subduing our world, thus when politics invades the gospel it inevitably corrupts the gospel. History is clear – when institutions of faith jump into bed with the state/government, it is faith that is always tarnished and compromised. The state/government is about control and overt actions to improve (as a state of government might define improvement) the world, whereas the faith of Christ followers is the very opposite of control – it is about being living sacrifices, letting the mind of Christ live within us, doing good, loving God and neighbor, and that’s it. I do not wish to co-mingle the gospel with either the Left or the Right, for in so doing I believe adulteration and impurity will have its way with faith. I am not interested in making another tower of Babel, however virtuous those actions may seem to be – but rather “to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in death….” (Philippians 2:10).
- Historically, the “social gospel” was the movement started within Christendom that perceived the goal of Christianity as bringing about the kingdom of God on earth. But the gospel is clear – it is not our job to make the kingdom come anymore than it is our job to save ourselves by our works and deeds. Following Jesus includes serving Jesus in his name (Matthew 25) but it also means that God does not depend on us to get things done in our world. For example, some evangelicals believe that unless they “witness” and give “their testimony” to others then those whom they failed to “reach” or “save” will be lost forever to an eternal ever-burning hell. While our faith will positively benefit others, thank God that he does not solely or primarily rely on us to do his work in this word. He is quite capable of working in this world and within all humanity.
- The topic of homelessness/street people you raise (and that I first raised in my blog) is a complex problem – it has an obvious nexus with immigration, aliens and refugees. I applaud the efforts of those who follow Christ and those who do not to minimize the enormous suffering that exists within the predicaments faced by so many. I realize that some Christian movements and ministries and are deeply involved in the social gospel and appreciate the wonderful things they do – I am only saying that such “sin management” and social improvement does not lie at the heart of the kingdom of God in the here and now. The heart of the kingdom is following Jesus and loving God and loving neighbor as oneself. This is first and foremost – it is our focus. All else follows in the wake of that identity – our identity as the children of God. Our passion, as I see it, is for Jesus and the kingdom, not for the social gospel or as social justice warriors – and certainly not as servants/slaves of a political party, or of capitalism or socialism.
Hope this helps,
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