Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christian America and the Kingdom of God


No subject raises more debates nor fosters greater confusion among conscientious Christians than the inter-relationship of religion and politics. Professor Hughes’ new work contributes significantly to this on-going debate by both helping to dispel the confusion over history and the Bible that all too often characterizes those discussions and charting a clearer course for a Christian’s engagement of the political and social issues of our day.

Through careful historical analysis and comprehensive biblical exegesis, Hughes examines not only whether America was ever intended by its founders to be a Christian nation but also what is an even more telling inquiry; namely, whether that description may, or even should, be applied to the United States today. His approach to these questions, though, goes well beyond mere political theory or even theological doctrine. Indeed, Hughes has accomplished in this concise work as comprehensive a critique of “Christian Americanism” as Mark Noll did of anti-intellectualism fifteen years ago in his Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

From the outset, Hughes asserts three theses: first, “the notion of Christian America and the notion of the kingdom of God are polar opposites whose values could not be further apart” (4); second, “the devastatingly ironic truth that Christian America so often behaves in such unchristian and even anti-Christian ways” (5); and finally, “that Christians should behave in ways that are consistent with their profession of faith, especially in America’s public square” (5). He then proceeds to present his case against Christian Americanism in five well-formed chapters.

In the first, he examines the historical account of those who have viewed America as a nation chosen by God. Beginning with the earliest identifications made by colonial leaders of the New World as a “Promised Land,” Hughes surveys a litany of claims to America’s “chosen” status throughout its history. He describes each assertion fairly and within both the historical and theological contexts that gave them rise. Having succinctly and carefully observed claims from Tyndale’s time to their contemporary formulations in the preaching of D. James Kennedy, Hughes proceeds to assess whether such claims hold up under the scrutiny of a thorough biblical review.

Many who advocate for America’s chosen status draw heavily upon analogies to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. But rather than indulging in a “proof-text” approach, Hughes counters these claims by charting the full scope of the Biblical narrative to demonstrate that the particularistic status associated with Israel as God’s chosen nation in the Hebrew Bible finds its fulfillment, according to the New Testament, not in a national – much less an ethnically identified – community, but in the Body of Christ, in whom there are no racial, national, ethnic, political, nor even social or economic distinctions.

In his next two chapters, Hughes turns his analysis from the notion of America as a “chosen nation” to the theme which occupies him for the larger part of this work, i.e. a biblical understanding of the kingdom of God and its bearing upon the claim of a Christian America. His critique is premised upon the notion that if America is to be considered a truly Christian country, then it values and actions should bear semblance to the description of the qualities and characteristics that define the kingdom of God both in the Hebrew Bible (in particular the those announced and called for by the prophets, e.g. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Amos and others) and in the teachings of Jesus Christ and his apostles as set forth in the New Testament.

Hughes demonstrates that the chief characteristics of the kingdom of God described in the Scriptures taken as a whole are justice and peace. Justice, especially as called for by the prophets, means equitable treatment and care especially for the poor and marginalized in society. Peace entails a conscientious dedication to peace-making and efforts toward reconciliation between individuals, groups and races as well as nations. Though Hughes does not cite him in depicting a nation devoted to peace, echoes can be heard of Bonhoeffer’s Fano address: “There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared. It is the great venture” (A Testament to Freedom, 228). Hughes’ analysis of the New Testament passages on the kingdom of God, though sound in both interpretation and application, could have been rendered even more persuasive among a broader scope of evangelicals and fundamentalists (all of whom should be reading this book) had he relied upon the scholarship of N.T. Wright on several points where he instead resorts to Crossan.

In the remaining chapters, Hughes returns to an historical investigation of reasons offered to support Christian Americanism. He traces the first antecedents of this idea all the way back to Constantine’s Edit of Milan and then charts its seminal development through Justinian and Theodosius. He describes a second strand in its emergence that was woven in through the Reformation and especially Calvin’s doctrine of the sovereignty of God that motivated a not insignificant number of the early colonists. Hughes strongly rejects, however, the claim that the new nation was established as a distinctively Christian country.

Rather, he demonstrates instead that the vast majority of the founding leaders were not distinctively Christian and that the documents they formulated to define the nation, while upholding the role of religion in society and protecting it from state interference, were in purpose and effect fundamentally secular. He then recounts a series of engagements throughout the 18th and 19th centuries in an on-going battle for Christian America through such forays as the Second Great Awakening and Manifest Destiny, then on to the Gilded Age’s gospel of wealth and the social gospel’s rejection of it. All of which, Hughes contends contributed in various ways to the messianic nationalism that characterized those who advanced Christian Americanism through the later part of the 20th century and into our present day.

The book reaches its climax in Hughes' unflinching critique of the fundamentalist vision of America within a Dispensational eschatology as it was embodied within the Evangelical Right from its early advances in the Reagan administration to the political might it displayed through the policies, both foreign and domestic, of George W. Bush. In sum, he issues a prophetic warning, in his own right, to all those who claim that God is on “their side” in an Armageddon-like clash of civilizations. Hughes concludes his critique by drawing a telling analogy:

"Obviously, there is a sense—and, in fact, a profound sense—in which America is a Christian nation. After all, some 76 percent of the American people claim to be Christian in one form or another. But the Christian character of the United States is comparable to the Christian character of the Roman Empire after Constantine . . . . Like that ancient empire, the United States abounds in Christian trappings. And yet the United States embraces virtually all the values that have been common to empires for centuries on end. It pays lip service to peace but thrives on violence, exalts the rich over the poor, prefers power to humility, places vengeance above forgiveness, extravagance above modesty, and luxury above simplicity. In a word, it rejects the values of Jesus" (185-86).

In this book, Hughes has synthesized and fortified the calls issued over the past ten years by the likes of Stephen Carter and Jim Wallis for a renewed prophetic engagement of religiously motivated Christians in the social and political issues of our day; but in so doing, to acknowledge that the Kingdom of God will not, indeed cannot, be brought about by force of arms or even force of law, but as it was, and is and will be in Christ’s day, only by the force of truth. For anyone who wishes to live responsibly within the concrete realities of life today, Hughes’ analysis found within these pages should be read with careful thought and his challenges heeded with conscientious action.

9 comments:

Mike Schutt said...

Thanks, Cordell! This is good stuff. I look forward to reading this book. Thanks for calling our attention to it.

Mike

ElderChild said...

“Love Not The World”

”For the WHOLE world(not just a portion) is under the control of the evil one”.......(I John 5:19)

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world will pass away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of The Only True GOD will abide for ever.” (I John 2:15-17)

“If you were of the world, the world would love it’s own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said unto you, the servant is not greater than his Master. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:19-20)

“Where do wars and fighting among you come from? Do they not come of your lusts that war in your members? You lust, and have not: you kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: you fight and war yet you have not, because you ask not. You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts. You adulterers and adulteresses, don’t you know that friendship with the world is to be at enmity with The Only True GOD? Therefore whoever will be a friend of the world is the enemy of The Only True GOD.” (James 4:1-4)

“The world cannot hate you; but the world hates Me, because I testify that the works of this world are evil.” (John 7:7)” and “The Messiah gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of The Only True God, Our Father.”(Gal 1:4)

The Messiah testified: “If the world hates you know that it hated Me before it hated you.”(John 5:18) Truly, Truly, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone: but if it die it brings forth much fruit. He that loves his life in this world shall lose it; and he that hates his life in this world shall have it unto life eternal.” (John 12:24-25)

John testified: “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hates you.” (I John 3:13) “ James testified, “Whoever would be a friend of this world is the enemy of GOD”(James 4:4)

The “earth and it's life forms” are The Creation of The Only True GOD, Father of ALL! The “worldly” systems are the creation of, and under the dominion of “the god of this world”, he who is “the father of lies”, he who “has blinded the minds of those who believe not The Messiah”! All the nations of this world are under the dominion of, and serve, the evil one for he provides the fuel that feeds mankind’s “imag”ination, and mankind’s “imagination is destroying and perverting Creation(land, air, water, vegetation, creatures, Light, Truth, Life, Love, Peace, Faith, Simplicity, .etc.) ;-(

(continued)

ElderChild said...

“Love Not The World”

”For the WHOLE world(not just a portion) is under the control of the evil one”.......(I John 5:19)

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world will pass away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of The Only True GOD will abide for ever.” (I John 2:15-17)

“If you were of the world, the world would love it’s own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said unto you, the servant is not greater than his Master. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:19-20)

“Where do wars and fighting among you come from? Do they not come of your lusts that war in your members? You lust, and have not: you kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: you fight and war yet you have not, because you ask not. You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts. You adulterers and adulteresses, don’t you know that friendship with the world is to be at enmity with The Only True GOD? Therefore whoever will be a friend of the world is the enemy of The Only True GOD.” (James 4:1-4)

“The world cannot hate you; but the world hates Me, because I testify that the works of this world are evil.” (John 7:7)” and “The Messiah gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of The Only True God, Our Father.”(Gal 1:4)

The Messiah testified: “If the world hates you know that it hated Me before it hated you.”(John 5:18) Truly, Truly, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone: but if it die it brings forth much fruit. He that loves his life in this world shall lose it; and he that hates his life in this world shall have it unto life eternal.” (John 12:24-25)

John testified: “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hates you.” (I John 3:13) “ James testified, “Whoever would be a friend of this world is the enemy of GOD”(James 4:4)

The “earth and it's life forms” are The Creation of The Only True GOD, Father of ALL! The “worldly” systems are the creation of, and under the dominion of “the god of this world”, he who is “the father of lies”, he who “has blinded the minds of those who believe not The Messiah”! All the nations of this world are under the dominion of, and serve, the evil one for he provides the fuel that feeds mankind’s “imag”ination, and mankind’s “imagination is destroying and perverting Creation(land, air, water, vegetation, creatures, Light, Truth, Life, Love, Peace, Faith, Simplicity, .etc.) ;-(

(continued)

ElderChild said...

Once again, the “earth and it's life forms” are The Creation of The Only True GOD, Father of ALL! The current “worldly” systems are the creation of, and under the dominion of “the god of this world”.

Those who “love this world” all serve “the god of this world”, and play their part in the processes that seek to destroy The Creation of The Only True GOD. “And The Only True GOD will destroy them who destroy the earth.” (Rev 11:18c)

Global warming, polluted air, land and waters, toxic wastes, sexual perversion, evil inventions of destruction, greed, hate, carnal warfare, dis-ease ,,,etc,,, are all destructive processes that have their root in “the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life”.

The Truth Is Alive in those who have been born of The Spirit for “they no longer love this wicked, evil world and it’s things, nor do they love their own lives in this world”.

They but seek and desire The Will of GOD, their Father and Creator, as they await their final transformation. “Corruptible to Incorruptible" ndeed and Truth!

Now “the ground was cursed for Adam’s sake” because he “hearkened unto the woman”.

Adam listened to a woman rather than obeying The Only True GOD. Yet because of Faithful Noah, The Only True GOD “no longer would curse the ground for man’s sake” because Noah obeyed The Only True GOD! (Genesis 8:21-22)

And the Faithful today are exhorted to “love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.”

Be not of those who deny and defy “The One GOD, Father of All”. Be not of those who are destroying Creation(land, air, water, vegetation, creatures) and perverting that which is Spirit(Light, Truth, Life, Love, Peace, Hope, Mercy, Faith, .etc.)!

“Set your affections on things above”. Desire heavenly, eternal things. Quit serving ‘time’ in the prison that is this world and take heed unto The Call of "The Only True GOD" to ”Come Out of her, MY people!”

“Come out” from among those who are destroying Creation and perverting that which is Spirit. Be of those who follow The Messiah on “The Way to The Truth of The Life”.

“Come out” of the worldly systems, which are the product of mankind’s “imag”ination, especially the systems of religion. "Pure religion and undefiled before GOD The Father is this, to visit the fatherless(those who know not their Father[Creator]) and widows(those who have not experienced The Messiah and The Power that raised Him from among the dead") in their affliction and to keep oneself uncontaminated by the world." (James 1:27)

Simply, all other religions are impure, defiled and of this wicked, evil world.......

"religion" is personal(oneself), not corporate.......

Faith will not create a system of religion!

Faith is Family, not "religion", and The Brethren of The Messiah seek and desire that which The Messiah sought and desired above all else:

"Father, not My will, But THY Will Be Done".......

Peace, in spite of the dis-ease(no-peace) that is of this world and it's systems of religion, for "the WHOLE world(not just a portion) is under the control of the evil one" indeed and Truth......

Truth is never ending.......

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