Philosophical Fragments: A Christian Vision for Kingdom Politics: Immanentize the Eschaton! Joshua Hawley
Hawley recounts the history of politics and religion in the past few decades. He says that the agenda of the Christian Right was to convert both society and government. He writes:
It’s far from clear that restoring Christian social authority is an appropriate aim of politics in the first place. The conversionist approach tends to confuse the distinct missions of church and state—is it really the role of government, for instance, to promote “Christian values” or refurbish America’s Christian heritage?—even as it fails to provide much guidance as to what, exactly, government is supposed to be doing.
He delves into what it means to say the Kingdom of God is here and now, not just in the future. Scripture teaches that Christ is Lord over all and that government is ordained by God to serve a purpose. If we are to work and pray for "your Kingdom come, your will be done" (my framing, not his), then we will want government to move toward something that reflects Kingdom justice. He writes:
These things together tell us something quite important about what government is for, and what Christians should be trying to do with it and with politics. Government serves Christ’s kingdom rule; this is its purpose. And Christians’ purpose in politics should be to advance the kingdom of God—to make it more real, more tangible, more present. Or should I say, to immanentize the eschaton.
Now let me just say, advancing God’s kingdom does not mean abandoning constitutional government in favor of theocracy or using the state to convert non-believers. On the contrary, a kingdom-inspired approach to politics would give up trying to Christianize the state altogether. The reason is found in the state’s unique mission. God’s mandates for state and church are distinct, as Romans 13, to take one example, makes abundantly clear. While the church is to proclaim the salvation of God in Christ, the state is charged with keeping order, punishing wrongdoers—and more broadly, with securing the conditions of life that allow individuals to realize their gifts and callings: in a word, to flourish. Put another way, the mission of the state is to secure justice. Justice, as it turns out, is the social manifestation of the kingdom.
He concludes with this:
What might a kingdom-inspired agenda take as priorities today? To start, a kingdom focus suggests Christians ought to be working not merely for a bigger economy, but for a better one. The number of low- and unskilled workers in the labor force has declined precipitously under President Obama, but the truth is, the trend is more than forty years in the making. Too many workers with less than a college education simply cannot find work in today’s marketplace—or cannot find work sufficient to support themselves or a family. This must change. Labor, and the ability to earn one’s own way, is central to dignity and indeed, to vocation. Christians should seek to broaden the private economy to include more individuals in remunerative labor.
A kingdom agenda would also focus on expanding opportunities for the poor and marginalized, with better primary and secondary schools, for example, and expanded access to vocational training. Of course, the most vulnerable among us are the unborn, and just as the Mosaic law forbade abortion and protected the rights of the marginalized, so kingdom-focused Christians today should continue their efforts to protect the unborn in law. But they should go further. Pro-choice advocates have long argued that access to abortion is necessary to guarantee women equal standing in society. Embracing the kingdom call to equality, where “there is neither male nor female, Greek nor Jew,” Christians should work to ensure that this is not true. Women must be welcomed as full and equal participants in society as women—including as mothers—and not required to behave as men in order to achieve social standing. To the extent workplace mores and even laws must change in order to make this ideal a reality, Christians should work to change them.
This is the merest sketch of what a kingdom-focused agenda might mean, but here is the point. Rather than seek to Christianize the state and use it to restore a Christian social consensus, believing citizens should call the state to its true purpose—to serve justice, and by extension, the kingdom of God. This is Christians’ role in politics, and their service, both to the Lord and to their fellow man. For the principles of the kingdom and the social life it envisions are not for Christians only, but for all people. The kingdom life is the common good. And Christians should offer it winsomely, creatively, heartily once again.
It is a thought provoking piece. You may not agree with his specifics in the closing paragraphs but what do you think about working to advance the Kingdom through the state without seeking to convert the state, or using the state as means to achieve conversion? Does Hawley's model still compromise Christian witness by becoming to entangled with the state? What are you thinking?