Untangling the wires–A Christian Theology of Involvement for US Americans

Gigliogate wasn’t that long ago, and yet the memory is already fading. Most of us have already forgotten the apocalyptic furor surrounding Chick fil A last summer.  And while we have much in our past that we’d like to forget, only fools repeat their folly by failing to learn from mistakes.

We are desperate for a Christian theology of involvement.

A theology of involvement in society and culture; from the White House to your house, from the mosque to the church, from the courts to the coffee shops. We need a distinctively Christian and biblically rich foundation that not only propels us to be involved, but also enriches the “how” and “why” of our involvement. 

Theology is a lot like multiple strands of Christmas tree lights: the longer we have them the more they tend to get tangled. In light of this, poor theology becomes analogous to artificial trees: both are less satisfying, but we often settle for them because they require less work. The main difference between trees and theology is that trees are temporary decorations, but theology is a permanent force behind our behavior. Meaning, it’s not a big deal if we decide to get a fake tree (I have one). But, it’s a huge deal to choose a poor or absentee theology of involvement.

My goal here, and in the rest of this series, is to expound on several (far from exhaustive!) significant relationships that impact our approach to faith and culture, relationships that I believe have become overly tangled. My hope is that we will see that just like Christmas tree lights, these relationships work better when they’re untangled, and–just like the lights–that we’re better served by doing some work than by throwing them away.

I hope to write subsequent posts expanding on each of the relationships below:

Country and Kingdom–A Relationship of Identity
Why do so may US Christians suffer from this identity complex? For too many of us ‘patriotism’ is synonymous with ‘orthodoxy,’ ‘treason’ with ‘heresy,’ and ‘unAmerican’ with ‘idolatry.’ This should not be so. Let us make no mistake: belief in US exceptionalism is not a prerequisite for entrance into heaven–but it also doesn’t exclude us!  Of course we should be good stewards for the privileges we enjoy as US citizens, of course we should be grateful for the sacrifice of those who sacrifice, of course national bias is a natural response. But may we never confuse citizenship in this country with citizenship in heaven. At the end of the day, we are never primarily Americans; we are always Christians cleverly disguised as Americans.

Constitution and Bible–A relationship of Primacy and Priority
Ask a US Christian why abortion is wrong, they’ll quote a bible verse. Ask about gun control and they’ll cite an Amendment. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that many US Christians (majority?) would prefer to ask WWCS (What does the Constitution Say?) than (What Does the Bible Say?)  These two are not mutually exclusive; but neither are they synonymous.  It just doesn’t make sense that we should make the Constitution the center of our arguments more than the Bible, or that our lives and relationships should be more influenced by the Bill of Rights than the Sermon on the Mount. 

Reflection and Projection–A Relationship of Reality
Does our government project an ethic that our population follows, or does it simply reflect what our population already believes and adheres to? Elected officials are pragmatists (not idealists) who mirror the values of their constituents (including powerful lobbyists), rather than introducing values. Let me put it to you this way–Is Obama pushing gay rights, or is he following the culture? Understanding our current reality is an essential component to our theology of involvement. A theology that emphasizes legislation and judicial judgements over interconnected efforts centralized around inspiring leaders is about as effective as combing your hair by drawing on the mirror.

Church and State–A Relationship of Power
Which has a greater impact on the other? In the US? How about in China? After the presidential election, many Evangelicals agreed that Obama’s re-election was “a disaster for Evangelicalism.” Yet, it doesn’t seem that ancient Christians were as devastated by Nero’s coronation as current conservatives were by Obama’s inauguration. I’ll stress in this post that this is more a question of “both/and” rather than “either/or.” Meaning, Christians should both be involved in the public square and place their hope outside of the public square, understanding that while the government has the ability to effect change, it lacks the power of the gospel. Sure, I believe our society is better served by following Christian ethics (would you rather be a woman in the US or Saudi Arabia?), but I also believe the gospel is not chained to the Republican party. And so, how do we raise our voice without losing ourselves in a Crusade?

I hope you stick around–I could use your help.

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About Tim Owens

I'm a husband, father, and Christ follower. I also live in Albany, NY, where I work as a pastor.
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8 Responses to Untangling the wires–A Christian Theology of Involvement for US Americans

  1. Sue Lichtig says:

    Tim, I loved your thoughts regarding the often strange bedfellows of faith and politics. You’ve made such thoughtful points. Currently, I’m with Jesus when He says Blessed are the Peacemakers. I want to be counted among them!

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