One of the important slogans of the American Revolution that gave us the United States was, “We have no king but Jesus.” For many of the colonists, the reign of Christ and the kingdom of God meant resistance to tyranny and evil and the building of a free, God-centred republic. In the London Times, March 23, 1954, an interesting article was published commending the United States for the wisdom and generosity in which it acted, stating “no nation has ever come into possession of such power for good or ill, for freedom or tyranny, for friendship or enmity among the peoples of the world, and that no nation in history has used those powers, by and large, with greater vision, restraint, responsibility and courage.”[i] There is no accounting for the spirit of freedom and generosity that has generally characterised the United States since its founding, without recognizing its historic allegiance to biblical faith and sense of accountability to the standards of the word of God.
Such a spirit of faithful resistance to tyranny and evil is in short supply in our time, in part because the gospel has been largely evacuated of its real-world implications by pietism. A young friend of mine in the early stages of his speaking ministry was recently advised by an evangelical Christian apologist that he should avoid the pitfall of involving himself in the ‘culture wars,’ by which he meant he should stay away from engaging prominent moral and social topics facing society that might be deemed ‘political.’
This is a remarkable piece of advice given that one of the founders of evangelicalism in Britain, William Wilberforce, did little else than address the many evils facing his age, with the great objects of abolishing the slave trade and reforming the morals (or culture) of the British people in terms of the gospel, foremost in his thoughts. He recognised that the gospel had real-world implications that would transform all life and thought, including the social and political arena, when embraced in its fullness. I for one am glad Wilberforce did not ‘avoid the culture wars’ – how long might the slave trade have persisted if he had? Wilberforce could not have conceived of a gospel that left the rebellion of the culture against God’s word unaddressed; such a mentality would have been perceived as acquiescence to evil and a sanctimonious sanctification of compromise.
I recently watched with some dismay a similar example of pietism when another Christian apologist addressing a gathering of political leaders opened by commending his audience for setting aside their political ideologies to think simply about the ‘soul’ (an inherent impossibility, since all political ideologies involve a doctrine of man) and went on to say, “we are the soul, we have a body.” He then commended himself for “staying away from politics” whilst speaking in other parts of the world so that doors would remain open for more speaking opportunities.
There is an important connection between these two points – that is, a focus of religion upon the ‘soul’ and the avoidance of subjects deemed ‘political.’ These statements both manifest the problem with pietism – an implicit commitment to Greek dualism. There is nothing in Scripture that suggests we are the soul and only have a body. This is a dehumanizing statement that encourages neglect of material creation in favor of the ‘higher life,’ ‘ideas’ and the internal ‘motions of the soul;’ it’s a perspective that opens the way for all manner of misuse and abuse of one’s body and that of others, and a subtle contempt for creation and culture. A human person is not a disembodied soul but a corporeal being, the character and value of which is affirmed by orthodox Christianity in both the incarnation and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is only cults and heresies that have historically sought to deny or minimize these doctrines.
In much evangelicalism today it seems to have become a grievous fault, or even sin in a man, to be deeply concerned, and vocal, with regard to the modern state’s presumption in the redefinition of marriage, the mass murder of infants in the womb, the social engineering of the family, state-sanctioned theft and the usurpation of charity, the diminution of independent Christian education and the assault on religious freedoms and the church. This is seen as ‘political’ and thus deemed outside the scope or priority of the gospel, as though true Christianity were a development from the material to the spiritual, from the earthly to the heavenly, from the body to the soul. This is Neo-Platonism, not Christianity, and it has revived in recent decades, making deep inroads into the mindset of many Christians.
In Scripture, by contrast, the whole of reality was created good – not just the soul (Gen. 1:31) – and in Christ all aspects of creation are being redeemed and renewed, not simply the internal personal life of a believer (Rom. 8:18-23; Col. 1:15-23; 2 Pt. 3:13). In fact, at creation, Adam is made of the dust and subsequently received the breath of life so that he became a living being. We see here that the material aspect of man is not diminished but actually came first – an eternal soul was not deposited later into a body; that again is Greek philosophy, not Christianity. Of course, if the Neo-Platonic view were correct, then indeed political, socio-cultural and familial issues addressed in the so-called ‘culture wars’ would be relatively unimportant in Christianity, but if Christ is who Scripture declares him to be, “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5) then woe betide us if we fail to declare him as such. Pious gush and the attempted sanctification of compromise is no substitute for biblical faithfulness and the application of gospel liberty to all of life.
Scripture is abundantly clear regarding the purpose of Christ’s coming: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). It is clear from the context of this passage that all unrighteousness is the work of Satan. By contrast we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works (Eph. 2:10). We should ask ourselves, is abortion a good work? Is the trafficking of young girls a good work? Is the denial of freedom of speech and religion to Christians a good work? Is gay “marriage” a good work? Is the destruction of the family and the education of our children in humanism and paganism a good work? If not, these are some of the works that the Son of God appeared to destroy. We must stand with Christ and his total gospel, or be overturned with the wicked (Matt. 12:30).
As the great Princeton theologian, Benjamin Warfield, wrote, “As emphatically as Paul, John teaches that the earthly history of the church is not a history merely of conflict with evil, but of conquest over evil: and even more richly than Paul, John teaches that this conquest will be decisive and complete. The whole meaning of the vision of Revelation 19:11-21 is that Christ Jesus comes forth not to war merely, but to victory.”[ii] To stand with Christ is to stand in clear opposition to all the works of the devil, and to be in Christ is to share in his total victory.