Christianity and the Public Square

I shall simply say that I affirm, openly and happily, the Christus Victor model of atonement as the central metaphor for salvation (that is, that the gospel concerns the elevation of Jesus to the heavenly Throne, casting down Satan and all the principalities and powers, establishing the Church as His Body and Agent on the earth, and has become King over all the nations, there to rule in heaven until all His enemies are put under His feet. Yes, and amen.

I learned this from a lot of people. N. T. Wright, Stanley Hauerwas, Scot McKnight, etc. Before them, I learned it from Douglas Wilson, Douglas Jones, Peter Leithart, James B. Jordan, Rich Lusk, etc. Before them, I was reading about some of these things from Rousas John Rushdoony and Gary North.

These last two ought to give you pause. If you know their names and are not yourself a Theonomist, they will. Don’t worry, I’m no longer a Theonomist. That’s what this post is about.

The reason people tremble at the names of some of these men is because of the way they announce Jesus’ rule over the nations. Rushdoony was in favor of converting every nation on earth and then have them implement the law of Moses on their subjects, including the civil capital penalties. Gary North, charming man he, took it a step further and advocated executing people by way of the community coming together and stoning them – just like the old days. Such was their version of theocracy, and it included implementing civil sanctions against homosexuals, non-believers, and others.

The great crime of their movement, I believe, is that it makes theocracy scary, turns it into a dirty word. But all it means is that God reigns and the people try to live every aspect of their lives in the light of Him. Eventually this means that communities begin to crop up that pass civil codes that try to do this beyond the individual level. That should only be scary if the God on offer is Someone other than Yahweh. Slow to anger, steadfast to His people, kind and merciful. That’s the sort of God we ought to be living in the light of, but all too often it seems we see God more like some Unitarian Hermit in the Sky than the Triune God of Scripture, who shares and gives of His life freely to all who come and ask, who bestows forgiveness and grace to as many who want it.

That is, the big disconnect I see between what people like the  Theonomists say and the God of the Bible is that the Theonomists have completely forgotten about the call to love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus rules the cosmos, yes, but He rules it now the same way He did when He walked the earth two thousand years ago. The difference between Jesus the servant and Jesus the King isn’t that large; He didn’t diss Mammon and power and the way of the Gentiles on earth because He had to do that in order to get all the Mammon and the power and now rules from heaven as the Gentiles do, lording it over others.

So how can we reclaim the non-terrifying word “theocracy” for the Kingdom of God? How can we work in a public square that doesn’t acknowledge that Lordship, and in times when the public square does acknowledge it, how can that public life acknowledge both that Jesus is King of the nations and that we are called to love our neighbors?

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