The Road to Incarnational Politics

Victor Chininin Buele

I keep getting asked a flavor of this question–what am I supposed to do with all of these issues related to the election? Last week, I started some more general thoughts regarding an earlier question about a distortion of the two-kingdoms view of theology here: https://chininin.com/2020/09/19/our-place/. Essentially, what is our place as Christians in politics? God is sovereign, and we are responsible. We cannot force change. The gospel is not coercive. We vote, but we know that our vote cannot ultimately change the hearts of a nation. We advocate for more just laws, but we know that ultimately a nation will legalize what it worships. We need regeneration before any revolution.

What I want to do here is to take up an additional path of discussion about the enthusiastic support of a party platform this side of eternity. Especially the current platforms. To do that, I want to discuss incarnational politics. I cannot see how we can be enthusiastic about either one of the two platforms as Christians. We really are in a season where our status as sojourners and exiles is blatantly clear. If we are feeling too at home in a red hat or a blue shirt, something is out of balance. John Stott always taught me in his writings and public communications that the Christian was going to be too liberal for the conservatives and too conservative for the liberals. I do not see us acting as sojourners in such a situation in this election cycle.

We are political beings. We have convictions. We have very strong convictions. And we live in a pluralistic society where our neighbors have very different convictions than we do. Algorithms serve us and our neighbors with different views of the world and reality, different pages and experts. We live in a massive cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias sociological experiment.

The essence of incarnational politics is this–Christ came into the world to save sinners. I know of no worse sinner than I because I do know the darkness, depth, and stain of my own sin. I hear myself always, and I know what I do, don’t do, and do without all my heart. Christ became like I am in every way except one: sin. He went through the similar human experience of emotions, convictions, disappointments, insults, conflicts, temptations. The big difference and hope for me is that he did not sin. In the power of the Holy Spirit, I’m daily being transformed into someone who sins less and less and less as I’m transformed into the image of Christ, yet still sins. Christ came, he became like us but without the sin, and he did not set himself on a mission to impose beliefs on us, to use magical powers to force us to comply to his divine will. He brought what Craig Blomberg calls contagious holiness. He encountered sinners and loved them. He had compassion. And they were changed. Never to be the same again. There ought to be no one more welcoming than the Christian. Our message is the best news of happiness to the world. We don’t have a monopoly over it. It was freely given, and much is expected out of us in getting it out.

Do we do that in our politics? Do we actually love the other person? Do we know her? Do we know why she goes to a certain march? Do we know why he feels isolated and left behind by the world? Do we know why he falls for QAnon ideas? Do we know why she is passionate about the Second Amendment? Do we know whether she is tired of being thought of as somebody who is becoming a liberal?

Do we know the person? When we don’t, we are not showing love. We are caricaturizing. We don’t like caricatures of us. But we dish them out easily.

Take this matter of immigration, for example. I have major conflicts of conscience. I know that ALDI can sell me strawberries for 1.99 every once in a while because there are people who look like me who pick them up under almost-slavery conditions, exposed to chemicals I would not put anywhere near my children while they are compensated less than what I would dare to make at my job. We have policies that wink at those who cross the border as if saying, “If we catch you, we’ll put you through hell, but if we don’t, please clean our toilets, pick up our fruit, make our burgers.” We thus encourage parents to endanger their children to cross the desert and the river, and yet these parents are responsible for making these choices. Not every immigrant is fleeing dangerous conditions. Some just want, like I once did, to come and become rich. Our asylum laws are awful, and we put children in cages separated from their parents. Do the Democrats have an actual solution for this? They do not. Do the Republicans? Absolutely not. Why do people not realize that building the wall will eventually result in the rising cost of our cheap food? Why do people not realize that if we don’t do something about bringing people out of hiding they will only live in a cycle of poverty and darkness. Amnesty sends an awful message, but tons of families live under a lot of stress and fear. The church doesn’t ask them about certain sins–as if we were saying it’s OK to use a stolen SSN to get a job. We aren’t watching for the ultimate spiritual wellbeing of these souls, of these humans. Immigration is far more complicated than a bumper sticker. And it’s only getting worse.

Take abortion. It is the dismemberment of children. It is as simple as that, but it is also a lot more complicated than that. I cannot possibly persuade you that this is murder. But it is. Have you read Defenders of the Unborn? That is a really good work of history showing us how we got to the current polarization. What was life like before Roe v. Wade? Democrats cared about the rights of the baby and the mother! What!! Yet, we seem to agree about the inherent value of every human life lost to COVID-19. Every life outside of the womb seems to matter, well, except when you talk about wearing masks. I get so frustrated with arguments that America is a totalitarian state. Have you ever been in a coup d’état in Bangkok? That is a very different thing. Have you ever been in a lockdown in Latin America? I hate to say it, but you really don’t know what you are talking about. America has institutions that as crazy as they may seem today, bending to the will of a polarizing figure, are still constitutionally accountable and liable for watching over each other.

We could go on and on. We disagree on a lot. I get it. But do you know me? Do you know why? Do you care to know why?

We can’t build a future together if we demonize the other, if we turn everything into a test of left or right orthodoxy. We need to know that some of these issues need to go through some sort of triage. We don’t have enough time to sort through all the massive waste dump that social media and the mainstream media dump on our lap. I have to confess, I was happy to only think about Molina’s 2000th hit yesterday rather than to research about the forced sterilizations of women at the southern border.

But we cannot lose the prophetic edge to speak truth to power and to not give up in doing good. Have you read Amos lately? If the man behind the Resolute Desk calls himself a Christian to pander my vote, you better believe that I’m going to call him to account by the standards that he claims to confess. Where is the fruit? I’ve been looking and looking, and time and time again I fail to see the fruit of repentance. Does that mean that I must vote for the other guy or for him? Abortion matters a lot because it’s tied to the gods of this age and nation. There is a way in which the exaltation of abortion is tied to all kinds of fundamental aspects of American life. It matters greatly. Am I a “single issue” voter? No. Why? Because I’m tired of the Democratic party pandering to African Americans, Latino/as, the LGBTQ community. I’m tired of the Republican party pandering to “evangelical” Christians and gun rights advocates. Nothing changes. Welfare increases under both red and blue administrations. There is a really neat little book about that if you are curious. I am tired of a system that consistently produces more of the same. Why are we content voting for the “lesser” of two evils? That means we know and acknowledge that both are terrible choices.

I am more than a caricature. I care about life inside the womb and outside of it. I want people to have the best opportunities to hear the gospel and live the best life possible in this earth. I want to see people live life in freedom and with true joy. I can’t achieve that only with politics, but I can’t see that by ignoring politics or by demonizing the other side or by ignoring the other side.

We all want to change the world, don’t we? We know that living incarnationally is critical. Because we can be fully known and yet loved. I can love you even as I try to show you why x or y subject can lead down a path that will not benefit either one of us. In the process, I will learn what drives you, and we will be better for it. Yes, there are horrendous ideas out there. But will we ever see them if we create for ourselves echo chambers designed to only echo the things we want to hear. Take one another seriously. And please, this is not a post where I throw out the Bible, its inerrancy, efficacy, authority, and sufficiency. I am not on the road to Liberaland. I am a son of God. Trying to do his will, trying to live with an honorable conduct in this strange age where I live.

Let’s talk, OK? Jesus did. He wept.

Our Place

Victor Chininin Buele

What is our place as Christians in this world? The Bible gives us what seems to be at times contradicting instructions, and it is easy to see that many have given up on Scripture because of what they perceive as contradictions. We are told that the kingdom of God is here (Matthew 3:2, 4:17, 10:7; Mark 1:15; Luke 17:21), and we are clearly also told, “Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.’” (John 18:36 ESV). We, Christians, live in a paradox. We are to think in paradoxes. Our minds will always be stretched through paradox. Not contradiction but paradox. So, what is our place here?

We are citizens of an earthly nation and citizens of heaven (Phil 3:20). We have responsibilities in both realms. We are to be the best citizens here and serve as leaven in this realm for the kingdom of heaven. Peter in his first letter, chapter 2, addresses the Christians as those who were not a people but now are a people, those who are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” And the purpose of all of that is “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (9). We’ve been reconciled to God and made part of His kingdom (now and in its future consummation) in order to be an evangelistic light. We’ve been saved to proclaim. After taking Hosea’s “not a people” theme and turning it into “now you are God’s people,” Peter urges the sojourners and exiles (how he refers to the Christians) to “abstain from the passions of the flesh” and “keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak of you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”

The Christian is then called to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.” Verses 13 and 14 issue a heavy command to these resident aliens in Asia Minor. They are to “be subject (submit yourselves, NASB) for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme (a king, NASB), or to governors as sent by him (2:13-14 ESV).” The task is great: obedience and submission are required of the believer to every human institution. It doesn’t narrow it down just to the king/emperor, and it doesn’t narrow it down to governors. The reason for the submission is not shown to be the worthiness or the righteousness of the human institution. The sojourners and exiles are not asked to be subject to every human institution because of the institution’s own righteousness or goodness. It also does not say to be subject to every human institution because of self-interest, i.e., what the exile can receive from submission to the human institution. Instead, Peter centers the rationale for the submission on the Lord alone. These believers are asked to submit to the human institutions for the Lord’s sake.

Defining what Peter means by every human institution is marked by the context. Peter uses the word κτίσει, creation/creature. Peter refers to human creatures, that the submission is to be to “every human creature,” literally speaking. The context that follows this helps clarify this command. Peter highlights the emperor/king, governors, servant/master relationships, wives/husbands, Shepherd/undershepherds/flock of God. Then, Peter is not telling any of us to submit blindly to any and every institution created by men, especially not on the basis of worthiness or goodness or self-interest. He is also not telling us to submit to every person. He is also not making a case for slavery, for blind following, for subservience. He is making a call to honor the Lord in all relationships and spheres of our lives. The exiles will glorify God by deriving every aspect of their relationships from God, for the Lord’s sake.

With this said, there are three things to evaluate: the nature of the Christian’s involvement, the limits of the Christian’s involvement, and the nature of change.

Some commentaries indicate that it is possible that the sojourners in 1 Peter were originally all living in Rome but were deported and spread throughout Asia Minor after their conversion. If that is the case, the call to submit to such a government is even more difficult. The command to display an honorable conduct towards evangelism is one issued to those under an authority that would be, to say the least, very difficult to submit to. So, we engage trying to be the best citizens that we can, letting the fruit of our regeneration and conversion spread through our actions and involvement throughout the society. A little leaven can do much for the whole nation. The gospel is leaven. If we hide and don’t engage, then we surrender critical ground. The gospel is not imposition, though, so we cannot force our beliefs on anyone. We are not to be cultural warriors in the caricaturesque sense of the word. We are to keep our conduct honorable. We live for Christ here, all our life. We live in a glass case. Everyone is watching us and measuring our witness with our actions or lack of action. There should be no one more committed to the pursuit of justice, beauty, truth, and order than the Christian citizen of a nation.

But there are limits to our engagement. Ultimately we will not be able to decisively persuade a godless culture without regeneration. There can be no revolution without reformation. We cannot persuade a single person about Jesus Christ being the Son of God who came into the world to live a perfect life and die a brutal death in our place for all our sins before rising up again and ascending to the throne of the Father where he intercedes for us even now as he makes all things new. We just can’t. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to illuminate the heart, mind, soul, to give eyes, ears, and soft hearts to take in the message we proclaim. Because of that, we can’t persuade somebody to display the fruit of repentance, the fruit of the Spirit from mere human persuasion. We can’t ultimately persuade anyone that abortion is murder and ought to be obliterated from our land. We can’t ultimately persuade anyone about a host of moral issues that are the outworking of the gospel. People need eyes to see given from God and they need our witness so that they can respond to God’s call.

And that is also the final point, the nature of change is that we cannot force change. We fully depend on God for that, but we must obey God also. He is sovereign, and we are responsible. We vote, but we know that our vote cannot change the hearts of a nation. We advocate for more just laws, but we know that ultimately a nation will legalize what it worships. We seek to root out corruption in worldly systems, but we know that when true repentance comes, the change will be mind blowing and a testimony to the power of God. We run for office, if it’s our call, remembering that men like Wilberforce fought to bring about impossible change. He was accused of preaching the gospel to the “savages” while he was trying to root out the slave trade from England.

The former Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Abraham Kuyper, notably said that there is not one square inch over the whole realm of this world over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry out, “Mine!”

The Kingdom is at hand, in our midst, but also not of this world. So, we live in this tension. We are sojourners and aliens. We are citizens. We don’t truly have a home in this world, but, as my friend Mike Bull says, “We must not be so heavenly-minded that we retreat from
the world nor so earthly-minded that we are disqualified from God’s blessing”