Volume 7 - Issue 1
The Kingdom of God and Christian PoliticsBy David G. Kibble
The need for Christians to think politically
Recently I was at a Christian houseparty where one of the speakers was complaining that he was tired of seeing Christian newspapers and journals filled with discussions of social issues—capital punishment, medical ethics, politics, the media and so on. ‘Let’s get back to Jesus,’ he complained. I felt annoyed and yet challenged by his remark. Annoyed, because I believe that the Christian must, if he is to be true to his faith and his Lord, work out his beliefs in terms of the secular world in which he lives; challenged, because I believe that some ‘practical Christianity’ is being done from the basis of charity or philanthropy which, whilst commendable in themselves, are not equivalent to the Christian faith. I am concerned that Christian social involvement should be just that: Christian social involvement—involvement thought out and prayed out from the base of a personal relationship between the Christian believer and his Lord.
We could take no better starting point than that taken by Donald Coggan in his opening sermon in Canterbury Cathedral at the beginning of the 1978 Lambeth Conference. ‘The Lord reigns,’ the Archbishop declared at the beginning of his address. The Lord reigns, however, in two different ways. Firstly he reigns as creator in that he upholds, sustains and renews the whole of his infinite universe. Secondly he also reigns as redeemer where individual Christians submit themselves to him in faith as redeemed creatures; hence St Paul could pray in Ephesians 3:17 that ‘… Christ might dwell in your hearts through faith,’ and tell the Christians in Rome that ‘… the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you’ (Rom. 8:11). God reigns as redeemer where the Christian submits himself to a personal relationship with him. The concept of the imitation of Christ or of obeying Christ’s teaching is not good enough; God reigns as redeemer only when there is a personal relationship between the Christian and his Lord.1 God may be said to reign then in two different ways: as creator and as redeemer. It is the same God who reigns, but the mode of his reign that is different. This distinction is vital if we are to avoid confusion about God’s action in history, a confusion that is, as we shall see, present in some present writings on political theology.
The Christian then, as a member of the redeemed community has a two fold mission. Firstly, he will seek to realize more fully God’s reign as redeemer; this will involve his work qua Christian in the church, teaching, pastoring, evangelizing and so forth. The second aspect of his mission will be to see that God’s reign as creator is more fully reflected in society. It is this second aspect that has received prominence recently, and particularly so in the evangelical wing of the church,2 although the ‘mission’ in this respect is by no means complete. There are some, of course, like the speaker quoted above, who would maintain that the sole task of the Christian is to ‘preach Christ’, ‘win souls’ or ‘win others’. Whilst agreeing that this is part of the Christians mission, I do not believe that it can in itself be the sum total of that mission.3 Such a view of the Christian task has its roots in a protestant individualism that dates right back to Luther’s (correct) affirmation of the justification of the individual believer through faith. The Christian, of course, would want to maintain that the individual must be justified by faith, but he must also go on from there and work his justification out in practical terms in secular society. As Christopher Sugden has pointed out, ‘Perhaps nowhere in the world has “individual conversion” been preached so faithfully as in the Southern States of America, South Africa and Northern Ireland.’4 The results speak for themselves. If the Christian faith remains something individualistic and privatized it can harbour the most damnable of social ethics.
What is the relationship between evangelism and salvation on the one hand, and social justice on the other? The first point I would make most emphatically is that the two must not be identified with each other. Gustavo Gutierrez seems to have fallen into this trap. In his Theology of Liberation he says,
‘… the frontiers between the life of faith and temporal works, between church and world, become more fluid … to participate in the process of [political] liberation is already, in a certain sense, a salvific work.’5
Gutierrez would mistakenly have us unify God’s reign in creation and his reign in redemption; true, both are the work of the same God, but they are two distinct aspects of the divine activity. I quote Gutierrez again when he affirms that
‘… there are not two histories, one profane and one sacred, “juxtaposed” or “closely linked”. Rather there is only one human destiny, irreversibly assumed by Christ, the Lord of history. His redemptive work embraces all the dimensions of existence and brings them to their fullness.’6
Gutierrez is prepared to use such terms as redemption and salvation to describe the Christian’s efforts in the field of social justice, a use which is clearly mistaken if the trouble is taken to examine the New Testament use of such words.7
Another South American writer, José P. Miranda, makes the same sort of mistake but expresses it in a different way. For him God cannot be known apart from social action:
‘… he is knowable exclusively in the cry of the poor and the weak who seek justice. To know God directly is impossible, not because of the limitations of human understanding but rather, on the contrary, because Yahweh’s total transcendence, his irreducible and confused otherness, would thereby disappear.… Transcendence does not mean an unimaginable and inconceivable God, but a God who is accessible only in the act of justice.’8
This seems to be a most peculiar (and utterly erroneous) definition of transcendence; a definite case of using a word with a specific meaning and foisting your own meaning upon it to make your readers believe that they should agree with you! In an attempt to prove his point he takes 1 John 4:7–8 completely out of its context and out of its surrounding theology.9 In opposition to Miranda we must reiterate that God is known in his Word to us in Christ Jesus. To dissolve the gospel in Miranda’s fashion just will not do—it’s almost a case of back to Honest to God and the 1960s.10
If evangelism and social justice are not to be identified and conflated together then they must in some sense be separate. The danger here, of course, is that we separate them so much as to make the one more important than the other. It must be emphasized that both are equally important. Ronald Sider in his Evangelism, Salvation and Social Justice categorizes the two as ‘distinct yet equal’, and this would seem to be acceptable. As Sider points out, the gospels provide no indication that Jesus considered preaching the good news more important than healing the sick; Jesus commanded us to feed the hungry and preach the gospel without saying that one was more important than the other, or that the former was to be done only when we had some spare time and the money available.11
Our social concern must take two forms. Firstly it must take the form of what we have in the past called charity: caring for the sick, aiding the poor, helping our next door neighbour and so on. But social concern must also take the form of structural or political charity. Just to care for the individual victims of a disease is not sufficient: the disease itself must be fought and destroyed. So with charity—it is not enough just to care for the casualties in our society: where society is less than fair and just, society must be changed—the structures of society must themselves be altered to ensure that casualties are avoided. Thus it is not enough for the Christian in South Africa to care for the black community: structural charity demands that the whole system of apartheid be challenged; it is not enough for the Christian in South America to give money and goods to the poor: structural charity demands that the whole economic system be challenged. Gutierrez expresses it as follows:
‘… the neighbour is not only man viewed individually. The term refers also to man considered in the fabric of social relationships, to man situated in his economic, social, cultural, and racial coordinates. It likewise refers to the exploited social class, the dominated people, and the marginated race. The masses are also our neighbour.’12
My main aim in the preceding section was to show that true faith issues in social action. Nowhere does such a theme appear more clearly than in the Old Testament prophets; we can begin our Biblical exploration by quoting Jeremiah:
Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness.
and his upper rooms by injustice;
who makes his neighbour serve him for nothing,
and does not give him his wages;
who says, ‘I will build myself a great house
with spacious upper rooms,’
and cuts out windows for it, panelling it with cedar, and painting it with vermillion.
Do you think you are a king because you compete in cedar?
Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness?
Then it was well with him.
He judged the cause of the poor and needy: then it was well.
Is this not to know me? says the Lord.
To ‘do justice and righteousness’ is to know the Lord. There can be no knowledge of the Lord without social action. The theological rationale for this is outlined in Jeremiah 9:23–24:
‘Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practise steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, says the Lord.” ’
Here the basis for identifying knowledge of God, and justice is spelled out: it is Yahweh’s own character. To know God, who himself practises love and justice, is to pattern oneself on him; to know God is to do as God himself does.
The same theme appears in Hosea. The prophet explains that ‘There is no faithfulness or kindness, and no love of God in the land’ (Ho. 4:1); this lack of a proper knowledge of God has led to ‘… swearing, lying, killing, stealing, and committing adultery’ (Ho. 4:2). There is no social justice because there is no knowledge of God. In the same chapter Hosea complains that there is a ‘lack of knowledge’ of Yahweh, and that this has resulted in the people forgetting Yahweh’s law (v. 6).
In the Messianic oracle of Isaiah 11:1–9 the future King is seen to have God’s Spirit in him, ‘the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord’ (v. 2). Because he has this relationship with Yahweh, this knowledge of Yahweh, his efforts in the field of social action and social justice will be perfect:
‘He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.’
He is able to perform this social justice because, and only because, he has a knowledge of the Lord.
In the New Testament a similar equation is made by St John. According to the apostle, man needs both faith in God and practical love; both are seen to lead to eternal life because both are inextricably involved with one another:
‘Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgement, but has passed from death to life’ (Jn. 5:24).
‘We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love remains in death’ (1 Jn. 3:14).
The same theme also appears with great clarity in 1 John 4. To know God then, to be redeemed, to have a personal relationship with the living Lord is also to ‘do justice’. The two are interdependent, two moments of the same thing. And yet, as I pointed out earlier, the two must not be said to be equivalent; to see a man fighting for human rights is not to see a Christian. Miranda and Gutierrez wrongly equate the two; José Miguez Bonino tries to express the relationship correctly, almost succeeds, but then fails. He sums it up as follows: ‘Obedience is not a consequence of our knowledge of God, just as it is not a precondition for it: obedience is included in our knowledge of God. Or, to put it more bluntly: obedience is our knowledge of God. There is not a separate noetic moment in our relationship to God.’13 He seems to have been near the truth when he says that obedience is included in our knowledge of God, but then he falls back into the same trap into which Gutierrez and Miranda fall in confusing the two. Such a confusion arises, it would seem, from an inability to distinguish between an experiental and logical relationship between the two: logically knowledge of God and social action can be identified with each other as two different parts of the same thing; experientally however, our knowledge of God in Christ precedes our obedience to the Lord’s commands. I feel that this disentanglement should lead to much clearer thinking on this issue.
The Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, shows God to be a God of justice, one who is always concerned for the poor and disadvantaged. In Leviticus and Deuteronomy, for example, there are a number of laws laid down specifically to help the poor. Thus, the man who is reaping his field and inadvertently leaves a sheaf in the field shall not go back and bring it in—it is to be left there for the poor (Dt. 24:19); the man who gathers from his olive trees is not to go over the boughs a second time to gather what he has missed—these too are to be left for the poor and the widows (Dt. 24:21); the farmer, when he brings in the harvest, is not to reap to the very borders of his field—the crop around the outside is to be left for the poor and the stranger (Lev. 23:22); the annually given tithe of all the farmer’s produce is to be given every third year for distribution to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless and the widow (Dt. 14:28–29). Every seven years there was to be a ‘Sabbath Year’, when no crop was to be planted and the ground was to be left to lie fallow; what did grow of its own accord was for the slave and the stranger (Lv. 25:2–7). Also important was the year of the Jubilee: in this year all property that had been bought during the past forty-eight years was to be returned to its original owner without fee (Lv. 25:10ff).
Other measures too existed to help the poor or the man who had fallen on hard times. If a man became poor and sold some or all of his property, then the man’s next of kin had the right to buy it back or ‘redeem’ it for him. If he had no one to redeem it, then, should the man eventually acquire enough money himself to buy it back, he should be able to, making a small payment to the man to whom he had sold it (Lv. 25:25–28). If a man became so poor that he was unable to support himself then he was to be supported by his brother, who was also to lend him money without interest (Lv. 25:35–38).
It would seem that there are two reasons for these laws protecting the poor. The first is that servility and poverty was a contradiction of the true religion of Yahweh; it was because of this that Yahweh had led the Jews out of slavery and poverty in Egypt. At the end of each group of laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, therefore, there appears a formula reminding the Jews of this fact: ‘You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this’ (or some similar variant). The second reason why the poor are protected is that poverty contradicts God’s purpose for man: man’s purpose on earth is to dominate the earth and to reflect God’s image (Gn. 1:26; 2:15). If a man is poverty stricken his dominion over the earth becomes something servile and dehumanizing, whilst if he is unable to determine his own life autonomously he does not reflect God’s image properly, for God is a self determining agent. Poverty therefore is a contradiction to God’s purpose for man in the created world and also a contradiction to the religion of Yahweh. Biblical laws thus attempt to eradicate poverty. The purpose of such laws has been said by Gutierrez to ‘… prevent the accumulation of wealth and the conseqent exploitation.’14 Whether the laws were actually designed to prevent the accumulation of wealth might be a debatable point, but certainly they were designed to prevent poverty and the exploitation and humiliation that accompanies it.
Also in the Bible are numerous condemnations of fraudulent and dishonest practices undertaken by the powerful and the rich. Traders are condemned for having scales that have been tampered with (Ho. 12:7; Am. 8:5; Mi. 6:11), wicked landowners are condemned for seizing land at the first sign of a man’s misfortune (Mi. 2:1–3), the ruling classes are condemned for failing to see that justice is properly executed in the courts, particularly justice due to the poor (Am. 5:7; Mi. 3:9–11; Is. 10:1–2). Particular attention is paid to the violent oppression of the poor by the rich; in Micah 3:1–3 we read:
‘And I said:
Hear, you heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel!
Is it not for you to know justice?—you who hate the good and love the evil;
who tear the skin from off my people,
and their flesh from off their bones;
who eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off them,
and break their bones in pieces, and chop them up like meat in a kettle, like flesh in a cauldron.’
Further condemnation of the rich oppressors also appears in Amos 4:1 and Micah 6:12. Certainly, the Old Testament prophets utterly condemn the acquisition of wealth where the acquisition necessarily involves the oppression of the poor. Whether, however, we can go as far as José Miranda in condemning the acquisition of wealth as such would seem open to question. Miranda believes that the Bible condemns any acquisition of private wealth because it necessarily involves violence to the poor: ‘The fact that differentiating wealth is unacquirable without violence and spoilation is presupposed by the Bible in its pointed anathemas against the rich, therefore almsgiving is nothing more than the restitution of what has been stolen, and thus the Bible calls it justice.’15 This seems to be reading into the texts more than is really there—reading the Bible through South American spectacles and with socialist presuppositions. Wealth does not seem to be condemned by the Bible: unjust and oppressive wealth is.
There is also material that relates to social justice in the New Testament, particularly in the Gospel of Luke, well known for its emphasis on the underprivileged. Woes are directed at the rich (Lk. 6:24), and the rich man who did not help Lazarus the pauper failed to get into heaven (Lk. 16:19ff); in Luke 18:19ff the rich ruler found that his attachment to his wealth prevented him from being a true disciple of Jesus. Jesus was therefore forced to remark, ‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ It would be pertinent to say that Jesus did not announce that those who had riches were automatically unable to enter the kingdom. For some, however, God requires that wealth is disposed of.16 In the New Testament then, unjust wealth and an unhealthy attachment to wealth are condemned: the possession of wealth as such is not. Nevertheless, it must be pointed out that Christians who do have wealth are instructed to sit very, very lightly to it: they are required to ensure that its acquisition is not the result of oppression or injustice, and once this requirement is fulfilled they must be prepared to dispose of it as the Lord directs.
The Kingdom of God
Much writing on political theology is dominated by the concept of the kingdom of God; one student of the subject has commented that ‘The kingdom of God is the key category for approaching questions of political theology.’17 It will be helpful, therefore, to examine the concept. When we talk about the United Kingdom we are talking about something concrete: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland; wherever we are within these boundaries we are in the United Kingdom. The kingdom is a definite and specifiable area. In the New Testament however, the Greek word basilea has a slightly different connotation—it refers to something dynamic, and is more akin to the English concepts of reign, rule or dominion. K. L. Schmidt puts it in these terms: ‘… it is to be noted first that it (basilea) signifies the “being”, “nature”, and “state” of the king.’18 If the ‘United Kingdom’ usage suggests first territory or distinct area, the original Greek usage suggests first the actual power of the king himself. Greek usage would have us think first of the power of the king, and then second of the territory over which he had that power. The kingdom then is something dynamic that depends upon the king himself. Nowhere is this more true than in the idea of the kingdom of God: it is not some definable territory, nor is it a specifiable group of people—it is where God has his reign. The kingdom of God is where God reigns, and particularly where he reigns over man. Schmidt thus sees the kingdom as being something essentially soteriological, where man has a relationship with God.19 John Stott describes it as follows: ‘… the kingdom of God in the New Testament is a fundamentally Christological concept, … and it may be said to exist only where Jesus Christ is consciously acknowledged as Lord.’20 This is borne out by St Paul’s description of the kingdom as ‘righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Rom. 14:17). The kingdom of God is where God rules over men; it is rooted in a relationship with a living Lord.
In the gospels the kingdom of God is seen in two ways. Firstly it is seen to be an eschatological event in the future. Some of the Jews of Jesus’s time thought that this eschatological event was about to occur in the near future—that God’s kingdom was about to be inaugurated. This hope was probably seen in terms of a political victory over the Romans after which God would begin his glorious reign. In response to this expectation of an early coming of the kingdom Jesus relates the parable of the pounds, designed to inform his hearers that the coming of the kingdom is definitely not imminent, and to instruct his disciples that the time before the inauguration of the kingdom will be a time of testing.21 The kingdom then, was seen as something in the future—as an eschatological event that would inaugurate God’s rule on earth. But there are, secondly, other sayings in the gospels in which the kingdom is viewed as a present reality as opposed to a future event. Thus in Mark 10:15 Jesus says, ‘Truly, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom like a child shall not enter it.’ Here then the kingdom is something to be received here and now, and its reception involves childlike obedience and trustful receptiveness. Jesus saw himself as inaugurating the kingdom as a present reality; for him the kingdom had become dynamically present and active in his own person. This is why when Jesus had cured a blind and dumb demoniac he remarked, ‘… if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you’ (Mt. 12:28). In Jesus the kingdom was actually present; with him its reign as something present had begun. The kingdom then, whilst being an eschatological event of the future in which God would judge and rule his creation is also at the same time present and active in the person and work of Jesus himself. G. E. Ladd comes to the following conclusion:
‘An all-important fact in Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom was the recovery of the prophetic tension between history and eschatology in a new and even more dynamic form. In this person and mission, the Kingdom of God had come near in history in fulfillment of the prophetic hope; but it would yet come in eschatological consummation in the future at a time known only to God (Mk. 13:32).’22
Now if the kingdom is where God reigns, and if the kingdom is present now on earth where man submits to God’s reign, it follows that the church is to be the expression of the kingdom in the world. Also, if the kingdom is where God reigns, and if the kingdom is the future coming of God’s perfect rule, it follows that the perfect character of society is depicted in the kingdom. Let us take these two points separately. Firstly, then, the church is the earthly expression of the kingdom of God. This is not to say that the church is the kingdom: it is rather that the kingdom creates the church. The kingdom, as we have already noted, is God’s dynamic reign on earth and where men have submitted themselves to it. The church therefore is the place where men have submitted to God’s reign. But secondly, the kingdom is also something that is coming in the future where God’s reign will be fully realized. In this final kingdom the whole of creation will be redeemed so that God’s creation once again becomes the perfect expression of God’s will. In the present world the cosmos remains in a fallen state with men living apart from a relationship with God with the consequent results that this reputed relationship has: greed, envy, pride, lust, hate and so on. In the future kingdom such traits will not exist: God’s kingdom will be throughout the perfect realization of love for one’s fellow man and one’s God, with its obverse characteristic of justice. This is, therefore, a picture of perfect society; the eschatological kingdom is a society based upon perfect love between God and man and between man and man.
The earthly church lives in a sinful and fallen world; the earthly church is composed of fallen men, and although it experiences the blessings of the new age it still lives in the old age with its temptations to selfishness and apostasy. And yet because it is a sign of the future kingdom, because here in the church relationships between man and God and man and man are being healed and redeemed, it experiences in part the quality of life of the final kingdom. Those who are in the kingdom can experience relationships that are true, close and deep, because they are relationships restored by the heavenly Father. The church then, must bear witness to the final order of things:
‘The role of the Christian community and of Christian communities is to demonstrate within its membership that God’s final kingdom will include men of every colour and class, will be a community of self giving rather than go-getting; will be a community where there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female, black or white, have or have not; because the kingdom has broken in men can be freed from the powers that force these divisions on men and live in the community of the free of the church.’23
The Christian faith requires that we involve ourselves in social action; social action, in turn, requires that we involve ourselves not only in individual charity but also in structural charity—ensuring that the structures of our society are just and fair. The Christian faith therefore requires that as Christians we bring our religious beliefs to bear on our political thinking. From what we have said in the previous section our conclusion would seem to be this: that we should support a political programme which aims at the ideals reflected in the kingdom of God whilst also taking into account the fact that we live at present in a sinful world with men who are not yet fully redeemed.
On no account therefore can we see our political objective as ‘furthering’, ‘building’, or ‘realising’ the kingdom of God. There are at least two reasons for this: firstly, we ourselves can do nothing to build or further God’s kingdom, for the kingdom is where God reigns as creator and redeemer; the kingdom is essentially God’s work. Secondly, the kingdom only exists on earth where men submit themselves to God’s rule, and this aim does not and cannot come within the scope of political objectives. We cannot agree then, with some of the South American political theologians who identify the process of political liberation with the coming of God’s kingdom. Gustavo Gutierrez, for example, believes that ‘The growth of the Kingdom is a process which occurs historically in liberation, insofar as liberation means a greater fulfillment of man.’24 The ‘greater fulfillment of man’ is an immanent objective: the growth of the kingdom is something transcendent; the two cannot be identified. South American theologians seem rather adept at dissolving transcendence into immanence.
We have already seen that the Biblical evidence will force us as Christians to embrace political strategies that aim to reduce poverty and the subsequent humiliation that goes with it; like Jesus and the prophets we must be on the side of the poor and the oppressed. In the South American situation this is assumed to mean that the Christian must support a socialist system. Gutierrez quotes two South American Roman Catholic priests:
‘Only socialism can enable Latin America to achieve true development … I believe that a socialist system is more in accord with the Christian principles of true brotherhood, justice and peace … I do not know what kind of socialism, but this is the direction Latin America should go. For myself, I believe it should be a democratic socialism.’
‘Socialism, although it does not deliver man from injustices caused by personal attitudes nor from the ambiguity inherent in all systems, does offer a fundamental equality of opportunity. Through a change in the relationships of production, it dignifies labour so that the worker, while humanizing nature, becomes more of a person.’25
José Miranda believes that the socialism demanded by the Christian faith is of a radical kind; so radical indeed that he categorizes private ownership as robbery—‘legalized, institutionalized, civilized, canonized robbery’.26 He also challenges the traditional assumption that workers should receive wages according to the type of work they do. He complains that we are all indoctrinated by capitalist, dogmas:
‘A certain unchallengeable conviction is created that those who do certain kinds of work ought to receive lower incomes and be content with lower levels of consumption than those who do other kinds of work. A classist society is thereby, in people’s minds, canonized as something morally correct, as a situation demanded by justice.’27
The defect of such policies is obvious: whilst they may aim at the ideals reflected in the kingdom of God they do not take into account the fact that we live at present in a sinful world with men who are not yet fully redeemed. No doubt in the consummation of God’s kingdom such policies could be implemented because the whole of creation would have been redeemed and restored. But this is to pre-empt what is to come; we cannot use such policies in the present kingdom because man is not yet fully redeemed. In the present world man needs private property; man needs to be paid not only according to his needs but also according to his deserts; man needs immediate and identifiable rewards. What radical socialist theologians and politicians fail to realize is that whilst their goals are admirable and good, even godly, they will not work in the real world because the real world is a fallen world with fallen and sinful humans populating it—even fallen and sinful Christians, albeit redeemed ones. This is plain Biblical teaching.
If radical socialism is too idealistic, what then of capitalism? Does this contain the realism that is needed? One of the fundamentals of capitalism is that the consumer is best served where there is economic competition: if there are two firms each competing with one another to sell roughly identical products then each will be forced, by virtue of competition, to produce a good product at the right price. The general aim will therefore be to produce the product as cheaply and as well as possible. Wages are therefore, in theory, kept low (in order to keep costs down), and the method of production used is that which is most likely to produce a large number of high quality goods. All the time the stress is on the goods, the manufacturing process and the sale to the consumer: the worker, his conditions and methods of work and his wages are secondary—second to the product. This emphasis, product first and worker second, does not seem to reflect the kingdom of God: God’s kingdom places the highest value on men. Another fundamental of capitalism is that a man sells his labour on a free market to work for a firm for a certain number of hours per week. His labour, and not his person, is hired. As a result the worker has no share in the profits which his own labour creates: the profits earned through his own toil pass on to the owners, the shareholders. This is a dehumanization of man—man is being treated as a thing. In addition the worker is not expected to take any part in the decisions affecting the firm in which he works, even though these decisions may affect his own employment conditions. In the kingdom of God man lives with his fellow man as a partner, as one who has dignity, as one who has rights and as one who shares in the benefits of his own labour. Such an understanding of the kingdom would seem to be demanded by the Christian understanding of the Christian community as the body of Christ.
If radical socialism reflected the kingdom of God but failed to take into account man’s sinful and unredeemed nature in a fallen world, traditional capitalism accepts human selfishness (it may even be said to make it respectable) but fails to see that men have a responsibility for and to one another and that man’s dominion over the world is given to us all by God in the form of trusteeship. In short, capitalism has no picture of the kingdom of God at all.28
Let me state once again our conclusion: the Christian should support a political programme which aims at the ideals reflected in the kingdom of God whilst also taking into account the fact that we live at present in a sinful world with men who are not yet redeemed. Neither radical socialism nor traditional capitalism seem to fit the bill. There is no easy way for the political Christian. A truly Christian political programme would seem to be somewhere within the extremes of the far left and the far right. What as Christians we must continue to do is to evaluate the policies of the various parties and decide for ourselves (probably after a lot of prayer and a lot of discussion with other members of the body of Christ) which most nearly conforms to our guideline. There is no way in which either socialism or capitalism can be said to be automatically more Christian than the other.
This may seem to be a disappointing conclusion. Indeed it is—it is disappointing because we are not yet fully redeemed in the consummation of God’s kingdom. It is disappointing because no political system can fully deal with man’s underlying selfish and unredeemed nature; only God himself can deal with that. What we have to settle for is some sort of balance between the two extremes. However, perhaps I could make a few personal comments. It does seem, as far as Britain is concerned at least, that the parties of the left in general come nearer our yardstick than the parties of the right. As Christians, in the footsteps of Jesus and the prophets, we should support policies which aim at eradicating poverty and any consequent humiliation or rights denied because of that poverty. Thus, private medical treatment seems unjust; true, man should have the freedom to spend his money as he wishes, but not when this denies someone else the right to medical treatment. If there were sickness in the eschatological kingdom of God can we see our Lord allowing those with money to receive priority when it comes to treatment? This is not solidarity with the poor and the oppressed. Again, take the example of education. Of course man should have the freedom to spend his money as he wishes, but not when ‘going to a good school’ where fees are paid, deprives other children of an education that is less than best.29
One final comment: I have already pointed out that the earthly church, being the locus where the kingdom of God has entered, experiences now the quality of life of the final kingdom. As such the church must ensure that her own house is in order before she goes out and in humility makes comments about the house of secular politics. The church must be a more perfect model of the kingdom than any secular state can be because it consists of redeemed men and women, people in whom Jesus reigns as Lord. It is this thought that is central to the writing of J. H. Yoder; I will close with a quotation from his book The Politics of Jesus:
‘The church must be a sample of the kind of humanity within which, for example, economic and racial differences are surmounted. Only then will she have anything to say to the society that surrounds her about how these differences must be dealt with. Otherwise her preaching to the world a standard of reconciliation which is not her own experience will be neither honest nor effective.’30, 31
1 Hence Barth’s and Bonhoeffer’s polemic against Christian ethics being seen merely as obedience: cf. K. Barth, Church Dogmatics, T. and T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1957–1963, II/2, sect. 36; D. Bonhoeffer, Ethics, Fontana, London, 1964. Unfortunately both carried the polemic too far—obedience to rules is necessary once the personal relationship with God is established: cf. E. L. Long, Jr., A Survey of Christian Ethics, O.U.P., New York, 1967, esp. ch. 19 and 20; P. Ramsey, Deeds and Rules in Christian Ethics, S.J.T. Occasional Paper no. 11, Oliver and Boyd, London and Edinburgh, 1965.
2 Cf. e.g. the publication of the fortnightly paper Third Way, the ethical studies being currently published by Grove Press, and the relevant sections in The Nottingham Statement, Falcon, London, 1977, emanating from the National Evangelical Anglican Congress in Nottingham.
3 For a statement of other arguments against political and social involvement and a refutation of them cf. J. G. Davies, Christians, Politics and Violent Revolution, SCM, London, 1976, ch. 2.
4 C. Sugden, Social Gospel or No Gospel?, Grove Books, Bramcote, 1975, p. 9.
5 G. Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation, SCM, London, 1974, p. 72.
6 Ibid., p. 153.
7 Cf. R. J. Sider, Evangelism, Salvation and Social Justice, Grove Books, Bramcote, 1977, ch. 2; also the articles on sozo and related words and apolutrosis in G. Kittel and G. Freidrich (eds.), A Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1964–1974 (henceforeward TWNT).
8 J. P. Miranda, Marx and the Bible, SCM, London, 1977, p. 48 (my italics).
9 Ibid., pp. 61 and 64.
10 For an excellent recent plea for proper theological thinking cf. E. L. Mascall, Theology and the Gospel of Christ, SPCK, 1977.
11 Op. cit., p. 17.
12 Op. cit., p. 202.
13 J. M. Bonino, Christians and Marxists, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1976, p. 40.
14 Op. cit., p. 293.
15 Op cit., p. 19.
16 Cf. Luke 12:33; J. H. Yoder, in his Politics of Jesus, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1972, pp. 75–76 interprets this logion of Jesus to indicate that anyone who has wealth must give it to the poor. I would question this interpretation.
17 C. Sugden, ‘A Different Dream: Jesus and Revolution,’ in Theological Students Fellowship Bulletin, vol. 71, 1975, p. 16.
18 K. L. Schmidt, art. basilea in TWNT, vol. 1, p. 579.
19 Ibid., p. 583.
20 J. Stott in R. J. Sider, op. cit., p. 23.
21 J. Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, SCM, London, 1972, p. 59.
22 G. E. Ladd, Jesus and the Kingdom, SPCK, London, 1966, p. 316.
23 C. Sugden, Social Gospel or No Gospel?, p. 17.
24 Op. cit., p. 177.
25 Ibid., pp. 111, 112.
26 Op. cit., p. 11.
27 Ibid., p. 9.
28 For a detailed critique of capitalism from a Christian standpoint cf. D. Hay, A Christian Critique of Capitalism, Grove Books, Bramcote, 1975.
29 This is a complicated issue with many factors involved. The ‘creaming off’ of bright children to private grammar schools effectively lowers the academic standard of the top sets in state schools; the private school children therefore have an unfair advantage by depriving the able state school child of competition and stimulation, Private schools may therefore be said, in some measure to oppress those children in state schools and particularly the bright children. But equally, I must also say that I do not believe the present comprehensive school does full justice to the bright child either, although I believe that the average child gains. Personally, I would be in favour of some selective grammar schools, run by the state—say one or two in each large city.
30 Op. cit., p. 154.
31 Having written this article I have come across an excellent paper by Prof. Karl Nipkow in which he seeks to establish the relationship between theology and education. He concludes, like myself, that social action (in his case in the field of education) is not to be totally separated from Christian belief nor is it to be totally identified with it. He sees the two as having a dialectical relationship. Cf. K. E. Nipkow, ‘Theological and Educational Concepts—Problems of Integration and Differentiation,’ in British Journal of Religious Education, vol. 1, 1978. Reference might also be made in this context to A. O. Dyson, ‘The Church’s Educational Institutional Institutions: Some Theological Considerations,’ in Theology, vol. 80, 1977, and my own attempt to work out Dyson’s ideas in a practical sphere in D. G. Kibble, ‘From Theology to School Council,’ in Learning for Living, vol. 17, 1978.
David G. Kibble
Head of Religion and Community Services, Lawnswood High School, Leeds