A Necessary Follow-up to My Review of The Socialist Temptation


Having touched on the incompatibility of socialism and Christianity in a prior post, there are some necessary points that need to be addressed. It is not my intention to mislead or deceive anyone either on points of Christian doctrine or what I see as political theories that are necessarily derivative of those doctrines. The highly charged and hyper-polarized political environment in which we find ourselves in the United States causes many to assume that rejection of one pole necessarily means an embracing of the opposite pole. Thus, people are prone to assuming that my rejection of socialism necessarily entails a full-on embracing of laissez-faire capitalism. Or perhaps, more to the contemporary point, that my rejection of the left’s current narrative necessarily entails an embracing of the right’s current narrative. This is not the case.

The ways in which Christianity has been drafted as some sort of supporting beam in the agendas of both right and left, conservative and progressive, Republican and Democrat, represents a perversion of the gospel. In both cases, this perversion is to the point of making the gospel unrecognizable. Or perhaps more plainly, when Christianity is drafted in support of a political platform it ceases to be Christianity because, in order to do so, it must replace the gospel revealed in Scripture with some other gospel, some other definition of evil, and some other definition of sin and righteousness. Although these definitions differ between right and left, in the end “their animosity might better be interpreted as sibling rivalry.”1 This is because both left and right–and all of the complexities and nuances between their two poles–are ultimately rooted in the illusion of human autonomy, and the dispute arises in whether that autonomy ought to prioritize the individual over the collective or vice-versa.2 I’ll have more to say on this in the future. For now, I just want to focus on the fact that the attempts to appropriate Christianity by both conservatives and progressives in the United States is anti-gospel.

The world is still abuzz about the riot/insurrection/protest at the U.S. Capitol last week. I will not take up time and space here to go over all the different ways that event is being spun and discussed. Instead, I want to focus on the fact that a good percentage of those who participated claimed to be doing so under the banner of Christianity. When Christianity and the name of Jesus is invoked in this way, it is no less a misrepresentation of the gospel than when Rev. Raphael Warnock–now Senator Warnock–invokes Christianity in support of Marxism. Both are misuses of Christianity and the Scripture on which its doctrines are based, and both are equally condemnable.

In the header photo for this post, this condemnable appropriation of Christianity is illustrated fully. So that you don’t have to scroll back up, this is the photo:

Pro-Trump demonstrators display a painting of Jesus wearing a MAGA hat.

The image that these demonstrators are holding is a modified, traditional portrait of Jesus with the addition being that Jesus is depicted wearing a MAGA hat. To be clear, I am unable to confirm that this image was taken on January 6, 2021 at the protest where demonstrators forced themselves into the Capitol. Nonetheless, it is illustrative of the sentiment that many of those (ostensibly Christian) protestors hold. I want to put on my apologist’s hat for a moment in order to deal with this image and what it communicates.

My job as a Christian apologist is to defend the truth of Christianity as it is revealed in the Scriptures and in the person of Jesus Christ. Any non-Christian or any opponent of Christianity could point to this photo and claim it as evidence against belief in the gospel. They could say what many in the media are saying right now: that Christianity is just the religion of disaffected, predominantly white, middle and working-class American conservatives, a point around which these people congregate to achieve political ends. If this photo was representative of Christianity, then I would have to agree with them. However, this photo is not representative of Christianity for several reasons.

By placing a MAGA hat on the head of Jesus, these people are implying that the Son of God serves a political agenda that is confined to one country at a specific point in history. Namely, that Jesus serves the political goals of a narrow wing of the Republican Party in the first quarter of the 21st century. Yet, Scripture informs us that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, “far above every ruler and authority, power and dominion, and every title given” (Ephesians 1:20-21). Even on earth, when Jesus acknowledged a very specific political title–“King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:11)–he denied that that meant anything in the way of traditional human politics, saying that his “kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). That doesn’t mean that Jesus’ position has no consequences or meaning for the world and its politics. Rather, it means that Jesus’ position and authority does not arise from any worldly title, position, or system. His authority is not due to the fact–as the Marxists would have it–that he came “to set free the oppressed” (Luke 4:18; Isaiah 61:1). Nor is it because–as conservatives would have it–he came to call “sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). Rather, Jesus does both of these things more effectively (and simultaneously) than any worldly ideology could because of who he is. Jesus does what he does because of who he is. Jesus is not who he is because of what he does. This is a major distinction between the politics of heaven and the politics of humans. It is also why a biblically-informed social and political ethic abandons the duality and distinctions characteristic of human politics.

On a more theological note, what the people in that photo have done is violate all of the first three commandments. The First Commandment (Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 5:7) is to have no other gods besides Yahweh, the God of the Bible. Without going into a study of why Christians identify Jesus as the God of the Bible,3 suffice it to say that the image those people are holding is not Jesus. Instead, it is an idol, a false god that these people are quite literally worshipping. In all fairness, those people probably believe that they are honoring God by doing what they’re doing, but I assure you that God is not honored. What this photo captures is more analogous to the incident with the golden calf (Exodus 32) than the jubilation of Simeon at the arrival of God’s Messiah (Luke 2:25-35). That they have crafted this false god of theirs into an image is a violation of the Second Commandment (Exodus 20:4-6; Deuteronomy 5:8-10). Finally, the Third Commandment (Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11) prohibits the misuse of God’s name. We typically think of this in terms of swearing, but it’s actually much deeper than that.

The traditional rendering of the Third Commandment is to “not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” Throughout the Old Testament, the prophets compared unfaithfulness to God and his covenant with adultery (e.g., Hosea 2:1-5, 4:11-14; Ezekiel 23:27; Jeremiah 3:6-10). In the New Testament, the church is referred to metaphorically as “the bride of Christ” (c.f., 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-32; Revelation 19:7-9, 21:2). Traditionally, the bride takes the name of her husband and, going forward, the two spouses represent each other. What the wife does reflects on the husband and vice-versa. In an honor-shame society (such as we find in the Bible), acting unfaithfully towards one’s spouse brought shame on the whole family. That is what the self-identified Christians in this photo are doing–they are bringing shame on the whole family of God.

Now, to be fair and clear, this shame applies equally to those who try to ally the name of Christ with any political system. Those who claim to use Christian doctrine as a reason for supporting socialism or communism are equally complicit as those who claim that Christianity demands a vote for Donald Trump, or anyone else for that matter. Let me go one step further and spell it out: Jesus does not endorse any human political ideology or system of government. Period.

“But Roger,” you might be thinking at this point, “surely the Bible and Christian doctrine guide the way people ought to think about politics.” And my reply would be, “Of course it does.” If your Christian faith does not influence how you think about politics, I would question whether or not you actually believed what Christianity teaches. Of course, this prompts the obvious question: What then should we do? Certainly Jesus prefers democracy over monarchy; republicanism over tyranny; law and order over chaos.

I’m going to go out on a limb and put all my cards on the table at this point and say, no. There are good reasons to prefer some of these things over others. Some of those good reasons are derived from biblical principles. But no, being a Christian does not necessarily mean one must prefer this government over that one or policy X over policy Y.

In short, what I’m saying is that to be a Christian is to be an anarchist. But that’s a whole bunch of other posts for other times (and, hopefully soon, a podcast too). For now, I want to conclude by reemphasizing the point of this post: It is equally condemnable for someone to use Christianity as a prop for American nationalism or conservatism as it is to do so for socialism or communism. The polarity that the world embraces is not inherent in the Christian worldview and should be rejected. Rejecting the political left does not necessitate embracing the political right. God does not operate on the human political spectrum.

Footnotes

[1] David T. Koyzis, Political Visions and Illusions: A Survey and Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies, Second Edition (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019), 17.

[2] Ibid., 18.

[3] Those interested in such a study should consider starting with Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 2008).

4 thoughts on “A Necessary Follow-up to My Review of The Socialist Temptation

  1. I enjoyed this post and thought it was very good…. until the part about Christianity being anarchist. Perhaps I don’t understand how you are using that word but Peter’s admonition to honor authority in 1 Peter doesn’t sound anarchist to me.

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