Christian America and the Kingdom of God (Chapter 3)

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In Chapter 3, Witness of the New Testament, the author sneaks in the imperialistic hermeneutic of Jesus/Paul vs. Empire, along with small amounts of historical criticism on the disputed books of Paul (although he in the end shows that it does not matter, as they are clearly Pauline and within Paul’s theology).

Nearly his intire premise is based on Crossen’s words that the principles of the kingdom of God and the those of human civilization are in tension and played out in the bible itself. He continues his previous theme of the paradox of the warring kingdom and kingdom with brings peace through justice, noting,

But in the New Testament, especially in the teachings of Jesus, the theme of paradox emerges full-blown.

His focus for this chapter is stated clearly in the words of Horsley who insisted on understanding Christ and the Gospels by understanding the context. By placing the New Testament in the sphere of the Roman Empire, with the intricacies of Augustine rule, he examines the United States as an imperialistic power, not from the very beginning of the country – but only as it has developed recently. He does not treat the history of the United States as a blight upon the world, but calls attention to the recent developments, since Vietnam, when the foreign policy of United States has taken on more of an imperialistic overtone.

He readily acknowledges that Americans find it difficult to place the United States within the framework of an imperial power (p53) but takes his time in developing the thought – not by ‘bashing’ this country but by showing the similarities of the last generation with that of Rome – which is important in understanding the New Testament and modern America. He generally starts in 1967, at the height of Vietnam, when a book was published calling for ‘welfare imperialism’ (p54).

He examines the imperialistic hermeneutic through the eyes of Matthew, Luke, Paul, and John’s Apocalypse. In his examination of Matthew’s gospel, he examines the Beatitudes, applying the ‘poor in spirit’ to the actual poor, ignoring other common interpretations. Moving to Matthew 25.31-46, he ignores the complete rest of the bible to rely upon this sole scene of Final Judgment claiming that the only thing that matters before Christ is the ‘compassion for the dispossesses is the fundamental criterion for entry into the kingdom of God.’ (p68) While this might be distracting to more theologically conservative readers, it is a common misconception among many bible readers. (It is not the authors intention to establish a plan of salvation for his readers.)

In his examination of the kingdom of God in the Pauline corpus, he takes a cue from the New Perspective of Paul in trying to rid Christianity from the burden of Luther’s view of Paul, Law and Grace. (p73). He calls attention to the fact that Paul sees all powers and authorities as evil and something to be destroyed by Christ during the consummation. (p76). In moving to the disputed letters, while he does allow for modern scholarship and traditional views of authorship, I believe he fails in understanding the situation which required the letters. He uses Philemon as his base for Paul’s view on slavery, noting that in other (disputed) letters, Paul does not recommend the abolition of slavery as he does in the case of Onesimus.

One of the author’s most powerful quotes can be found on page 83,

Those Christians who read the Bible in a flat, uncritical fashion risk placing the bible above the biblical vision of the kingdom of God, above the teachings of Jesus, and even above God himself. In this way, the Bible becomes the idol that sustains injustice, violence, and war. And in an ironic sort of way, the Bible becomes the text that can also sustain the traditional vision of Christian America.

His treatment of Revelation falls completely in line with the imperialistic hermeneutic, taking a preterist understanding of John’s words, and seeing them as a response to Christian persecution at the end of the first century. He then continues what he started at the beginning of the chapter, placing the United States in line with the biblical Babylon – not from the start of the United States, but as it has developed in the past few decades.

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