Political Power Chastened By Scripture

“[The Advent story in Luke’s Gospel] also introduces the reader to some of the most powerful political powers of the time–and indeed, of all time.

Only then to ignore them.”

That’s how Rev. Bruce Clark begins his article at Mere Orthodoxy entitled “Advent and the Near Irrelevance of Political Power.” He points out that Luke – under the Holy Spirit – spends a great deal of time on shepherds, old fuddy-duddies like Simeon and Anna, but when Luke gets to Caesar:

And as for Caesar, Luke gives Gaius Octavius Caesar, Rome’s first emperor (whom he calls “Caesar Augustus”) merely a cameo appearance, also giving a passing nod to a certain Quirinius, the governor of Syria. Known to historians as Octavian, the emperor conducts a “census” that is the occasion for the peasant couple’s journey to Bethlehem–all in fulfillment of ancient Jewish prophecy. Thus, a man who…

(1) had united a fractured republic and created an empire, inaugurating the nearly 250-year-long pax romana, and
(2) had a month named after him (August) by the Roman Senate, and
(3) whose adoptive surname (Caesar) and title (Augustus) together became the way that subsequent emperors were called for well over a millennium

…is presented merely as an unwitting instrument of divine purposes in the fulfillment of ancient prophecy: Mary really needs to be in Bethlehem before her due date.

Again Luke offers neither commendation nor critique. Why? Because again, this colossal political figure is of astonishingly little consequence.

He goes on to argue that “power and privilege” are not only relativized against Scripture’s truth, they are problematized, since “we can’t keep them, and, frankly, we shouldn’t want them anyway.” That is quite a claim in today’s world! I encourage you to read his whole article.

While not laying out a Christian view of politics, Rev. Clark does helpfully and pastorally address how many rank-and-file Christians consider the talking heads in the average cable news format. Over at his own blog, he helpfully adds “a threefold view of politics in the Bible: (1) princes are His pawns; (2) political power has little currency in His economy (it can check evildoers, but it can’t change them); and (3) with rare exception it is deeply opposed to God’s purposes.” Certainly not a handbook for a Christian serving in politics, these are excellent reminders for every Christian.

[Unfortunately, he gives his view the label “quietism,” which is a term that brings up a lot of unhelpful connotations. Further, there is nothing “quiet” or passive about what he is recommending! Nevertheless, a label is a small thing to quibble over.]

I know I want to be reading more of Rev. Clark!

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