Christians will always be for a “third way.” Individual Christians may be members of particular political parties, organizations, cultures, denominations, associations, whatever, but they do so always tentatively, with relative loyalty to the party. Our citizenship is in heaven. We are colonists of another Empire. We are here to establish that Kingdom and its norms, the culture of heaven. But the pattern for accomplishing this is incarnation, death, and resurrection. The pattern of our politics is the gospel.
This means that we, like Jesus, must identify with this world. We already do with our hands and feet and eyes and hair. We’re already embedded here in skin and bones and blood. But we do this by working with the stuff of this world. We incarnate the grace of God by moving piles of rocks around, by organizing words, by wearing clothes, by smearing paint, by studying the clouds, by bringing every thought captive to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. And since we love our neighbors we care about the organization of society. We care about culture. No political system is identical to the Kingdom of God. The Church is the colony of the Kingdom of God, the mission of the Kingdom of God, the beachhead of the Kingdom. And so we live and preach and worship and serve and give and create prophetically, calling the nations to repent and turn to King Jesus. But we do it in our bodies, with hands and feet and noses. We do it with colors and smells and shapes and food and drink. We work with other people: people — I might add — who are different from us, thinking thoughts in their heads, with their own sets of hands and feet. And some of them wear buttons and fly flags and put bumper stickers on their cars.
I’ve been writing about the necessity of Bible believing Christians to embrace being misunderstood as right-wing extremists. Though I have sought to be clear, let me say it again: I don’t trust any political party, and I endorse none of them. Let them burn. Politicians are hookers, and the American masses keep them in business. I wrote this last November following the presidential election and still stand by every word. I’m not saying we actually should be right-wing extremists. I’m just saying that faithfulness to Jesus will get you nailed as one. Get ready.
It’s easy to talk about the necessity of a third way and much harder to actually pull it off. Everybody says they’re for a third way. It’s cool to talk about a third way. It’s sexy. It’s hip. It’s also, I think, often cowardly. An actual third way would be costly, would be dangerous, would be terrifying. But a gnostic handwaving third way sounds intellectual, sounds brave, sounds exciting, sounds like something you could talk about in a coffee shop with your friends while sipping arrogant lattes. A real third way (which is what Christians must stand for) has to say everything the Bible says unapologetically, cheerfully, graciously, boldly. But that’s scary. That risks alienation. That risks misunderstanding. That risks having enemies on all sides. But that’s what I’m aiming for.
I don’t give two figs for the Republican party, and the way things are going, it’s likely to implode and there will be pieces to pick up later. But if Christians are really interested in a third way, they need to start making real room for one, practicing for one. You don’t go out and run a marathon one day at random unless you want to kill yourself. You train. You practice. You build muscles and endurance. You learn to push through the pain, the fatigue, the mind games. But it’s no different in all of life. Practice makes perfect, and so the question is: what are you practicing for?
I see piles of Christians practicing for compromise. They put their tails between their legs and cower at the first signs of misunderstanding, at the first signs of difficulty, at the thought of being anything less than hip and trendy.
I know that there is a deep swath of mindless, God-bless-America-Republican-Christians all over this country. They punch their tickets and vote the (R) line on their ballots like sheep led to the slaughter. I lived in South Carolina for two years, and they just reelected Mark Sanford. Sweet Fancy Moses. I know there are others on the right: the obsessive political Facebooking, email forwarding, conspiracy theorizing, let’s-nuke-em Tea Party fanatics. And I confess that their gun rallies still rub me the wrong way, though I have good friends who participate. I have a really hard time imagining Jesus recommending that His disciples join the Zealots in their protest of Roman tyranny. Though we should remember that Simon was a Zealot and one of the twelve. Jesus wasn’t ashamed. At the same time, I also cringe at the arrogance of some who mock the Tea Party gun hoarders while mincing about in their hipster dress ups, listening to the latest indie band, discussing Wes Anderson’s new project, while eating granola at the Food Coop. Seriously? Do you not see your hypocrisy? Do you not see how you are flipping out about the gnat in your brother’s bowl while a camel hoof is sticking out of your mouth, still twitching?
There are at least two other categories of people in the Church I write for. Some of them are largely apathetic. The political system is a rats nest of bribery and sex and lies, and so they’ve checked out. Why bother. Why care. Why play that slot machine? The rest like to talk and write with some interest, but their main contribution is pot shots at the conservatives while toe dabbling in soft liberalism. It’s these latter groups I write for because that’s where I’m naturally inclined. I’m naturally somewhere between “who-cares” and “there-was-an-election?” As it happens, Christians don’t believe that politics can save the world. Elections aren’t as important as serving your wife, loving your children, caring for orphans and widows in their distress. Church elections are way more important than civic elections. We believe that Jesus is already King of this world. We are not trying to get Him elected. He already sits in heaven at the right hand of God the Father. The nations have already been given to Him. We are the heralds of His victory. Evangelism is just announcing that the war is over. Peace has come.
But when this gospel, this announcement of another King and His Kingdom is announced it grabs hold of people and makes them new. It’s the announcement of this fact, this reality that God uses to change people, confront them in their sins, to open their eyes, to give them new hearts and minds, and to fill them with His Spirit. And when this happens, they are born from above. Their loyalty and allegiance is all different, all turned around. They are for this world because they have been conquered by the love of God for this world through His Son and Spirit.
And this brings us full circle. The love of God always touches down, it always takes up residence in stuff, in people, in things. It eats food, wears clothes, takes a wife, bears children, has neighbors. It takes on flesh. In history, depending on your story, you will find yourself from a particular family, a particular country, a particular race and lineage and so on. And depending on that context, you will incarnate the love of God with different colored hair and skin and eyes. You’ll prefer different food, different words, different ways of doing things. But when the love of God is poured out in the hearts of men, women, and children it makes them bold. It makes them courageous. It makes them hungry for life and God’s glory. It doesn’t give you a new appreciation for Quentin Tarantino movies. It doesn’t make you want to buy black rimmed glasses. It doesn’t give you gluten paranoia. It doesn’t drive you to stock pile weapons in your basement.
It’s astonishing how Christians so easily fall prey. We say we are for a third way and then proceed to go along with whatever idiocy is currently for sale. Watch these movies. Listen to this music. Buy these clothes. Eat this food. And all the slogans tell us that if we wear these clothes, buy this food, listen to this music, we will be different, unique, special, cool, intellectual, respected. But the way of Jesus is a cross of wood. It’s a way of torture and shame. And so the question I ask again is what are you practicing for? Who are you willing to offend? Who are you willing to be mistaken for?
I remember years ago thinking that I would rather be mistaken for a grungy-skater-hippie than be associated with the preppy Christian do-gooders who were sleeping with their girlfriends. But that was pure cowardice and just a different flavor of hypocrisy. I thought I was being courageous for being the pastor’s kid who smoked cigarettes in front of the principal of my Christian school. Right. Real ballsy. It takes no courage to blend into a different crowd, to put on a different uniform, to seek justification from a new set of authorities. Real courage dies. Real courage serves. Real courage endures shame gladly. Real courage tells the truth and extends mercy. Real courage feels the tensions of life and relationships and cultural currents and by the grace of God stands still, refusing to back away, refusing to cower, leaning into it.
How will you practice not being ashamed? How will you practice joyful courage? What are you standing against? Who are you sharing the gospel with? How are you sacrificing for the sake of the poor? Who are you giving time and energy to, hoping for nothing in return? What enemy are you loving and praying for? How are you talking to your wife? What kind of movies are you watching? When’s the last time you politely suggested that it would be better to talk about something different? Who’s forgiveness have you sought? It’s sexy to talk about incarnation, but this is the part where you die and wait for resurrection.
The bottom line is: love Jesus and love your neighbor and refuse to be ashamed of anything. But it’s easy to say it and impossible to do it apart from the blood of Jesus making us completely free.