The Blog of Gordon Pruitt the Pastor of St. Matthew's United Methodist Church in Richmond Virginia

Monday, October 20, 2008

Jesus Wants to Save Christians 5

Chapter 5 of Jesus Wants to Save Christians is not the feel good chapter of the book. Rob and Don start off reminding us of the disciples on the Road to Emmaus who were with Jesus everyday but still did not recognize him. They make the connection that Christianity in the West, particularly in America have fallen into this mindset. We think we are following Jesus, and in many ways we are, but are we missing the central message of Jesus? I believe Rob and Don think we are missing the central message of Jesus and they spend most of this chapter making their case and its convincing. We (America) are an Empire (like the Egyptian Empire, Babylonian Empire, Persian Empire, Assyrian, and the Roman Empire before) and most of us are not even aware of this.

“Most of the Bible is a history told by people living in lands occupied by conquering superpowers. It’s a book written from the underside of power. It’s and oppression narrative. The majority of the Bible was written by a minority people living under the rule and reign of massive, mighty empires…”
Rob and Don go on to teach about the Revelation of John and at least to me a new way of interpreting it (that was very thought provoking) which furthers the case for what we as Christians need to do to break from the pattern of Empire.

I want to conclude this summery with a few paragraphs from Scot McKnight’s review of the book. You can read the full review here. McKnight is able to put into words the issues that this chapter raised in my mind
Finally, this message addresses Empire. Here Rob plays the politics card, and I don’t think he does this as carefully as needs to be done. But, let’s begin with America as Empire: war, money, power, and the empire whose power creates poverty elsewhere. OK, I can live with critique of America. But there’s more to Empire than America: Is not Iraq empire? Is not Saudi Arabia empire? Is not Sudan empire? Is not South Africa empire? In other words, we take the blame that is ours but ours is not the blame of the world. I read this week that Sudan has enough supplies to care for its own, but it is shipping food supplies to other countries … and we need not get into all of where the money is going. The point is this: yes, oppression deserves to be denounced, but let’s be fair — if we want to use “empire” as an ideology to be denounced, let’s denounce wherever empire oppresses.

Comparing Empire then and Empire now must be done with care. We are dealing with a pagan powerful nation — Rome — and a post-Christian nation whose constitution embodies ideals hammered out through a Christian history. Is the problem for Paul or Jesus Rome? All secular kingdoms and governments are Empire to me; now what? Some who critique the USA as Empire are expecting a Constantinian reality from the State. I don’t. I expect all governments to be Empire-ish; my hope is in the God of the gospel and in the God of the church, local and global. My hope is that the Church will embody that countercultural and counter imperial gospel.

1 comment:

Alison said...

As I read, I underline things that stand out to me, that speak to me. I underlined most of this chapter. I disagree with most of what McKnight says in his review. No, Iraq and the other countries are not empire. Empire is superpower. There is no definition by which any of the other countries he mentions are superpowers. They are not without sins, but their sins are not the sins of empire.
"In empire, you believe in that which you preserve, you preserve that which you are entitled to, and you are entitled to that which you have accumulated. This is the religion, the animating spirit, of empire." According to Rob and Don, the beast of Revelation is "the corrupt, destructive system of violence and evil that is pervasive in our world...The mark spoke to all of the ways humans misuse power to accumulate and stockpile while others suffer and starve. The mark was anti-kingdom...Don't take part in the animating spirit of empire. Resist. Rebel. Protest."
This chapter builds of the chapters that came before. Under Solomon, God had blessed Israel and expected him to maintain justice and righteousness. He did not. At the height of their power, Israel misconstured God's blessings as favoritism and entitlement. Exile is what happens when you fail to convert your blessings into blessings for others.