Chris, the Kingdom, and Jim Wallis

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : April 13, 2005

Check out an excellent post by my friend Chris Brenna. Chris and I see pretty eye-to-eye on issues of politics.  We are often maligned because of our neo-anabaptistic political stance.  I think this latest post of his is perhaps his most succinct and practical explanation of how Christians ought to get involved politically.  Check the post out.  Here’s a sample:

And that is the crux of what bothers me about Jim Wallis and his
movement. They are so myopic that they have replaced the biblical
mandate of Christian love and service with public policy. It seems that
the greatest good one can do is to change laws to effect a woman like
this on a macro-level. Let me say emphatically that I don’t deny the
potential value of public policy. To those fellow brothers and sisters
in Christ who plan to make a career of it, I say, more power to you. Do
what God is calling you to do. But I am desperately pleading with
anyone who is involved in the Sojo movement, don’t reduce Christian
politics to public policy, voting, and the democratic process. If that
is the primary way we bring about the kingdom of God, I think we serve
a tyrranical God.

for further reading . . .

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36 Responses to “Chris, the Kingdom, and Jim Wallis”

  1. graham old on April 13th, 2005 9:35 am

    Ah, yeah! That is so spot-on. :-)

  2. mish20 on April 14th, 2005 10:20 am


    This doesn’t pertain much to the post, but in reading your previous posts about Willow Creek I have a question. On your blog the folks cited for Missio Die are all men. Your site doesn’t really have specified leaders, because my understanding is that everyone is a disciple with a few apostles thrown into the mix.
    However with the direct contacts all being men, and your personal site listing only men. It doesn’t seem like you have women in leadership. Perhaps with the exception of the ELL ladies.
    Willow creek may have grown the easy way, but they have done an excellent job of incorporating female leadership into their church model. Please don’t forget us as a minority as well. Their movement in a way did start multiculturally in terms of dismanteling gender bias, and my hope is that this helped Hybles have his change of heart.
    I believe your wife is very insturmental with Die, but her voice is not heard as often as yours in the support letter or other brands your church offers. So my question with my limited scope of things being as I’ve never attended a gathering. Do you support women leaders in theory yet not in practice? And why did you forget us in terms of Willow Creeks church model? By this I mean have you ever complemented or comended them or asked them to be a role model to other chruches on that front?


  3. Van S on April 14th, 2005 1:04 pm

    We do support women in leadership, and there are women involved in almost every sort of key decision made at Missio Dei. However, there aren’t women involved in most of our teaching ministry (like sermons, and house group teaching). If any women in Missio Dei wanted to teach, they’d be fully encouraged to do so. In my house group, it is usually one of two women who teach when it isn’t me teaching.

    The whole issue is a systemic problem that isn’t easily addressed. We have more men involved in teaching roles, because we have a number of men who’ve gone to seminary or studied theology in college. Women are culturally discouraged from pursuing these paths. I’ve publically encouraged women to be involved in anything they’d like to be involved with. And I could perhaps encourage them more. But I can’t make a woman be involved in some area of ministry they don’t want to be involved with.

  4. Chris on April 14th, 2005 3:11 pm

    Also, Mark’s personal site only lists men because the only people in Missio Dei that blog are men :)

  5. Van S on April 14th, 2005 5:07 pm

    That is indeed true. I’ve tried to get Jen to blog, but I think she feels intimidated by blogging.

  6. Michelle on April 14th, 2005 7:21 pm

    Dear Mark,

    I am not trying to be attacking or anything, but could you force a man to do any ministry that he didn’t want to do? I thought that all of the decisions in your church were made by the entire congregation, or is there some kind of committee?
    Lastly, I just want to let you know that I have the utmost respect for what you are accomplishing. But I’d imagine Seminarians would be intimidating to most and it would be hard to lead in the presance of them. I think the right gal is out there but maybe she needs to be looked for.

  7. Van S on April 14th, 2005 10:50 pm

    We don’t make every decision by congregational vote, nor do we have a leadership team making all the decisions. Some decisions are made by everyone who wants to be involved, others are made by specific groups of interested parties. I’ll maybe blog about that some other time.

    Regarding forcing men to lead…My point is that men are culturally conditioned to put themselves out there as leaders, and are much more likely to get involved in leadership. Women in general need to be encouraged to see themselves as potential leaders, and leadership in general has to be redefined.

    I don’t think our seminarians are disproportionately involved in decisionmaking, but they are involved heavily in the teaching stuff. I don’t sense any sense of intimidation from anyone. I started my education relatively late, and was involved in ministry leadership for a few years before I even went to college, so I have a decent sense of when people feel overwhelmed by scholarliness.

    Having said that, I think you may be jumping a bit to conclusions about our church. We might not have a very strong representation of women in our teaching ministry, but we haven’t just passively resigned ourselves to that reality. We are coming from the evangelical tradition, and there is a freakishly small percentage of women involved in teaching or leadership. Women aren’t encouraged to develop their gifts in these areas. All we can do is encourage everyone in our congregation to explore their gifts and hope that everyone is reparented beyond the systematic stiffling of women.

  8. Michelle on April 15th, 2005 12:03 am


    I have 100% faith that every women in your congregation will have eaqual opportunities. I was just wondering, but must have come across as accussing. Thank you for taking the time to address and respond.

  9. Van S on April 15th, 2005 1:20 am

    Yeah, sorry if I sounded defensive. It is hard to read the emotions and thoughts behind text. It is definitely a limited medium. I do worry sometimes that Missio Dei will end up getting stuck in some sort of rut where people end up feeling stiffled. I really hope that we’re able to be a place that really reflects God’s heart.

  10. jeremy on April 19th, 2005 10:19 am

    Um, sorry to interupt this fight, but I have something to say about the post. ;)
    As far as Sojo’s, Wallis, and others who primarily address policy change and electoral politics as means of acheiving justice (see, e.g., the new collection edited by Ron Sider), I believe that your friend’s criticism is almost completely uncalled for. I, too, have somewhat of a neo-anabaptist politic; however, I think that what Wallis and Sider are doing is great. I don’t here them so much saying that policy/voting is the primary means by which we work toward the kingdom, or even a more just society. What they are saying is that for Christians to be responsible we must responsibly engage the powers that be. In a democratic country that means voting, lobbying, effecting policy, etc. This is not a matter of “legislating our morality” so much as it is addressing the structural issues behind injustice. As Jim Wallis says, we are called not just to pull bodies out of the river and give them a proper burial, but to go up river and see what’s killing them.

    Sojo’s and co. and bringing a much needed corrective to privatized, individualistic, apolitical view of (evangelical) Christian faith. Sure, it’s possible they could fall on ditch in the other side of the road, as the Religious Right has so clearly demonstrated. But I think we a long ways from that side of the road right now.

  11. Chris on April 20th, 2005 8:55 am


    See the post on my site for my response to your thoughts.

  12. Dale on April 25th, 2005 9:04 pm

    “they have replaced the biblical mandate of Christian love and service with public policy.”

    Not quite what Sojo does. They DO speak out and raise awareness. I think this is valuable. Hardly “myopic”. How much HAVE you read of what Wallis has to say? Have you even read his latest book? So many are jumping to conclusions about Sojourners and Wallis, now that he has the ear of several.

    They are also a ministry, a service organization, and headquartered in the midst of Adams-Morgan in D.C. So they are MUCH MUCH more than your rock-throwing from afar. I have a hunch that if you knew more about them, and what they have done over the past 35 years, you might see it differently.


  13. Dale on April 25th, 2005 9:07 pm

    Seeing that you are a Hauerwas fan, or at least a reader, I will place greater emphasis on the “find out more” (and read more of what Wallis has been writing over the past 20 years.) One of his callings is certainly “speaking the truth to power”; but he knows that it’s not all “government” or “policy”; just that “policy” can and does have an impact on MANY lives.


  14. Van S on April 25th, 2005 10:54 pm

    I don’t think Chris wants to discredit Wallis or everything he does…just the part about political activism. The fact that few people know about anything Sojo does besides political activism just proves Chris’ point. All the dust that been kicked up by Wallis has been to draw attention to political activism…not to direct action…am I correctly assessing your argument, Chris?

  15. Dale on April 30th, 2005 1:17 am

    Well, I would say that to use the phrase:

    “replaced the biblical mandate of Christian love and service with public policy” is pretty strong criticism, and symptomatic of NOT knowing before one speaks, since how they arrive at a more activist approach to public policy IS PRECISELY becuase of that “biblical mandate”. It’s not ONE or THE OTHER. It’s cause and effect; faith community resulting in call to act; and public dialogue and bringing to the table OTHER expressions of faith (other than the Religious Right) is a means to an end: that of garnering more collaborative support to GET the things done that need to be done. )

    Wallis would wholeheartedly acknowledge that the Church leads by example, and by being a model. But there is also much value in making sure this even gets to the table , especially in THIS administration, who seem to confuse “the faith community” exclusively with the Religious Right.


  16. Dale on April 30th, 2005 1:22 am


    “The fact that few people know about anything Sojo does besides political activism just proves Chris’ point. ”

    How’s that? Popular opinion is somehow synonomous with “accurate”? That’s the same as the whole problem with the Religious Right having convinced most people on the outside that they are what represents Chriatianity in this country; what people know about faith communities is largely dependent upon what they see in the media (not good, but true). This is a perceptimon that Wallis has worked hard to get out an “alternative” message, a nd I think he’s done a huge favor to those who do not identify with the Religious Right.


  17. Dale on April 30th, 2005 1:38 am

    I thought this would be interesting (given that you have a couple of Hauerwas books on your list in the left side bar) of an interview on of Hauerwas by Wallis , Nov. 2001. (I have a couple of his on my list as well)
    Hauerwas Interview

  18. Movable Theoblogical on April 30th, 2005 1:46 am

    Defending God’s Politics Again

    Over on this blog by Van I have taken to defending JIm Wallis again, against some more broad, and inaccurate perceptions of him. Van has at least a couple Hauerwas books on his list, and so I don’t believe he…

  19. Van S on April 30th, 2005 11:41 am

    Here’s a quote from that article:

    Hauerwas: Remember, [Yoder] always stayed away from that. There is no Lutheran two-kingdom view that ontologically just has to be there. The only difference is the difference of agency. Those who have been claimed by Christ have a different alternative in the world than those who are not. And that’s part of what salvation is about!

    Here’s my beef: In all the emphasis that Wallis has brought in his new alternative, the basic agency of the church is assumed. He over-emphasizes the secondary ways in which the Church has agency. He is every bit as guilty of the constantinian trap as the religious right. That is my point.

    Having said that, I don’t think that Wallis sucks, or that he only cares about political issues. But I believe that he undersells the agency of the church (which I can really understand, because we have sucked at our job over the last 2000 years). The church has a different sort of agency than the rest of the world. If Christians want to get involved in “indirect” politics (ie, the agency of American politics), that isn’t bad as long as they maintain their ecclesial agency (direct politics).

    You can say, “Hey, Wallis isn’t about that…and if you say he is, well…then you’re just ignorant!” You can say, “hey, he says be active directly, but that message isn’t broadcast by the media.” But both of these statements aren’t exactly true. Wallis’ message is predominantly a political one. That is his platform. He has been pushing for a religous left for 20 years. His message isn’t new…it has been around for a while, and it is only an alternative when compared to the Christian Right. The Christian Left may be better than a Christian Right, but I believe both perspectives fall fundamentally short (this is an idea that our man Hauerwas makes over and over again). Unless there is balance brought into the rise of the Christian left, it will be every bit as foolish as the Christian right–doing politics that makes Christ a poster-child rather than the radical center.

    Wallis hasn’t been doing a good enough job communicating the very things you say he affirms. He may indeed affirm them, but he certainly doesn’t trumpet them as loudly as the political stuff.

  20. Dale on April 30th, 2005 3:45 pm

    “Wallis’ message is predominantly a political one. That is his platform. He has been pushing for a religous left for 20 years.”

    The point here is, is that while Wallis may be stressing some of the possible political arrangements that would be optimal, I believe it totally wrong to pin that on his “message”. I believe that characterization falls into the same trap of separating theology from politics, which I do not believe can be done. The way they interact can be good or bad, depending on the theology (and the politics).

    Hauerwas stresses that the role of the Church is to BE the Church. I have read many instances in his writing where he clarifies that he does NOT oppose “speaking truth to power” and being available to stand up for the ones without voice.

    “He may indeed affirm them, but he certainly doesn’t trumpet them as loudly as the political stuff.” Again, that’s in the media. Apparently, I feel he has expressed a wide range of Church/politics interaction over the past 30 years. Whether or not he’s “done a good job of that” is a pretty subjective test, I think.

    If the audience were a Church, you would hear him speak of the “obedience” and “community” from which thge Church derives its calling and motivation to “participate in God’s story”.

    I would not (and don’t think I did) say that “you’re ignorant”; only of Wallis’ larger history, which is not any kind of a sin or anything , of course, it’s just an issue of how well you know someone. When I heard some of those things about what you and or Chris posted about Wallis, I felt it was focused too much on the most recent dialogue (God’s Politics, the media appearances, etc.) BTW, Did you read the whole book?

    I have just begun reading Hauerwas in the past 6 months. I find myself wanting to understand more of his sense of ethics and the Church, and he often emphasizes how he’s still “feeling his way” on this stuff.

    I feel that the greatest thng about the God’s Politics campaign and dialogue is that so many people formerly cynical of the relevance of the Church have become that way due to the typical Religious Right type of face shown to the world, which sends them to non-Church related “causes”. Hauerwas , in The Peaceable Kingdom” has been constantly stressing how the “lifeblood” of the Church is the life and resurrection of Jesus, and it is that which gives the Church its power to make a difference. There are accountabilities and commitments to that community that are required of the one who would be a disciple of Jesus. Wallis has shown to the “secular world” how there exists a theology, a “Biblical worldview” which is not at all like the thing that people fear (like the theocracy espoused by the narrow-minded , power-hungry). I don’t think you’re going to do that with the general public in any effective way if you have to completely explain everything and every relationship to everybody’s satisfaction. I’m just happy he says that the Church and Jesus are against the war and against “a capital gains tax”; sure, that’s not “everything”, but it sure is worth something to try to create a new kind of dialogue and include what shouldn’t be new (but is) like various justice issues.

    In sum, I just think you severely shortchange and underestimate the complexity of “his message”.


  21. Dale on April 30th, 2005 3:49 pm

    The interview also includes this:

    “What you and I are trying to do is to think through how we can join in certain possible political alternatives in a manner that does not compromise our witness to nonviolence. This is where [John Howard] Yoder’s critique of Constantinianism becomes important, and that’s such a complex subject. Of course he didn’t necessarily associate it with Constantine, but there is a part of Christian nonviolence that I represent — that I hope is what John represented — a certain sense that, finally, we’re not running the world. But in a world we’re not running, we want to be an alternative that forces imaginative possibilities that wouldn’t be there otherwise. That’s what I’m trying to imagine.”

  22. Van S on April 30th, 2005 7:33 pm

    Like Wallis, I don’t want to divorce theology from politics. However, I think that he fuses them in the wrong way. I would like to hear how his view is fundamentally different from the religious right. It seems his theological perspective is based upon the same assumptions as the religioius right…it is just that he disagrees about the outcome. Both the religious left and right tend to force a morality upon the American people, and make Jesus their poster child…hence making Jesus irrelevant. Read Resident Aliens by Hauerwas and you’ll get where I’m coming from.

    Good conversation. In some ways I’m glad the church is struggling through this. My hope is, however, that people won’t settle on camps on either side of the isle, but will instead press through to understand how we, as the church, can push through and be the church. And in this, I think the Pope has been (and hopefully will be) a better example than Wallis.

  23. Dale on May 1st, 2005 11:05 am


    I’m glad you said “Good conversation”. I had become worried that I was falling into the trap of being overly advesarial, and I worry about that more with people like you who obviously care about many of the same things I do, because we are, after all, on the same side when it comes to being serious about what Jesus lived and taught. And we’re certainly looking in very similar places for literary inspiration.

    I certainly affirm your hope to see us:
    “press through to understand how we, as the church, can push through and be the church.”

    I’ve been reading more in The Peaceable Kingdom this morning , and he’s talking about narrative, and how “description” is a key part of the agent, self, ( or is it agent as self, self-as agent, or “I”), and that has me thinking , once again, about the relationship of blogging to that “need” or “neccessity” identified by Hauerwas to “narrate” and to place ourselves, or “identify ourselves” in the story of a community called together by Christ. It seems that at the heart of blogging, we have a sampling of the human desire (even “neccessity”) to find ourselves in a story (becuase this is , it seems , according to Hauerwas, the way we were made; that we find ourselves in joining ourselves to this community, and thus a story; a narrative.

    But I always insist that the power of blogging for the Church will be best realized by those which use it to “blog their story” (maybe McLaren’s title has this kind of thought behind it - “The Story We Find Ourselves In”)

    Now, back to the conversation before:
    Say more about “And in this, I think the Pope has been (and hopefully will be) a better example than Wallis.” Maybe I can disagree with you some more there, but I’ll wait and see what you mean.

    I was thinking this morning about the gravity of the task that exists for the Church in terms of her call to respond to the need that is out there. It seems overwhelming. I cannot help but hope that there is a way to collaborate on many things in order to address these needs. Many people across all faiths can agree upon much of this. Is there not a place for the organizing and “campaigning” to raise awareness about these things? And if so, is there not a “roadblock” being set up by the Religious Right and their GOP allies (or, those who USE them for political ends)? And is this not a matter of “reputation” of the Church? Not that Wallis is the only one who can do this (he isn’t), but he HAS , undeniably, brought this to the public square in America. And I cannot accept the argument that Wallis is simply “imposing” a morality in the same manner that the Religious Right does. It seems totally different. I mean, there is a “better way”, and what Wallis suggests is SO MUCH better. Sure, of course it’s not perfect, but allow Wallis the time to learn the real life pitfalls and discover those “dangers”. I myslef think he is doing well in appropriating the language of “politics” to proclaim a “good news” that Jesus WAS INDEED concerned and lived to proclaim a Kingdom that addressed many of the things with which those of “Progressive Faith” can identify. Many of Wallis previous books are mostly narratives about Social Justice Ministry experiences and how the Church in this country needs to reclaim their Chrisitan heritage (since Christ himself emphasized these things) like in “The Soul of Politics” in 1993. My whole point in all this debate is that there is no way to characterize Wallis in the way that you have while being familiar with the whole thread of Sojourners and the type of leadership Wallis has given. Right now, I think we are seeing the “witness” stage of the journey of Sojourners. Since the 70’s , Sojourners has been proclaiming various points in culture where the gospel is “good news” by raising awreness of it. They developed “Call to Renewal”, and now after years of that, some powerful people find themselves caring about some of this (or they were made aware), to some extent by Sojourners/Wallis’s efforts. The Iraq invasion I believe, brought all this to the public eye, and I am so glad that he has made the media rounds to circulate this awareness. I believe, as I said earlier, that you would hear a very different emphasis if an audience that includes people like you and I were to be Wallis’ intended target. I really believe you would find that he would speak to those issues you have raised much more to your satisfaction. I see that becuase I know how well he is grounded in the Community of the Church. The kinds of criticisms you are talking about are certainly real dangers and real pitfalls and ever present, but I do not believe Wallis has fallen into them.

    I believe there are stages to such movements, and I hope that we will see an implementation by increasing numbers of Churches as a result of this (or similar “revivals”) that identifies the nexus of all this as in the Church, dependent upon the Church, and being called to BE the Church , and include alongside the “BEING” or modeling of the truth, an ability to DESCRIBE; to NARRATE, and to do so in a way that “speaks the truth to power”.

  24. Dale on May 1st, 2005 11:06 am

    Sheesh, sorry about the length. ‘Nuff said.

  25. Dale on May 1st, 2005 11:58 am

    I like this in Jeremy’s post above:

    “Sojo’s and co. and bringing a much needed corrective to privatized, individualistic, apolitical view of (evangelical) Christian faith. Sure, it’s possible they could fall on ditch in the other side of the road, as the Religious Right has so clearly demonstrated. But I think we a long ways from that side of the road right now.”

    I agree with everything he said in that post, and he says it well, espeically the quote from Wallis which says: “we are called not just to pull bodies out of the river and give them a proper burial, but to go up river and see what’s killing them.

  26. Van S on May 1st, 2005 12:41 pm

    I think in many ways, we agree. But I think we are looking at this from very different vantage points. I am much more skeptical than you are, Dale, about the way in which Christianity and the State can interact. It is through that skepticism that I interpret Wallis’ role and message. And because of that, I don’t think we’ll be able to see eye to eye on this. It isn’t a matter of me getting your facts and me changing my mind, or vice versa. The simple truth is that Wallis is posturing himself within the American political system to speak ‘good news.’ I am coming from an anabaptist perspective that sees such efforts as basically misguided.

    I respect the Pope on his stance, because he speaks strongly to the nations essentially as an outsider…as someone outside the system. When priests get partisan or get enmeshed in the polical machines of their respective nations, the Pope has gotten a bit perturbed. Priests are supposed to be prophetic in the sense that they maintain their loyalty primarily and almost totally to the Vatican, but with concern for the nations in which they sojourn. From that vantage (of being more “outside” than “inside”, if such a poor contrast and illustration can be made) they offer prophetic voice. This has been how the pope speaks to nations. And as a neo-evangelical, I think we can learn from that. I am skeptical of any efforts to influence the process fundamentally from within…since I want a more robust separation, and a clearer articulation of the primacy of our loyalty to the Kingdom of Heaven.

    I know this sounds radical, but hey, I’m kind of a nut that way.

    While the sojo approach to politics may seem less troublesome than the Right, that is only because it hasn’t had the time to become entrenched within the system. The sojo message, in my mind, is essentially–”hey, the religious right has a monopoly, let’s destroy that a bit while we let the pendulum swing our way.”

    I enjoy this conversation. I consider this a good example of good in-house debate. I don’t think we’re throwing rocks at each other, because I’m learning a bit and I think passionate debate and disagreement can be good things that Christians should do MORE of, not less.

  27. Dale on May 1st, 2005 1:26 pm


    I’m not going to say, “say no and I’ll say ‘we’ll talk when the answer is yes’”, but I was curious : you haven’t read God’s Politics, right? Because even though you claim you won’t be changing your mind, I do think a little perspective on Wallis and Sojo is helpful. Especially since they have often said the same things you are saying, usually when asked about whether or not this is “governement’s job”.

    OF COURSE it would be optimal for ALL Churches to be faithful and on mission and responding to what God IS calling them to do. Sider points out that if just American Christian tithed at 10%, the entire world could have health coverage and education. That’s staggering. But there is also the reality that most Churches aren’t doing this, and that there IS some kind of an effort and belief IN GOVERNMENT that there is some responsibility to help resource and reinforce safety nets and regulate corporations that seek profit over the welfare and health of people. We NEED everybody who will listen and has resources to act, and to work to collaborate to at least a minimalk degree to get the help distibuted, and this involves some structure, and the CONNECTIONS among all groups who have relationships with active groups and other nations, in order to pool resources and pool anything we can pool.

    BUT, what you say is certainly fair warning. I just don’t apply that intention or effectiveness (or lack thereof) to Sojo or Wallis so hastily. I think that your expressed doubts are premature, but are certainly possible, but I don’t expect it.

    But hey, I think this connversation has made me more willing to be more cautious, as I’m sure more reading in Hauerwas (which I am doing) will also.


  28. Movable Theoblogical on May 1st, 2005 2:27 pm

    Wallis and the Apoliitcal Crowd

    Seems many who count themselves among the “apolitical” Christians (which , to their credit, do so under the assumption that the Kingdoms of this world are not synonomous with the Kingdom of God. I affirm that. But to take this…

  29. Dale on May 9th, 2005 7:34 pm

    This is from an article by Hauerwas on Bonhoeffer and speaking the truth. There are numerous instances throughout the article where Hauerwas dispels the notion that he is against Church activism in all forms and instances, on the grounds you seem to be suggesting.

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer
    on Truth and Politics

    His closing remarks are typical of what he covers throughout the article:

    Bonhoeffer?s observations about the character of theological education in America are not what might be considered his personal prejudices. Rather they are a challenge to teacher and student alike that few things are more important than us holding ourselves as well as being held by the church to speak the truth. As odd as it may sound, given the accommodated character of the church in liberal societies, if the church does not itself preach the Gospel truthfully then politically we condemn ourselves and those to whom we are pledged to witness to what Bonhoeffer called “the void.” 46 A sobering observation, but one that at least directs those of us who count ourselves Christian to the task God has given us, that is, to be a people capable of speaking truthfully to ourselves, to our brother and sisters in Christ, and to the world.

    I believe that Wallis and Sojourners represents the best effort and tenacity I have seen in decades in the task of trying to avoid “condemning our country to the void”

  30. Movable Theoblogical on June 4th, 2005 11:13 am

    God’s Politics Comments

    Another installment of the critiques of God’s Politics, to which I have posted comments Progressive Protestant ? here (at Progressive Protestant) and here (Van’s Blog”) Both these blogs are great conversation supporters, and both bloggers thoroughly e…

  31. dlw on November 23rd, 2006 8:34 pm

    my thoughts.

    As I understand it, Wallis breathed deeply in the idealism of the sixties, went through a radical anabaptist phase twenty five years ago, and now still remains a tempered idealist who likes to talk more about his ideals and changing the direction of the wind politically than the concrete and fallible strategies used for political activism.

    I was critical of Wallis in 2004 when he campaigned hard for Kerry to move more to the left economically. I didn’t see how this helped to keep the US’s democracy competitive and wanted him to do more to help Kerry understand the cultural wars better and to prevent some of the serious gaffes that Kerry made in dealing with the cultural wars.

    I think its hard to pinpoint what Wallis wants. I think his current task, since writing God’s politics, was to make room among the Dems for people of faith contra “secular fundamentalism” that was influential in the party. The implicit goal here would be to tilt the advantage in our two party system back in the Dems favor, so they could continue their historical program of income redistribution and “reform”, with the Pubs following in repositioning themselves around the generic center.

    I don’t care for Hauerwas’s treatment of Wallis as it is too polemical(as is much of political theology). It treats Wallis as dealing with the whole, when he’s not. He’s dealing with an aspect of Christian witness in which we’ve fallen short due to the personalization of our faith and how our relatively shallow habits of deliberation on politics make us easy to manipulate.

    The bottom line for me is what sorts of disciplines ought we to cultivate as part of our Christian witness to the world. I believe in missional holism and ecclesial fallibilism in the advancement of the kingship of God and that how we act politically is inevitably a critical part of that, as to proclaim Christ as Lord is to deny that Caesar is Lord. This paves the way for the desacralization of the state that is a fundamental presupposition of modern political philosophy/theology and the social sciences.

    The rest is a matter of fallibly reconciling our values and strategies in ways that complement rather than subvert our witness to others. I think a critical step is to promote a viable third party system in the US, though not one that would serious challenge the hegemony of the main two parties but rather make them more dynamic and responsive to the US population.

    So when you gonna blog about the “house church” model Mark?


  32. dlw on November 27th, 2006 3:22 pm

    no comments on my thoughts about Wallis and Hauerwas?

    As I mentioned, the bottom line for me is a matter of what habits/disciplines we shd cultivate as Christians as part of our love of neighbor as ourselves.


  33. Van S on November 27th, 2006 3:42 pm


    I wasn’t alerted via email when you submitted your last comment, but I got the one sent on the 27th…

    I like Hauerwas’ approach. I don’t like Wallis’ approach because it is too conciliatory. :) I don’t think it is very helpful to use the American political system to achieve kingdom goals.

    I think that house churches tend to be insufficient to the task of a strong political embodiment of the Gospel. They tend to work in isolation and with limited resources and engagement. The sorts of practices the Church must adopt need to be enacted at both the 1:1 level and a systemic level. A great example of this is how the Catholic Church tends to engage poverty at both the individual and at a systematic level. When the Catholic church addresses poverty, however, it rarely relies upon the State for support.

    I need to give more thought to the sorts of disciplines we ought to cultivate as communities of loving witness. Radical hospitality is a start. Most of the disciplines I can conceive of are the 1:1 sort. A weakness of my Anabaptist approach is it’s lack of systematic response. I think the Mennonite Central Committee, along with its ties to Christian Peacemaker Teams, offers a great start. As does the Catholic church. Part of me thinks that it would be SO much better if Christians were to opt out of the political system and put their energy and resources into these sorts of efforts, but I feel like that may be insufficient. I’ll need to ponder this more.

  34. dlw on November 27th, 2006 8:04 pm

    use the American political system to acheive kingdom goals?

    Isn’t the question whether we can legitimately think of ourselves as apart from our political systems?

    See, I think house churches can have a significant impact via my idea.

    As for the Cath Church, it has political connections that enable it to help the poor and it is only through our own incorporation into the political-economic system that we are able to be hospitable to others, take time away from work to study and do other sorts of actions.

    I think the problem here is with the root notion that we can opt out of the system. My pov is that we need a viable third party system in the US to keep the main parties more dynamic. I think the best way for this to be brought about is by a broad coalition of third parties in the next election that will focus on state elections and getting out in the public discussion some third-party-friendly reforms, while voting strategically in the main elections.


  35. Van S on November 27th, 2006 8:27 pm

    It isn’t that we ought to opt out, per se. It is more that we need to opt in with an alternative sort of political agency than is offered. A third party approach is perhaps a step in the right direction, but I wonder if it doesn’t play to existing powers and principalities (to nod to Walter Wink) instead of confronting those principalities and powers.

  36. dlw on November 28th, 2006 12:17 am

    Dude, if you read what I write about Wallis at my blog, I am both critical and supportive of him.

    I like his values, I do not like the way his strategies are somewhat veiled from public discourse, but at the same time, just because he could go wrong along the way of trying to change the equilibrium mainly through changing the blue-state political culture, doesn’t mean I’m gonna diss on him.

    Like I said, political theology ain’t irenic enough. You got too many smart cookies like Jamie K Smith peering down from their ivory towers and labelling Wallis as Constantinized.

    I think one always plays a game of political jujitsu to the existing powers and principalities with all successful movements for reform. The key is to value showing love to our neighbor more than getting our people into power. By this account, it was wrong for Wallis to attempt to move Kerry to the left economically in the 2004 election without helping him to understand better the red-state culture wrt the cultural wars. It did nothing to help him get elected and he was quite self-righteous in dismissing how Kerry never supported their issues anyways.

    Trust me, amping down the import of ideology on politics, House Church-style political activism, once the word gets around…, and pan-third party movements to help third parties get footholds onto power seem to me like the key strategies for these coming years, though I am hoping that people will be allowed to vote trice in the presidential primaries so we’ll be more likely to get better options there….


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