Reading for the Resistance

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : January 26, 2007

I recently added two more books to my “Reading for the Resistance” section: Jesus and Empire and Paul and Empire. I am very careful about which books I include in that list. The list isn’t my “favorite books” list. Nor is it an “emerging church” list or a “missional church” list. How did those books end up on my list? I’ve included those books that I’ve read that do a good job articulating the Kingdom of God and how we, the Church, can live faithfully in the Kingdom of God in our world. Obviously, I have an Anabaptist understanding of the Gospel, as well as an almost fully realized understanding of Kingdom of God, so I include books that reinforce my views.

In other words (for you non-theological nerds), I tend to believe that Jesus’ mission was more than simply to come and die; Jesus’ established a new order (the Kingdom of God), an order of peace that affects all areas of our life. The Kingdom of God is more about the here-and-now than it is about the future (though there is a future element to be sure). As a response to Jesus’ invitation to be a part of this new order, we are to repent of the old order and follow in his footsteps.

None of this is to say that I no longer believe in justification or eternal life with Jesus or the need to be forgiven of our sins, etc. I’m just saying that those things are part of this new order (the Kingdom of God) that is present among us now (and will be forever).

JESUS AND EMPIRE: Jesus as an anti-imperial political revolutionary (of sorts). Horsley’s understanding of the “politics of Jesus” isn’t new. Horsley’s real contribution is that he draws socio-political parallels between Rome and the U.S.

PAUL AND EMPIRE: Once you reject an anachronistic reading of the New Testament that is based upon a separation between church and state, between the material and the spiritual worlds, and between religion and politics, all sorts of disturbing ideas begin to appear in Paul’s writings. Paul’s concern was not simply doctrine (justification and whatnot) nor Jewish/Gentile relations (though this is also a big issue in Paul’s writings). Horsley and his colleagues argue instead that Paul’s ultimate concern was confrontation with Roman imperial power and all that it entailed. I’m not sure I’m willing to go as far as that, but it is definitely worth exploring.

Mark Van Steenwyk is the editor of He is a Mennonite pastor (Missio Dei in Minneapolis), writer, speaker, and grassroots educator. He lives in South Minneapolis with his wife (Amy), son (Jonas) and some of their friends.

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    I love Richard Horsley. I don't agree with many of his conclusions, but he brings an excellent socio-historical critique that is lacking in most evangelical scholars.


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