“Jesus Story and American Culture”

My assignment was to describe my “paradigm for thinking about the Jesus Story and American Culture” in two to three minutes for a discussion group at Otter Creek church, occasioned by Occupy Nashville. Here goes…

Overarching paradigm for “the Jesus Story and American culture.”
Lee Camp, 14 December 2011

One: the Kingdom of God has come: not yet fully, but inaugurated. Biblically, “Kingdom of God” means that justice and mercy are observed; swords are beaten into plowshares; and Jubilee breaks forth, abolishing debt and sharing wealth. The Kingdom of God does not equal “going to heaven”; is not merely an other-worldly phenomenon, but a real kingdom, with a real king, and real socio-political practices, in the midst of the created cosmos.

Corollary: Biblically considered, “salvation” is closer to what American presidents mean when they call “America” the “hope of the world” than it is to what the American churches mean when they call Jesus “our hope.”

Two: the Kingdom of God was established in a manner that was a scandal to the ancient world and remains a scandal today even to most western Christians: viz., suffering love unto death, speaking unwelcome truth to the powers-that-be, welcoming those whom the power-brokers marginalize, all while giving up power, loving enemies, and practicing a multi-faceted Jubilee of grace, forgiveness and mercy.

Corollary: it is idolatrous for America to claim to be the “hope of the world,” and there is in fact direct competition between even the best human governments and the Kingdom of God. The U.S., like all human governments, seeks its own interests at the expense of others, employing coercion on behalf of what it calls “good.” The Kingdom of God seeks the good of all, at expense to itself, renouncing coercion and grasping.

Three: “the world,” biblically considered, is not the good material stuff of God’s creation, but that realm which rejects Jesus as Lord, or rejects Jesus’ Way as the way to “salvation.”

Four: “the church,” biblically considered, is charged with showing to the powers-that-be the wisdom of God. In baptism, the church gives itself over to Jesus’ Way, a new unity that transcends all boundaries (including those of nation-states), and will suffer as Christ suffered.

Five: our relationship with the “powers-that-be” is ambivalent. Our task is to first call any civil servant (e.g., a legislator) or power-broker (e.g., a Wall Street banker) to accept the Lordship of Christ. If they cannot or will not, we ask them to take a step in the direction of the Kingdom of God: if they are practicing corruption, we call them toward justice. If they are amassing wealth, we call them to share it with the poor. If they are practicing hard-hearted equity, we call them toward mercy. And so forth.

A corollary: sometimes “the world” is better at this latter task than “the church.”

A corollary: until the Kingdom of God comes in its fullness (which will triumph over all other social orders), there is no ideal social order. The work of bearing witness (in proposition 5) will always be ad-hoc and unfinished.

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