on "On Earth as in Heaven"

from NT Wright

Here is the paradox of Christian political theology, a paradox which the western church has all but ignored for many years, assuming that the main object of the game was to forget earth and concentrate on heaven instead. Precisely because we believe that Jesus Christ has been exalted to heaven, into God’s space, so that he can be present to the whole earth simultaneously (not so that he can be absent from it – heaven forbid!), and so that he can be its rightful Lord, we believe that the church has a responsibility, not to usurp the proper and God-given functions of governments and authorities, of magistrates and officers, but to support them in prayer and to remind them of what they are there for – and to point out when they’re getting it wrong. God has established authorities in the world, as part of the goodness of creation, because without them the bullies and the malevolent would always get away with it. But the problem of evil includes the problem that the people who are supposed to be keeping evil in check may themselves become part of the problem instead of part of the solution.

That’s why, in early Christianity and Judaism, those who believe in God’s kingdom coming on earth as in heaven are not particularly concerned with how rulers get to be rulers. They are not going around campaigning for an early form of parliamentary democracy. They are extremely concerned with what rulers do once they become rulers, knowing that a bad ruler is worse than an ordinary bad person, because their evil is becoming part of the system. And so the church, at its most characteristic from that day to this, in hailing Jesus as the ascended Lord, doesn’t declare a plague on all other lords in the sense of advocating a kind of holy anarchy, or a straightforward theocracy. But the church claims the right, in invoking Jesus as Lord, to challenge the systems of corruption that dehumanize people and enslave them, and to remind the powers that be of what their duty actually is.

Only the Holy Spirit is allowed to “immanentize the eschaton“.


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