In episode 19 of Seminary Dropout I talked with Scot McKnight about a book he had just edited and published with Joe Modica called ‘Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not’. The book was an evaluation of Empire Criticism.
Empire Criticism as McKnight explains in the introduction ‘refers to developing an eye and ear for the presence of Rome and the worship of the emperor in the lines and between the lines of New Testament writings.’
McKnight goes on to give an example – ‘A simple reading of Luke 2 reveals Luke using the following terms for Jesus-Savior and Lord, and alongside those terms are the terms of good news (gospel) and peace. Now it so happens that empire critics call to our notice that these are the precise terms used of Caesar in Rome, the very rems broadcast throughout the empire on declarations and in letters and on countless inscriptions visible in all major cities in the empire.’
Does the Bible contain criticism of the concept of empire (namely the Roman empire in the case of the NT writers)? Most definitely. Was this the primary purpose of the gospel? By no means. The primary purpose of the gospel is to tell the story of God reconciling creation to himself. Those are generally the findings of JLCN: Empire Criticism is there, but it’s not the New Testaments primary purpose.
Never-the-less to say ‘Jesus is Lord’ was to necessarily say ‘Caesar is not’! The first objective of the gospel writers was to proclaim the rightful place of Jesus first and foremost, but the purposeful inference is that if Jesus is Lord, Caesar can not be.
It’s as if their allegiance to Jesus is burning so bright that all other allegiances fall apart in it’s flame.
During my talk with McKnight in episode 19 I had thought (but not a thought that I could articulate on the fly and formulate a statement to bounce off of him). My thought was that, at first glance you might think that the young Christian wearing a Che Guevara shirt with dread locks mouthing about how the government needs be overturned is the exact type that needs to read the message of JLCN, and that might be true. However, I think that person may be more of a straw man, than a real life application for most of us. I mean seriously, I don’t run in to that guy very often. I do run in to Christ followers who are irate because Barack Obama has failed to bring about peace (most often through violence), prosperity, and joy to their lives. In fact, my Facebook feed is full of these people.
There’s a great C.S. Lewis quote – ‘Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.’
In the same vain, maybe to follow Christ means not thinking less of the empire, so much as thinking of the empire less. Because frankly, thinking less of the empire gives the empire more power than it merits. Thinking less of the empire may indicate that we’ve given the empire a place in our hearts that it doesn’t deserve or belong. You can only be profoundly disappointed in something that you have profoundly trusted in. I think constant preoccupation with politicians and government may reveal that we’d rather have accepted them as Lord and Savior. Granted, we may not see them as a good Lord and Savior, but we only become so angry because we have fervently looked to them for things that Jesus was meant to provide.
Don’t hear me only picking on the religious-right either. The same vitriol was there during the last administration and we’ll surely see it in the next.
The problem is not what we want from our government so much as it is a disproportionate faith that it can fulfill those longings on a level that only Christ has the power to fulfill.