Posted by: rogermitchell | January 16, 2011

Living by faith as a counterpolitical way of life

Over the past few weeks I have made a number of exploratory posts on living by faith. This connected with posts on the subject of living in what I called Jesus time. Earlier I blogged about a kenotic way of life that I began to refer to as kenarchy. As is hopefully becoming obvious I am developing these ideas in the attempt to reconfigure a way of following Jesus that escapes out of the potent mixture of the good news of Jesus and the selfish pursuit of personal and corporate sovereignty, or empire, which mainly characterises western Christianity, whether liberal, Catholic, evangelical, Pentecostal or charismatic. I have tried to configure this in a number of ways over the existence of this blog, as well as in the weekly emails over some five years of firstly the Nightwatch for Europe and afterwards the Daywatch. I guess it hardly needs saying that I take this stuff very seriously! I keep looking for provocative, catalytic statements to sum it up simply. Hopefully in 140 characters or less so that it can go on twitter!  Here’s one of those: the gospel of Jesus is more political than it is religious and more to the left in western party political terms than it is to the right!



  1. that reminds me of when, in 1988, I began an internship in urban ministry with the Baptist church in Toronto. One of the course leaders, a pastor, noted that the more literally you take the Bible the more politically left you will tend to be. I’ve certainly found that to be true since then. And yes, of course the gospel is political – the Romans certainly understood it that way. c.

    • Thanks for the affirmative reply. It encourages me right now as at last I’ve configured my hermeneutic to the point in my work where I can exegete the exciting counterpolitics of Jesus and apply it today!

    • I’m struggling with the idea that a literal reading of the Bible leads to left-leaning politics. For me, literal reading of the bible leads to very small boxes where we are instructed to do only and all that Jesus did, but fail to see and hear the metaphors and complexity and paradox of how he lived. (which to me also leads to right-leaning rules and “law” as normative).
      I agree in general with the statement that you’ve proposed Roger, but it makes me wonder where it’s leading and it also uses words that generally have a lot of baggage (like ‘political’ and ‘left/right-leaning’). Maybe that’s your intention…I’m willing and interested to read more!
      I think I’ve posted this book already (forgive me if I have)…James Davison Hunter “To Change the World” (Oxford 2010). His premise is that american religion is so embeded in politics (left, right and centre) that it has distorted the gospel…and that change will not come from “making politics Christian”. He even goes as far as to say that religion should get out of politics for a season (although he admits that that is nearly impossible to imagine!).
      I look forward to reading more about where this tentative thesis statement leads in forming Christ followers!

      • Thanks for this Colleen, it’s just the kind of intelligent response I am aiming to provoke. However, I’m unclear where the “literal reading of the Bible” bit comes from. I don’t recommend that. I’m not at all sure that reading the Bible literally is helpful, does justice to the text or gets to heart of God’s intention. What I am suggesting is that a serious reading of the text, what Tom Wright calls critical realism in his The New Testament and the People of God, plus a dose of Graham Ward’s affective relational approach, what he calls an economy of response, in his Christ and Culture, all in the context of a faith abandonment to the Spirit, leads to engaging with a highly radical Jesus. I appreciate your recommendation of Hunter’s book, and it certainly sounds insightful, but I’m not going to able to tackle new stuff now, until this research is finished and submitted. I’ll certainly have a go then. But the premise that the American political situation in some way baptises politics sounds not unlike where I am coming from. I’m suggesting that the misalignment of church and sovereignty was due to a 4th century fall in the history of the church, the genealogy of which still undergirds the western world, which is therefore still a form of Christendom. This system legitimates both left, right and centre of liberal capitalism, all of which I regard as ‘on the right.’ However I believe it is now in the process of unravelling. We need to go deeper, get ‘under’ the political system and lovingly aid its deconstruction. I believe that this is part of the reason Jesus came. It is in this sense that I see the gospel as opposed to the status quo and more to the left than right. Hopefully this helps a bit while, of course, posing further questions.

      • Hi Roger,
        The literal reading of the Bible was in response to cheryl’s post, where she connected the literal and the left, which doesn’t resonate for me, but may for others.
        I totally hear your necessary ‘holding at arms length’ any new material! I am only in the second semester of my doctoral research, so am at a totally different point in the process. 🙂
        I guess, truthfully, I’m struggling with the idea that Jesus came to deconstruct or abolish the political system of his day…
        I agree with the radical nature of his engagement with all of life, his call to justice, mercy, turning the religious establishment on its head, the overriding imperative of love, etc… but I see these things in the context of a new radical community of followers, not in a call to overthrow political institutions.
        I agree with so much of what you’ve said…but I’m struggling with that (which seems pretty fundamental). I have not fully read the final section of your thesis – would I find more of this argument there? Or perhaps in reading that, I would understand better what your alternative proposal is for the framework of the social, institutional, cultural make-up of nation groups in this post-post or late modern era.
        I’m sorry to not get it, and I’d like to understand better, but if this is going back to material that you’ve already written somewhere else, please direct me.
        Do you see a context for the idea of ‘the church in exile’ and how does that nudge or tweak your thesis?
        What does ‘lovingly aiding the deconstruction’ of the current political system look like? Does the gathered body of Christ have a role in that or is it more directed at individuals living out of “jesus-time” incarnational lives?
        And…know that I will not be offended in any way if you say “those questions don’t relate to what I’m talking about, go read this or that…that I’ve already written!!” 🙂

  2. Only this morning in conversation I said “if we are to truely follow christ and take him at his word we might end up being accused of communism,only christ was here before any communists arrived”.
    When Mary sang that the rich would be sent away empty and christ proclaimed the poor to be blessed he placed us firmly against the rich and powerfull.If the church is to rediscover its true calling it must firmly stand for the things christ stood for.

    • I think I prefer radical stewardship to communism as a description, as this seems to be the implication of Acts 4:32 – 5:1-11. But as for the Magnificat, how good is that! Makes you wonder how its presence in the liturgy allowed Christendom to develop. May be why the liturgy was kept in Latin and common folk weren’t allowed to read the scriptures in their lingua franca for so many centuries of western church history. Or if not the conscious reason, certainly one of the effects.

  3. I like the idea of what you’re saying though how you say it is problematic to me. But then, tweets are low on nuance.

    At first glance the idea that Jesus is on the Left is absolutely obvious. The Left originally spoke of that which aligned to the weaker of the two hands: to the powerless and subjugated. The radical, kenotic and subversive Jesus belongs to this tradition. That tradition has always been at its best when it has fought for liberty and equality.

    However, in spite of its heart, today’s Left is generally concerned with maintaining and improving the status quo of the state (which is imbued with quasi-divine characteristics) to reach Left-like ends. In that sense, the state must act to resolve society’s ills because – the theory goes – having been tamed by democracy, it serves the people and not the powerful. In fact, this apparent contemporary ‘Left’ has bought into the albeit seductive notion that the big and powerful state is somehow essentially better than the alternatives proposed by the Right. It has also – like the Right – manifestly failed to deliver real change.

    This is where I think the idea of Left and Right collapses. In terms of the substance of what a good society is, there is little room between the contemporary Left and Right. The difference is over form/structure and who the important protagonists are. Mostly, the main protagonists are variants of different powerful things/entities. The real inheritors of the Left would be arguing for ways of inverting this and making the powerless the chief protagonists (rather than simply the victims to whom we redistribute wealth) etc. [I’m also pretty convinced that all the ‘cuts’ rhetoric, both for and against, is something of a distraction from the real issues at hand – and somewhat indulgent in the context of world poverty and conflict]

    Ultimately, I see the Left and Right dichotomy has having lost its value in today’s political conundrums and see them both as being complicit in the same old circular political debates and structures which do not elicit much substantially new thinking, action or – importantly – outcomes. I also think that Jesus would transect such a political continuum much as he did with the Pharisees and Sadducees, Romans and Sanhedrons. They’ve all to some degree missed the point. The continuum is deconstructing and everywhere there is a call for a new politics. Placing Jesus anywhere on the present left-right political continuum substantially diminishes how radical he is in my view and permits less newness of political thought than I think we need. No?

  4. I agree with you completely. I am simply trying to provoke this discussion to exactly the end you describe. Problem is that so many seriously committed Christians blithely or blindly assume that faith puts them on the right. They see the left as somehow more secular. This is not just the case in the US where this is very strong, but among many fine, kind, intercessory types some of whom may hopefully find their way to this blog or my tweets, or the various discussions that spread outwards from them. As my thesis attempts to explicate, I regard the whole western political system as the fulness of the genealogy of church and empire. This puts the present system of representative democracy on a continuum with fascism and absolutism, although on the more acceptably egalitarian end of it. It’s why I say we could do worse than Ed Milliband and Labour, because at their best they are farther towards that end than the right. But they can’t resolve the deep structural problem. That requires the kind of loving deconstruction and re-configuration of power that living by faith, kenarchy, kin(g)dom or whatever, entails.

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