In discussing the Right, the Left, and the Anas, Hunter begins his next chapter by noting the fact that “the three competing myths discussed here, and the political theologies that derive from them, are all held passionately by people of the same faith community” (p. 176). But in doing this, Hunter does something else that is very common at this level of sociological analysis. What myth forms and shapes Hunter’s theology? The book is presented as though we are now able to look at the whole landscape of political theologies among Christians, but we have somehow managed to do it from the Nowhere Vista Overlook.
A shaping narrative is an essential part of every worldview, and Hunter sees this clearly when it comes to the positions he is analyzing. But it is equally true for the analyzer. And of course it needs to be noted that having a shaping narrative/mythology does not necessarily mean that it is false — that has to be discussed separately. But Hunter appears to believe that the groups he is discussing have two strikes against them for having what every position actually must have.
That said, in this chapter Hunter discusses power, the inescapable nature of it, and its unbiquitous presence in every relationship — “human relations are inherently power relations” (p. 178). At the same time, he wants to distinguish sharply between that which is public and that which is political, and wants us to move “constructively toward a post-political Christian witness” (p. 184). “But on all fronts, the merging of faith and politics/culture is deeply problematic. It is time for a disentangling” (p. 185). In doing this, he does not want the distinction to be political/private. There should be a public realm that is quite distinct from partisan politics. This is quite right — engaged preaching would be one example. The public nature of Christ’s rule over our nation could be effectively declared by a preacher, in public, with absolutely no connection to “how-a-bill-becomes-law” politics. But when this preaching is done in public, and it is done effectively, it will eventually get into the politics. At some point, the people cry out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). And sometimes what God expects of us in our repentance is political, and not just public.
While Hunter differs with all the groups he is discussing, he has the most obvious respect for the neo-Anabaptists. At the end of the day, he holds that their distinction between the world and the church is “often overdrawn, exaggerated, and false” (p. 182). But he says this acknowledging “there is subtlety, nuance, and range in the theological positions of neo-Anabaptism” (p. 180). This, contrasted with Hunter’s apparent view of politically conservative Christians, which could be summed with with a joke — Q. What is a good pick-up line at a Religious Right convention? A. “Hey, nice tooth!” Full disclosure. That was my joke, not Hunter’s.
But Hunter holds that the neo-Anabaptists are right about the problems that attend the close association of “the church and American society” (p. 184). He holds that their solution, however, is so hard-line as to be functionally impossible, especially if you take the social relations within the church into account. And Hunter really is more realistic about what we sometimes have to do.
“Even for the Christian, coercion is unavoidable because at times it is necessary, as, say in the defense of the defenseless; a means to achieve a lesser of various evils” (p. 193).
The problem here is that Hunter appears to feel that defending the defenseless is an evil that we should only do reluctantly. He gives the purity to the pacifists and the realism to the rescuer of the downtrodden, which seems odd. St. George kills the dragon, rescues the lady, but lets her know that it was certainly an unsavoury choice for him.
Another part of his argument provided me with a good example of how my postmillennialism gets into everything. Citing John 12:31, Jn. 16:11, 2 Cor. 4:4, and 1 Jn. 5:19, Hunter says this.
“If this reading is right then the spirit that animates worldly power — whether held by individuals, social groups, communities, institutions, or social structures — naturally tends toward manipulation, domination, and control. Rooted in the deceptions of misdirected desire, it is a power that in its most coarse expressions would exploit, subjugate, and even enslave. Within a fallen humanity, then, all power is tainted,infected by the same tendencies toward self-aggrandizing domination. The natural disposition of all human power is to its abuse” (p. 188).
This kind of thing, however sound it is on total depravity, misses the relevance of Christ’s resurrection in the middle of history. Hunter also cites Col. 2:13-15, but shifts slightly away from what it says. It is this kind of thing that makes me bounce excitedly up and down on my seat, making it hard to type, which explains all the typonis.
“In his crucifixion, Christ disarmed all forms of worldly power and in his resurrection, he triumphed over them and by so doing, made it possible for those who believe to be liberated from them and to participate in the reality of his kingdom” (p. 188).
It would be easy to misunderstand me here, so I would plead with all my readers to try not to do that. Of course there is a sense in which Christ’s resurrection makes it possible for those who believe to be liberated from all forms of worldly power. But the grace of God in Christ threw down the walls of the world’s dungeon objectively, and did not give us powers to escape from a dungeon which continues on as strong as ever. We can escape because the walls fell down, and not because we have become Holy Ghost Houdinis. In order to understand and participate fully, we must believe. But there is a real sense in which Christ’s resurrection changed the world in which the unbelievers live.
The last problem is that, as I see it, Hunter is too coy about what our compromises on the right are supposed to have been.
“In our day, Christians have not only embraced strategies that are incapable of bringing about the ends to which they aspire, they have also embraced strategies that are deeply problematic, shortsighted, and at times, profoundly corrupted” (p. 193).
Hunter says that conservatives “uncritically associating revelation with traditional social practices” (p. 183). This is a point that could be right on or wildly misguided, depending on what he is talking about. If he is saying that conservative Christians have at times wrongly identified the gospel with skinny neck ties and short crew cuts, and licentiousness was seen as mixed roller skating to bee-bop music, this would be quite true. That kind of mistake has happened before. But this is not what we are currently discussing under “traditional social practices.” For some decades, conservative Christians have been fighting over a child’s right to be born without getting vacuumed out of the womb in small pieces. We have been standing for the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman. We have wanted fight off the macabre disciples of euthanasia. If this is what we are talking about, it is not an uncritical association, but rather an exegetical and prophetic necessity.