This post was originally titled “The Way of the Cross and Constantine,” but this is more interesting, don’t you think?
Jesus died outside Jerusalem two thousand years ago. That death was not only the hinge upon which all history turns (although it certainly is that), it is also the hinge in the story of every believing soul. The cross is one point in history, and that cross is perichoretically present throughout history as every believing soul is baptized into that death. In short, His death is something that others can be baptized into. His death was an event that was intended for others — indeed, it was a death that was intended for the whole world. His death was for all.
This means that His death was the center of life for our lost world, and when the virtues of that death take root in individual lives, the way of the cross radiates out from them as well. Like the omniscience of God, the center is now everywhere. I cannot locate the death of Jesus “over there” or “back then” and be faithful to it. As Bonhoffer put it, when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. But as that death is communicated everywhere, so is the power of resurrected life. If we die with Him, we shall also live with Him (Rom. 6:8). Death and resurrection are inseparable spiritual realities. They come together; it is a package deal.
This is a point of stumbling for the worldly wise — and the worldly wise include both the aspirational climbers and the high-minded quitters. Since the beginning, professing Christians have found the way of this death/life to be challenging in ways we would rather not be challenged in, so we generally try to evade this challenge in one of two ways. First, we try to go straight to resurrection, so that we might ride in the kingdom of God’s triumphal parade, dressed all in purple. We want the crown, but don’t want the cross. Let us call this crude Constantinianism.
The other option wants the cross, but it is not really the way of the cross at all — it is more like a sociological crucifix. Their process of dying never ends, because in God’s economy, whenever definitive death occurs, it is followed by resurrection. And these folks don’t want it to be followed by a resurrection — that would be “triumphalism.” Let us call this mistake a crude . . . anything but Constantinianism.
Now let me cash this out in practical, political terms, but preceeded with a little amateur punditry. Like a chess player trying to think three or four moves ahead, I want us to be ready for the challenges ahead of us, not the challenges that our grandfathers faced.
I take it as a given that Obama and all his minions, not to mention his ilk, are evil and destructive. The Christians who support them are Lenin’s useful idiots. Those who say and do wicked things should be flatly opposed by Christians, not supported by them. Anybody who cannot see the evil in the ongoing abortion carnage, or in approved homosexual marriages, or in the recent fireworks display of economic mendacity over our nation’s capital may perhaps be excused. They are too busy seeing the future, and in their hallucinations, it works. In their kind of future, it always works. As Scott Adams of Dilbert fame put it in one of my Christmas presents yesterday, the glorious thing about the future is that you can never be wrong about it in the present.
So much is obvious. You cannot resist future subtle tyrannies (my soon-to-be-made point in this post) by making excuses for present manifest tyrannies (my point in many others).
Like I said, I am trying to think three or four chess moves ahead. This means I am far more concerned about a future conservative secularism than I am concerned about these last gasps of twentieth-century liberalism. This might take a minute to explain, so give me a minute, woodja?
Their bishop is in a position to take our queen, but contrary to the current crop of conservatives, I want to think about what this game is going to look like a little bit later. It is not enough for me that Glenn Beck is freaking out about the threat to the queen, even though he is quite right about that. Let’s think ahead. But in the meantime, I don’t want to give the time of day to those liberal Christians who don’t believe that their bishop is actually threatening anything. The appearance is there, sure, they handily argue, but the CIA is doing a lot of things of holograms these days.
So how does the way of the cross fit into this? The point is that the world is always opposed to Christ unless it is fully and consciously in submission to Him — unless it has been converted. But in that case it is not “the world” anymore, at least not the world in the sense that generates worldliness — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life (1 Jn. 2:16).
Right now, Obama is in the White House, and he really is proposing demented things. But America is far more foundationally conservative than people usually believe, and I believe that a conservative backlash of very large proportions is building. And here is my point: for Christians, this is not to be treated as an automatic good. Whatever the temporary relief (“oh, good, our queen is safe”), we have to have our eye on the game, not on the move. Okay, so the lunatics are currently running the asylum — or as Mencken once described it, democracy is the art of running the zoo from the monkey house — and we are due for a reaction in which some sane grown-ups will take control of the asylum again. If and when that happens, conservative Christians are in very great danger of going back into their slumbering consent to an idolatrous regime, just so long as it is run by sane grown-ups and doesn’t insult them overtly.
But apart from a radical conversion to Jesus Christ, whatever regime is set up will deteriorate over time — like the house of Charn. So much is not newsworthy. It always happens. So our concern should be to have a Church in that day that is not compromised, such that any open idolatry will be opposed by us, and not just the open idolatry of the leftists.
The true antithesis is between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, and not between the main political parties. But neither is it between the main political parties and splinter true believer parties. Let me illustrate. Tolstoy once said that the difference between revolutionary violence and reactionary violence was the difference between dog poo and cat poo, although he didn’t quite put it like that. That seems like a fine way to say “a plague on both your houses,” but we are not done with our options yet. The difference between predatory violence and pacifistic non-violence (like Tolstoy’s) is the difference between timber wolf poo and rabbit poo. In other words, we are not forced to choose between Idi Amin and Tolstoy. Those who love wars — our ruling sociopaths– and those who provoke them — anachistic pacifists — are like Grendel and Grendel’s mother. Tolstoy was a very talented and twisted soul, but why would we consider him a reliable commentator on the words of Jesus? It is like Karl Barth’s relationship with that Charlotte chick. Why does anyone want to get into the theology of a man who was getting it on with her? But I digress . . .
The real antithesis is between living as Jesus commanded and refusing to live that way. This is the real antithesis for those individuals who are living the way of the cross, and it is the real antithesis for nations that would do so as well. Do what the Lord Jesus says to do — not Karl Rove, not Leo Tolstoy, not Al Gore, not Jonah Goldberg, not Noam Chomsky, not Stanley Hauerwas, not Freidrich Hayek, not Naomi Klein, and not Sean Hannity.
Laws are, Calvin teaches us, preposterous if they try to govern while neglecting God’s right, providing only for men (Institutes 4.20.9). All attempts at secular governments are not just wrong, they are preposterous. Attempts to govern in this way simply sublimate the formal name of the god who is being worshiped, and when that happens it is always a false god. This means that Christians have to understand that attempts at secularism mounted by traditional-values conservatives are every bit as preposterous as those mounted by leftist dreamweavers. Unless conservative Christians (and by this I mean conservative Christians who are politically engaged) learn this lesson, they will be in no position to speak the truth when it becomes urgently necessary. They saved the queen in this move in 2010, but will lose both the queen and the game in 2024. This should not be a difficult lesson to learn — the death and resurrection of Jesus is the life of the world. This is the true gospel, and the gospel is the only solution to culture. And incidentally, by “gospel” I mean the kind of sermon John Piper would preach, and not the kind of redistributive check that Jim Wallis would hand out. But many professing Christians reject this because the way of the cross seems too simplistic. It is simple, but not simplistic. One little word shall fell him.
Take two political ceiling fans — one entirely broken down because incoherent leftist economics have busted the motor and half the blades are hanging down. The other is in fine, free market running order. You can’t hang either one of them if you are sitting in the cold drizzle of secularism because you don’t have a ceiling.