10 August 2008

Boyd and Christ's Scope, Pt 3: To Fulfill, Not Abolish

I apologize for the delay on this. My life's routine was suspended due to a move and a new job. Anyway, here we go...

We've looked at Boyd's idea that Jesus taught "unconditional refusal to engage in violence." Another of his ideas is that Christ taught "unconditional love for enemies." I must ask, what enemies? Who is Christ's enemy? Is his victory over sin and death an act of unconditional love toward the prince of darkness? Of course, there is a subtlety here in how we define love, but it is a given in this Kingdom theology that we are talking about something like hippie love, as I've called it. In that sense, we can't say that Christ's defeat of the devil was an act of love towards the devil. Now, you might say that I'm really stretching things here, and that by "enemies" Christ obviously meant certain other humans. But if we must make that qualification then it's no longer unconditional. And that is the point.

The mistake -- what I feel to be at the root of all this -- is attempting to apply Christ's teachings to an improper scope. Jesus had a very specific purpose to accomplish. In his teachings he illuminated that part of the law which seemed to be veiled and forgotten (but was there all along), to love God and your neighbor. In his death and resurrection he made it possible for us to keep that law of love. But Jesus never presented a political platform. The King of kings did not run for president. So the attempt to extrapolate Jesus' teachings to how a society is to be governed is not justified. That's just not what he was talking about.

As we pointed out before, we cannot reduce Christ to an ideology or a bare concept. We have to consider him as a being and consider at least all that he said and did. And one thing he said was, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them," Mat 5:17. Since this is what Jesus prefaced his radical teachings with, we must seek to understand those teachings in light of this. How does Matthew 5:38-39 fulfill the law rather than abolish it? Again, I contend that the answer is in the scope. As the commentator Matthew Henry said on Matthew 5:38 regarding "an eye for an eye":

This we find, Exo 21:24; Lev 24:20; Deu 19:21; in all which places it is appointed to be done by the magistrate, who bears not the sword in vain, but is the minister of God, an avenger to execute wrath, Rom 13:4.

So "an eye for an eye" is to be understood at the scope of a government executing justice. The Jewish people, mostly being without regenerated hearts, were incapable of fulfilling the spirit of the law and consequently took "an eye for an eye" beyond its intentioned governmental scope to the level of personal interactions. Jesus, in fulfilling the law and not abolishing it, unveiled their spiritual eyes to the spirit of the law, where in personal interactions we are to instead turn the other cheek. Just read over Matthew 5:38-47 and consider if the situations describe person-to-person relations as opposed to government-to-person or even nation-to-nation relations.

A strong point of Kingdom theology is its emphasis on being like Christ in person-to-person relations, something we should take to heart. It is unfortunate that this is now being stretched to governmental scope. I admit that in America this is really complicated, since we govern ourselves in some way. But the problem I have addressed is not so much with politics today as it is with understanding the Bible. When this started I asked if we can reconcile "an eye for an eye" with "turn the other cheek." I hope you can see now how it fits, at least in my view.

I think I am done with Boyd, but for further thought I'll refer you to some other bloggers who are discussing similar material. I am watching Pyromaniacs, where Frank Turk has been discussing church and government. Not much has come for a while, so I'm sure when it finally does that it will be good. Another blog of interest is Christianity: Doctrine and Ethics, where "How Would Jesus Vote" is the first post in what appears to be a series. If you have not the time to read it, get the last paragraph at least:

How would Jesus "vote" on the issue of capital punishment? It’s a silly question. We do know, however, that Christ came to do the will of his heavenly Father (cf. John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38). That revealed will involved the killing of those convicted of murder (cf. Gen. 9:6; Ex. 20:13; Deut. 5:17; Rom. 13:1-4). That’s what Jesus would do and that’s how Jesus would think, because God revealed it so.

Amen. Stated far more simply than I ever put it.

No comments: