Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Political Theology?

James Darlack, the resident blogosphere's Jacobean expert, has an interesting post on James' Political Theology. In an article by Stuart Laidlaw on James' Theology, Laidlaw focusses on Barrie Wilson of York University:
. . . James was continuing with the teaching of his brother, emphasizing a more political form of religion that stressed the coming of a messiah to overthrow the Romans and restore the kingdom of Israel. . . . The theology of James, with its emphasis on political change as a way to address poverty and injustice, is as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago, Wilson says.
Darlack then questions: Does care of widows and orphans, a disdain for economic favoritism and the denunciation of social injustice necessitate "political religion" or prophetic religion?
My question is simply: Why [and if so, how?] are these two mutually exclusive? Politics and religion are insepparable, and it was it not the burden of the prophets to influence/direct Jewish politics? Jesus was certainly a prophet, but he was also engaged in serious politics [hence Roman opposition]. Now, while I'm not convinced that either James or Jesus sought to overthrow the Romans and restore the Kingdom of Israel [unless one meant a non-violent overthrow through passive resistance], James may still be a political manifesto for those living under the royal law - the Torah of King Jesus.


jdarlack said...

Forgive the following ramblings...

Good point. After all, the prophets were engaged in the political arena of Israel. Isaiah challenged Ahaz and Hezekiah; Elijah challenged Ahab; John the Baptist challenged Herod. Yet, there is a real difference between a prophet speaking on behalf of God in a country where the king is viewed as God's viceregent (subject to the Torah) and a Christian living today in secular society where the rule of law looks little or nothing like the perfect law of liberty. I would say that James' theology is prophetic inasmuch as he is focused on ethics of the community of faith that lives as exiles in a foreign land. He does not call for political action against the powers-that-be but rather he emphasizes the coming Judge who ultimately holds the powers-that-be to account. In my own mind this is where the difference between political and prophetic rests. Where is the message intended to take root? In voting blocks or in congregations? I would say that the message is political in as much as the Royal Law of the Kingdom of God is enforced within the church. Yet, the Kingdom of God will not be manifested politically on earth until the Judge steps through the door. Now the prophetic message to the church may have political implications if it is worked out by Christians in general society, but the message itself, I would say, is not necessarily "political." My initial reaction against Wilson's comments is that all too often in American politics Scripture is usurped as a quote book for politicians with an agenda. Rather, the prophetic message of James should lived, enacted and reenacted by Christians - and that very well may have political ramifications.

Sean du Toit said...

As usual, thanks for your comments Jim. I see where you take issue, and I shall have to think through this in more detail.

I suppose I'm inclined to see the community of faith as a subversive community, so that is where I don't like to seperate Politics from Prophecy. If the community is being directed towards a Godward life, that cannot help but stand out against many western economic and social policies. And James' ethical challenge to socio-economic boundaries is exciting and both political and prophetic. The community of faith must model a way for the world to follow. This is where I see the two joined at the hip.

But I hear your wisdom and will return to my thinking and see where I must make the necessary alterations.

Thanks again, sean D.