September 26, 2008
Scot McKnight: The Eschatology of Politics
What Election Day might reveal about the hopes of evangelicals.
by Scot McKnight
Somewhere between 6pm and 8pm, Central Time, on November 4th, 2008, the eschatology of American evangelicals will become clear. If John McCain wins and the evangelical becomes delirious or confident that the Golden Days are about to arrive, that evangelical has an eschatology of politics. Or, alternatively, if Barack Obama wins and the evangelical becomes delirious or confident that the Golden Days are about to arrive, that evangelical too has an eschatology of politics. Or, we could turn each around, if a more Democrat oriented evangelical becomes depressed and hopeless because McCain wins, or if a Republican oriented evangelical becomes depressed or hopeless because Obama wins, those evangelicals are caught in an empire-shaped eschatology of politics.
Where is our hope? To be sure, I hope our country solves its international conflicts and I hope we resolve poverty and dissolve our educational problems and racism. But where does my hope turn when I think of war or poverty or education or racism? Does it focus on November 4? Does it gain its energy from thinking that if we get the right candidate elected our problems will be dissolved? If so, I submit that our eschatology has become empire-shaped, Constantinian, and political. And it doesn't matter to me if it is a right-wing evangelical wringing her fingers in hope that a Republican wins, or a left-wing evangelical wringing her fingers in hope that a Democrat wins. Each has a misguided eschatology.
Now before I take another step, it must be emphasized that I participate in the election; and I think it makes a difference which candidate wins; and I think from my own limited perspective one candidate is better than the other.
But, participation in the federal election dare not be seen as the lever that turns the eschatological designs God has for this world. Where is our hope? November 4 may tell us. What I hope it reveals is that:
Our hope is in God. The great South African missiologist, David Bosch, in his book Transforming Mission impressed upon many of us that the church's mission is not in fact the "church's" mission but God's mission. Our calling is to participate in the missio Dei, the mission of God in this world. So, at election time we can use the season to re-align our mission with the mission of God. Therein lies our hope.
Our hope is in the gospel of God. God's mission is gospel-shaped. Some today want to reduce gospel to what we find in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, while others want to expand it to bigger proportions (and I'm one of the latter), we would do well at election time to re-align ourselves once again with the gospel as God's good news for our world. Therein lies our hope.
Our hope is in the gospel of God that creates God's people. God's gospel-shaped mission creates a new people of God. In fact, the temptation of good Protestants to skip from Genesis 3 (the Fall) to Romans 3 (salvation) must be resisted consciously. We need to soak up how God's gospel-shaped work always and forever creates a gospel people. The first thing God does with Abraham is to form a covenant people, Israel, and Jesus' favorite word was "kingdom," and Paul was a church-obsessed theologian-missionary. Herein lies the challenge at election time. We are tempted to divide the USA into the good and the bad and to forget that the gospel has folks on both sides of political lines. Even more: we are tempted to think that the winners of the election are those who are blessed by God when the blessing of God is on God's people. God's gospel-powered mission creates a new people, the church, where we are to see God's mission at work. Therein lies our hope.
Our hope is in the gospel of God that creates a kind of people that extends God's gospel to the world. Chris Wright's big book, The Mission of God, reminds us that election is missional: God creates the people of God not so the people of God can compare themselves to those who are not God's people, but so that God's people will become a priesthood in this world to mediate the mission of God, so that all hear the good news that God's grace is the way forward.
Our hope is in God's mission in this world, and that mission transcends what happens November 4th.