Kings and Presidents
Today's post is a guest blog by Tim Gaines who, together with his wife Shawn Songer Gaines, has authored Kings and Presidents: Politics and the Kingdom of God.
I happen to really like thinking and talking about God, especially when it comes to the beauty and hope of what God does to allow us to reflect God’s image. It’s a wondrous thing to consider that we humans can actually bear the image of the divine. And it’s a bit difficult to imagine how this can actually take place when you look at particular aspects of society. Politics is often one of those places.
Can the way we approach political life have anything to do with reflecting God’s image? If so, how, and what might that look like?
Here are a few ideas in terms of how political life could be shaped and reshaped by a theology that allows for God’s image to be reflected in humanity:
1) We have to get the order right. Many of the issues we often face when it comes to politics and theology have to do with the order in which we place them. Because political issues can seem so clear, so ‘in your face,’ and so real, we often make decisions about political issues long before we make theological decisions. And that often means that we will look for a theology that matches our politics. But what if we were to reverse the order? What if we were able to lay all of the issues aside for a while, deeply consider who God is in light of Jesus, and then try to pick up the political pieces? I suspect our politics wouldn’t only look and sound different, but they might be a bit more shaped by a more primary reality: God’s redemptive grace.
2) We should allow grace to shape our understanding of what politics is. As folks who have been shaped to think of politics in terms of opposing ideas, candidates, and parties, we usually have difficulty thinking of politics in terms that aren’t oppositional. Politics, in our minds, is synonymous with opposition and conflict. And therefore, it’s usually about winning and losing. But what if we began to think altogether differently about politics based upon a larger reality: God’s redemption.
What if politics wasn’t about me winning and you losing as much as it is about us both being able to participate deeply in the grace that God is giving us?
John Wesley spoke about the political image of God being restored in humanity by God’s grace, but that political image was primarily directed toward living out the goodness of life redeemed by grace. Reconciliation, not opposition, became the whole point of politics when it is meant to reflect the image of God.
3) Prayer: A Political Act. Prayer is a strange and subversive political act for Christians. Why? Because of the way Jesus taught us to pray. “Thy kingdom come” is more than clever wordplay; it is the way that we come to imagine what politics is for as followers of Christ. And the more we pray prayers like that, the more it begins to do something to our political imagination. Our political desires themselves might actually even begin to be transformed by our prayers, so that we come to desire no other kingdom but the one God is bringing “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Are politics tricky? Yes, but the power of God’s grace to transform us into beings that reflect the divine image is more powerful than politics is tricky. And perhaps when we come to delight in that reality, even politics can be a way in which we can reflect the image of God.
Tim Gaines is asst. professor of religion at Trevecca Nazarene University and adjunct professor at Nazarene Theological Seminary. His latest book, written with Shawna Songer Gaines, deals with a faithful approach to politics and is called Kings and Presidents: Politics and the Kingdom of God.
Tim and Shawna Gaines used their time as co-pastors of Bakersfield First Church of the Nazarene to seek distinctly Christian approaches to pressing contemporary issues, and to apply those responses to faithful and creative ways in the local church setting. Tim now serves as assistant professor of religion at Trevecca Nazarene University. Shawna is a frequent speaker, author, and blogger. Her work can be accessed at shawnasongergaines.com.