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Resisting Babel

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This book gives us a collection of articles that looks at David Lipscomb's political theology summarized as follows: "Human government is still Babel - confusion, strife." From the study, one learns to distinguish human government from kingdom rule; understand the limitations of human politics; and to remember that allegiance to God and loyalty to government does not necessarily mean the same thing. Richard T. Hughes shares the background that leads to Lipscomb's position. Hughes is quick to rebut a modern example of leaders using the Bible for their own political ends, ignoring the trajectory of Scripture that teaches us not to let human governments usurp the position of God. John Mark Hicks states Lipscomb's idea as follows: "Submit but don't support." He points out the historically different political stands according to the different theological persuasions. The Institutional view (Roman Catholic) holds that churches should ally with world institutions to control and use the institutions for common interests. The "Two Kingdoms" (Protestant) holds that the success of the political regime is essential to the success of the Church. The "Conflicting Kingdoms" (Anabaptist/Mennonite) holds that the Church and the world are to be separate and distinct. As far as Lipscomb is concerned, there is a difference between supporting a government's work versus imbibing the "power's spirit." The operating principle is to witness and embody justice in this world in a manner that is "without coercion, disorder, or violence." Hicks follows up on Lipscomb's political theology with a case study on the ills and evils of racial segregation. The Church is to be the center of "reconciliation, peace, unity, and healing." Lipscomb connects modern slavery with divine punishment. His thinking evolves from seeing slavery as God-ordained to abolishing it gradually in favour of freedom for all. In a nutshell, Lipscomb may not be as fast as we would hope to abolish slavery, but he was surely progressing in the right direction toward eventual freedom for all.

Richard C Goode's article pushes the role of the Christian whether it should be a "Peaceable Pilgrim" or a "Christian Anarchist"? Key to the discussion is the phrase in the Lord's Prayer, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Goode brings in three political theologies to guide us: Realist, Transformationist, and Radical Political theologies. He then maintains that Lipscomb's theology tend to be radical and gives reasons that both the "peaceable pilgrim" and the "Christian anarchist" are radicals. Its a thought-provoking article that some readers might find disturbing. It expands the "Christ and Culture" paradigms first popularized by Richard Niebuhr. He compares the examples of Dorothy Day's "self-suffering resistance" via acts of civil disobedience, and Clarence Jordan's "demonstration plot," and highlights the two different ways of peaceful protests. Simply put, Day's approach are characterized more as resistance while Jordan is more of love. The first task of a "Christian anarchist" is to expose the ethical ills of government, which both Day and Jordan had tried to do. Their means might be different but their ends are the same. He finds that Lipscomb in spite of his radical political theology, is actually a peaceable pilgrim.

Joshua Ward Jeffery looks at one of David Lipscomb controversial phrases, that those who voted for the powers to be are "bound to maintain" them in their position, and also be responsible for the consequences. Using the example of Woodrow Wilson, Jeffery marvels at how a president voted in for the purpose of avoiding conflict, ends up bringing America into the war. The Churches of Christ was initially opposed to war but over time, their vision of "apocalyptic worldview" was weakened with the context of the First World War. Yet, the political establishment were able to turn the cultural tide from pacifism to activism. Through intimidation and open threats, many anti-war voices were silenced. One of the key reasons for this is because of the loss of a champion: David Lipscomb.

On a more optimistic note, Lee Camp examines the traditional old vs new paths of political theology before discussing six elements of Lipscomb's political theology. Arguing for non false divisions of the gospel and the political, he then raises four specific points for contemporary application. One of his arguments was against Richard Niebuhr's "Christ and Culture" dichotomy where he accuses Niebuhr of doing the Church a "disservice." He insists that instead of an either/or paradigm, adopt the both/and paradigm in the context of "God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

My Thoughts
There are several rich insights to the political and theological thoughts of David Lipscomb, the founder of Lipscomb University. Tracing the historical events with regard to the relationship between Church and State, as well as the evolving political-theological thinking, it is hoped that this book would speak into our "politically charged present." The different viewpoints help us appreciate the complexity of the relationship between the Christian community and government. We learn that there are no simple answers. We need to learn to nuance the relationship in a manner that reflects the phrase in the Lord's Prayer: "Thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven." How do we influence society for the sake of Christ? When do we pull back? How do we push forth? Is there a peaceful way to register our disagreement with government policies? By showing us how Lipscomb's thought speak into the past cases of racism, slavery, segregation, and political struggles, etc.

The contributors are spot on when they call our current times a "politically charged" era. People of faith are increasingly being involved in politicking matters while leaders in America are trying to curry support from their religious supporters. Many of the church leaders who get involved are well-meaning people wanting to practice their faith in the marketplace of politics and social justice. For all the good intentions, the rationale for getting involved tends to be vague and simplistic. At the heart of it all is the element of trust. Do we trust only in the politics of the day to save us? Are we putting our faith in God when we lobby radically for change? How do we know how much is too active and how little is too passive? We need more guidance with regard to this and this book provides us a good measure of guidance. Some of the helpful ones include:

Hughes's and Hick's call for us to obey God rather than man. Thus supporting government does not necessarily disqualify the right to resist when there is a need to.
Knowing the tendency of some mainstream theologies toward a political stance. This provides a starting point toward better understanding of the convictions of these diverse theological persuasions.
Recognize that politics and theology do not produce cookie cutter binary clarity. Just because one takes a certain position does not necessary mean it is anti-whatever. Put it another way, resistance can take different forms. We do no necessarily resist by becoming the anti-thesis of the opposing platform. We can resist by active engagement to help them to consider (or re-consider) different positions on the table of negotiation and dialogue. 

Finally, I am reminded of Ps 146:3, which is a call for us not to put our "trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save." We resist Babel not for the purpose of resistance. We resist out of a desire to be a witness for God, that people will eventually know that there is only One who truly saves: Jesus.

John Mark Hicks is professor of Theology at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee. He has taught for 38 years in schools associated with the Churches of Christ. Joshua Ward Jeffery is the chair of the Department of Humanities at the Orme School, Mayer, Arizona. The other contributors, Lee C Camp, Richard C Goode, and Richard T Hughes are professors and scholars at Lipscomb University.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.

This book has been provided courtesy of Abilene Christian University Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.
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This book didn’t speak to me like I thought it would.  I don’t want to keep others from reading it.  It just wasn’t for me.
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A series of essays regarding the political philosophy of David Lipscomb: its antecedents, its influence, its collapse among churches of Christ, and what ought to be its legacy.

Richard Hughes begins by anchoring Lipscomb in the "apocalyptic" tradition from Barton Stone and through Tolbert Fanning.  John Mark Hicks, over two essays, details the nature of Lipscomb's political philosophy and uses his views on slavery and segregation as a case study.  Richard Goode argues that Lipscomb fits into the tradition of the Christian pilgrim more than the Christian anarchist.  Joshua Jeffery explained how the pacifist position of Lipscomb came under withering political persecution during World War I and how the view collapsed in churches of Christ.  Lee Camp concluded with an assessment of Lipscomb's political ideology and its points of application and consideration for Christians today.  The book also includes a chronological bibliography for Lipscomb and his political ideology.

The work does well at anchoring Lipscomb in the radical pacifist tradition, finding no real value in earthly government, finding it impossible to profess allegiance to a nation-state, considering voting an endorsement of whatever the candidate will eventually do, nonviolent in posture, yet in his apocalyptic stance certainly having a word to speak about the political issues of the day and seeking to identify with those with whom Jesus would have identified.

A lot of Camp's recommendations are very good, although Lipscomb can be faulted for not maintaining the tension about government in Scripture sufficiently.  Romans 13 and Revelation 13 are both true at the same time: God empowers government for good, and those in it are corrupted by the Evil One and the powers and principalities for their own ends.  Yes, God gave Israel a king in His wrath, and yet God's expected government of His people would feature King Jesus.  Good can be accomplished through the coercive power of the nation-state, but it will not be the ultimate good which is accomplished in Jesus.  There is a word of life which is to be spoken to those in government, but the Kingdom of God ought to remain transcendent of nation-states and their petty nationalisms, patriotisms, and partisanships.  

A good resource for considering Lipscomb's political legacy, and all the more as the embrace of partisan politics is more and more exposed for the compromise and idolatry it is.
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I felt this book was a slam on our government on the issue of border control and immigration using the Bible against our government. This was more of a political book instead of faith based although I requested to review this book as it was in the Christian genre.  I was disappointed as this was politely against our government
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Earc from netgalley.

This was an interesting read for me, I definitely learned something new from reading this book! If it looks interesting to you, definitely try reading this one.
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Fascinating. I'm admittedly a Christian Anarchist myself, but coming from the Southern Baptist Church... let's just say if they weren't in the Bible and they weren't a famous Baptist preacher, I likely didn't hear of any other Christian leaders of the first Millenium AD. So I had never heard of David Lipscomb, a late 19th century/ early 20th century leader in the Church of Christ denomination, before reading this book. Here, Hicks, Richard T Hughes, Richard Goode, Lee C Camp, and Joshua Ward Jeffery - all seemingly very learned historians on the subject at hand - discuss and dissect Lipscomb's beliefs and how they are reflected (or not) in the American Church today, both inside the Church of Christ denomination and within the larger community. If you're interested in this subject for any number of reasons, it is a fairly fascinating and illuminating discussion. But if you're not particularly interested in its subjects, you're probably not going to enjoy this effort as much, as it does tend to get quite academic and religious in its discussions. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed it and didn't note any overt problems with it, so let's end with a rating of "very much recommended".
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