The Gospel To The Elites

Recovering the Confrontational Reality of Christ’s Kingship Over All the Earth

It is hardly controversial to observe that there is currently intense confusion at the intersection of Christianity and politics in America. For most evangelicals, political theology amounts to some form of the exasperated lament, “Can’t we just preach the gospel?” I’m inclined to think such voices may be more correct than we let on, but not in the way they think they are. 

Many rightly know “the gospel”, at a technical level, means “good news”. Where things have become as clear as mud is the church’s understanding of the nature of this proclamation. Is it good news to the poor, such that it is a promise of liberation? Is it good news to the sinner, such that they can receive forgiveness? Is it good news to the depressed, such that they can have hope? What each of those angles (however relevant they may be) fails to communicate is that the reason we can have any confidence in forgiveness, liberation, or spiritual relief is that though each of these things may be desirable, they have no power of their own.

The “good news” presented in Scripture is that a King, one of infinite power and righteousness, has come into His Kingdom. He bound the strong man, plundered his house, delivered those in bondage and established his rule over all the earth. Christ did not remain in the tomb and He did not stay in an inner room. He ascended to the ancient throne eternally prepared by His Father. Because of this “good news”, all those who submit to His rule are blessed, forgiven, and have hope – including the rulers of the earth. For about 500 years, protestant theologians have commonly called this doctrine the “mediatorial kingship of Christ”. Jesus Christ is King, right now. Though He is in Heaven, He rules on Earth, right now. And thus all other kings (rulers, authorities, men and women) are either living in a state of rebellion or obedience, right now.

The question for many evangelicals is not so often whether Christ is King, but how He rules. Without getting buried in the distinctions between modern theonomy, integralism, the classical reformed view, or those of similar stripes, we must say that any faithful approach to that question believes at a minimum that earthly authorities (as created individuals) have an obligation to obey God’s Word in their office and thus God’s Word is the basis for His mediatorial rule on earth.

The gospel is not a respecter of persons – its claims are universal to all men. It places steep obligations upon those in power because it demands that every authority submit their office to the Word of God. That this idea is foreign to most discussions in politics, even Christian discussions of politics, should shock us. The truly confrontational nature of such a gospel has been disguised beyond recognition such that when it appears in the wild (and not just a laser-eyed Twitter anon), it is almost unrecognizable as “Christianity”.

When the Gospel Is Proclaimed in a High Place

In late August, I gave public comment at the monthly Durham Public School (DPS) board meeting. A week before this meeting, the North Carolina legislature had passed (via veto override) a “Parents’ Bill of Rights”, that directly targeted certain trends in government education relating to “sexual education” and LGBTQ+ conversion tactics such as covert pronoun use. Other states have passed similar bills in response to trans-mania and school systems in blue cities nationwide have responded negatively, in some cases, vowing to defy the law. Durham would prove to be no exception. Before the evening wrapped, rainbow Bolsheviks would rhetorically if not legally inveigh a doctrine of the lesser magistrate, contradicting three years of their own “must follow orders” COVID mantras.

The chair opened the board meeting by ceremonially imposing a moment of silence on behalf of the transgender “community”. According to board member Natalie Beyer, not only is Durham an educated and progressive city, but her leaders are people of faith! Oh splendid, what kind of faith might she be meaning? If the priestesses of our local Temple of Democratic Education are to be taken at their word, their faith empowers them to religiously venerate men who want to cut off their penises, leer at adolescent girls in locker rooms, then dominate them in the field of play. These “people of faith” who run the school system in one of the most “educated” cities in the country celebrate doctors giving children poison and sewing grotesque appendages upon their bodies.  This was a school board meeting, and they did get back to “business”, but their sacred expression revealed the deep spiritual foundations of the agenda. Despite all appearances of normality, thick tension would remain heavy in the room.

Eventually, the time allotted for public comments arrived and the queue began. Two other Christians preceded me. Rosaria Butterfield, a recognizable voice in Durham and within American evangelicalism, gave her increasingly relevant testimony and critiqued the scientific basis for the board’s stance on transgenderism. After Rosaria, a mother with a daughter who was struggling with the predatory pressures found in the government schools pleaded with the board to recognize the social contagion and respond appropriately. I was the third and final Christian who spoke and I presented the gospel and its implications to the board, relying on the closing verses of Psalm 2 – probably the most iconic of “Kingship” Psalms. Speaking sequentially added to the effect we had on the room – and frankly, I do not believe that anyone expected to hear what we said. Many conservatives have spoken against these kinds of travesties over the past few years, but it is important to recognize that we spoke as Christians and we rooted our resistance to sexual deviance in Christ’s authority. For the people of faith on the board, this was an immense grievance. There is a deep spiritual, bodily antagonism towards Christ and His followers. When we spoke, the audience gasped, cursed, and some even sobbed, but anytime a member of the rainbow collective spoke, the whole room breathed an effeminate sigh of relief. One board member broke any pretenses of neutrality, abandoning her pedestal to offer a Kleenex and a hug to one distressed speaker.

It Really is “Negative World”

Some American Christians have been faithfully engaging in city council meetings, praying at abortion clinics, and preaching the gospel at campus corners for decades – these faithful know hostility much better than me. I grew up in a reformed and conservative church in the early 2000s, but this kind of public engagement with school systems was largely absent. In my 20s, I attended seeker-sensitive churches where such confrontation would have been considered counterproductive to their mission of “reaching” the city. I have never been an activist or a street preacher and this kind of political engagement would have seemed utterly foreign to me even two years ago, so I came to this meeting with a large dose of naïvity. And yet, as I’ve turned this meeting upside and backward in my mind, I realized how it affirmed and clarified much of what I have read and sensed about our cultural moment. For those who are thinking about what it means to be a Christian in the blue cities of America, we must come to grips with certain realities that will only become more entrenched as the shadow of post-Christian “faith” grows darker.

The catalyst for this meeting was successful legislation against practices promoted by supporters of transgenderism. You might be tempted to think this indicates “progress”, but you would be wrong. Sure, the legislation is necessary, and we would be insane to oppose it, but consider what kind of people require laws telling them they may not secretly undermine parents for the purposes of incorporating minors into the homosexual voting bloc. The sodomization and mutilation of minors (by minors or adults) is barely being suppressed. Righteousness is not “winning” – at least not by popular demand. Looking at the Durham school board meeting, it is clear that this is the future for my generation. Every institutional environment in every metro north of San Antone will look like this. And that means right now, any form of religious, cultural, or moral challenge that could be called Christian is going to come by way of a minority. Any expression of Christianity that will publicly address the sins of the liberal, urban ruling class will be decried as bullying and heresy. Any legislature that is able to pass suppressive legislation like a “Parents’ Bill of Rights” is going to do so as a minority. They may have the seats but they will not have the hearts of urban constituents. Therefore Christian progress in evangelism or policy will require moral fortitude and a will to work directly against cultural assumptions and desires. The implications for democracy ought to disturb our assumptions. Morality by popularity has been a resounding failure.

Consider some ways that this cultural antagonism towards Christianity will continue to manifest, using the DPS meeting as a proxy:

●  Ideological uniformity. All 9 of the board members stood against the state legislation and in support of transgenderism. This is the new normal. Liberal, urban institutions, which is to say, the government of your city, will not tolerate dissent within its ranks. Only those who support the moral stances of the Democratic platform will be given rank.

●  Special treatment in favor of the spirit of the day. People will privilege and ignore all pretenses of neutrality in order to support their ideological allies.

●  Moral language rooted in faith frames the debate and conversation. It is a battleground of faith, not ideas and no one is interested in a purely rational discussion.

●  Gynocracy. In Durham, all of the school board members, with the exception of the superintendent, are women. Though hardly surprising, this is the future. Christians need to think and pray about what it looks like to preach a confrontational gospel to powerful and popular priestesses who are very very nice.

●  The priestesses will claim to have God on their side. They will call Christians heretics but that does not mean they wish to debate theology. Christians are guilty of emotional heresy. Your views are impossible and wrong because they generate negative feelings. You do not have to prove you are right. You have to prove you will not make them feel bad.

Recovering the Gospel for Office-Holders

Most could have predicted this response in a setting like a DPS board meeting. The defensive emotionalism and sneering might even lead one to think that such face-offs are detrimental to the goals of the church. What is the point of an intentional confrontation such as this?

An immediate, do I daresay, “pragmatic” reason, is that those who are in Christ must love like Christ. We seek to rescue from oppression the poor, powerless, and lost and we use every weapon with which Jesus has armed us. Is there anyone more vulnerable than children offered up to the healthcare industrial complex by their own “parents”? Who will protect mere youths from the deceivers who encourage the mutilation of their bodies? In defense of those who are weak and tormented, who are spiritually bereft and without any earthly guardian, we must stave off destruction for those we can. Even if legislation like NC’s Parents Bill of Rights lasted only one cycle, that would still mean hundreds of thousands of children were better protected from the worst forms of depraved indoctrination and manipulation.

But at the cosmic level, in Romans 1 and 10, Paul argues that for men to be justly held accountable, they must be told the truth. Those who lead our communities, whether they are legislators or local board officers, should be working toward the spiritual good of their constituents because God has commanded it. Just because a man’s office is outside of the church does not give him license to wash his hands of the spiritual condition of his subordinates – especially in matters one has influence over. And so we must preach the gospel to authorities, with all of its inherent obligations and promises, to render them without excuse.

The proclamation of “the gospel” is inherently a call to repentance for all who hear it because it demands every one of us acknowledge dependence on our Creator. It demands we acknowledge that we have not lived (or ruled) according to His Word. Over and over again, God emphasizes that it is the kings and rulers of nations who will bend the knee and rule justly in His name. If the greatest among a people will worship the true King, who could remain aloof? All those who reject His authority continue to live under the curse and rack up judgment upon themselves. So to proclaim the gospel is to inherently proclaim that no man, or any group of people, is a law unto themselves. All are obligated to recognize the rule of the Higher power who mediates between heaven and earth – Jesus Christ.

The world must hear this “good news”. Even if the world will not listen, Christians are commanded to witness as priests, and give no excuse to those who would rebel against the King. Rebellion does not only mean citizens sinning, it also means authorities allowing, encouraging, and even protecting sin. The priesthood of believers, the church, must, like Christ, condemn in proportion to responsibility and in relation to office. We have been given the ministry of the Word to all people, including, if not especially, authorities. God says that they will uniquely be held to account for their earthly judgments and so out of Christ-like love, we must inform them of what God says it means to rule righteously and wisely. In all of this, we must never forget that the “good news” is infinitely good because the King who rules is the King who willingly offered Himself up for His subjects. Those who will worship and obey Him are forgiven their former rebellion and brought into His royal family as sons and daughters.

Prepare for Embodied Confrontation

I do not believe all or even most Christians are called to engagement like this. Personally, I do not intend to be making frequent appearances at school board meetings in the near future. And yet, there is much for the American church to recover in her understanding and practice of public engagement as Christians. I believe we can simultaneously say, “Not all Christians will do this” and “The Church must be known for this”.

One of the challenges of our age is the illusion of impact – the temptation to see digital engagement as an end in itself. As a Twitter user, I do not have a fundamental issue with online banter. Done in the right spirit and in low doses, it can be mentally sharpening, rapidly engaging you with a variety of ideas. But none of it is “real”. Sometimes the profiles are literal avatars, but even when they have a face and a name – you are completely abstracted from the consequences of speaking with a human. An AI could have generated the responses to your most recent social media interactions and you would never know.

But here is what is real: top surgery. That’s real. That happens in a butcher shop with shiny tinted windows and fountains out front. If we have any intention of translating ideas into reality, we are going to eventually need to face real consequences. Theological or intellectual progress may start online but it cannot remain there.

Reflecting on the DPS meeting, I was surprised at how sorely I lacked the courage I needed to communicate counter-cultural truths on their home field, face to face. The screen and the keyboard had enfeebled me. But as Christians, we must be people who deal with flesh and blood, not profiles and avatars. Our Lord is risen, ascended, and rules in a human body. His incarnation and life were exemplars of bodily witness. He came to bring new life into the world, not just new thoughts. He does not download truth into our minds – He speaks it to us through the lives of men. We cannot know what it means to love an enemy or hate evil apart from the reality of our body and the body across the boardroom or the battlefield. If we do not accustom ourselves to the pressures and fears that come with embodied confrontation, we can never expect to conquer physical institutions. At the end of the era, we do not want to win Twitter, we want to win the land.

Is There a Next Step?

  1. Reexamine your own and your church’s understanding of how Christ rules on earth. Talk to your pastor about these things. Do not accept answers that excuse passivity. Keep digging until you find Biblical support for the public action and Christian political confrontations of past times, by men like the apostles, Athanasius, Ambrose, or Wilberforce.
  2. Incorporate the Psalter into your regular Bible reading and singing. Much of our moral laxity can be attributed to our lack of Biblical language and categories. Righteous and unrighteous, lovers of God and lovers of self, good and evil, wisdom and foolishness. The Psalms in particular conform our moral sense to Christ’s. When we neglect the Psalter, we lose sight of how God Himself “thinks” about justice, the church, and the world.
  3. Support in prayer any who are willing to publicly speak in the name of Christ to rulers and authorities. Pray for men to grow in the courage and conviction that leads to engagement.
  4. Begin speaking truthfully in all spheres. Shine the light of God’s word by making religious claims in conversations with neighbors and co-workers. Do not self-silence.
  5. Ministers, you were ordained to preach the Word. You, in particular, have authority to speak to those in office. Is the sanctuary the only place you should be preaching?

Image Credit: Unsplash

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Caleb Goodnight

Caleb Goodnight is a freelance video director and producer in North Carolina and a pastoral intern at Christ Church NC. He is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, a husband, and father to five children.

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