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Body and soul: The lordship of Jesus over all of life

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In a guest post, cultural apologist and church leader Dr Joe Boot argues that the common tendency among Christians to avoid so-called political topics is not an act of prudence, but a failure to take seriously the work that God has given us to do in this world.

 
On April 30th 1839 John Quincy Adams spoke in New York and said concerning the American revolutionists: 

“English liberties had failed them. From the omnipotence of Parliament the colonists appealed to the rights of man and the omnipotence of the God of battles.” 
 
The American colonies of Great Britain had been deeply influenced by a strong form of English evangelical Protestantism with a Calvinistic political theory that asserted the crown rights of Christ the King – Puritanism. Indeed, a young Oliver Cromwell seriously considered emigrating to the colonies himself. On his stone epitaph can be read the words, “Christ, not man, is king.” In a 1774 report to King George, the Governor of Boston wrote: “If you ask an American, who is his master? He will tell you he has none, nor any governor but Jesus Christ.” The pre-war Colonial Committees of Correspondence soon made this an American motto: “No King but King Jesus.” The 1783 peace treaty with Great Britain ending the Revolutionary War begins: “In the name of the most Holy and Undivided Trinity . . ..” 
 
For many of the colonists, the reign of Christ as sovereign Lord meant resistance to tyranny and evil and the building of a free, God-centred republic.  As John Courtney Murray has observed: 
 
“The term ‘legal sovereignty’ makes no sense in America, where sovereignty (if the alien term must be used) is purely political. The United States has a government, or better, a structure of governments operating on different levels. The American state has no sovereignty in the classic continental sense.” 
 
This remarkable theological restraint on human power and authority has had significant consequences historically.
 
In the London Times, 23 March 1954, an interesting article was published, commending the United States for the wisdom and generosity with which she acted, stating: 
 
“No nation has ever come into possession of such power for good or ill, for freedom or tyranny, for friendship or enmity among the peoples of the world, and . . . no nation in history has used those powers, by and large, with greater vision, restraint, responsibility and courage.” [1]
 
There is no accounting for the spirit of freedom and generosity that has generally characterised the United States since its founding, without recognising its historic allegiance to biblical faith and sense of accountability to the standards of the word of God.  As Christian faith has declined in the public sphere in America, so has the restraint and sense of accountability to transcendent authority. 
 
Such a spirit of faithful resistance to tyranny and evil is in short supply in our time, in part because the gospel has been largely evacuated of its real-world implications by pietism. A young friend of mine in the early stages of his speaking ministry was recently advised by an evangelical Christian apologist that he should avoid the pitfall of involving himself in the ‘culture wars’ – by which he meant that he should avoid engaging with prominent moral and social topics facing society that might be deemed ‘political.’ 
 
This is a remarkable piece of advice, given that one of the founders of evangelicalism in Britain, William Wilberforce, did little else than address the many evils facing his age, with the great objects of abolishing the slave trade and reforming the morals (or culture) of the British people in terms of the gospel. He recognised that the gospel, when embraced in its fullness, had real-world implications that would transform all of life and thought – including the social and political arenas. 
 
I, for one, am glad Wilberforce did not ‘avoid the culture wars’. How long might the slave trade have persisted if he had? Wilberforce could not have conceived of a gospel that left the rebellion of the culture against God’s word unaddressed; he would have perceived such a mentality as acquiescence to evil and a sanctimonious sanctification of compromise. 
 
I recently watched with some dismay a similar example of pietism when another Christian apologist, addressing a gathering of political leaders, opened by commending his audience for setting aside their political ideologies to think simply about the ‘soul’ (an inherent impossibility, since all political ideologies involve a specific view of the human person, and therefore bring different views on the very idea of ‘soul’). He went on to say: “We are the soul, we have a body.” He then commended himself for “staying away from politics” whilst speaking in other parts of the world, so that doors would remain open for more speaking opportunities. 
 
There is an important connection between these two points: that is, a focus of religion upon the ‘soul’ and the avoidance of subjects deemed ‘political.’ These emphases both manifest the problem with pietism – an implicit commitment to Greek dualism. There is nothing in Scripture that suggests we are the soul and only have a body. This is a dehumanising statement that encourages neglect of material creation in favour of the ‘higher life,’ ‘ideas’ and the internal ‘motions of the soul’. It is a perspective that opens the way for all manner of misuse and abuse of one’s body and the bodies of others, and fosters a subtle contempt for creation and culture. 
 
A human person is not a disembodied soul, but a corporeal being – the character and value of which is affirmed by orthodox Christianity in both the incarnation and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Only cults and heresies have historically sought to deny or minimize these doctrines.
 
In much of evangelicalism today, it seems to have become a grievous fault, even a sin, to be deeply concerned and vocal with regard to the modern state’s presumption in the redefinition of marriage, the mass murder of infants in the womb, the social engineering of the family, state-sanctioned theft and the usurpation of charity, the diminution of independent Christian education and the assault on religious freedoms and the Church. 
 
Concern is seen as ‘political’ and thus deemed outside the scope or priority of the gospel – as though true Christianity were a progression from the material to the spiritual, from the earthly to the heavenly, from the body to the soul. This is Neo-Platonism, not Christianity, and it has revived in recent decades, making deep inroads into the mindset of many Christians. 
 
In Scripture, by contrast, we see that the whole of reality was created good – not just the soul (Gen. 1:31) – and, in Christ, all aspects of creation are being redeemed and renewed – not simply the internal personal life of the believer (Rom. 8:18-23; Col. 1:15-23; 2 Pt. 3:13). In fact, at creation, Adam is made of the dust and subsequently received the breath of life, so that he became a living being. 
 
We see here that the material aspect of man is not diminished but actually came first – an eternal soul was not deposited into a temporary body (that again is Greek philosophy, not Christianity). Of course, if the Neo-Platonic view were correct, then indeed political, socio-cultural and familial issues addressed in the so-called ‘culture wars’ would be relatively unimportant in Christianity. But, if Christ is who Scripture declares him to be, “The ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5), then woe betide us if we fail to declare him as such. Pious gush and the attempted sanctification of compromise is no substitute for biblical faithfulness and the application of gospel liberty to all of life.
 
Scripture is abundantly clear regarding the purpose of Christ’s coming: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). It is clear from the context of this passage that all unrighteousness is the work of Satan. By contrast we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works (Eph. 2:10). 
 
We should ask ourselves: Is abortion a good work? Is the trafficking of young girls a good work? Is the denial of freedom of speech and religion to Christians a good work? Is gay 'marriage' a good work? Is the destruction of the family and the education of our children in humanism and paganism a good work? If not, these are some of the works that the Son of God appeared to destroy. We must stand with Christ and his total gospel, or be overturned with the wicked (Matt. 12:30). 
 
As the great Princeton theologian, Benjamin Warfield, wrote: 
 
“As emphatically as Paul, John teaches that the earthly history of the church is not a history merely of conflict with evil, but of conquest over evil: and even more richly than Paul, John teaches that this conquest will be decisive and complete. The whole meaning of the vision of Revelation 19:11-21 is that Christ Jesus comes forth not to war merely, but to victory.” [2]  
 
To stand with Christ is to stand in clear opposition to all the works of the devil, and to be in Christ is to share in his total victory.


Endnotes:
[1] Cited in Loraine Boettner, The Millennium (New Jersey: P&R, 1984), 39.
[2]  B. B. Warfield, Biblical Doctrines (Southampton: Banner of Truth Trust, 1988), 647-648.


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