In the second chapter of Creation, Power and Truth Wright builds upon the cultural, historical and theological analysis of Gnosticism of the first chapter, and looks at imperialism old and new. Specifically, he argues that empires flourish when Gnosticism, and other forms of relativism and pluralism, abound. When people retreat into their private sphere of spirituality the public sphere is left empty, ready to be filled by empire. Alternatively, when people see politics as a means to bring about Armageddon, the collusion with power leads to the destruction of God’s creation.
The last few months have seen new and old powers dominate global headlines. The conflict in Ukraine is a reminder that empires need their access points, and that Cold War-style posturing (Russia seems to think that weapons testing will remind the rest of the world of its nuclear arsenal) is now run along complex racial, political and ideological lines. Whilst a little way south not only have we seen Israel and Palestine return to the deadly conflict over Gaza, but also the dominance of IS across large parts of Syria and Iraq, has meant that the world is having to take seriously the threat of a tyrannical and (seemingly) empire seeking group.
Not that any of this is new.
This is the point that Wright is making: empire is old. Wright’s perceptive analysis of the West’s idolisation of the separation of Church and State and love of democracy reveals a significant cultural blind spot. We have allowed empires to grow and flourish, we have handed power to them, because we have been too concerned with the process which establishes government rather than the governing that they do.
I have appreciated the way in which Wright establishes the problem (both as it appeared during the origins of Christianity and as it is today) of empire before moving into the solution which is found in the Gospel of Christ Jesus as Lord. Wright’s exegesis of John 18-19, with Jesus standing trial before Pilate, examined in light of the resurrection in John 20, and comparatively with the synoptic gospels, builds a sound case for Jesus coming, “not to destroy the world but to rescue it from evil” (51). Wright, in looking at various passages on Jesus’ atonement, establishes a clear argument that if Jesus is lord of heaven and earth, then from Genesis through to Revelation, the Bible’s own interpretation is that all authorities on heaven and on earth are to acknowledge that. The powers as they stand will bow before the throne of Christ, who expressed true power in his loving sacrifice for his creation.
Wright ends the chapter with a call for Christians to declare the gospel of Jesus Christ as Lord, not only on an individual level (person-to-person), but also to proclaim it to the powers which are under Christ’s lordship, “the task of the church… to speak the truth to power, to affirm power in its proper use and to critique it in its regular abuse” (62). When we are witnesses to an abuse of power Christians should be writing letters to our representatives in Government, petitioning them for change, and to consider non-violent protests when the former options have not halted the abuse. A great example of this is the movement #LoveMakesAWay, which describes itself as “a movement of Christians seeking an end to Australia's inhumane asylum seeker policies through prayer and nonviolent love in action.” (from the #LoveMakesAWay facebook page). They have identified an abuse by Government (an abuse in which both sides of Federal politics are complicit), and are seeking to bring about a change in policy through prayer and nonviolence.
Jesus Christ is Lord of all of our lives, including our public and political lives. We can all write a letter, can’t we? (And if not, I’m sure there’s some good examples just a click or two away…)