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what is an “empire”?

Since the inception of this blog there has been a lot of talk about “empire.”

Now, discourse about “empire” is anything but unique to this blog, for it has been a common theme in theological discussion for a long time now.

I am aware that this language about empire is not familiar to everybody. Indeed a number of people have recently asked me the question, “what is (an) empire?”

The term empire is often used by people, especially those with a heightened social conscience, to simply denounce systems and institutions that they find dissatisfactory. Such a use of the term is rather haphazard and imprecise, leaving it vulnerable to baseless usage. Equally common is for people to define empire according to its characteristics (violence, economic exploitation, propaganda), but such characteristics generally tend to represent more a description than a definition, and are helpful but not sufficient. Read the rest of this entry

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Q&R: jesus and violence in the book of revelation

A life.remixed reader writes (in the comments section of my post Who Would Jesus Whip?):

Hey Matt,
Thanks for this post. I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog and appreciate your perspective on a number of issues, particularly this one, as your view is quite different to mine.
My question (not a trick one I should point out) is how you reconcile the image of the non-violent Jesus of the Gospels with the recurrently violent image of Him portrayed in Revelation?
Here is an example of what I’m talking about…

Revelation 19:11
“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war.” (NIV)

My point is that if Jesus’ character is one of non-violent resistance, must that not consistently be His character throughout the ages? Are you arguing that He is specifically calling us to model His non-violent attitude demonstrated in the Gospels but ignore (or at least disregard for the moment) His violent responses in other parts of the Bible (in a Deuteronomy 32:35 sense)?

This certainly gets back to your point about what constitutes violence. I definitely read a correlation between Jesus’ violence and His perfect justice…an aspect that we certainly lack.
This may be a subject for another post, but would love to know your thoughts. Read the rest of this entry

remixing romans 13: overcoming imperial zombification

1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that
exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.


Following the assassination of Osama bin Laden, and my subsequent reflections, I was confronted with numerous comments and questions regarding the above passage from Romans 13. One friend commented that, in light of this passage, he thought armed intervention was completely within the scope of government as taught the New Testament.

What I offer here is not a criticism of my friends, but a challenge to the way we read passages like Romans 13. Read the rest of this entry

what is the gospel?

At the end of last year I was criticised by the organiser of an event I was asked to speak at because of the gospel that I preached.

“We believe the gospel is the good news about the death and resurrection of Jesus,” he said.

On the surface this assertion sounds good to many Christians. But is that really what the gospel is? Is the gospel really just the stating of a doctrinal belief (albeit one based in history) whereby voluntary assent leads to post mortem safety?

Such a caricature does not seem to make sense of the biblical narrative for me. In the Old Testament the phrase “good news” was used to describe the announcement of the people of God concerning the fact that God would bring them back from Exile in a manner similar to that of the Exodus, and that he would be king over them (e.g. Isaiah 40 esp. vv.9-11; 52 esp. vv.7-10). Such kingship obviously implies a kingdom, and so the ‘good news’ (gospel) was essentially an announcement of the coming kingdom of God, that is, God’s reign/rule over his people who are formed into an alternative society to those surrounding them in accordance with the Mosaic Law.

In this way the gospel was intricately linked to the narrative of the Old Testament; God had redeemed and rescued Israel to become an alternative society to empires like Egypt, though throughout their history Israel had eventually become like such empires. For this reason God would cleanse them through fire in the Exile, and the good news (gospel) was that they would be restored as the originally intended alternative kingdom.

In the New Testament the meaning of ‘gospel’ does not really change. By the time of Jesus two things will largely affect the definition of the Greek word euangelion; Keep Reading…

when does espionage become terrorism?

Julian Assange has made waves in the international community by releasing 251,287 US embassy cables via his whistleblower website WikiLeaks.

The revelations resulting from the leak will continue for months, even years, as the information contained in the documents is processed.

In this post I am not so much interested in Assange and the landmark event he has orchestrated. Rather I am interested in some of the questions, not least those of a political nature, which are raised.

At this point it is worth noting the reactions by certain political figures at the historic leak: Keep Reading…

show me the money!

by Matt Anslow and Greg Attwells
(For this to make sense you should read our previous post, entitled Religion Sells)

While Jerry MacGuire may have screamed this now-iconic quote down the mouthpiece of a telephone as his cocky client bounced playfully on the other side of the line whilst encouraging him to say it “Louder Jerry!” the truth is that in the end it wasn’t the money which was important. It was family, relationships and even professional ethics that came out on top at the end of this classic flick named after its main protagonist.

Perhaps Jerry MacGuire can reveal something to us, the Church, in the terms of what we should value most. Keep Reading…

religion sells

The following post is a collaborative work between myself and Greg Attwells. In a bit of an experiment we decided to write a blog post over successive emails. Here is the result.

“When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” (John 2: 13-16)

We often think inside the parameters of the very systems that God wants to overthrow…

Many people have made the point in the past that Jesus did what he did in the Temple because he was reacting to the corruption of the Temple’s marketplace. This is, in a very real and major sense, true. But the issue was not so much that the Temple marketplace was unfairly trading sacrifices for exorbitant amounts of money, but more that the entire Temple system was unjustly exploiting the poor and marginalised, and excluding Gentiles and other people who were deemed “out of covenant” with God.

In this way the religious system of Israel had itself become exploitative and exclusive, much like the Roman Empire that it claimed to despise, under which she herself was a victim.

Interesting.

The very imperial system to which Israel herself was prisoner had become the system that she began to imitate. This was especially true of the religious aspect of her society. Imperial religion… how very frightening.

In saying this, the money changers in the Temple had a very valid reason to be there. There was a genuine need for currency to be converted in order for tithes and offerings to take place as was custom among the Jewish people for centuries. On top of this, the people selling livestock had an even more important reason to be there – try travelling a great distance on foot and keeping your goat ‘unblemished’ at the same time! It was a system that could potentially aid the people. It made sense in their culture… it wasn’t inherently corrupt.

“See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” Jeremiah 1:10

Before you can build & plant you need to uproot, tear down & overthrow the things that will eventually kill what needs to grow.

“How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” Jesus shouted…

What Jesus is doing here is planting the seed of a Kingdom, one that simply cannot grow in an imperial religious industry like the Temple system had become.

The Temple’s gone but the system remains.

Someone once said, “Christianity started in Palestine as a community, then moved to Greece and became a philosophy. From there it travelled to Rome and became an institution… only to arrive in America as a fully fledged enterprise.”

To America’s credit they are not the first to industrialise religion. It was happening in Jesus’ day; people earned a living from selling religious goods and services. However, we’re sure many entrepreneurs throughout history would stand in awe of some of the ’empires’ created by Christian men and women in our world today.

Let’s be honest, Christianity has in many places become the business of selling Jesus (or maybe a pale representation of the real first century Jewish peasant), and the only ones really buying it are Christians themselves.

Let’s just imagine for a second that we lived in a world where famous Christians don’t travel on private jets – they get to places the way normal people do.  In fact, all ministry efforts (including Christian resources) are gifts shared between believers. Books don’t have price tags, speakers don’t have ‘appearance’ fees, pastors actually serve people and not vice versa, and the body of Christ freely gives and it has freely received.

Sound familiar?

“Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come buy and eat. Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” Isaiah 55:1

“You received without paying, give without pay.” Matthew 10:8b

“What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.” 1 Corinthians 9:18

Of course, you’re going to have ‘famous’ Christians no matter what – it’s the nature of the beast. Jesus and Paul were both known throughout the land; still they looked very different from many of the ‘famous’ Christians of our day. Jesus travelled the way normal people did back then – on land he walked, and by sea… well admittedly he walked then too. 🙂 He wasn’t chauffeured around from city to city by a chariot, and when Jerusalem threw a parade to honour him he rode in on a donkey. He didn’t charge people entry to listen to his sermon on the mount, and Paul didn’t charge the Corinthians $12.95 each for a copy of his letter. They demonstrated the Kingdom in both their ministry and the systems that supported their ministry. Sure they received donations and offerings, but the point is they never charged… they never turned their gifts and teachings into products.

We realise by saying all this we may be on a fast road to making many enemies. We have many friends and admire many people who sell their resources, charge for their time and make money off their ministry gifts. We love and respect these people, some of whom we could only hope to become half of who they are. Many of these folks give much of the income they earn away to various ministries and charities. These people really are amazing and we want to honour them and the contribution they are making to the Kingdom of God.

However…

The system that supports them is flawed and needs to be questioned and reformed. Please understand us; we are simply saying the system is flawed – We’re not attacking the people it supports. The fact that Jesus overturned the tables says to us he was more interested in uprooting the system that supported what the people were doing, not the people themselves.

We just want to make that clear.

Here is the issue.

Jesus may have cleared the Temple but the money changers have returned, and my generation has inherited an imperial religious industry far more advanced and insatiable than its predecessor. Those who feel compelled can’t simply start overturning tables at their local Christian bookstore and expect to reform the system (if you decide to do this then let us know because we’d love to watch). We are dealing with an empire. It won’t treat insurgents and radical thinkers very well. It never has. It may even crucify them.

Be that as it may.

The way we speak communicates our message just as much as what we say. We cannot sell the kingdom of God in a religious marketplace and expect to retain the integrity of its message. If you cannot serve both God and money, why do we think we can offer God in exchange for money? Do we imagine we can control God?

The Temple system of Jesus’ day economically supported an aristocracy of 2-3% whose affluence came at the cost of the lifestyles of peasants who made up 90% of the Palestinian population. The comparable problem with the contemporary industrialisation of the Christian religion is not that people earn money from it per se, but rather that Christians unquestioningly engage in the capitalist enterprise without ever challenging it, or the tyranny it creates for the majority of the world’s population.

Thus the religious empire actually undermines the very thing it is trying to sell – the good news of the kingdom of God. This is because the empire/kingdom of the marketplace that supports the elite and exploits and excludes the remaining majority actually competes with and opposes the empire/kingdom of God which seeks a different reality. In Jesus, God kicked off that grand plan called the kingdom which rejects the imperial systems of the world and offers a totally different kind of empire – one of love, equity, justice, peace and mercy.

“To those who sold… he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” John 2:16

Strong words… Much stronger than our own.

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