The Powers and Political Involvement

What is the place of politics in the life of the Christian?

On the one hand, I have serious concerns when Christians put their faith in empire as the hope of the world. My political sensibilities tend toward the Anabaptist, investing my energy, time, attention, and hope in the church rather than Washington DC.

But on the other hand, our system is one of participatory democracy. We should each do our part to use whatever political power we have, the vote most especially, to improve our common lives together.

So how do you walk that line? Involved, but not overly invested. Can such a line be walked?

I've found Hendrik Berkhof's observations in his book Christ and the Powers to be helpful on this point. Berkhof's point is that "the powers" of the world, in this case we're talking about nation states, aren't evil but fallen. The powers serve a purpose in bringing order and structure to social life. Yet in their fallenness the powers are broken and corrupted. So the way forward isn't non-participation, an attempt to keep oneself "pure" by refusing to be "political." Again, the powers aren't evil so involvement isn't morally corrupting. 

But on the other hand, the powers are fallen. So we can't put our hope in them. They are broken vessels, so we need to be realistic about what they can and can't accomplish. The powers are useful, but they cannot save us. So we must be wary of placing too much of our energy and hope in them.

For Berkhof, then, we must "Christianize" the powers. And we do that by viewing them modestly and instrumentally. We use the powers as needed, but are not overly invested in them. Berkhof describing this:

The Holy Spirit "shrinks" the Powers before the eyes of faith. [The Powers] may have inflated themselves to omnipotent total value systems, but the believer sees them in their true proportion, as nothing more than one segment of creation, existing because of the Creator, and limited by other creatures...In faith life is seen and accepted in its smallness and modesty... 

That [the Powers] are "Christianized" means they are made instrumental, made modest; one could even say "neutralized."... [The Powers] no longer pretend to offer an inspiring center for all of life...[The church strives] to neutralize the Powers and de-ideologize life...
One might summarize by saying that the issue here is one of attitude, about the size of the psychological and spiritual footprint politics has in your mind and heart.

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