The Place Where God’s Kingdom Thrives

Philip Yancey, in What’s So Amazing about Grace?

I had the distinct impression that God was moving — not in the spiritualized sense of that phrase but quite literally packing up and moving. Western Europe now pays God little heed, the United States is pushing God to the margins, and perhaps the future of God’s kingdom belongs to places like Korea, China, Africa, and Russia. The kingdom of God thrives where its subjects follow the desire of the King; does that describe the United States of America today?

As an American, the prospect of such a “move” makes me sad. At the same time, however, I understand more clearly than ever before that my ultimate loyalty lies with the kingdom of God, not [a single nation.]

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An Unexpected Repository for Truth

Philip Yancey, in What’s So Amazing about Grace?

When I visited Russia in 1991 … I saw in Russia a people starved for grace. …

I heard form ordinary citizens who now relished their freedom to worship. Most had learned about the faith from a babushka, an old grandmother. When the state cracked down on the church, it ignored this group: let the old women sweep the floors and sell the candles and cling to the tradition until they all die off, they reasoned. The aged hands of the babushka, though, rocked the cradles. Young churchgoers today often say they first learned about God in childhood through the hymns and stories Grandma would whispers as they drifted off to sleep.

I will never forget a meeting in which Moscow journalists wept — I had never before seen journalists weep — as Ron Nikkel of Prison Fellowship International told of the underground churches that were now thriving in Russia’s penal colonies. For seventy years prisons had been the repository of truth, the one place where you could safely speak the name of God. It was in prison, not church, that people such as Solzhenitsyn found God …

What IS the Perfect Government?

[The] state must always water down the absolute quality of Jesus’ commands and turn them into a form of external morality — precisely the opposite of the gospel of grace. Jacques Ellul goes so far as to say the New Testament teaches no such thing as a “Judeo-Christian ethic.” It commands conversion and then this, “Be perfect … as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Read the Sermon on the Mount and try to imagine any government enacting that set of laws.

A state government can shut down stores and theaters on Sunday, but it cannot compel worship. It can arrest and punish KKK murderers but cannot cure their hatred, must less teach them love. It can pass laws making divorce more difficult but cannot force husbands to love their wives and wives their husbands. It can give subsidies to the poor but cannot force the rich to show them compassion and justice. It can ban adultery but not lust, theft but not covetousness, cheating but not pride. It can encourage virtue but not holiness. – Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace?

What is the True Agenda of a Christian?

In recent history, the main leaders of the civil rights movement (Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young) were clergy, and their stirring speeches showed it. Churches black and white provided the buildings, the networks, the ideology, the volunteers, and the theology to sustain the movement.

Martin Luther King Jr. later broadened his crusade to encompass the issues of poverty and opposition to the war in Vietnam. Only recently, as political activism has shifted to conservative causes, has Christian involvement in politics caused alarm. …

Stephen Carter offers good counsel about political activism: To be effective, “gracious” Christians must be wise in the issues they choose to support or oppose. …

What about today? Are we choosing our battles wisely? Obviously, abortion, sexual issues, and the definitions of life and death are issues worthy of our attention. Yet when I read the literature produced by evangelicals in politics I also read about gun rights, abolishing the Department of Education … and term limits for Congress. … Too often the agenda of conservative religious groups matches line for line the agenda of conservative politics and does not base its priorities on a transcendent source. – Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace?

One Distinguishing Mark

The issues facing society are pivotal, and perhaps a culture war is inevitable. But Christians should use different weapons in fighting wars, the “weapons of mercy” in Dorothy Day’s wonderful phrase. Jesus declared that we should have one distinguishing mark: not political correctness or moral superiority, but love. Paul added that without love nothing we do — no miracle of faith, no theological brilliance, no flaming personal sacrifice — will avail (1 Corinthians 13).

Modern democracy badly needs a new spirit of civility, and Christians could show the way by demonstrating the “fruit” of God’s Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. – Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace?

Who is My Enemy?

Jesus did not let any institution interfere with his love for individuals. Jewish racial and religious policies forbade him to speak with a Samaritan woman, let alone one with a checkered moral background; Jesus selected one as a missionary. His disciples included a tax collector, viewed as a traitor by Israel, and also a Zealot, a member of the super-patriot party. He praised the counter-cultural John the Baptist. He met with Nicodemus, an observant Pharisee, and also with a Roman centurion. He dined in the home of another Pharisee named Simon and also in the home of an “unclean” man, Simon the Leper. For Jesus, the person was more important than any category or label.

I know how easy it is to get swept away by the politics of polarization, to shout across picket lines at the “enemy” on the other side. But Jesus commanded, “Love your enemies.” …

Who is my enemy? The abortionist? The Hollywood producer polluting our culture? The politician threatening my moral principles? The drug lord ruling my inner city? If my activism, however well-motivated, drives out love, then I have misunderstood Jesus’ gospel. I am stuck with law, not the gospel of grace. – Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace?

What Is the Christian’s Main Responsibility in Today’s World?

How can Christians dispense grace in a society that seems to be veering away from God? The Bible offers many different models of response. Elijah his out in caves and made lightning raids on Ahab’s pagan regime; his contemporary Obadiah worked within the system, running Ahab’s palace while sheltering God’s true prophets on the side. Esther and Daniel were employed by heathen empires; Jonah called down judgment on another. Jesus submitted to the judgment of a Roman governor; Paul appealed his case all the way to Caesar.

To complicate matters, the Bible gives no direct advice for citizens of a democracy. … We can hardly ignore the government when, by constitutional right, we comprise the government. And if Christians make up a majority, why not proclaim ourselves a “moral majority” and fashion culture in our own likeness?

When some form of Christian consensus held sway in the United States, these issues were less urgent. Now all of us who love our faith and also our nation must decide how best to express that care. …

I believe that dispensing God’s grace is the Christian’s main contribution. As Gordon MacDonald said, the world can do anything the church can do except one thing; it cannot show grace. – Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace?