The following article is from an interview with Dr. Owen Strachan, Director of the Center of Public Theology, Midwestern Seminary
Whether the message is coming from the pulpit or from virtue-signaling social media influencers, love-of-neighbor exhortations undergird much of the venom in today’s cultural banter. Even many eminent Christian leaders are urging congregations that to love their neighbors is to set down the Bible and uphold the proverbial Caesar-stamped denarius. Do what you’re told—no questions asked. The reason, as touted by author and professor N.T. Wright stated in a recent interview with Time, is that Christians have no answers for the world in this crisis. All we can do is lament. And that’s what God is doing in all this as well.
But Christians do have answers—we have hope. In fact, the Resurrection hope we recently celebrated on Easter Sunday is needed more than ever, especially as various American freedoms—like freedom of assembly—are subject to new influences. There are a number of mayors and governors who think they’re helping their citizens by forbidding drive-through services. Yet, in my view, if people are not assembling as usual, it is unreasonable for these leaders to crack down innovate ways to worship if they’re aligned with CDC regulations.
Christians, like all citizens, need to recognize that this is a unique time. It’s akin to a wartime season, and there are things that have changed. We’re not gathering by the hundreds or by the thousands in our religious assemblies, like we used to, nor should we be. This is out of love of neighbor. At that same time, we’re seeing that the nanny state is not at rest, and politicians are using this crisis to implement government control—whether it’s a drive-in church assembly or a little girl shooting baskets alone on the street.
I think we need to see both of these realities. We must speak for love of neighbor and against government overreach. What really lifts Christians above the fray in all this is not merely to say, “These are our conservative principles we hold to,” as important as they are. We need to say, “The world is a complete mess, and my hope is not here. My hope is in the crucified and risen Christ, who washed my sins away on the cross of Calvary and rose again from the grave to give me eternal life.”
A Biblical worldview in action
Underlying much of the growing divisiveness in our culture is the fact that we’ve lost the doctrine of the Imago Dei, or humans being created in the Image of God. It used to be an operative concept in Western society—not in an evangelical way, necessarily, but it was hugely influential concept. This is the understanding that we are neither God, nor are we just lumps of clay.
But today there are two different instincts that are both very problematic. There is a neo-paganism, a worldview we’re effectively deified to be god-like. Conversely, there are people in our culture who argue that we are clumps of cells, and our lives have no deeper meaning. The child in the womb is a just tissue that is progressing. So, you have those who literally deify humanity and those who demote humanity.
Christianity cuts through the middle and rises up through the Scripture to argue that we are made in the image of God. Every person is an image-bearer. Whether you’re looking into the face of an elderly person in the nursing home who doesn’t recall their own name, or meeting a brand-new baby on an ultrasound, you’re looking at a distant, living reflection of God Himself. And this is our central claim we must bring to bear on all our public theology, to cultural engagement, and into the political realm.
The Bible gives us a system of doctrine to know God, worship God, and live for His glory. It gives us the theological truths we need to form a Biblical worldview and live out life for God’s glory. And while the Bible is not a political handbook, we can’t act as though it’s only for our quiet prayer time and solitary reflection. The Bible speaks to all of life—from Imago Dei to the imminent return of Christ. Look at the first and basic commitment of Christianity: God is God, and nothing and no one else is God. Well, this is immediately politically problematic. This reality of God ruling all things inherently frames politics in a very important way. We have God ruling over every political figure, every governor, every President.
As the COVID-19 crisis endures, it will require of Christians to apply love-of-neighbor actions that follow from loving God first. I believe there will be continued restrictions upon the church and “normal” life impediments. We need to quarantine and lock-down, whatever it takes, so that we can love our neighbor well until we regain freedom of movement. Until that time, we have to accept that life doesn’t look like what it has, and there are going to be restrictions.
On the other hand, we also cannot simple accede to any demand the government makes. We cannot surrender our religious liberty in this time. As culture is being instructed by those in pulpits, behind government podiums, and on social media platforms that love-of-neighbor means doing whatever the government says, Christians must give these mandates critical thought—within the Biblical construct.
We need to love our neighbor. We need to live wisely. And we need to push back against governmental overreach where it’s not warranted, when it’s not just or sound, and where Caesar is trying to intrude upon our lives in harmful ways.