"If you don't play by the world's rules," a wise friend once told me, "then you don't have to play by the world's rules." If you don't bow to the world's system (the world's way of doing things), then you are not bound to the world's system (the world's way of getting things).
—From Ch. 38 ("New Rules for a New World"), Jesus Journey
In 2013, when I was visiting the Sheppard’s home in Boston, Trent mentioned to me that he was planning to write a new book about Jesus. I was very excited and curious to find out how Trent as an American living in the 21st century world was going to portray, describe, and explain the deep beauty and disturbing scandal of Jesus Christ, unexceptional and extraordinary at the same time, a man like no other in the whole of human history.
So the day the book was published in the UK, because I was in such a hurry to read it, I bought a Kindle version instead of having to wait a few days for the hard copy to arrive by post. One of the first things I did was look at the content page, and the first chapter I wanted to check out was "New Rules for a New World." Initially, I was not completely sure what attracted me to reading this chapter first, but now I can understand why...
It was because there was something more going on in the back of my mind. It was because for the past two decades of my life I have been grappling deeply with the question: Who is Jesus Christ in relation to the world of power politics, international relations, and the global struggle for justice for all?
Too often, in my years of (limited but global) experience with Christianity, I’d found that Jesus is magnified as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords for the inner world of the human soul (meaning: 'I invited Jesus into my heart.' Great!), and in the private world of our social clubs we call ‘churches’. But what about the public world of politics, economics, and law? Is Jesus simply good news for the inner world and private world of man but irrelevant in the public and international sphere of human existence? (And, by the way, ‘King of Kings’ and ‘Lord of Lords’ were political titles used to describe Babylonian and Roman emperors in the ancient world.)
Is the risen King Jesus really the absolute reference point for everything that goes on in the world of sovereign states and the modern international system of war-making and diplomacy? Did the resurrection of Jesus fundamentally change the core logic and inner-workings of the world of global politics?
If such a change did occur on that first Easter Sunday, and if the resurrection radically altered the direction and end-goal (telos) of world history, then how should we as disciples of King Jesus in the 21st century live with regards to what happens in the power centres of our world—Washington DC, New York, London, Moscow, Beijing, and other places?
Is it possible and credible to argue that the past two thousand years of world history cannot be understood or explained without reference to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead? More specifically, can we as Christians discuss anything that goes on in our world (e.g. currency trades in global financial markets, bilateral business treaty agreements, advancements in weapons technology, etc.) without reference to King Jesus?
These are the questions I am constantly grappling with—and I become so frustrated when I encounter a 'Jesus-show' that is actually an escape from or a foil for not dealing with the public issues affecting our world.
And so reading Trent’s book with these questions in mind took me on my own Jesus Journey. Let me share with you a few thoughts about what I’ve been learning along the way...
First, Jesus is a very different kind of ruler, and his rules are nothing like anything we may have encountered and experienced in the world. He is the ruler seated on the highest throne of authority in the universe, and yet he abides in the hearts of his subjects through the Holy Spirit in the most intimate way—including in the hearts of the least and last, the outsiders and nobodies. Therefore, there can be no elitism in the Jesus scheme of things.
And so in one sense, what goes on in the human heart really does matter for Jesus: The heart of the matter for Jesus is really the matters of the human heart. Our hearts, yours and mine, are desperately wicked and only Jesus has the power to cleanse and transform the heart. Simon Peter experienced this transformation when he ate breakfast with Jesus on the beach.
New rules for a new world begins with the human heart.
Second, Jesus is the true King of Kings and Lord of Lords of world history, the rightful ruler over all of reality, from the material and sub-human level to the outer realms of the cosmos. But there is a strange paradox here. Despite the fact that Jesus is the unchallenged triumphant ruler of the world, he has given human beings a certain degree of autonomy from his rule.
This means that human beings have real freedom to do good and righteous things, and to do terrible and wicked things. For Jesus, giving people the freedom to do what they desire and protecting that freedom is more important than imposing his will on us.
And yet at the same time Jesus hasn’t simply abandoned this world to the choices and actions of wicked people. His back is not turned to us. Incredibly, he still takes ultimate responsibility for what happens in our world. And we can trust his judgements (instead of doing the judging ourselves), knowing his judgements will prevail in the end.
Jesus is a strange kind of ruler. He is making the world new not by imposing his divine will on us or abusing his heavenly power for his own ends (as so many earthly rulers have done), but through transforming the human heart, one person at a time, even if this will take another two thousand years. Who are we to decide otherwise or question the mind of Christ?
Ultimately, there is no other way that leads to life for all except the Jesus way. According to Jesus, "new rules for a new world" means there are no shortcuts for the fulfilment of the new heavens and the new earth.
Today's guest post is by Philip Powell: Philip (aka Indian Sage, Brown Englishman) is from Chennai in India and has lived in England since 1998. He has travelled to over 30 countries speaking on global justice and human rights issues, and has engaged in advocacy work at the United Nations and Westminster Parliament. In Cambridge, he is a member of and leads the Lyn’s House Community, a place of welcome for disabled and differently-abled people inspired by the work of L'Arche International and the vision of Jean Vanier. He also leads a reading group in Cambridge studying the writings of Lesslie Newbigin. As part of his work with the Jubilee Centre, he leads an online course Biblical Foundations for Public Leadership and the Social Reformers Summer School in Cambridge (http://www.jubilee-centre.org/training/). Philip has a Masters degree in International Relations, and is a passionate cricket supporter (the sport, not the insect).
Photo credits: Chelsea Hudson