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imagesI blog, with great fear and trembling, on politics every so often, a couple of times year maybe, when it intersects with matters of the Bible or Christian faith that I feel strongly about.

And each time before pressing “publish” I ask myself, “Do you really want to do this? Don’t you remember last time?” But I do it anyway. (Which reminds me to make an extra appointment with my therapist.)

Without fail, nothing, and I mean nothing, comes close to the animosity, ill will, and flat out meanness generated by political disagreement—including from evangelicals. And if my sample size means anything, I would say especially from evangelicals.

Not evolution, not inerrancy of the Bible, not even the Trinity, divinity of Christ, resurrection, or atonement. But politics.

You’d think the world was about to end, Jesus was coming back, and his first act of judging the living and the dead was about our views on the flat tax and global warming.

Just over 3 years ago, before the 2012 election, I blogged on this phenomenon of evangelicals losing it every time a presidential election is near, and so—with fear and trembling—I thought I’d post it again (slightly modified).

I could have changed the names or the issues, but no need. The cast of characters is different but not much else.


Before we get going here, let’s be clear on what

and what

This is not a cynical, “I’m above it all,” anti-political rant.

I am not saying all candidates are the same.

I am not telling anyone not to vote.

I am not suggesting we stop arguing about politics and coming to strong convictions. Have at it.

I am saying that getting so worked up about politics that you become really angry and spiteful, or you actually “fear for our country,” or are thinking of moving to Greenland or cryogenically freezing yourself if “that guy” gets elected, you may need to step back and think about what’s happening inside of you.

We all can and should be genuinely concerned about health care, our economy, terrorism, gender equality, and many, many other issues.

But, listen for the rhetoric in others and in ourselves.

If you fear for your way of life, that if the wrong person gets elected all is lost and you simply don’t have any hope for your future or the future of your children—if that is your rhetoric, you have accepted what we like to call in the theological industry a “rival eschatology.”

All political regimes have a utopian agenda. Communist, socialist, fascist, monarchic, and yes, even our democratic system.

All of them.

They all make promises to be the ones who will deliver the goods. They all promise that, without them, you are lost. They all claim to have “arrived,” to represent the culmination of the human drama, to be the true light, a city on a hill, that which brings you and all humanity true peace and security. Many even claim in some sense to rule by divine right.

That is what “eschatology” means—not an “end of the world” cataclysm as in some video game apocalyptic scenario.

Eschatology means: “Rest and be still. Things are now as they should be—or they soon will be. Now, truly and finally, you have reason to hope. Trust in us. Fear not.”

Eschatology means believing to be in that place where the human drama has come to its fullest expression.

They all say that, in one way or another.

When we fear, or rage, or are depressed about politics, it means we have invested something of our deep selves into an “eschatology”—into a promise that “all will be well, provided you come with us.”

Christians can’t go there, because Christianity is an eschatology.

And it accepts no rivals.

Christians should not adopt the rival eschatology that this or any political system or politician is of such fundamental importance that the thought of an election turning sour or the wrong laws being passed mean that all hope is lost.

There is a huge difference between saying, “That person would make a horrible president for the following reasons,” and “If he/she is elected, I just don’t know what I will do, where I will go—how we can carry on.”

The Christian never says the latter, because, regardless of where things play out politically, we believe that no political system is worthy of that level of deep trust to make the world right and just.

This is what the first Christians were taught about the Roman Empire, which promised its citizens peace, grace, justice, protection from enemies—all of which was called “salvation.”

The Gospel offered an “alternate eschatology” to that mentality. 

Not an escape from the world or some future doomsday scenario, but a present reality, where the promise of peace, grace, and justice were kept—through the suffering and enthronement of King Jesus, not through the power of the state.

Hence, the rhetoric of that anti-empire book of Revelation: the paradox of the slain lamb of God (Jesus) exalted above every earthly power.

Hence, St. Paul’s claim that our “citizenship is in heaven”—not “up there somewhere” but the kingdom of God come to earth now in the crucified and risen messiah, which is never caught up in political systems, but stands ready to work with them or deeply critique them depending on what is happening at the moment.

This entire line of thought goes back to the Old Testament prophets. They preached, harassed, and annoyed Israel’s leaders not to fear the nations around them, nor to trust that the any of them will make things right and give Israel lasting peace.

They were at times much more critical of Israel’s own leaders when they set up a “rival eschatology,” promising to deliver the goods through military strength or savvy political alliances rather than following God’s path. The prophets said, “hope is elsewhere.”

Many Christians on both sides of the aisle work hard in the world of politics to bring about justice and with deep conviction (even if Christians disagree strongly on how that should be done). This is good and right. I support it. But this post is about something else.

If you are watching political ads, speeches, or debates, or if you reading blogs about an election, and your blood begins boiling and hatred rises up and spews out of your mouth or onto your keyboard, that may be a sign to you that you are harboring a rival eschatology, that, despite what you might think to be true, your peace comes not from the gospel but from the state.

Your deep allegiance may be misplaced.

At least it’s worth a look.

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Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.