I find myself studying Romans this year much closer than ever before. It stems from working my way (slowly) through N.T. Wright’s Paul And the Faithfulness of God – a massive two volume book that seems to be exhaustive of all things Paul. I read it before, and yet found I was unable to coherently regurgitate what I had learned. So, I am going through it again and pausing at every scenic overlook to ponder all the ins and outs. And this has me shelving the massive two-volume book and running through Wright’s much smaller For Everyone commentary on Romans (with a glance here and there in his massive Romans commentary too).
Well, enough about all of that. If you have followed here long, you know what an enthusiast I am for Wright, but there is no need for me to simmer there. On the other hand, I am absorbing new thoughts, some of which seem relevant to this blog from time to time. And it is part of his For Everyone comment on Romans 8 that has me jazzed at the moment. Particularly Romans 8:17 and following.
We are heirs with the Messiah. We have a fortune to inherit. But as Wright points out:
“Some Christians speak and live as if everything simply comes to us from God while we sit still and merely receive it. But God’s gift and call to us are not for ourselves alone, but for the purpose of working through us to bring about the transformation of the world. … We have to live in a particular way, a way which anticipates the ‘glory’, the rule over creation, which we will eventually share with the Messiah.”
Okay, I thin sliced this quote which deals with multiple dimensions of theology, really, but I just want to focus on one, and I highlight the cutting edge of that one with the italic emphasis which I add to the quote.
So the question arises: Just what is the thing we do that anticipates the ‘glory’?
(I am so glad you asked.)
Well, this question has me recalling a much different book I read more than 20 years ago by David Horowitz called Radical Son. Radical Son is basically an autobiographical tale of a social activist who was raised by American communists in the 1940’s and 50’s, who as a young adult worked hard to protest and resist the Vietnam War and supported the Black Panther/Black Power movement, but then after several years became disillusioned with liberal politics and embraced conservative politics instead. I have not followed Horowitz for a very long time, but last I heard, he was still pulling activist stunts, alright, but definitely working for the Right Wing conservatives instead of Left Wing liberals.
I have no desire to debate his politics or mine, but Horowitz describes his passion in a narrative tale. You don’t argue with narratives. You can be moved by them to formulate opinions, but you don’t argue with them. You either pay attention to narratives or turn them off. But this one is interesting, and so you are not likely to turn it off.
Horowitz was raised by communists. This is quite a foreign experience for a guy like me to consider, and these were American communists in particular. These were the kind of people Senator Joseph McCarthy famously witch hunted, the kind that got blacklisted in Hollywood and so forth. And to be honest, having grown up in the 1980’s, I actually thought such people were the figment of McCarthy’s deluded and paranoid imagination. I didn’t know such people were real – or if real, I imagined they surely were some truly shallow and deranged people that American society would be foolish to fear.
But no. Horowitz educated me. I not only discovered American communists were real, but they were organized and passionate. And Horowitz describes the hidden library in his parents’ basement, the clandestine meetings they hosted for fellow underground communists, and (the part I really want to feature in this post) the way his father taught him from childhood to plot revolution.
This is the image Horowitz burned in my mind: On summer evenings as the heat of the day dissipated, or even after dark, Horowitz’s father would take his young son for walks around the neighborhood, and when they passed streets and avenues with names like “Washington”, “Liberty”, or “Jefferson”, the two would conspire a plan for renaming them “Lenin”, “Stalin”, or some other names that honored their communist heroes and movement. (Please forgive me for not making accurate quotes here; it’s been 20 years since I read the book.)
At first I was alarmed just to know there really were people out there plotting such deep cultural changes, which if successful would obviously make a drastic impact on me and everything I know and think – and the same for all my family and friends. It was a bit frightening, actually. But, of course, they did not, in fact, achieve anywhere near that kind of ambition in America. But once I was past the fear, there was still the fascination about how a father would train up his son with such a rich faith – yes, I said FAITH (even though it is not Christian faith). It was a tenacious faith in a future that would prove to be a longshot. I mean, if “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, things unseen” (Heb. 11:1), this father was teaching faith to his son alright! I was a bit jealous.
Jealous of communist faith?
Yeah, I actually envied this kid. His father had raised him to be a communist in America during the 1950’s, and I envied him? Yes, I did. What if my parents were so sure of our Christian faith (an important distinction, yes but with important similarity too), that they took me around town plotting to change the names of “Liberty Street” and “Washington Ave” to “Holy Spirit Street” and “Jesus Christ Ave”? What if we really believed? …like that??? And what if we colluded in prayer with the Holy Spirit and plotted the unhostile takeover of creation by the Kingdom of God amid persecution? What would that look like?
This seems to me to be very possibly the kind of thing Wright is suggesting as he unpacks Romans 8.
I dare say, it would have been a far cry from the steady diet of Pie-in-the-Sky passivism coupled with anti-legalist/free grace theology that has, in fact, NOT opened the floodgates for the sinners to come poring in, but instead has made Christian faith more indulgent of every sin on the one hand and all but entirely irrelevant on the other! But at least we avoided the persecution!!!
(This is not a criticism of my parents actually, but of modern American Christendom, actually, because my parents passed on to me what was passed on to them. It was only a cosmetic variation on that of practically all the other American Christian families around us too.)
No. I am a bit jealous of this commie kid and his dad for their faith, which had real grit and real anticipation of a future full of GLORY. And as I read Wright’s thoughts on Roman’s 8, I find Horowitz’s story coming back to mind. I wonder if we might not plot revolution for Christ, and just what that would look like both here and now AND when the Kingdom is fully consummated in Glory.
And, of course, this has me thinking about the church vis-à-vis the homeless. I imagine renaming streets would be involved, but loving the poor AS IF they were Jesus himself (Matt. 25:40) strikes me as a bit more meaningful and Christ-like. But, of course, this blog is full of that suggestion already. But perhaps there is something deeply subversive and revolutionary about it which before now, I have failed to consider or promote.