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We the Fallen People Includes You and Me

We the Fallen People Includes You and Me

I am a democrat [proponent of democracy] because I believe in the Fall of Humanity.

I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought humankind so wise and good that every one deserved a share in the government.

The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they’re not true…I find that they’re not true without looking further than myself. I don’t deserve a share in governing a hen-roost. Much less a nation….

The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Humankind is so fallen that no one can be trusted with unchecked power over his or her fellows.

“Equality” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses* by C.S. Lewis

 

Political Partisanship

If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you are frustrated and perplexed by the political partisanship that only seems to increase with each passing election cycle. Whether it be disagreements over abortion, inflation, student loan forgiveness, public school curriculum, or anything else, thoughtful and charitable debate is hard to find. In spite of these divisions, there is one thing almost all politicians, pundits, and activists agree on: “most Americans want what is right and good, and they agree with me.” Both sides of our political discourse will creatively redefine what “most Americans” means to make this statement true. You would be hard pressed to find a public persona who asserts “Most Americans disagree with me on this, but they are profoundly mistaken.” In our contemporary political culture, the voice of the people is considered the voice of God. 

 

Sin and American Democracy

I recently had the pleasure of reading We the Fallen People: The Founders and Future of American Democracy by Robert Tracy McKenzie, Professor of History at Wheaton College. In this deeply thought-provoking book, McKenzie explores the relationship between the Christian doctrine of sin and American democracy. He argues that the founders, who were by no means perfect, had a robust view of the brokenness of human nature that coheres with the biblical view. They designed our constitution with that view of human nature in mind and created built-in checks and balances to guard against the tyranny of the majority. However, within a generation, this view of fallen humanity fell out of favor with the function of American politics. The will of “We, the People” gained the moral high ground simply because it reflects the majority of people who consider themselves essentially good. 

Biblically, this is not true. Humans were created good but were broken and tainted by sin when Adam and Eve fell. God sees “that every intention of the thoughts of (humanity’s) heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). The prophet Jeremiah locates this corruption deep within the human heart as it “is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). The apostle Paul, summarizing and combining much of the Old Testament, concludes that “none is righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10). Even Jesus himself declares “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18).

Fallen Image-Bearers

Now this does not mean every human being is as wicked and evil as they could possibly be. Each human still bears God’s image even after The Fall (Genesis 9:6), and God’s goodness and common grace prevents humans from being absolutely evil. Also, Christians are not completely exempt from brokenness and sin from the moment of their conversion. Though sin is defeated when Christ redeems us and gives us the Holy Spirit, sinful desires and inclinations still remain within us. This is why Paul commands believers not to allow sin to reign in our mortal bodies (Romans 6:12). Moreover, the reality and depth of human sinfulness should lead even saved Christians to maintain a posture of humility toward others because we are all broken (Ephesians 2:1-9). Gospel-centered Christians can’t divide the world neatly into “good guys” and “bad guys.” Instead, we confess we are all the “bad guys”, and our only hope of being made new is the one Good Guy who died in our place.

Does our broader political engagement and faith in democracy embody this view? McKenzie says no and details major events in Andrew Jackson’s presidency that are emblematic of the opposite shift that still persist today. Notably, Native Americans were removed from the southeast portion of the United States during the “Trail of Tears” in order to distribute more farmland to white settlers. Though there was dissent to this egregious violation of justice and disregard for ratified treaties, such opposition was labeled as ‘elitist’ and wrong because it went against the “populist” will of the people. Jackson would say “the great mass of the people cannot be corrupted” in defense of these policies. This perspective prevails in the present day with our democracy functioning as though humans are individually good and collectively wise.

What should faithful Christians consider in our democratic process in light of this? 

 

Bearing Witness to God’s Kingdom

McKenzie does not argue that returning to the founders’ style of democracy, where only white, property-owning males could vote, would solve our problems. A tyranny of the minority is no better since all are affected by The Fall. He does point to the C.S. Lewis quote noted above and claims our motivation for pursuing democracy must reckon with the reality of human depravity. We should be cautious of assuming a certain perspective or policy is right merely because “the majority” believes it to be so. We should take care to protect the rights of minorities, practice restraint when our preferred “team” is in power, and advocate for principles of justice to be followed, even if they are unpopular. This is because victory for Christian values over our culture should not be the church’s goal, but rather to be faithfully present in the midst of culture to bear witness to God’s kingdom, no matter if the majority accepts or opposes our view.

Our engagement in politics ought to flow out of our virtue formation. One of the most commonly repeated quotes during election season is “America is great because she is good.” McKenzie explains how this is falsely attributed to Alexis de Toqueville, a French author who wrote about American democracy when visiting Jacksonian America. De Toqueville’s actual perspective was the opposite. He said “I cannot regard you (Americans) as a virtuous people.” He recognized a profound individualism in American culture that is antithetical to virtue, in that true virtue seeks the good of the whole at the expense of one’s self. A democracy that elevates the will of the majority, when there are not sufficient structures in that culture to instill the character of self-sacrifice for the betterment of others, will inevitably lead to tyranny and oppression.

Where Is Our Dependence?

As we enter into another contentious election season, let’s keep this in mind. American Christians have been given an immense privilege to have a voice in how our government is run. Engaging politically is potentially one of the most powerful ways to love our neighbors, while simultaneously also being an avenue that can bring immense pain and suffering to them. Let’s use that privilege virtuously to serve others. Let’s engage those we disagree with in a posture of humility. Let’s ask God for guidance and wisdom because we are dependent on him. Let’s interrogate our own political ideals as much as we question the “other side”, knowing that “We the Fallen People” includes ourselves.

Further Reading

McKenzie, Robert Tracy. We the Fallen People : the Founders and the Future of American Democracy. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2021.

Lewis, C. S. “Equality” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. First HarperCollins edition 2001 [revised]. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.

*Lewis’ quote has been adjusted to reflect contemporary norms for gender-inclusive language for human beings.

New Creation Now

New Creation Now

Desiring New Creation

We all long for things to be complete, to be whole (James 1:4). We long for our marriages to be whole. We ache for our family relationships to be safe, close, and deep and we want the same for our friendships. We feel the groaning of churches full of broken, still-in-process people, and the difficulty of life within a broken, still-in-process world. We long for wholeness in our communities, cities, and nations. Ultimately, all this longing points to a desire for new creation.

God desires the same thing. In fact, He desires it more deeply, more excruciatingly than we ever could, with a vision for newness that far exceeds anything we could dream up or hope to imagine. His heart’s desire is for the integral restoration–reconciliation–of the whole creation (Colossians 1:20). We, all people and creatures, exist in an interdependent community, which author Wendell Berry likes to call a “membership.” We are members one of another. We belong to one another and to the land.

Genesis 1-2 sets the stage for this membership of God’s creatures. In Genesis 1:24-31, humans and land animals are created on the same day. Humans are unique in bearing God’s image, but not so unique as to warrant our own creation day. We belong to the same land, knit together in mutual dependence on God and all that He had created thus far—sunlight, soil, water, vegetation. God takes up the role of a gardener, calling us into life from the earth like a seed sprouting into a fruiting tree: “Let the earth bring forth living creatures…” (Genesis 1:24). We are earthlings bonded to the earth and to one another—for good or for ill.

Humans are then called to be fruitful and rule, reproducing the goodness God had made (Genesis 1:27-31, 2:15). We were made to work for the flourishing of this community. But, tragically, we were-—we are—broken.

The curse earned by human rebellion against God’s goodness produces estrangement precisely in the interconnections we were created for. The labor of childbearing and the labor of cultivation are intermixed with pain and toil (Genesis 3:16-19). We and creation have never known a day without groaning since that rebellion (Romans 8:22-23). Infertility. miscarriages, droughts, hurricanes, war, and injustice; all of this brings us back to desire. Our groanings point to a deep desire for something more. We know, our very bodies—and we who are Christ’s Body—know, with every ache and disease and division, that we need to be changed, or perish.

Beholding New Creation

Graciously, this is exactly what God desires: to shape us into something new, to restore us to the wholeness we were made for. The prophet Isaiah looks forward, as through a fog, and voices God’s desire, “Behold, I am doing a new thing.” (Isaiah 43:19). In the last book of the Bible, John records the same desire as he hears Jesus proclaim in that vision of the new creation, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:5).

Then, the angel shows John the vision: a city called the New Jerusalem, with twelve foundations and twelve open gates symbolizing God’s story of redemption revealed through Israel and the apostles. (Revelation 21:9-21).

Jesus, the Lamb, illuminates the city from its center, and all the peoples of the earth bring their glory into it—the beauty of each and every redeemed human culture (Revelation 21:22-26). Other creatures live there, too, worshiping God with His restored people (Revelation 5:13, 7:9-12). This is the new creation reality: every culture and every creature living together in the light of the Lamb. This is the integral wholeness for which we were created. Even in the present darkness, we behold the light of new creation shining back at us.

But can we be new now? Is this vision for us who groan in the midst of “this present evil age” (Galatians 1:4)? In our time, now, can our desires come to fruition, can they bear fruit and birth a new kind of life? Or are our desires to be cursed with toil and pain, barren and dormant until Jesus comes again?

Embodying New Creation

God would not have revealed our eternal tomorrow if He did not mean for it to change our today. To change us. Today.

When we see God, we’re changed (2 Corinthians 3:18, 1 John 3:2-3). Paul’s only use of the phrase “new creation” is when he is talking about the present people of God. Paul declares that the thing that matters most as a result of Christ’s work on the cross is this: new creation-that is, the newly created people of God from all possible strata of society (Galatians 3:28, 6:15). Then, in the context of describing the reconciled community, Paul says that anyone who is in Christ is “a new creation; the old has passed away; behold the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

There is a sense, then, in which the great change of new creation has already come. Not fully—Paul begins 2 Corinthians 5 describing his longing to put off the earthly body and dwell in the heavenly one—but somehow, truly and substantially, the new creation reality is already embodied by God’s people. This is the hope we live in, today, even as we wait for its consummation (Romans 8:24). This is the at-hand Kingdom of which we are ambassadors (Mark 1:15, 2 Corinthians 5:20). This is the truth to which we are called to bear witness (John 15:26-27).

The new creation reality exists in Christ Himself, and in any and all who have been reconciled to Him, to one another, and to the earth (Ephesians 1:10, 2:16).

He taught us to pray for His kingdom to come… later? Somewhere else? No. Here. Now. “On earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10).

If He wants us to pray for it, He wants us to labor for it.

Like a master sculptor bringing stone to life, He is already making us new (Ephesians 2:10). If you follow Jesus, you are His apprentice. Join with Him in the work of new creation. Let us labor for all the earth’s peoples to belong, by the blood of His cross, as we worship the Lamb together in one voice with all the earth’s creatures (Colossians 1:20, Revelation 5:13, 7:10).

Jesus has called us into the world, into all its groanings, so that we, the membership of all God’s creatures, might experience a foretaste of the fulfillment of our deepest desires to become something beautifully new.

Rediscovering Jesus’ Kingdom

What’s the primary difference between a classic Bollywood and Hollywood love story? 

More than the amount of dancing, the difference lies in what makes the ending truly happy.

In a Hollywood love story, at the center are two individuals on their way to finding each other and a truer version of themselves in the process. “Following your heart” comes first. In a classic Bollywood love story, it’s never just two people. The family comes first. Actually, falling in love is often what lands the key characters in trouble, and if there is to be a happy ending, reconciliation with parents and family must take place.

Art and film can reveal some of the deepest but most invisible everyday realities. In the United States, we swim in the water of individualism. Individualism puts the self at the center of the world, and we are often unaware how this perspective informs (and even deforms) our understanding of the Christian life. 

If you take note of the pronouns in nearly every major contemporary worship song in the US, you’ll notice a trend. Just looking at sheer frequency, it’s easy to conclude “me,” “I,” and “you” are the focus. We tend to emphasize the Christian life as a “me and Jesus” affair. 

For example, Fernando Ortega’s chart-topping song, Give me Jesus, highlights this focus.  

When I am alone, give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus
Give me Jesus
You can have all this world
But give me Jesus

And yet interestingly enough, so does LANY’s recent song, i still talk to jesus

I don’t change my ways, I don’t change my shirt
I go from the club straight to the church
It’s the same prayer, it’s the same hurt

Maybe I drink too much
Fall in and out of love
There’s been a couple of times
I’ve done a couple lines
I lie to my mama, I smoke marijuana
Most of the time I do what I wanna
You might not believe it
But I still talk to Jesus

And herein lies the biggest divide between older and younger Christians in the US. As I talk to younger Christians who are frustrated with their parents, or parents who are discouraged by where their children are at in their faith journey, I’ve come to see it’s less a different understanding of the gospel, and more a different cultural application of the individualistic framing of the gospel. While there are clear differences, the main point is the same: the Christian life is between me and Jesus. 

Where do we go from here? The answer is not a return to a former cultural application of an individualistic framework. Rather, we need to return to a more robustly biblical framework of the gospel which also includes the collective alongside the individual. 

Hollywood has something to learn from Bollywood.

Rather than understanding salvation and the gospel in purely individualistic terms and reading the Bible looking for what the text means for “me,” we need to learn to swim in different water. We need the sea of Galilee, not a chlorine rich pool. In an ancient near-Eastern (not Western) framework, the biblical authors didn’t think about life or write Scripture from a primarily individualistic frame.

With this in mind, we turn to the final chapters in the Gospel account of Luke seeking to understand what the original authors meant to convey, and what the original audience would have heard.

In one sense, all of the Gospel of Luke is written from a collective perspective with an emphasis on “us” and not just “me,” and the language of the kingdom puts the collective emphasis front and center. Fascinatingly enough, Luke’s Gospel doesn’t end with Jesus just equipping individuals to have a personal relationship with Jesus on their own. He’s inviting them to embrace Jesus as King of a kingdom over His people throughout the world. This becomes more explicit in Luke’s “Part 2:”, the book of Acts, but it’s also right here in Luke’s Gospel account if we can relearn how to see through Luke’s eyes.

Once we have a different perspective, we begin to understand why one rich man is called to give everything he has to the poor to follow Jesus, and why Jesus says salvation has come to the house of a particular tax collector only after that man announces he’ll give reparations. It gives insight as to why Jesus tells us to pay our taxes, and why leadership is cultivated primarily with a basin and towel service in the community.

In Luke’s Gospel (and every gospel account for that matter), if you want to know Jesus and follow Him, then you can’t just embrace Jesus. You also need to embrace His kingdom, which He is bringing. For Jesus didn’t come to help us escape the world, He came to reclaim it.

But what does His kingdom look like? Do we even know what we’re asking when we ask as we are taught to ask by Jesus Himself: “Your kingdom come” (Luke 11:2)?

Jesus and His kingdom seem absolutely backward from the way everything else operates, and yet it’s both Jesus and His kingdom this world needs. It’s what we need. It’s what our city needs. And yes, it’s even what you and I need personally.

Join us as we Rediscover Jesus’ Kingdom through the Gospel account of Luke.

If you would like to read and process Scripture with a frame closer to the original authors, here are two resources that are a great place to start: 

  1. Misreading Scripture with Individualistic Eyes: Patronage, Honor, and Shame in the Biblical World by E. Randolph Richards and Richard James (pseudonym of a cross-cultural trainer who is also involved in leading church planting teams in the Middle East)
  2. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels by Kenneth Bailey