Saturday, May 8, 2010


In a blog piece about the National Day of Prayer controversy, Mark Roberts opens the question, “what would Jesus think?” about the National Day of Prayer. Would he approve of the government bringing prayer into the public square? Or would he say “my kingdom is not of this world?”

My purpose in this post is not so much to talk about the National Day of Prayer, but to talk about how we interpret the life and teachings of Jesus for contemporary public issues. Below is a portion of Robert’s comments about WWJT (What would Jesus think?)

You can access the original blog article at


[Roberts] “You name the issue and Jesus is brought forth to endorse it . . . or to denounce it . . . or both at the same time. So Jesus is pro-life and pro-choice, a Democrat and a Republican, a free market capitalist and a big government socialist, a supporter of traditional marriage and an advocate for same-sex marriage (or even a gay man). Though I haven't bothered to look for it, I'm quite sure a few minutes of Internet browsing would lead to a website that uses Jesus to say about church and state the opposite of what Jon Meacham believes Jesus would say…

…If you've studied biblical interpretation, you know that I have vastly over-simplified the process of trying to understand ancient texts and the characters within them. But just about all credible scholars, no matter their personal theological convictions, would agree that a faithful appraisal of a person from the past requires seeing that person in the context of his or her history, culture, and language.”

So ... WWJT about immigration? Health care reform? National security and war in Iraq and Afganistan? More importantly, how do we go about translating his teachings (such as the Sermon on the Mount for example) into contemporary policy?


Brian Emmet said...

Cool topic, Jospeh--thanks! I'm tempted to say that Jesus agrees with me (= I think like Jesus!), but that can't be right... I'd encourage everyone to read the full Roberts piece that Joseph linked us to--it's short, but well done.

I don't think that Jesus would think much of a National Day of Prayer in our context. Do you really want "caesar" (Herod, Pilate, etc.) leading prayer? After all, if "caesar" participates, it will only be as a leader!

I haven't seen the Meachem piece mentioned in Roberts' blog, but suspect that Meachem's quoting Jesus' "My kingdom is not of this world" misses the context (Jesus on trial before Pilate) and likely misses the fact that although the kingdom proclaimed by Jesus was not OF this world, it absolutely was present and active IN the world. I don't think that that argues in favor of a national day of prayer.

Joseph Holbrook said...

Meachem is an ordained minister and a strong proponent of separation of church and state ... I think I have seen him on a couple of news programs.

by-the-way, the next topic (or three) are in your court.

on this topic, I have been amazed to find how far apart liberal Christians and Conservative Christians can be in their interpretations. A friend of mine (who is a born again Christian and very committed to following Christ) said to me and Debbie the other day that she could not understand how a Christian could be a conservative. I have other Christian friends who could not even imagine how a liberal could call themselves a Christian.

How do we disentangle our political ideologies from the gospel in order to discern what Jesus would think?

steve H said...

Does having a National Day of Prayer really equal "Caesar" praying? Is it government intrusion for civil authorities to call upon citizens to pray? Can those called by God to serve in the civil realm of government not pray publically as citizens, even though they have a different place of service than most of us? I think there should be a place for this sort of prayer.

However, it has become far more complicated in the U.S. since many have changed the meaning of pluralism. Not too many decades ago most people would have clearly identified us as a nation consciously built upon a Judeo-Chrisitian foundation (and for many a specifically Protestant foundation). At that time, the God of the Bible was clearly identified as the God of the nation and religious pluralism meant that people of all religions or of no religion were free to live and worship here as long as they were willing to live and work and worship peacefully within that Judeo-Christian framework.

Obviously, that is no longer the meaning of pluralism for many in this nation — especially it is not what is meant by most in positions of power and influence — i.e. civil government, educational institutions, and news media. The present assumption is that we are a "secular" nation (as if such a thing were possible — "You gonna serve somebody" as Bob Dylan prophesied). So now we do have to deal with who is praying and to whom is he/she praying.

That being said, according to the Bible, Jesus the Messiah (Christ, King) already has all authority in heaven and on earth — even though that authority has not yet been brought into its full manifestation. The nations are his inheritance, according to Scripture, and he is already the final authority behind and above all other authorities.

As his people on earth, we, his followers, should be praying and living and working (= worshipping) fully in the light of his authority without apology — both in private and in public. Thus primary questions for us, in whatever sphere we serve, are of this sort: "What is the wisest way to live in the light of Jesus' authority in order to spread the good news about his government/kingdom?"; "How do we act in the current atmosphere of pluralism in a way that does not compromise that reality?"; "Are we willing to suffer loss for the sake of that reality without reacting in a vengeful manner to those who oppose us?"

Joseph Holbrook said...

good thoughts Steve, I am inclined to agree with you.

What are your thoughts on how to interpret the teachings of Jesus for other contemporary issues?

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