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The Gospel According to America
Before the emperor Constantine proclaimed toleration of worship of "whatever heavenly divinity exists" in the Edict of Milan (313 CE), the difference between the good news of the empire and the good news of Jesus was reasonably clear for all interested parties. But this reversal of fortunes, accompanying Constantine's conviction that the Christian God was granting him military victories, would complicate the church's thinking on the subject of God's coming government and the governments of this world. Did this mean the prayer of "Your kingdom come … " had been answered? Are the principalities and powers no longer rebellious? Is this Jesus' victory over death hereby accomplished?
Then and now, thinking historically (which is to say, faithfully) involves vigilance and a mindfulness that looks critically at the supposedly commonsensical notions (or the opinion polls) of the age. This work of communal discernment will be especially crucial if it is the case that there are enslaving forces looking to win battles over hearts and minds. In his letter to the churches of Galatia, Paul speaks of this state of affairs as if it's obvious to anyone who's paying attention (Gal. 4:811). And it is to our great loss if we assume the apostle was simply imagining fiery red, sharp-eared creatures with claws and winged babies.
Somehow, the crucified Christ has conquered death, and the powers of darkness and delusion are still at work in the world. They lived within the tension of a new Kingdom that had yet to come in its fullness, and the Kingdom was the property of nobody's nation. Neither the legalization of Christianity nor the well-intentioned use of biblical phrases in televised speeches mean that God's preferred country is now on the rise. And while the polity that is the church can be pleased to reside within a culture that allows the freedom to gather and worship, the church mustn't confuse that freedom for "the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rom. 8:21) or ...