Thursday, November 27, 2008

1 Peter, end times thinking and Christian ethics

One of the things that I noticed - not for the first time - as I was preparing for last night is the innate conservatism and parochialism of much current end-times thinking.

The rapture is all about rescuing me from nasty world rulers and the events they unleash (though God hasn't seen fit to rescue any other generation of believers who must be equally deserving, I'd have thought...) And the perceived threat from heavily armed nations with evil intent just seems to be an excuse for upping military budgets at home and imposing our will on weaker nations abroad.

But having just finished our series on 1 Peter, a little part of me wonders whether being a follower of Jesus inclines us towards conservatism. Now not for a minute do I feel drawn to start supporting conservative causes or parties. I remain instinctively and sentimentally pink. But I found Volf's analysis of Peter's social ethics and its implications for us profoundly plausible - and therefore quite a challenge.

I think the New Testament shares a lot of its social ethics with the surrounding culture. In many ways Peter and Paul, James and John want the same thing as Greco-Roman social philosophers. But they believe that the only way to achieve them is in the power of the Spirit who is given by God in response to our faith in Jesus. This would appear to be a key plank in Paul's argument in Titus (yes, I believe he wrote it)

But at the same time, there is something profoundly egalitarian about Christian ethics - the fact that we are all siblings in the faith regardless of our social position, that the rich are expected to share their goods with the poor, that slaves and women could lead the gathering of believers: all these things point to an upsidedownness to Christian social ethics that is anything but conservative.

And if my reading of Revelation is right, it points to a strong streak of social resistance at the core of Christian ethics. John urges his hearers to see that loyalty to Jesus as king means that we cannot be wholeheartedly loyal to Caesar; we cannot join in economic and social practices that empower Rome at the expense of everyone else, that exalt Caesar as god over the claims of the true creator God and his chosen king, Jesus.

So christian ethics are at once conservative and communitarian, quietist and loudly destabilising of social inequities. Does that sound like a contradiction in terms?

More reflecting to follow...

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