Book - The Political Theory of Christ

The Political Theory of Christ
And Its Creation of Our World

By Jefferson White
382pp, 2015

 

Does Christ teach a theory of politics?

Everyone agrees that Christ teaches about the relationship of the believer to politics. But almost no one believes that this teaching implies a particular theory of politics.

However, it is the argument of this book that Christ’s teaching implies a complete theory of politics. This theory is to be found both in the teaching itself and in the radical impact of that teaching upon the political history of the West.  For that history cannot be understood except as a deepening attempt to realize Christ’s political theory.

The story begins in ancient Israel. For Israel, alone in the ancient world, believed in one God Who created the heavens and the earth. This meant that God was completely separate from the heavens and the earth. In the rest of the ancient world, the cosmos, the gods, and the state were all one thing. The gods were in nature and existed in relation to the state. Only in Israel did the prophets sent by God possess a spiritual authority that was independent of the state since God could not be identified with the state. This radical “separation of powers” was unique in the ancient world.

Through His resurrection, Christ introduced this radical separation of the spiritual and the political powers into the Western world. Every believer in Christ now lived within a spiritual existence that was independent of the power of the state. This is why pagan Rome could not tolerate the Christian Church, since Rome claimed a spiritual authority that subordinated every “private religion” to the state religion that was Romanitas. Christianity alone refused this subordination. And this is why a spiritual – and political – war between Rome and the Christian church became inevitable.

For a thousand years after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the chief political conflict in the West was between the church and the state.  Throughout this long period, the radical separation of powers created by Christ’s teaching became the single most important political reality of the Western world. Multiple, de-centralized institutions of authority within both the church and the state was the Western response to this primary conflict. A separation of powers, between popes and emperors, between the church and the state, and – from the Reformation – within the church and the state, became the primary political reality of the West.

The rise of modern constitutionalism was the secularization of this process. The Western state and society became increasingly defined by this deepening separation of powers.

During the English Civil War, it was politically recognized – for the first time – that King and Parliament were not a single authority “the King in Parliament”, but were separate and independent political authorities.

This constitutional revolution reached its pinnacle with the creation of the American Constitution. That Constitution not only rested upon a separation of powers among the three branches of government, but a separation of powers between the national and state governments. More radically, the American political experiment expressed itself through the American understanding of religious freedom, which created a separation of powers among persons, rather than among institutions, when it came to religious belief and authority. Here was the most radical separation of powers of all, because it meant that American society would be organized from beliefs of the individual outward.

And this is why, in the nineteenth century, a uniquely American democratic society was created that was organized through private associations of Americans, based on the religious beliefs of those Americans. What was created in America was something new in history: a Christian secular society organized by the people themselves. Because all religious belief was now personal, all social organization was now voluntary and consensual.

However, by the early twentieth century, with the rise of large corporations and the expanding power of the central state, the American political experiment went into radical decline. After 1932, the separation of powers between the national and state governments was abolished. Also abolished was the separation of powers among the three branches of the national government. A national administrative state was created in which the national bureaucracy and judiciary began to create their own laws, to enforce their own laws, and to adjudicate those laws, largely in independence of the constitutional branches of government.

By the mid-twentieth century, the American understanding of religious freedom was also abolished. The national courts declared that America was now a “non-religious” society and that this was the real meaning of American religious freedom. In reality, since all societies are religious societies, what really happened was the political establishment of a new common American religion: progressivism.

America’s Christians were returned to the situation that the early Christians had faced under pagan Rome. All “private religious beliefs,” meaning in reality only Christian belief, were now to become subordinate to the public religion of progressivism. 

The Political Theory of Christ is the first book to attempt to understand Christ’s political teaching as a complete theory of politics. As a theory, its meaning can only be discovered in the Western attempt to realize Christ’s radical separation of political and spiritual authority. The historical focus, throughout the narrative, is on how that separation of powers became the forcing-bed of Western political history.

Although the book ends on a pessimistic note, charting the radical decline of the American political experiment, it also predicts the coming destruction of American progressivism through the future creation of an even deeper separation of powers.