At some point in history, the direction and motive of the church in the world changed. As described by John Howard Yoder, there was a “Constantinian Shift.” Suddenly the power and ability for the church to exercise dominion became embodied and carried out through political and military force. Sounds eerily similar to the 1st Century Temple and Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day doesn’t it?
The Politics of Witness: The Character of the Church in the World is another entry into the Areopagus Series from Energion Publications. This book, along with the others in the series, is aimed at expounding upon topics of universal interest to the Christian Church in an irenic tone. Alan Bevere, the author ventures to expound upon a difficult topic within a short sixty-two page limit.
This book is best suited for those with interest in the evangelical’s role in politics, the church, and the world at large. If you have ever considered the influence that Christians have or should have on the political process and how closely we are to align ourselves with it, this book provides a primer worthy of its small time commitment to complete. Do not let the length of this book shadow its theological breadth, you will be challenged to think about the content as you read it. That is one of the best parts of this particular series, and this book itself!
Bevere sets out his treatment of the “Politics of Witness” by introducing readers to the dilemma of the church in modernity and the temptation it faces to wield power in a world that permits it much leverage to do so. One important component that has found its way into the discussion of the church and its role in the world of late is the narrative of Israel and what it meant for Jesus to reconstitute Israel, namely in selecting the disciples and embarking on a teaching ministry that set out to correct everything she had become. Bevere sets the course by aligning a comparison of Israel and the Church as a measurement to evaluate what has become of the Church and the American Nation.
…the major shift took place, which reoriented the the very character of the church was understood by Christians themselves.
You cannot rightly understand the difference between the politics of witness and the politics of power and coercion if you have not foundation to do so. In other words, many believers today have no concept that an alternative view exists. The enmeshment of the State and the evangelical church is so prevalent that to suggest a disparaging view is considered blasphemy. That old adage, “History is doomed to repeat itself” rings very true in this regard. Bevere provides a compelling summary of The Constantinian Shift and gives readers a framework to approach the rest of his book from. Borrowing heavily from John Howard Yoder this book summarizes the theories of this shift within a historical context that makes argumentation against his view almost useless.
Bevere challenges his American audience by introducing a thought process unfamiliar to most Christian while also levying a critique of great American founders Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Unwitting Lieutenants in Constantine’s army, they too play a major role in the recapitulation of the Constantinian church and state ideology in the American political arena. This paradigm is intriguing to consider while it provides intellectual fodder for those that wish to have their eyes opened to one of the most complex influences on modern American Christianity.
I heartily recommend this book. Not only does Bevere’s effort to conceptualize a vast topic and pare it down to a digestable entry in less than eighty pages, he gives a concerted effort to make every page count.
I received this book from Energion Publications for an unbiased review, free of charge.