Christology Interview with CTR (4) – Ethics Issues

I had the privilege of doing an interview with the Criswell Theological Review on the topic of “Issues in Christology,” and they have graciously allowed me to post that here. I will divide it up into (1) Introductory questions, (2) Systematic Theology questions, (3) Historical Studies questions, (4) Ethics questions [this post], and (5) a final question related to Current and Looming Issues. This interview appeared in the Fall 2015 (13.1) edition of the CTR, where the entire issue was dedicated to Christology. I encourage you to check it out.

(8) Many interpret Jesus’ comments in the Sermon on the Mount as explicit support for Christians holding to a view of non-violence or pacifism. Would you agree or disagree with this and why?

This is a very complex question that requires an entire article. No, actually it requires a large book volume! I do believe that the Scriptures teach that Jesus held to a non-violent perspective in terms of personal ethics. However, this did not prevent him from exercising rather bold actions when he cleansed the Temple. Further, I find nothing in the Sermon on the Mount that would lead me away from affirming that Romans 13 gives the State the responsibility to wield the sword for the common good.

Jesus himself said to render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. There is nothing in the Sermon on the Mount, or any other place, where Jesus would seem to set this perspective aside. I would also say I find nothing that would prevent us from practicing self-protection and defense of our family and friends.

(9) In recent years, certain guilds of New Testament scholarship have proposed that Jesus’ teachings were clearly anti-imperial in nature because his moral perspectives contradicted the prerogatives of the Roman Empire. Do you think that Jesus’ message about the kingdom of God is inherently subversive to all structures of human government? And if so, how?

I think there is a sense in which the teachings of Jesus are subversive to all structures of human government because these structures of government, though ordained by God, are marred and twisted due to the integral role played by fallen humans. Even good government is fallen and sinful because fallen and sinful humans run them. The inbreaking of the Kingdom of God clearly is a shock to these systems as it should be. Again, this is not to negate that human government can perform good deeds. In fact, I would quickly argue that even bad government is better than no government, and that God is his great wisdom ordained government for the common good. Whenever government disappears, anarchy inevitably reigns. This is self-evident throughout history.

Therefore, do the teachings of Jesus provide a stern critique of the fallen human structures of government? They most certainly do. However, I believe the Gospel’s intent, in this regard, is not to abolish government but to transform it—as is the intention of God with all of his good creation. I think it noteworthy that in the Apocalypse, in Revelation 21, we see that there is some form of government, and we see the nations bringing their homage to our great God and King. Therefore government, in and of itself, is not evil but good when it functions under the authority and Lordship of King Jesus.