Leeman, Jonathan. Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. 403 pp.
“What is the local church? What exactly is going on when a seemingly unimpressive group of people gather week by week to worship the risen Christ through prayer, song, preaching, and the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper? These questions have always fascinated me. As a local church pastor, I have often sensed a disconnect between the Bible’s exalted language about the church and the attitude of many who participate in its activities. For so many it seems like an optional add-on, a time to feel closer to God, or perhaps even worse, a tortuous tradition that needs to go. In Political Church, Jonathan Leeman argues that the local church is political in that it is “an embassy of Christ’s kingdom on earth, whose corporate life embodies a rule that has been imported not across geographic space but from the end of time” (386).
That’s how David Prince introduces his review of Leeman’s new book. You can find a longer review HERE at Mere Orthodoxy, which I believe is in the Anglican tradition. And you can also find a lengthy response to the review on that site. It’s a topic of growing interest, perhaps because evangelical theology on the whole has neglected ecclesiology. And maybe because in the Twitter-verse it’s getting harder to have in depth conversations. I’m waiting for my copy of the book – as one in the Anabaptist tradition it’s a serious interest.
Other questions that are really critical here are the popular (though people can’t always name it) two kingdoms theory advocated by Luther. But does that separation into secular and sacred spheres really make sense of the overwhelming victory and Lordship of Christ? So David writes,
“Two kingdoms theology” … argues that as Christians we occupy two kingdoms, the creation kingdom and Christ’s kingdom. God rules these two kingdoms in different ways, and we have distinct obligations in each realm. This view tends to minimize the pursuit of cultural justice as belonging merely to the creation kingdom and separates one’s obligation as a Christian from one’s obligation as a normal citizen. Leeman … rejects the basic conceptuality of two distinct kingdoms: “Just because the state possesses the power of the sword and the church possesses the power of the keys…doesn’t mean they belong to separate kingdoms; it only means they have different licenses from the same king” (179). He also (rightly, I believe) rejects this separation of realms on the grounds that “our worship determines, is determined by and displays our politics. A common cultural concern like the stock market is for many people a place of worship” (179-180). In place of “two kingdoms,” he later argues for “a doctrine of two ages” which rejects the division of life into spiritual and political realms in favor of a biblical division between this present evil age and the age to come which has been inaugurated and is awaiting consummation in Jesus Christ (275)