The Return of the Kingdom

The Return of the Kingdom

The book raises many questions for further reflection, such as regarding the extensive implications of sphere sovereignty. Whilst it is Biblically undeniable that God institutes and informs the distinct spheres of family, church, and state—each with Biblically defined parameters of governance—what about other “spheres”? Where do their boundaries lie, and who says so?…Who gets to decide these boundaries if they cannot be identified Biblically?

As Western societal norms erode at unprecedented levels and the Western political system becomes ever more questionable, a growing number of evangelicals are beginning to wonder whether Christians might have a few things to say about how to run a country.

Evangelicalism has long separated the ecclesial from the socio-political. The idea has been that if we can just get people saved and into churches, the world will more or less sort itself out. And if it doesn’t, it’s the state’s fault, not ours. We have imagined the worst possible state of affairs to be a “politicized” Church, preferring instead a policy of political quietism—or we might say, political “appeasement”—with the political Zeitgeist.

Perhaps this appeared sensible in light of the political partisanship of previous generations, where the Gospel’s edges may have been all too easily tailored to suit particular political agendas. This was, of course, a contextual reactionary approach, but has been held up as the definitively “Christian” way to engage (that is, disengage) with politics—an unusual stance even in light of Protestant history, let alone wider Church history.

There was also the issue of that revelatory year of 2020, when “Gospel-centered” evangelical churches appeared to become more politically amenable to the Left in subtle ways. Such pulpits had previously refused to speak strongly on issues like homosexuality, abortion, and transgenderism for fear of entangling the Gospel in distractive socio-politics. These same pulpits started commending government directives to deny church meetings, chastising the unvaccinated as unloving, and apologizing for whiteness and maleness.

Suddenly, we were introduced to a ream of new “Gospel issues” on the Left whilst continuing to dial down issues on the Right. Something deeply hypocritical in the evangelical mission was exposed, which many are still trying to dissect. Evangelicals are fast needing to re-educate themselves on what’s gone wrong and what Christians might say (and do) about it.

Enter Joe Boot’s Ruler of Kings: Toward a Christian Vision of Government (2022). Boot offers not just an engaging diagnosis of the deep problems with Western politics but also maps out how the Church might begin to respond reflectively and proactively. The word “toward” in the subtitle is key. Boot is not offering a fully fleshed-out political strategy nor a manifesto for Christian nationalism per se. But what he does offer is a robust, reflective, and extremely valuable theological underpinning for how we might begin to reclaim the socio-political arm of Christian mission.

At 200 pages it is a relatively short book, yet it feels tightly packed, covering an impressive amount of ground, introducing and unpacking an enormous amount of Biblical, theological, and socio-political reflection. Whilst the brevity of the book in light of the ground covered certainly leaves some material in need of yet more unpacking (especially Biblically) Boot generally does a superb job here of bringing issues to the forefront which have gone unconsidered for a long time.

Whilst he engages a wide range of sources, he is offering here a recovery of the Kuyperian vision applied to our present era. To evangelicals less familiar with some of these Dutch Reformed sources, it may feel like Gandalf trawling the dusty shelves of the Minas Tirith library for things long forgotten. If evangelicals have claimed to appreciate the socio-cultural apologetics of Francis Schaeffer or Abraham Kuyper’s famous maxim that there is “not one square inch” over which Jesus is not Lord, most evangelicals have not acted like it.

This is what Boot’s book aims to do, to think through the socio-political implications of Christ’s lordship and to reflect upon what it might mean to take it seriously in our time.

The Rule of Christ and the Cult of the Expert

Boot begins by contrasting the authority of Christ with the “self-anointed elite class—the intelligentsia” of Western humanism, who become “a secular substitute for pastor and priest” (16). He roots this in the radical human autonomy of the Renaissance, which ultimately rejected God’s given order for creation, recreating the world in humanity’s image. We need not look far today to see such reconstructions in practice: “[W]e can create the world we live in by our thought and language, right down to our sexuality” (19).

The “cult of the expert” refers to the way in which specialized intellectuals are afforded immense ideological power over the populace, despite having—in Thomas Sowell’s words –no “overarching conception of the world” (21). Such experts today are on a quasi-divine mission to convert and sanctify us towards the “virtues” of their favored ideology.

Whilst Western Christians seem to place implicit trust in such figures, Boot reminds us of Biblical figures like Joseph and Daniel, whose courageous application of God’s revelatory Word confounded the governmental advisors and experts of their day, enabling profound kingdom influence upon state and society (31-32). It should be noted, however, that such heroes did not strategize their way to political influence but were raised up through providential happenstance, often against their own inclinations. Even so, today, it is not political hubris that haunts evangelicalism, but fear of it.

Such fear comes at a cost. If we neglect our confidence in God’s Word, relying instead on “the ideas of godless people” for political direction, we “faithlessly abandon our society and culture to despotism and tyranny.” (33). A decade ago this might have sounded like a zealous overstatement. But the devastating impact of the cultural revolutions of recent years, coupled with cowardly ecclesial responses, reveals a more pressing concern to reclaim our socio-political confidence.

In ceasing to see God’s Law-Word as good and wise for all people, we have outsourced wisdom to posturing experts who oppose God’s kingdom, and thus we neglect “the whole counsel of God” as an important way we are to love our Lord as well as our neighbor.

Globalist Utopia vs. Biblical Nationhood

One of the consequences of our political abdication is the rise of globalist utopianism. This trend is rooted in the ideological legacies of the French Revolution and Marxism which continue to inform the infantilization and social control of the Western populace today, powered by elitist ideals. As Rousseau said: “Those who control a people’s opinions control its actions.” (36). Boot argues that Christians should reject all utopian visions as anti-real, coercive, and placeless (hence, “global”).

Theologically, utopias implicitly reject God’s providence, assuming a soteriological role to liberate humanity from disorder (36-39). Boot imagines globalist utopia as an idolatrous “godhead”, harboring mutated doctrinal attributes of divine “omnipotence”, “love”, “justice”, etc. This is insightful for understanding the progressive weaponization of personal offense in our time: “For there to be unity in the new godhead there must be total equality and equal ultimacy among all people…This means that there can be no discrimination in regard to anything.” (49). Although Boot does not cite it, this chimes in with Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences (1948) which lamented the West’s inevitable abolition of hierarchy, distinction, and judgment between different moral choices and ideas.1

The incessant drive towards mutated versions of love and justice leads to “an essentially structure-less collectivity of beings in harmony with themselves and the other (nature).” (53). This entirely impossible totalizing ideal requires an imagined omnipotence to even attempt: “In order to be all-powerful, the new god, of necessity, must eliminate chance, impotence (powerlessness) and uncertainty from human affairs and this requires total control and omni-competence.” (54). Totalitarian globalism thus becomes an inevitable byproduct of the Enlightenment, where God’s authority was supplanted in place of our own, echoing both Eden and Babel.

What, then, is the Christian alternative? Not Christian imperialism, Boot argues, but the preservation of Biblical nationhood. This involves theological reflection on the purpose of the nation-state throughout Scripture, including God’s desire to set distinct boundaries (e.g. Deut. 4:5-8, Acts 17:26-27), His proclamations to the nations (e.g. Isa. 42:1-6) and His opposition to man-made attempts at unification (cf. Babel). Indeed, Biblical nationhood has both a creational and eschatological telos, culminating in Revelation where the nations are unified not in defiance of God but in worship of Him.

Boot is nuanced enough to understand some globalist intentions stem from “a deep religious hunger and urge toward the unity and peace of the human race” but argues how this cannot possibly be achieved by idolatrous rejection of God’s commands (80). Contrasting the coercive “diversity” of the humanist utopia, God’s New Jerusalem “affirms a rich cultural diversity of languages, ethnicities and national identities, because the Word of God will have been applied and contextualized amongst every people of the earth.” (81). An ambitious vision indeed—but a Biblical one.

Religion, Government, and the Secularist Illusion

Boot then moves on to the implications of worldview. When Christians assume the neutrality of a secular and/or religiously pluralistic worldview in society they often aid implications that directly oppose Christianity. What we believe about the world is not merely a “private” religious matter. It necessarily affects “how we view marriage and family, human society, education, law and yes, politics and government!” (88).

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