Proclaiming the Resurrection is Profoundly Political – Paul M. van Buren on “Religion,” “Politics,” and the True “Spirituality” of Easter

I present the following without comment, except to supply an enthusiastic “Awwwwww, yeah!”

Seriously, though, Paul van Buren’s work – all of it – deserves to be - and needs to be - much more widely read today. Bold is mine in the below.

Paul M. van Buren, A Theology of the Jewish-Christian Reality: Part III, Christ in Context (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), 129–30.

Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing [CC BY-SA 3.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
The apostolic witness to Easter is insistent that the risen one is no other than the crucified one. But crucifixion was unquestionably the official form of public execution for political crimes, primarily for rebellion against the political power of the Roman empire. To proclaim Jesus alive, therefore, was a profoundly political act. It was to affirm God’s reaffirmation of one who died in conflict with the misuse of political power and so to affirm God’s cause in the just use of human power. That was the “spiritual” import of Easter faith.

Easter, then, was “spiritual” in the precise sense of being an event of God’s persistence in directing and enticing his creation towards his own purpose for its own good. It was spiritual in the precise sense of being part of God’s worldly concern for this world. It was spiritual in being a piece of this world directed in the service of God’s spirit. To call it spiritual in some other sense — perhaps in the sense of being immaterial, unworldly, not a part of the history in which this world has to do with God — would be to see it quite otherwise.

Yet just this happened in the history of the Church, with the result that it is common for Christian’s today to think of “religion” and “politics” as antithetical terms, areas of existence and points of reference that can have nothing to do with each other. So Easter and the cross itself are extracted from the political world in which they happened, and the seriousness of God’s conflict with this world and the misuse of human power is diminished. With that conflict no longer centered in the heart of human activity — the exercise of power and the workings of the political ordering of human affairs — its focus was reduced to that of human sin conceived of primarily as individual failures on the personal level. So conceived, Jesus is seen to have died only for the personal sins of the individual. He is no longer a victim of God’s conflict with the injustices of the Roman Empire, and he is risen only into the personal faith of the individual believer in his or her personal salvation, no longer the living evidence of God’s persistence in pushing his cause for the sake of a better ordering, and therefore unavoidably a better political ordering, of his creation. A Church so oriented will of course take personal sins seriously, but it will be all too free to do so in blindness to the massive sin of the misuse of human power which manifests itself primarily in the social, political, and economic order[*] (and here we give credit to the Liberation theologians for seeing this so clearly). … If Easter was not a worldly victory, as it clearly was not, then let it become a spiritual victory. The world can go its own way. Thus is God’s conflict with this world restricted to the private and the power of God for making this world right reduced to the realm of personal development and fulfillment. This new “privatized gospel”[**] may serve the cause of a church wishing to gain a hearing in a bourgeois culture. It can hardly serve the cause of God in the service of which Jesus was crucified and in confirmation of which he was raised.

[*] I can’t help commenting: See how clearly PMvB diagnoses the basic dynamic at play in evangelical Christianity in the United States in the second decade of the 20th century, nearly 30 years after he wrote this!

[**] We’re one short step here from saying “commodified gospel.”

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