Kingdoms in Conflict: An Insider's Challenging View of Politics, Power and the Pulpit by Charles Colson
Charles Colson's informative and captivating book, Kingdoms in Conflict, gives life to the question that has occupied Christians ever since the Lord said "Render unto Caesar," namely: How can God's people, his church, be faithful to him and yet live peaceably within a state which increasingly demands their total obedience?
Colson deals concretely with his subject by treating the stories of actual events and people doing real things. In these stories we encounter the flesh-and-blood meaning of the church-state relationship. We are introduced to people of faith who devote themselves, often at the cost of their lives, to furthering the Kingdom of God despite what the state may require or permit.
Colson visualizes the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of man as two systems competing for the allegiance of man's heart. For the public good he believes they must balance one another; neither must win unconditionally. "Victory for either would mean defeat for both" [p.48]. In the past the church has won the struggle and, as every detractor of religion knows, the Inquisition was eventually established and came to epitomize the church's victory. Today this same church is in retreat and a secular humanism (a new paganism) is ascendant. Should it win the result would be a "naked public square": a society that no longer recognizes the transcendent norms that give it legitimacy and cohesion. We are fast approaching that day, which is why Colson wrote this book.
He has no illusions about how the battle for the Kingdom of God is to be fought. He knows firsthand the deadly attractions of power and tells us of their pitfalls from his own experience. He also has no illusions about the effectiveness of the political process as a means of furthering the Kingdom. Despite this he does not repudiate power nor politics as means to be used. He cautions the Christian politician: "Power is like saltwater; the more you drink, the thirstier you get" [p.272]. He encourages participation in politics because (1) Christians have civic duties along with everyone else, (2) as Christians their concern should be to bring God's standards of righteousness to bear on this world, and (3) they have a responsibility to "bring transcendent moral values into the public debate" [po 279].
Kingdoms in Conflict is a well-reasoned and balanced presentation. You'll not want to put it down. It is a worthwhile contribution to the church-state debate, a readable continuation of Richard John Neuhaus's more scholarly treatment of the same subject in The Naked Public Square (a book Colson praises highly). It excites the energies and beckons the support of the everyday Christian, the person who daily and in small ways lives the faith once received and in so doing spreads the Kingdom of God further yet. To make this point Colson relates a generous number of personal stories, which range from the high drama of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's refusal to bend to Nazi oppression, to one woman's largely uncelebrated work of Catholic-Protestant reconciliation in Northern Ireland's prisons. These people comprise what he aptly calls, in a phrase borrowed from Edmond Burke, God's "little platoons."
There is a small weakness in the book. Colson seems influenced by the idea that life is divided into sacred and secular realms. In this limited space, I can point to nothing specific to explain my unease; rather, it is the flavour of the book as a whole. You get the impression that although regular jobs are fine, all Christians really should be involved in the more sacred activities such as prison ministry. Everything else may be wasting time.
I trust I am not doing Colson an injustice. After all, this is a fine piece of work. I recommend it heartily. Its message is clear, and it is one we need to hear repeatedly:
Where then is hope? It is in the fact that the Kingdom of God has come to earth—the Kingdom announced by Jesus Christ in that obscure Nazareth synagogue two thousand years ago. It is a Kingdom that comes not in a temporary takeover of political structures, but in the lasting takeover of the human heart by the rule of a holy God [p.371].