Resisting the Empire: A Kingdom-Oriented Approach to Politics & Government : N.T. Wright

Resisting the Empire: A Kingdom-Oriented Approach to Politics & Government - N.T. Wright - 103 - FrontStage BackStage with Jason Daye

When we consider politics and government, how can we best guide ourselves and our churches to live out a Christ-centered political witness? In this week’s conversation on FrontStage BackStage, host Jason Daye is joined by Dr. N.T. Wright. Tom is the former Bishop of Durham, Professor Emeritus at the University of St. Andrews, and a senior research fellow at Oxford. He’s written a number of books, including his latest, entitled Jesus and The Powers. Together, Tom and Jason explore the kingdom of God as it relates to the kingdoms of this world. Tom then provides some insights into how the church can show up when it comes to politics, embracing a kingdom-oriented political posture as we resist the empire.

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Additional Resource Links -Explore Tom’s website for further insights into his ministry, sermons, articles, and abundant resources aimed at nurturing your spiritual journey.

Jesus and the Powers: Christian Political Witness in an Age of Totalitarian Terror and Dysfunctional Democracies – In his book, N. T. Wright and Michael F. Bird call Christians everywhere to discern the nature of Christian witness in fractured political environments. In an age of ascending autocracies, in a time of fear and fragmentation, amid carnage and crises, Jesus is king, and Jesus’s kingdom remains the object of the church’s witness and work. -Welcome to N.T. Wright Online! Your official site for online learning from Prof. N.T. Wright.

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Key Insights and Concepts

  • Understanding the biblical concept of the Kingdom of God has become pivotal in contemporary Christian discourse, shifting focus from an otherworldly destination to a transformative presence on Earth, echoing Jesus’ call for God’s kingdom to come on Earth.
  • The biblical narrative emphasizes the integral role of humanity in stewarding creation towards justice and flourishing, presenting a foundational framework for Christian political thought.
  • God’s intention for the world involves empowering wise and just human governance, evident from the Garden of Eden to the monarchy in Israel, where rulers were entrusted to uphold justice and care for the marginalized.
  • The human propensity to wield authority selfishly, epitomized by the temptation narrative in Genesis, underscores the continuing struggle against abuses of power.
  • The task of responsibly exercising authority often goes unaddressed in contemporary religious discourse, leading to a void where the Church fails to equip its members with a robust theology of political engagement grounded in human responsibility.
  • Acknowledging the complexities of political involvement, Christian communities must navigate the delicate balance between critique of power and collaborative engagement with political structures for the common good.
  • The concept of empire, though fraught with historical connotations, remains pertinent in understanding contemporary power dynamics, urging Christians to confront the systemic injustices perpetuated by modern-day powers.
  • The Church’s historical collaboration with empire underscores the need for a nuanced approach to political engagement, resisting simplistic narratives of opposition while actively working towards societal transformation.
  • As agents of change, the Church is called to embody the radical ethic of self-giving love exemplified by Jesus, challenging oppressive systems while advocating for the marginalized and oppressed.
  • The Church’s witness in the political arena necessitates a commitment to truth-telling, holding those in positions of power accountable to principles of justice and compassion, even amidst societal pressures to conform.
  • Educating congregations on the intricacies of political issues and encouraging nuanced thinking fosters a mature approach to civic engagement, transcending single-issue politics to address the multifaceted challenges of our time.
  • Equipping future generations of Christian leaders with the tools to engage critically and constructively in political discourse is essential for preserving the church’s voice and catalyzing positive social change in an increasingly complex world.

Questions for Reflection

  • How can I integrate the concept of the kingdom of God as “Thy Kingdom Come on Earth, as in heaven” into my ministry approach?
  • What steps can I take to ensure that my leadership reflects a commitment to serving others, following Jesus’ model of self-giving authority?
  • In what ways am I actively confronting the temptation to abuse power and authority within my leadership role? Is there anything more I can do?
  • As I reflect on my life, are there any ways in which I am allowing politics to influence my understanding of Jesus, scripture, or the Kingdom? How can I ensure that God is influencing my understanding of politics, rather than politics influencing my understanding of God?
  • How can I cultivate a community within my ministry that embodies the principles of love, compassion, and justice as outlined in Psalm 72?
  • How might I encourage dialogue within my congregation about the intersection of faith and political responsibility without endorsing specific candidates or parties?
  • What strategies can I implement to foster a deeper understanding of the biblical foundations for Christian political thought among my congregation?
  • How can I help my congregation navigate the complexities of political engagement while maintaining a focus on our ultimate identity as citizens of God’s kingdom?
  • How can I challenge the notion of a divide between religion and politics, empowering my congregation to recognize their responsibility in speaking truth to power?
  • How can I equip my congregation to engage in critical thinking and nuanced discussions about complex social and political issues?
  • What practical initiatives can I undertake to address systemic injustices and promote the flourishing of all? What might this look like in my local community?
  • How can I encourage a spirit of humility and wisdom within my congregation as we navigate our engagement with political structures and authorities?
  • What opportunities exist for collaboration between my ministry and local government or community organizations to address pressing social issues? How can I and/or others on my ministry team get involved?

Full-Text Transcript

When we consider politics and government, how can we best guide ourselves and our churches to live out a Christ-centered political witness?

Jason Daye
In this episode, I’m joined by Dr. N.T. Wright. Tom is the former Bishop of Durham, Professor Emeritus at the University of St. Andrews, and a senior research fellow at Oxford. He’s written a number of books, including his latest, entitled Jesus and The Powers. Together, Tom and I explore the kingdom of God as it relates to the kingdoms of this world. Tom then provides some insights into how the church can show up when it comes to politics, embracing a kingdom-oriented political posture as we resist the empire. Are you ready? Let’s go.

Jason Daye 
Hello, friends, and welcome to another insightful episode of FrontStage BackStage. I’m your host, Jason Daye, and I am super excited about this week’s conversation. Now, each and every week, I have the honor, the privilege, really, to sit down with a trusted ministry leader, and we dive into a conversation all in an effort to help you and pastors and ministry leaders just like you embrace a healthy rhythm for both your life and your ministry. We are proud to be a part of the Pastor Serve Network. And not only do we have a conversation every week, but we also put together a toolkit for you that you can access at And in this toolkit, you’ll find a lot of different resources to help you and the ministry leaders at your local church dig more deeply into the topic at hand. You’ll find lots of resources, including a Ministry Leaders Growth Guide, and we encourage you to avail yourself of that and use that with your local team. Now, at Pastor Serve, we love coming alongside pastors, encouraging them, and walking with them. And you can find out more details about how you can receive a complimentary coaching session at If you’re joining us on YouTube, please give us a thumbs up. We certainly appreciate that, and it helps us get our show out to a wider audience of pastors and ministry leaders. And if you’ll take a moment to drop your name and the name of your church in the comments below, we love getting to know our audience better and our team will be praying for you and for your ministry. And whether you’re joining us on YouTube or your favorite podcast platform, please be sure to follow and to subscribe so you do not miss out on any of these great conversations. And as I told you, I’m super excited about today’s conversation. At this time, I’d like to welcome Dr. N.T. Wright to the show. Tom, welcome to FrontStage BackStage, brother.

N.T. Wright 
Thank you. Good to be with you.

Jason Daye  
Yes, so good to be with you. Now, I would love for you to just walk us into, we’re gonna dive into a topic that’s at the forefront for many of us who are in ministry when it comes to this idea of political power. How do we as the church, how do we as Christ followers, give witness in the midst of a lot of political tensions that are being experienced in various countries around the world right now? And so, Tom, to begin, I would love for you just to share with us a little bit about a biblical understanding when it comes to the kingdom of God and how it relates to the kingdoms of this world. What are some foundational things we need to consider?

N.T. Wright 
Oh, my goodness, that’s just a nice little question that could generate an entire course of lectures or maybe a shelf full of books. But I mean, I think one of the encouraging signs to me over the last generation, over the course of my teaching career, has been that more and more people in fairly traditional churches are starting to scratch their heads and say, what exactly is the kingdom of God all about. And when I was growing up, it was just assumed that the kingdom of God meant the kingdom of heaven, which meant heaven as a place where God is King and where you will go when you die. And then people have started to notice, if I can put it like that, that Jesus taught us to pray Thy Kingdom Come on Earth, as in heaven, and that actually, all His teachings were about not how we can leave this place and go somewhere else, but about how God is coming to dwell in the midst of this place and to rescue and transform it. And human beings are central to that project. And this is one of the things which is very much a biblical foundation for Christian political thought. We have tended to oscillate between the political evils of tyranny on the one hand and anarchy on the other. And because in the modern Western world, those of us with certain educational backgrounds and so on are more likely to be rejecting tyranny because we want to be free to think our thoughts, etc. We’ve tended to lurch away from authority, away from human rule, and basically imply that we ought to be able to do our own thing and that somehow God would work all that out. In fact, the Bible is very clear, again and again, in many different ways that God created the world in such a way that it would work right when wise, God-fearing humans are put in charge of it. That’s so with Adam and Eve in the garden. And it’s so all the way on through with the monarchy in Israel, which some people today are frightened of that because they say, oh, that’s all about tyrants again. But actually, if you look at the Psalms, like Psalm 72, it’s all about God giving his way of doing justice to the king who is going to look after the widow, the orphan, the poor, the stranger, and so on. And that’s what makes the glory of God fill the whole world. That’s Psalm 72, one of the great, I think, biblical texts for a political theology. But the trouble is that when human beings are given a role, a task, or authority and responsibility, the temptation, following the failure of Adam and Eve in the garden, if you like, the temptation is to abuse that power, that authority, that vocation, that responsibility for their own aims and ends. And that’s when you get this strange phenomenon, which I think the early Christians didn’t have very good language for it. And we don’t have very good language for an either. Which is what we call loosely, the powers, the principalities and powers that the dark forces, which are forces of chaos, which ultimately go back to the Dark Lord Himself, whether you call it Satan or the Devil, or whatever. Jesus says this is your hour and the power of darkness, as the corrupt leaders are closing in on him in Gethsemane to arrest him. There’s that sense of dark powers that are about chaos, whereas humans are supposed to be about wise, fruitful order, not order in the sense of a stultifying regime where everyone is squashed into shape. But but a wise fruitful order, like a garden full of fruit and flowers, and so on, doing what it does best under human authority. So, that structure is something which I have never heard a sermon about. I have been going to church for the last 70-plus years, I’ve never heard anyone preach about the human responsibility. Maybe I wasn’t listening. But I think you’d have to go a long way to get that. And the trouble is that as soon as people do want to talk about political responsibility from a Christian point of view, it’s very easy for that to tip over into saying, by the way, I know which candidate you ought to vote for in the next election. And Mike Bird and I were very keen on this. By the way, this is the UK edition of our book, you may have seen the US one. We’re very keen not to say, This is who you should vote for. There’s an election coming up in Britain, just like there’s an election coming up in America, there are other key elections in other parts of the world. One of the fun things about writing this book with Mike is that he’s Australian, and I’m British. So we’re kind of crossbench when it comes to looking at the American scene. At the same time, we all know that American power has been one of the great fulcrums around which world politics have moved over the last few generations. And so it really matters. This is one of the jokes, of course, that whoever gets to be in power in America will affect the rest of the world. But curiously, only Americans vote in this election. I’ve always thought that was a bizarre wrinkle, you know, no taxation without representation, excuse me. So, obviously, we need to think globally as well. And so it’s really all about the Creator God wanting humans to look after his world. Psalm 8 that you’ve made humans a little lower than the angels to crown them with glory and honor, putting all things in subjection under their feet. And then, in the middle of the picture, we have Jesus. And we have the model of a self-giving authority, which says, Anyone who wants to be great must be your servant. Anyone who wants to be first must be a slave of all because that’s what the Son of Man is doing. That Jesus is enthroned on the cross with the words King of the Jews, which means also Lord of the world, above his head. And that’s a redefinition, a radical redefinition of power itself, and one which calls the powers to account. And the last thing I’m going to say now, or we can expand it if you like, is that I’ve been struck a lot recently by the vocation which you get in John 16. When Jesus says, when the Spirit comes, He will lead you into all truth. And when the Spirit comes, He will convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. And how does the Spirit do that? By indwelling Jesus’ followers so that they can speak truth to power and can hold up a mirror to power. We have wanted to separate that out and say no church is over there, state is over there. Religion is upstairs, and politics is downstairs. That’s completely wrong from a kingdom point of view, from a Jesus point of view, it’s all one show. We believe in one God, and he’s the God who is claiming sovereignty over the world. But it’s not a bullying sovereignty. Jesus says precisely that bullying is what the rulers of this world tend to do. That’s how the principalities and powers get their way. We’re going to do it the other way. And so being able to say to the rulers, actually, you’re getting it wrong because of this, and because of that, that’s a core part of the church’s task. And to do that requires humility and wisdom. And it requires the church itself to be working and organizing its life in such a way that it can say that with integrity, and not invite the kind of, well, you’re just as bad as the rest of us thing, which sadly, would also often be the case. Now, that’s the very, very short version of the lecture, the first lecture in the course of lectures, I would give if I were doing a course on this right now.

Jason Daye 
I appreciate that, Tom. So as we look at this as pastors and ministry leaders, one that challenges us, Tom, and you and Mike both bring this up in Jesus and The Powers, your book, is that the way that we as pastors and ministry leaders live out our calling the way that the Church lives out her calling. We have to be very conscious of that. You talk about the idea of the cross and the kingdom and how it takes both the cross and the kingdom together. So the cross, the evangelical expression, the atonement, those pieces, looking to Paul’s writings, primarily. And then you have the kingdom, where you’re looking at the Gospels, you’re looking at justice, as you said, praying that God’s kingdom would be here on Earth, right? And sometimes, as ministry leaders or as churches, we will tend to vacillate or lean more strongly to one or the other. And yet you’ve shared that they can’t be understood without each other. Can you help us process through that? Because I think this is one of the challenges we face when it comes to how we resist the empire or how we confront the empire. We get kind of mixed up on this, right?

N.T. Wright 
Yeah, I think we do. And even calling it the empire, whatever that is, whether it’s American empire, or world empire, or whatever, is both important and risky. It’s important because if we imagine that there isn’t imperial power out there in the world, we’re fooling ourselves because there really, really is. Although it tends to work not by people officially invading and taking over territory and running it, but through economic and strategic moves, which then create a world in which what somebody is saying on the other side of the world is what’s going to happen in this part, even if they’re not technically running that country. That’s how it plays out. But when we say the empire, it’s easy then for Christians today to slide back into a kind of comfortable, well, we’ve got rid of Christendom mode. The narrative, which I’ve heard often enough, goes like this: to begin with, the church was kind of edgy and flaky and doing exciting things. And then the empire got involved and then it all went horribly wrong. And the church colluded with empire and became part of the power structures. And now, thank the Lord, we’ve had John Locke and Thomas Jefferson and people, and they’ve showed us that actually, we’re giving up all that stuff. And now the church can be free and do its own thing. So now you’ve got church versus empire. And I want to say that that’s just as much a delusion.  When the Emperor came to the church and said, look, there are so many of my subjects becoming Christians that I actually think we need to work together and find a way of doing that. What was the church to say, no, no, no, please go on persecuting us because that makes us so much more authentic if we’re a beleaguered minority. No, of course, the church is going to say, this is different. This is going to be a challenge. But let’s work at it. And we can see in the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries, they did work at it. They made mistakes, as we all do, but they were also confronting the empire as well as working with it for the good of people and changing the way that people thought about what it meant to be human. I mean public awareness of things like the exposure of unwanted infants, the church didn’t do that, Roman society and Greek society did that. And the church’s moral position on several issues actually transformed the way that people thought and that’s gone on being the case. So that it isn’t that the church must always be sniping at the empire. It’s much more interesting and complicated than that. I mean, when I was the Bishop of Durham, and I was a member of the House of Lords in London, and so on, it was quite clear to me this didn’t mean that the state was telling me what to do or that I was telling the state what to do. It meant that I was sitting down with people who were trying to run the country wisely as best they could and trying to figure it out because we in the church actually knew some of the poorest and worst communities much better than the local bureaucrats did. So they would come to us and say can you help us with this particular school that is failing? We say, Sure, we’ve got 2000 years in education, actually. we rather like getting involved with that, etc, and health care as well. And particularly, of course, the care of the poor, the poorest of the poor that often governments want to do something for the poor and don’t really know how. The church ought to be saying, Well, excuse me, again, we’ve got form on this one, and we can work together. And then of course, the mantra which I’ve used is, we have to learn how to oppose without dualism and collaborate without compromise. In other words, we have to hold up when there is a power and say, you’re getting this wrong, you’re basically working towards chaos rather than towards a God-given order. But we have to do that without implying that from now on, everything is going to be a big clash, church versus empire. Likewise, we have to collaborate where people of goodwill are trying to do the best for their folks in local politics and national politics. We have to collaborate but without compromise. We have to know where the boundary lines are. And we will gain respect, actually, by doing that. I think part of our trouble is I say, ever since the 18th century, we have been taught in Britain, even though we have an established church, we have been taught, like you Americans have been taught, that there is a great gulf between religion and politics. So never the two shall meet. So, the church has nothing to say to the empire. And the answer is no, the church must look hard at whatever rule is going on, and must be prepared, as is appropriate and possible to say, this is where you’re going wrong. And we suggest you do it like this. You can see Paul doing this throughout the Acts of the Apostles. He gets in trouble for it, but he gets away with it because, actually, he tells the truth. And he points his finger at key places where officials are doing things wrong. So, I mean, this is going to vary enormously. You live, and I live in a liberal democracy, which, Mike Bird and I argue in the book, actually has grown out of the Christian tradition. The danger is that it forgets that and lurches this way and that in consequence. And treating Christianity as a footballer who can be kicked away somewhere. Whereas in fact, there are many Christians in many countries who don’t have anything like our system of government, and where the church facing their government may have a really, really tough time. I remember at the Lambeth conference in 2008, overhearing a conversation with some delegates from Myanmar, and somebody’s saying, Are there any closet Christians in the hunter who are running Myanmar right now? And I suddenly thought, Oh, my goodness, they’re living in a world which is totally different from my world, whether I would be imprisoned or whatever. And the unfortunate Mr. Navalny in Russia, who was very, very much a self-proclaimed Christian, very definite in his opposition to Putin as a Christian, and look what happened to him. So we live in a dangerous world, but the church’s witness is more subtle than simply being against or simply being fought.

Jason Daye 
Yeah, that’s great, Tom. And I think the challenge, I’d like you to speak into this, if you could, Tom, is that we see the side of resistance. We see the side, as you said, there’s this golf that we’re thinking we need to put between church and state. But then we’ve also seen the flip side of a lot of talk about being a Christian nation and where the government itself taking on the role of a Christian leadership for a particular country. So, how do we address that? Because there are a lot of tensions here, right? So, how do we navigate all of this in a way that really honors God?

N.T. Wright 
Absolutely. The way Mike Bird and I wrote this book is that he combed through a lot of stuff that I’d written over the last 20 years, and pulled it together into a sharper focus thing. But then he wrote one or two new chapters, and I wrote one long new chapter, the One Power and the Powers in Early Christianity. And it was funny because I was writing that chapter right after our new king in Britain, King Charles, was crowned. And so I start with the coronation service. And I want to say, I would much rather live in a country where the head of state comes into a church, and the first thing that he says is, I come not to be served but to serve. And the whole thing was full of Christian language and about Jesus being Lord, etc, etc. Now there is lots of irony in there, but I’d much rather be in a country which did that than in a country, that said, no, no, that’s all for the birds, or we’re going to do is to run with kind of brute force and push out of the way anyone who gets in our way. But it’s difficult then to handle it. And particularly as you say, what does it mean to be a Christian nation? Supposing the vast majority in a country were actually practicing Christians, were saying their prayers, reading their Bibles, and trying to love their neighbors as themselves, etc. I’d much rather live in that society than one where that wasn’t the case. But the danger is, and if I dare mention in one particular instance when I was younger, apartheid South Africa thought of itself in exactly that way. The Dutch Reformed Church reckoned that this was the Christian way that they had to be separate from the other races who were in South Africa. And I think the whole world looked at that, whether Christian or not, looked at that and said, that is not the way. And part of the difficulty then is that the Christian vision which is so clear in the New Testament about our community which is of every nation, every kingdom, in every tribe, and every tongue, every language, every color, and every this, that, and the other. Neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, no male and female, all one in Christ. The church has not even tried to model that in so many cases. And in my country and in your country, there are black churches and white churches, almost side by side on the same street, or perhaps even more worrying, in different parts of town, the one richer and the other poor, or whatever it might be. And the fact that we haven’t called that out long since, is real shame on us. There are two things going on here. And if I was in pastoral ministry myself, I would want to be preaching about this carefully and respectfully. On the one hand, at the time of the Reformation, the Reformers insisted on having liturgy in their own language, excellent. We want liturgy, hymns, and so on, and the Bible in our own language. But that means that the church is divided according to language groups, which meant they divided according to ethnic groups, and nobody noticed that that was actually a denial of Ephesians 2, which is all about the church being Jew and Greek getting together, as a result of which the principalities and powers take note because they couldn’t do that. And the idea of modeling new creation by the church being one body across traditional lines, the church forgot that for 400 years, and we’ve somehow got to recapture that. And that’s a political issue, as well as a theological and sociological issue. But then, as a result of that, we’ve allowed ourselves to collude with the idea of different theologies of different schools of thought, we kind of wave at each other from the other side of the street, if that’s all. And this is a tragic situation from which we need to break out. So there are other things, but I’ll just leave it at that for the moment. And you can come back in a moment.

Jason Daye 
Yeah, yeah. So as we’re thinking from the posture of a pastor, a local church leader, how can we be careful that we’re not slipping into the temptations of trying to engage in a way politically, that the church gains more power in a way? How do we keep kind of Kingdom ideals in mind? What does that practically look like when it comes to resisting and confronting empire, but not becoming empire? That’s the challenge.

N.T. Wright 
It is a challenge, but the church at its best has always had those priorities I mentioned before, which go back to Psalm 72, and lots of other places in the Old Testament. And certainly, earth, of course, in Jesus’s own work as well as his teaching, which is the care of the poor and looking out for those who are in most need. When the church has been at its best that’s what it’s been doing. And I was discussing with somebody last week, and I think this comes on the back of Rodney Stark’s book, The Rise of Christianity. Why did people become Christians in the first place when the Romans were trying to stamp the movement out? And the answer was, that the ancient pagan world had many gods but nobody ever said that Zeus, Poseidon, Aphrodite, or anybody loved you. And the church said, No, there is one God and He loves you. God so loved the world. And if that’s incredible, well come and join us and you’ll see what that love actually looks like and feels like. So the church, being a community of welcome, a community which was for healing and for restoration of enabling broken humans to put their humaneness back together again, if you like. And that meant that when people talked about a God of love, this wasn’t just a fancy fuzzy idea, it actually meant something. And people resonated with that because ancient Paganism had nothing like that. Now, the tragedy is that so much in Western Christianity has not really wanted to talk about the love of God, it’s more wanted to talk about, hey, you’re all sinners. And if you’re not saved watch out, you’re going to hell. Which I say the danger then is that we preach sermons when people hear God so hated the world that he killed his only son, rather than God so loved the world that He gave His only son. And so when the Church gives itself away, when the church is there for the world and doing the things for the world, it’s not in any danger of setting itself up as an empire. Of course, in order to have a voice in the councils of state, in order to be heard, then you have to learn the clever arts of writing newspaper articles, of getting elected to a local body, and being able to speak not from a triumphalist point of view, well, I’m a Christian so you better listen to me. But knowing how to argue things from the ground up that actually the way we’re treating these people here, is dehumanizing and we have to find a better way of going about it. And making arguments which can appeal on a broad front, which, since we’re all human, ought to be possible. So it’s about the re-humanizing of human beings and the church embracing that instead of thinking, Oh, being human, that’s for the birds. And just because we’re sinful, we’ve got to get out of here and go somewhere else. So going back several steps I just want to say, the idea that in the gospels, you have Jesus and the kingdom. And in the epistles, you have Paul preaching about the death of Jesus for our sins. Of course, that’s a false antithesis. But the church has regularly gone that route, the church has regularly said, Paul will give us a theology of atonement to help us get to heaven. And Jesus gives you the kind of some of the nuts and bolts of what to do while you’re on the way. But the word heaven is never used in the New Testament as a designation for the place where we’re all going to end up. That astonishes people but it’s true. Rather, God is offering us the new heavens and the new earth modeled in Jesus Himself. And they are characterized by self-giving love, which is what the cross is all about. So kingdom and cross go together. Paul’s message about Jesus is that Jesus has defeated the powers. Therefore, now you can be renewed in knowledge according to the image of the creator. And really, political theology is all about the image of God, humans reflecting God’s image into the world, and the church, cautiously and prayerfully holding up the mirror to power, where the powers of the world are not being wise humans looking after God’s world the way they were supposed to.

Jason Daye 
Yeah, that’s very helpful, Tom. Very practically speaking, as we find ourselves in election years, especially in the Western world, as we’re wrestling through these things. Can you share with us a little bit about the, I guess I want to talk about within the church, some of the divisions that we are creating within or among our brothers and sisters, when it comes to political ideologies, and hitching our wagons to a particular party or a particular leader because that’s what we’re really facing in many ways. As you’ve said, and as you and Mike wrote about Jesus and The Powers, that behavior will tend to weaken our witness of the beauty of Christ and the kingdom to the world. So how do we navigate that or how should we be addressing that in our day?

N.T. Wright 
Yeah, it’s more difficult. If I can put it like this, it’s more difficult when you are electing a head of state, rather than when, in Britain, we are electing a prime minister, who we could turf out in four weeks if we wanted to. That happened a couple of years ago, where the elected official is not regarded as a messiah figure who is God’s anointed come to save us. Of course, the position of a royal Head of State and the royal family has its own ambiguities. And I’ve written about that in the book as well. But I think it’s much harder for you in America, particularly, ever since the Enlightenment, ever since the American Revolution. The sense has been, and France actually had this too, but it’s gone horribly wrong for France and so they didn’t really believe it anymore. But the feeling has been that if only we voted right, we would get a messiah, we would get a hero figure who would fight all our battles and do all our stuff, instead of somebody who is given a set of very kind of mundane tasks. To pay the bills, to look after the poor, and to be wise in ruling the country. And, therefore, I see, as I look across the Atlantic, more power vested in the one person and to reorganize everything in his way, or as it might be one day, her way, though you haven’t gone that route yet. And so I think the churches need to warn precisely against a kind of Messianic vision. And that happens at the moment, that was one of your candidates who more obviously, would be a Messiah than the other. But the last one we had in Britain, who was sort of like a would-be-Messiah was on the left, it was Tony Blair. And that didn’t end well. And so I think we have to recognize those dangers in particular and recognize that politics is the resolute pursuit of the least bad. And we’re voting for the least worst option, rather than thinking that by voting, we will produce utopia. You know, we’ve been voting for a long time now and utopia is as far away as ever. And I think that should make people pause. And in particular, the thing that comes out to me very strongly as a historian is that the early Jews and Christians didn’t much care how somebody got to be in power, they came to power through assassination, through lineal succession, having to win a war, or being the last man standing after civil war, or whatever. The church and the Jews didn’t care how they became rulers, but they cared very much what they did now that they were rulers. And as I say, they spoke the truth to power. The Jews were past masters of doing that. And the Christians learned that art or as best they could. Now, we do it the other way around. We think because of the 18th century we’ve gotten rid of God, God’s out of the picture. So what counts? Vox Populi, Vox Dei, the voice of the people is the voice of God. So if we’ve elected this person, we give them a mandate for four years, for five years, or whatever it is. And so having elected them, they must be the right person, so they can do what they want. Instead of saying, No, the minute we’ve elected you, we’re going to critique you, we’ve got to be your loyal opposition. And here’s the other thing. The church has not been good at that, partly because it said, well, religion is different from politics. We’re just teaching people how to go to heaven which is the abdication of Christian responsibility. But also, because whether you call it the fourth estate, or whatever, the journalists, the print media, the television, etc. They think it’s their job to hold governments to account. In the Chicago Herald Tribune building in Chicago, I remember the first time I went into that building, there was a great thing carved in stone on the wall, which said, the governments of the day need critiquing. The other politicians are not in a position to do it because they’re just as compromised as anybody else. So somebody’s got to critique them and it’s going to be us. And when I saw that, I thought, Oh, my goodness that’s John 16. You just stole it from under our noses and we were so busy taking people to heaven, we didn’t even notice that that was going on. The church has to reclaim the right to speak the truth to power. And that, I think, is pretty close to the heart of what Mike Bird and I wanted to say. But because it’s about the powers, the powers are dark messy powers, and it’s a messy business engaging with them, but not to engage is to lose all sense of Christian responsibility. This is why we pray in the Lord’s Prayer to deliver us from evil. That’s basic to Christian responsibility.

Jason Daye 
Yeah, I love that, Tom. Thank you so much. As we kind of close down here, I would love and maybe I’ll toss a couple of things out and you can decide how to really approach this. But one question is, what do you and Mike hope, and you answered this a little bit, that pastors take from this book, Jesus and The Powers? It’s a big topic, something that we’re really wrestling through. But also in that, Tom, what is not just what you hoped they would take, but what are maybe some words of encouragement specifically to our brothers and sisters who are serving the local churches, when it comes to thinking about power and government, right?

N.T. Wright 
I think I would want to say, don’t be afraid to teach the basics of how God wants His world to be run and what role the church should play in that. The stuff I’ve been talking about, as I say, most preachers, if they get into politics from the pulpit at all, it’s in order to tell people to vote one particular way, which is not at all what I’m saying. Rather, most Christians in the Western world have not been taught that there is a Christian way of thinking about what it means to be human, what it means for God, the Creator, to want his world to be wisely run, what the pitfalls are, and how we address that. You can say all of that, without giving the slightest hint as to which way you’re going to vote yourself or which way you think your congregation should vote. Of course, if congregations want to sit down with you and say, as we pray for our leaders in the forthcoming election, what do you think we should be specifically looking at? And I want to say there in particular, be aware of single-issue campaigns, it’s so easy for people to fasten onto one issue. I mean, I think in the last election, one big issue, obviously, was abortion. And it was Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump. And Trump managed to position himself extraordinarily, as the champion of conservative values on that one. And Hillary Clinton made no secret of the fact that she wanted to liberalize the abortion laws even more. And in a sense, she was asking for trouble, and she got it. But for those of us watching from the other side of the Atlantic, whatever our views on abortion, the election has to be about more than that. And we have to have a more mature view than simply saying, Okay, this is the issue. So there’s my candidate, job done. We’ve got to be able to think through the different issues. And that’s where a pastor, a wise pastor, I think, could try to unpick the mindset which says, If you vote on the right on this issue, then you’re going to vote on the right on this, this, and this as well. Or on the left that, that, and that. Because almost all issues do not, in fact, admit that kind of simplistic over-clarified either/or. And so teaching people to think in a more nuanced way, seems to be absolutely vital. And if I were in pastoral ministry, again, I would love to have in my church, kind of study groups looking at different issues, and wondering why it is that the same people who are totally opposed to abortion are also totally in favor of 17-year-old young men having Kalashnikovs on the loose, etc. From almost everybody else, looking at American society, this makes no sense at all. But I know that within America that’s how some things are. So to teach the basics of how to think about human responsibility so that we can be praying for our leaders locally, in the state, and in the country. Praying wisely about the responsibilities they face, what we can do to help them, and what we can do to remind them. And then particularly training up the next generation of Christian thinkers who will not go for the knee-jerk reactions, but will go for the wise, nuanced, clear statement, whether it’s in an op-ed in the New York Times, or whether it’s in a stump speech somewhere, or whether it’s simply in a local district council, around a campfire or whatever. We need Christians who have learned how to think wisely about the issues and can then be salt and light in the world. Boy, do we need it right now.

Jason Daye 
Amen. Thank you, brother. Tom, it has been so good, as always, to be with you. I appreciate your heart, and thank you for carving the time out to speak to us and share with us. And for those of you watching or listening along I really encourage you to check out Tom’s absolutely amazing book. It takes you to some really deep places, Tom and Mike go really historical, really biblical, which is all healthy, good, and needed. And very, very practical. Jesus and The Powers is the nameof the book. And we will have links to the book in the toolkit for this episode at So be sure to check that out along with a lot of resources, and a Ministry Leaders Growth Guide with some insights and some questions from this conversation that helps you and your local church dig more into it. So, brother, as always, it is a blessing to have you with us. Thank you for making the time.

N.T. Wright 
Thank you very much. Good to see you. Good to talk with you and blessing on your work and those who are listening.

Jason Daye 
Thank you so much. God bless you.

Jason Daye
Now, before you go, I want to remind you of an incredible free resource that our team puts together every single week to help you and your team dig more deeply and maximize the conversation that we just had. This is the weekly toolkit that we provide. And we understand that it’s one thing to listen or watch an episode, but it’s something entirely different to actually take what you’ve heard, what you’ve watched, what you’ve seen, and apply it to your life and to your ministry. You see, FrontStage BackStage is more than just a podcast or YouTube show about ministry leadership, we are a complete resource to help train you and your entire ministry team as you seek to grow and develop in life in ministry. Every single week, we provide a weekly toolkit which has all types of tools in it to help you do just that. Now you can find this at That’s And there you will find all of our shows, all of our episodes and all of our weekly toolkits. Now inside the toolkit are several tools including video links and audio links for you to share with your team. There are resource links to different resources and tools that were mentioned in the conversation, and several other tools, but the greatest thing is the ministry leaders growth guide. Our team pulls key insights and concepts from every conversation with our amazing guests. And then we also create engaging questions for you and your team to consider and process, providing space for you to reflect on how that episode’s topic relates to your unique context, at your local church, in your ministry and in your life. Now you can use these questions in your regular staff meetings to guide your conversation as you invest in the growth of your ministry leaders. You can find the weekly toolkit at We encourage you to check out that free resource. Until next time, I’m Jason Daye encouraging you to love well, live well, and lead well. God bless.

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