Does Jesus call us to political discipleship?

With a group from our church I listened to Edward Norman giving the Reith Lectures, and was increasingly disturbed. It was a time when many of us had been stirred by books like John V. Taylor’s Enough is enough, by Martin Luther King, and whispers of Liberation Theology, and we were children of the post-1945 vision of a welfare State and society as a project of the kingdom of God. The lectures were shocking to us. 

So how were we to respond? Saying ‘No’ to Norman would be sterile. I called on friends I had made in recent years. We met together and we agreed to attempt to say something positive, getting past but not concealing our sometimes sharp disagreements with the Reith Lecturer. 

So Christian Faith and Political Hopes appeared.1Christian Faith and Political Hopes was published in 1979. The book can be found on Amazon here. ‘Does Jesus call us to political discipleship?’ was my contribution. 

Now, forty-five years later, I see it as a mosaic, a picture emerging from a pile of stones, collected somewhat randomly through earlier years. It was for me a key moment when I moved on from historical investigation and critical appreciation of other people’s thinking, towards a statement of commitment – perhaps not quite ‘Here I stand’ but at least, ‘This is the hope I am given to venture and to share’.

A key step forward for me was seeing the political reach of the command of Jesus to his disciples (amongst whom I want to be counted): ‘You give them something to eat’. Jesus fed the five thousand disciples did what he said, people were settled in workable groups, and Jesus blessed the meagre supplies, so they were multiplied to sufficiency. The politics there was simple, easy, and immediately effective – but, all the same, it was politics, driven and shaped by compassion, lived out in faith that hoped. Just because our politics is hard, depressing, stuttering, lacking compassion, negatively inspired, and quickly weary with well-doing, does not permit us to run from political obedience. Rather, ‘you give them something to eat’ calls us inventive political resilience and expansive compassion. 

I am interested to see that already then, aided by a suggestion of Willi Marxsen, and a bit of Moltmann, I saw the resurrection of Jesus as the affirmation and the re-starting of the ‘way of Galilee’ (p 137). After a long time in the dark earth of my mind, this has now come to bud, in the paper 4G Jesus.


THE present decline of western Christianity, Dr Norman tells us, is 

due to the surrender of its unique claims to an understanding of the nature of man. . .Christianity was once about human fallibility, about the worthlessness of all earthly expectations. Now it is seemingly preoccupied with human capabilities. 


Religion is centred . . . on the facts of human nature, and a human nature properly understood-from a Christian point of view-as corrupted and partial, so that, even in our most noble attempts at altruism, we find ourselves constantly involved in moral ambiguity and flawed intention. 

As diagnosis of Christianity’s condition, this is dubious; as theological perspective for Christian believing and action, misleading. Human fallibility is not to be denied, but it is not what Christianity is, or ought to be, ‘about’. To deduce from human ambiguities and corruption the ‘worthlessness of all earthly expectations’ is to deny grace and make man rather than God determinative in the world. The substance of Christianity is not a ‘view of man’ but believing in God and participation in his life by the Spirit. Consequently, the pivot of Christianity in the world is not the fall but redemption. The fallibility of man only becomes the article of a standing or falling Christianity if God has left man to stand or fall on his own, consigning him, in his historical existence to find no freedom from corruption, no joy of forgiveness, no overcoming of ambiguity within the continuing ambiguities of life. That would mean that the fall of man is to be read as the historical implementation of unrelieved, apparently final condemnation. Genesis 3, however, in a way typical of the Bible, shows God making life possible and hopeful for man within the world even immediately after the expulsion from Eden. The fallenness of man is a universally pervasive power but it has been limited and unsettled by God the redeemer. 

Some forms of Christianity understand redemption to apply exclusively to selected people, to the baptized or believers in general, or maybe to saints or specially favoured individuals. Redemption separates them from the present evil world, assures them of salvation and thus makes them effectively distinctive in the life of the world. Within these limits, redemption is genuinely believed in these kinds of Christianity. It is expected to work transformingly, perhaps even totally for true believers, giving them what the world has no part in because of its unbelief. This view has some biblical roots but its outlook as a whole is scarcely true to the spirit and scope of the Gospel. Those who think in these terms may well agree with Norman’s hopelessness about politics, though the reasoning is different. The activist pietist is hopeless about politics when it is in the hands of unbelievers. The sceptical dogmatist, like Dr Norman, does not expect Christians to make a better job of politics than anyone else. The decisive fallenness is in the human condition, not in some persons as compared with others; and politics is merely one way to play out the human condition. 

Can we then say nothing except that politics belongs to the fall, while redemption applies only to unpolitical believers or an unpolitical hereafter? It must be admitted that the doctrine of the fall makes popular political sense. Few things teach hard-bitten cynicism about humanity as effectively as observing or suffering or engaging in politics. It then appears to be theologically endorsed by a doctrine which explains why the world is in its present state and which encourages acquiescence in what cannot be altered. It is odd to argue like Norman that the fallibility of man is a Christian truth so distinctive that risking unpopularity to maintain it can be a test of faithfulness to the essence of the faith. Taking redemption as a serious possibility here and now is much more likely to be a distinctive (if not unique) view of the human condition. In so far as the ‘transcendent’ is disclosed in the strange and the hardly possible, the unthought or the unthinkable, believing in redemption is a truer pointer to the transcendence of God than insisting upon fallenness. 

There is a significant difference of emphasis between the Bible and Norman when he links political pessimism (‘the wise aspirant to eternity will recognize no hope of a better social order’) with God’s otherness: ‘Christians are those who act under the permanent rule that the ways of God are not the ways of men.’ The phrase contrasting the ways of men and God derives from Isaiah 55:8 in the middle of a promise of a redemption to take form in history. Because God is not man, we may hope even in this world for salvation. Nowhere perhaps are the super-human thoughts of God read with such practical political hopefulness as by Jeremiah, when he advised the exiles in Babylon to settle down for seventy years, to plant gardens and raise families and to seek the welfare of the city, ‘for in its welfare you will find your welfare’. For God’s thoughts are plans for welfare and not for evil, ‘to give you a future and a hope’ (Jeremiah 29:4-14). If a city of exile may be taken as a biblical symbol of our existing in fallenness, we may take this advice to ourselves: because God is not as we are we may hope and pray for the welfare of the city where we live. That will bring us close to looking for ‘a better social order’. 

Christians are not exempt from the fall. They live in exile in a world awaiting its full redemption. They are called to think God’s thoughts with him; to have the mind of Christ. Trusting in God the redeemer they hope for his redemption to show itself and they look to meet its coming round any corner. They are disappointed again and again: how slow they are to believe and obey and how powerful the outrageous and the banal evils of the world. But insofar as it is given to them to go on believing in God, they never make a standing compromise with their disappointment. They never allow the fallenness of man to become a principle determining policy, a fixed truth by which they can save themselves the trouble of hoping for improvement in the world. They do not accept as ‘knowledge’ what this doctrine of the fall taken out of context might seem to tell them: that it is futile to try. If God is creator and redeemer of the world, the doctrine cannot be treated as scientific political prediction. 

The redemption of the world through our Lord Jesus Christ has not abolished fallenness ‘at a stroke’. It has, however, given us the freedom to believe in God, to look for the vindication of good and to live in active hope of the real eventual reconciliation of man with God. Man, so Hebrews 2:5 ff. puts it, was made a little lower than the angels, with everything put into subjection to him. ‘As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see Jesus… crowned with glory and honour.’ Therefore we are freed from the fear of death which holds men in lifelong bondage, keeping them back from doing the will of God. To live freely in and for God’s thoughts of welfare is of the essence of Christian believing. The Fourth Gospel offers the same perspective. The disciples asked Jesus: ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Putting the doctrine of sin to work by itself, all they could do was to accept the given state of things and to find someone to blame for it. Jesus refused the terms of the question: ‘It was not that this man sinned or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.’ Believing in God and looking for redemption to happen go together (John 9:1 ff.). 


This believing must be more than having faith for oneself, as though what is believed is real only for the one who believes. For, as Paul said, the ground of faith is the love of God evidenced in Christ’s dying for us, ‘while we were yet sinners’. Our confidence in redemption rests ultimately on God’s love for his enemies (Romans 5:6-11). Faith in such love cannot be genuine if the believer remains locked up in self-concern, be it never so pious. The believer who knows himself to be loved by God only because there is, in God, love for enemies, must recognize that he is called to love others with the same open boundaries, and to love them most profoundly by believing that God’s love and redemption is for them also. Faith in God which does not reach out to believe and hope for the world undermines its own foundation. It can stand upon the love of God only if it obeys the outgoing drive of that love (2 Corinthians 5:14 ff.). 

It follows that believing in God involves learning experimental and effective concern for others. Christian faith is properly characterized by a generous and hopeful sense of the needs of people and it will exert itself to use and invent the means of supplying them. Four men tore open a roof to set their paralytic friend before Jesus and when he saw their faith, he forgave his sins and healed him (Mark 2:1-12). A centurion asked Jesus to heal not himself but his servant: Jesus said he had not seen such faith, even in Israel (Luke 7:1-10). These stories are not themselves political. 

If our reading of them is responsive to the love of God they witness to, we will be looking for contemporary equivalent realizations, which may on occasion be political. In these stories, faith was often directed towards physical healing; it was not restricted to ‘ethereal’ or timeless goods. Health care, which may be a partial modern equivalent, has an unavoidable political side. Politics works by inventing, nurturing and using relationships between persons and groups to serve human purposes, which may be good as well as bad. In these stories, the gospel of Jesus Christ is manifest in the making of relationships which are life-giving. Politics is not always life-giving or life-enhancing. The way of God’s redemption in Christ has critical meaning because it was a discrimination in favour of some kinds of relationships and ways of using them and against other possibilities. As Charles Elliott argues in this volume, politics is about choosing between possible human relationships. The Gospel arouses in us the prayer for politics in which men are more rather than less enabled to live in love with all their neighbours, near and far. It certainly does not teach us that the relationships of people are insignificant. 

We may be tempted to refuse to relate these stories to politics by insisting upon the letter, which is not political. So to limit their relevance to our action, however, is to come perilously close in spirit to those who criticized Jesus for healing on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6). As Jesus pointed out, the Sabbath was not meant to stand in the way of doing physical as well as spiritual good to people (Matthew 12:11-12). The day which was the sign of God’s rest when his good creative work was done was not to be turned into a pious instrument of indifference to the neighbour who was, perhaps materially, alienated from God’s rest. Few are nowadays brought by legalistic sabbatarianism into such ungodly callousness. But other forms of the restrictive interpretation of the word of God may have the same result. Excluding a political reference may be one of them. 

One of the least disputed facts of the life of Jesus is that he ate with tax-collectors and sinners. It was shocking enough to bring him to a political death, for if sinners were religious outcasts, those who extorted money for the Romans and themselves were like Quislings.2N. Perrin, Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus (1967), pp. 102 ff. To associate with them provoked all good patriots. Jesus did not shun the provocation: to eat with such people was, for him, a sign revealing the character and purpose of his ministry. Jesus did not use the following he gathered as a political instrument to destroy and then replace the existing government. He was no Ayotollah Khomeini. On the other hand, his work had political characteristics; it involved gathering about him a distinctive community and interpreting it as a critical alternative to other possible ways of being God’s people in the world. And to be God’s people in some way or another was one type of political option in first-century Palestine. The criticism Jesus made of other political ways was not based on a religious appeal to a transcendent, other-worldly, historically impracticable ideal. It was a challenge implicit in his practice. By accepting the poor and despised as full and worthy members of his incipient informal community, he at least pressed home the question: Do human communities have to be as callous, exclusive and unforgiving as they often are, and as so-called ‘realism’ says they must be? And, can the people of God be like that without contradicting their identity? 

Jesus had a reputation as a glutton and a drunkard (Matthew 11:18). The pejorative tone of the comment suggests it came from someone working with other-worldly criteria for true religion; clearly Jesus had braved such disapproval, for eating and drinking had great positive significance for him. That does not mean, however, that feasting in anticipation of the coming kingdom of heaven may be taken to warrant conflating the Gospel with the modern pursuit of an affluent consumer society. In view of the dangers and shortcomings of such society, as we have learnt them, such a view would discredit the attempt to hear the Gospel in and for our politics. The conflation is possible only on a superficial, even frivolous, reading of the Gospels. In the first place, Jesus did not validate material expectations indiscriminately, as the ethos of affluent societies tends to do. The rich who looked for yet wider margins of profit or security did not meet with his approval.They fear to lose luxuries while the poor lack basic necessities or never get leisure from the unremitting and precarious labour for them: the two cases cannot be treated alike. The human value of material things is to be affirmed from the point of view of the poor. Christian criticism of materialistic societies where the demand for possessions and power escalates out of control is not to be made by setting spirit over against matter, God over against his creation, but by asking why such societies make so many poor and treat them so badly when they have them.

In the second place, the Gospels make less of the poor’s consumption of good and necessary gifts and more of God’s giving in and through Jesus and its significance. On that basis, they are interested in the possibility that even the poor may enter a community where they do not merely depend on what is given them but are able to join in the giving. For it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Jesus did not monopolise that happiness but called others to share it. He warned those who would not rejoice at his including of the outcasts that they were thereby missing their calling and their salvation. The elder brother had no prodigality of his own to return from; he was brought to the crisis Of his salvation by being asked to jolt in the celebration of his brother’s return. Even for the prodigal there was more to salvation than the private return of the individual to the father: the feast is a social symbol. The elder brother’s calling was even more obviously social. He who never gets lost never needs to be found; he who never went away gets no welcome home. Instead it is for him to go on living in the unbroken intimacy with his father by-and only by-being glad at the restoration of someone else. Unless he does that, he can have no real share in the father’s joy. To be a son of a father like this is not a personal privilege but a social calling; it is to have a share in the giving (Luke 15). 

When Jesus saw the crowds in the desert, he had compassion on them as sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:30–44). This social image may imply a criticism of the official rulers of Israel, whom Ezekiel had denounced as wicked shepherds, exploiting and scattering the flock (Ezekiel 34). In the biblical traditions of shepherding, spiritual and political cannot be sharply distinguished. It is the kind of distinction which compassion breaks down. The crowds listened to Jesus till they were weak with hunger. He would not send them away, which was the only practical course the disciples could, or would, think of. They may have resented the crowds who troubled their Master, intruding upon their privileged relation with him. Disciples, however, are not just poor men made recipients of God’s ‘inexpressible gift’ (2 Corinthians 9:15); they are called to share in the giving. ‘You give them something to eat’, Jesus said. It is not given to disciples, then or now, to make a meal for thousands out of five loaves and two fishes, but it can be their service to organize the people, making them sit down in some order (by fifties and by hundreds) and to distribute the food. In these respects, theirs was typically political work. We have no reason to despise people, God’s flock, by etherealizing the story to make the hunger symbolic or purely spiritual, or by seeing the disciples’ work as a model for nothing but later sacramental ministries in the Church. Physical hunger in our world is a complex of problems of organization and distribution. The earth has arguably the natural capacity to produce enough food for all, if we could work together and share it. The lorry drivers’ strike in Britain has reminded us that having something to eat may be a matter of transport and transport is a political matter. If hunger has done more than anything else to make contemporary Christians politically minded, it is an effect in keeping with the Gospel. To engage in politics for a fairer distribution of the necessities of life is not all there is to discipleship but it would seem to be a proper part of it. 

Such care for the poor preserves the purity and truth of spiritual worship in Christianity. Paul, in the earliest account of the eucharist, chided the Corinthian Church for not really eating the Lord’s Supper because their eating was not really communal. ‘In eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk… Do you despise the Church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?’ (1 Corinthians 11:17-34). Instead, they should eat together in a way that ‘discerns the Lord’s body’, a strange phrase which probably includes in its meaning noticing and responding to the Lord’s real presence in the poor. Admittedly, Paul thinks of the poor members of the Church; and even so, he does not propose action to do away with poverty. He aims to ensure that the fellowship is not divided by the reality of poverty and the poor are not hurt. Whether those ends can be secured without wanting to do all we can to attack poverty as such is, sooner or later, an unavoidable question. Paul’s argument is not to be limited by restrictive exegesis, for that would run counter to the witness he bears to the love of God. The spirit of his argument must reduce any distinction between the church’s poor and the world’s poor to a temporary, provisional tactical difference. The church must see its own poor as the beginning not the end of its concern. 

Dr Norman treats the command to love one’s neighbour gingerly, as being neither of the essence of the Gospel nor very practical in politics. The command is an invitation to participate in the love of God for the world and thus to come to know the love with which we are loved. And love of neighbour has been a simple and sufficient way of bringing many people into politics. It inspires concern for the poor, which Dr Norman approves. But the poor are many and poverty has deep roots in ‘world order’, so helping the poor has to be political. Then, too, the neighbour is not loved fully, as a person made in God’s image, if he is made socially dependent on charity. Love seeks the neighbour as a real free and responsible partner in community, who is able to join in the giving as well as the receiving. Hence in some circumstances, if we would really though imperfectly love our neighbour, we may support some cause like ‘one man, one vote’, for that may symbolize and to some extent enable and require a society where all share in reciprocal neighbourly love. It would be silly to say ‘One man, one vote’ is the essence of the Gospel, but it is not inconceivable that it could sometimes be the appropriate, obedient response to the essence of the Gospel, so that to work to make it work could be part of Christian service which comes from Christian believing. 


I am aware that I court the charge of politicizing the faith. Am I not reading the New Testament under the influence of ‘present values’? In Norman’s description, ‘the true Christ of history’ gives no support to my view, since he was, apparently, ‘a man who directed others to turn away from the preoccupations of human society’. I doubt whether this is as devastating for my position as it might seem. It is well to be cautious about claiming to have the ‘true Christ of history’ unambiguously on one side of the argument. Being aware of the much discussed ‘problem of the historical Jesus’, I would not claim that my argument rests on certain knowledge of what Jesus of Nazareth was and did historically, though I think there are good grounds for being less sceptical than some scholars. The accounts of Jesus given us by the New Testament are at least in some degree interpretations of memories of Jesus; the problem is often to tell where historical memory ends and interpretation begins. Unless we can do that, we cannot be sure that we are talking about the Christ of history. In this essay, I have been working from the New Testament’s presentations of Jesus, leaving aside the questions of how far and in what senses they may be historical. Despite the tendentiousness of his phrasing, it seems that Dr Norman also argues mostly from the interpretations of Jesus given in the New Testament and later traditions. He does not enter into a serious quest for the historical Jesus. So for the present purpose, within the limits of an essay like this, it is perhaps allowable to argue in terms of the New Testament presentations of Jesus Christ. They have importance for Christian faith and action, even when the question of historical accuracy remains unanswered or leaves us with a mixture of certainty and doubt. 

When compared with the New Testament, Dr Norman’s picture of the ‘true Christ of history’ as otherworldly seems one-sided, even off-key. He uses an ancient way of modernizing the Gospel to adapt it to a cultural setting which is different from that of Jesus in Palestine. He paraphrases the preaching of Jesus: ‘Time was short; eternity pressed near.’ But Mark 1:15 put it differently: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the Gospel.’ Very early in its history, the story and faith of Jesus were taken into cultures where talk of the ‘kingdom of God’ sounded strange or was misleading. Christianity no longer looked with the directness of Jesus for the manifestation of God’s salvation in the impending historical future. So ‘kingdom’ language had to be interpreted, even translated, and ‘eternity’ language seemed to suit the purpose in the hellenistic world. All translations, however, are inaccurate; by addition and subtraction of meaning, translation fails to be true to the original. Translating ‘Kingdom’ by ‘eternity’ has had far-reaching effects on the shaping of Christian vision and self-understanding. Recently, Liberation theologians’ criticism of western Christianity has fastened on the theological and spiritual consequences of this translation. But western Christianity’s history has been marked by recurrent crises which show amongst other things that it was never happy with the translation. It could be disturbed by the exigencies and joys of discipleship in practice and by the work of historical scholars. ‘Kingdom’ language has not been wholly lost and it resists translation into talk of eternity. 

‘Eternity’ is ‘not-history’. “Timelessness’ stands over against time, likely to negate it. But the Gospels see the coming of Jesus as ‘fulfilling’ time, validating its promise in time even in the process of transforming and transcending it. Unlike eternity, the Rule of God can take form in the world. It can be spoken of in parables: the kingdom is like a farmer sowing seed, or yeast at work in dough, or a steward tricking his employer. How could there be parables if the kingdom were like . . . nothing on earth? Every time we pray, ‘Our Father . . .’ we share with Jesus in the profoundest of all parabolic statements.3J. Jeremias, The Prayers of Jesus (1967). So to pray brings every aspect of our being and life now in this world within the scope of the rule of God: ‘as in heaven, so on earth.’ The kingdom is present in signs which anticipate the coming fullness of God’s rule. ‘If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you’ (Luke 11:20). When the imprisoned John the Baptist doubted whether Jesus was after all the one he had hoped for, Jesus pointed him to the cures he did and the good news being proclaimed to the poor; ‘and blessed is he who takes no offence at me’ (Luke 7:23). Jesus asked for these signs in their fragmentariness to be interpreted positively, not with an outlook that negates expectations of a better life. 

These signs should feed scepticism about talk of the ultimate worthlessness of all human values. 


The Gospels do not present a modern political activist as Christ; they do present Christ as one who calls us into a discipleship that may well turn out to be political. That need not give rise to the fear that faith will dissolve into politics or that insatiable expectations and confidence in human capabilities will displace God. Jesus confirmed the expectations of the people, going about doing good, but his way brought him to the cross. Those who follow him politically will not escape disappointment; they will not be light-headed optimists. The best way to prevent politics becoming the substance of faith is not to shun them but to engage in politics theologically with hope and love, for the more we hope and love in practice, the more crucial the faith will be, even when it has to cry: ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’ 

The death of Jesus may indeed be read as evidence of the essential evil of politics. The Cross, it might be thought, tells us the truth about the fallenness of politics, for there no place is given to God. Is a low view of politics part of Christian glorying in ‘nothing but the Cross of Christ’ (Galatians 6:14)? Furthermore, the Cross is not known in Christian faith apart from resurrection. Jesus, excluded from earth, was received into heaven; does resurrection therefore teach us to resign from the world? Such an approach may fit Norman’s spiritual concept of redemption but it cannot explain the Gospels. It reduces the story of Jesus to two essential moments, cross and resurrection, while the Gospels have at least three, Galilee (as it might be termed), cross and resurrection. In the ‘cross-resurrection’ pattern, the only earthly item is negative; in the other, there is an initial affirmation of earthly life which is not deterred by its finiteness. It is no disqualification of the ministry in Galilee that it was short-lived, not eternal. The cross was implicit in the ministry, which Jesus did not seek at all costs to prolong. The cross was a limit intrinsic to the work of Jesus. Since cross, however, was answered by resurrection, cross may not be taken as a sign of the worthlessness and futility of the way that led to the cross. Resurrection is rather the endorsement of that way as God’s. 

As the way of Jesus in Galilee was always social, in the sense explained earlier, so the raising of Jesus from the dead is, in Christian believing, more than a moment in the biography of the individual Jesus. His is a life to be shared, given to all peoples as the promise and power of life. It is so, partly because it gives a sure hope of a future beyond history. But, in addition, it gives life partly because through it the way of Galilee is seen to be no dead end, but rather God’s way to life, in life, for all. Resurrection is therefore in Christian faith a very earthy, history-making doctrine. When what might be termed a ‘Galilee-segment’ of our activity, individual or corporate, comes to defeat in yet another cross, the risen Jesus comes again, as the One he was in Galilee; in the power of his life he calls us again to rise up and follow him in his way. We are invited not to give up the world as a lost cause but once more to risk affirming it practically, in its historical and fallible impermanence, as it was affirmed by Jesus in Galilee.4W. Marxsen, The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (1970), p. 125.  So beneath all their differences Christian faith and political life may be seen to have a similar shape: a rolling cycle of limited but genuine affirmation of the human in the present, of defeats at the hands of the powers of darkness and of limitation by mortality, followed by new beginnings in which the affirmation with which the cycle began is restated in and for changed circumstances, not now in Galilee, but in Jerusalem, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world (Acts 1:8). The politician often practises this spirituality better than the spiritual people, because it is in the nature of the commitment to politics that apotheosis is no compensation for political defeat; one has to try again politically, as the spider told Robert the Bruce. Resurrection must be lived now in some way other than resignation from the world. ‘He who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father’ (John 14:12). These mysterious and alarming words refer to much more than politics, but to hold that in principle they can never be exemplified or realized in politicṣ is in my view restrictive exegesis which may serve to quench the Spirit. 

Often Dr Norman’s most serious admirers and defenders are Christians with a deep reverence for our Lord or a strong commitment to thinking biblically. Whether or not they like his politics, they believe he is right about Christian faith. That for them-as for me-is the most important issue. I do not imagine that in a short essay (even if I had the competence) I could disprove Norman’s view of Christianity and establish another. It is enough to have sown a few seeds of reasonable doubt and brought to remembrance, for those who genuinely care about these things, that what God reveals in Christ and what the Bible says may be more open to politics and more hopefully illuminating for them than Dr Norman has allowed. 


  • 1
    Christian Faith and Political Hopes was published in 1979. The book can be found on Amazon here.
  • 2
    N. Perrin, Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus (1967), pp. 102 ff.
  • 3
    J. Jeremias, The Prayers of Jesus (1967).
  • 4
    W. Marxsen, The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (1970), p. 125. 

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