You want a trim figure but don’t want to count calories. You want the six-figure income but don’t take initiative at the office. You want to regain marital intimacy but won’t budget for a date.
These scenarios expose a truth about our nature: we all covet the product but cringe at the process. Either we don’t want to expend the energy needed to attain a particular result, or we are so myopically focused on an outcome that we become blind to the web of variables necessary to produce it.
This also happens at the macro-level of culture. Like good Christians, sometimes we pray for our leaders. And like good Americans, we try and at least pay some attention to the goings-on in society, sharing a news article and voting every now and then. But even with the prayer “Thy kingdom come” often on our lips, seldom do we ask: how does mass-scale change happen?
So we look for shortcuts. Maybe—just maybe—we can get a law passed that will fix such-and-such. Or maybe once “our guy” is in office, we’ll get somewhere. We implicitly trust Uncle Sam to strong-arm us into the neighborly love God’s law demands. Our tribalism reveals the logical chasm in our worldview between intended outcomes and the necessary inputs. (This isn’t to say top-down solutions don’t matter; they do, but they aren’t sufficient—consider Josiah’s short-lived reforms that failed to avert the judgment incurred by his father Manasseh’s sins, cf. 2 Kings 23:25-26.)
This is part of the reason many of the intramural political and social debates within ostensibly conservative Christian circles tend not to be debates over Kantian categorical imperatives but squabbles over strategy. Broadly speaking, all Christians want a world where Christ is king and rules by his law. Until that day is fully realized, we’ll settle for a relatively moral, unobtrusive state that fears God but isn’t too pushy about it. But we differ as to how to get to such an endpoint.
The result is that we cross swords with brothers and sisters in Christ (much to the befuddlement of a watching world), engaging in semantic arguments, which are themselves to be avoided (2 Timothy 2:14), over trending keywords that elude definition. Meanwhile, 4 billion people are unreached, a million babies are aborted each year in the U.S., our culture continues in full-swing rebellion against marriage and gender, and the Christians are arguing about the color of the drapes in the sanctuary.
In effect, we have become fruit lobbyists. We stump for increased imports of our favorite fruits of Christ’s kingdom—racial reconciliation, life for the unborn, freedom from economic oppression—while ignoring the fact that our realm has still declared war against his. We sever the fruit from the nourishing root. And we forget that the Lord Jesus has every right to put an embargo on trade with our little rebel camp.
A prime example is the Christian Reconstructionist movement of the 1980’s. For the most part, they made cogent arguments about the application of biblical law to all of society. Curmudgeonly as they were, their logic was generally sound. (That descriptor would work well on the epitaph of most Calvinists, come to think of it.) But they erred in that they too became fruit lobbyists. They often caved to the temptation to focus so much on one fruit of the gospel—a justly-governed, godly society—that they became more passionate about legislation than love, more concerned with passing new codes than promoting the new covenant. And so, focusing more on the fruit of the gospel than the changed hearts which makes such fruit possible, the movement fizzled.
We can’t import exotic fruit from Christ’s kingdom while remaining at war with the country. We must agree to his terms of surrender. Yes, this means giving up on the failed project of secularism. Gospel-shaped cultures don’t emerge from the petri dish of pluralism. Neutrality is, after all, a myth. But even that sort of society-wide talk is a bit further down the branch than what I’m talking about.
More towards the trunk of that tree, we need neighborhoods, homeowners’ associations, townships, and school boards self-governing by the grace and law of Christ before we’ll see a hint of progress state or federal. Further, we need churches preaching the whole counsel of God, pastored by biblically-qualified elders (hipster beards optional), tangibly caring for their widows and orphans, running biblical diaconates, visiting the sick, excommunicating the unrepentant, confessing sin, praying hard, singing loud, feasting at the Lord’s table before any townsfolk will notice. This depends on there being families who read the Bible, give when it hurts, love sacrificially, fight well, and defend each other tooth and nail—led by husbands and fathers who labor in prayer, mortify sin, and bow the knee to Jesus. And it starts when a single sinner is saved and given a heartbeat synced to a divine rhythm. “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much” (Luke 16:10, ESV)
We pray, “Thy kingdom come.” That’s good. We ought to. But if we would reverse-engineer that audacious prayer, starting with the redeemed individual’s relationship to Christ and his immediate sphere of influence, we would have considerably less free time to waste debating the federal enticements we can offer Christ’s land for increasing its produce exports.
“Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5b, ESV). These are the terms of surrender. The embargo won’t be lifted otherwise. No amount of lobbying can secure the exotic fruits of godly society. We need to start with gospel seed. We must sign ourselves over wholesale to the Root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:10).