Jesus and Empire: Intro

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the relationship between the life of Jesus and the Roman Empire. Much of my processing through this subject has been inspired by a variety of sources that have seemed to all intersect at roughly the same time. The first was a sermon series on Colossions by my pastor, Shane Hipps. That sermon series came at a time when I was starting to read a book by Brian Walsh and Sylvia C Keesmaat titled “Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire”. Soon after this, Shane began a series on the book of Revelation that also dealt heavily with the nature of Jesus in contrast to the Roman Empire. Now I’m currently reading Dominic Crossan’s newest book titled “God and Empire: Jesus against Rome, Then and Now”. I must say that all of these have been fantastic resources in helping me begin to understand the subversion of the most powerful empire the world has known by the life and teachings of Jesus along with his earliest followers.

This has been a fascinating subject for me to dive into because of a few reasons: 1) I’ve never heard much about this dynamic of Jesus’ life. 2) It’s given me a different perspective on Paul. 3) And probably most of all, it’s led me to consider the context in which I currently live and the very strong parallels that can be drawn between the Roman Empire and the current posture of United States foreign policy.

I plan on putting together a short series of posts on this subject and I believe I’ll start with my #3. The question must be asked: What are the parallels, if any, between Roman Empire’s use of militarism and violence to expand their influence in the world and the more recent (roughly over the past 70 years) posture of the United States foreign policy?

It is my position that these parallels can be easily drawn and I’ll begin to explore why that is so in the next post. Until then, here’s some food for thought from a former President and military man:

Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.

Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield.

Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war — as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years — I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.

— an excerpt from Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Military-Industrial Complex Speech, 1961

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8 thoughts on “Jesus and Empire: Intro

  1. This is a subject that’s near and dear to my heart. I’m glad to see you getting interested in it. It might also be helpful to check out some of N.T. Wright’s work.

    Also, I’m not too high on Dom Crossan. Not that his work is without insight, but it is sorely deficient. You should listen to the debate between him and William Lane Craig.

  2. I am reading Boyd’s book, “Myth of a Christian Nation,” right now. They gave it out at a conference at Mars Hill (Grand Rapids). It explains the difference between subverting an empire through acts of love, compassion, and kindness as opposed to participating in that empire through political lobbying, power-control manipulation, and exploitation of the marginalized. Good read.

  3. I’ve yet to read that book, but I’ve heard good things about it.

    I think the works of Kierkegaard would be good for the study of this topic, as well. His later work is particularly what I had in mind. In fact, I would say it’s essential when talking about these things.

  4. Sorry for just adding book after book here, but John Howard Yoder’s “Politics of Jesus” is a seminal work on the subject of subversion, anti-imperialism and things of that nature. He heavily influenced Hauerwas, among others.

  5. I’ve been working my way to Yoder’s “Politics of Jesus”. I’ve skimmed Boyd’s book at the book store and it seems to be more of a cracking of the door on this issue. I wholeheartedly agree with what Boyd has to say on this issue but would rather spend time with books that dive in a bit deeper.

    Thanks for the heads up on all the books guys.

    I assumed Dom my turn some heads but he is still a very valuable voice.

  6. I would definately read Boyd’s book after you read Yoder’s. Boyd builds a little on what Yoder has to say, he takes some time to get to it, but it’s still a keeper.

  7. I’m excited to see what you have to say about this. I’ve been thinking a lot about these parallels as well, especially after listening to Rob Bell’s “Calling All Peacemakers” sermons and latest NOOMA video. Have fun on tour!

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