Far too often we come across a preoccupation with the religious self that betrays a fierce subjectivism.

Peter Weiss, the German-Swedish playwright who some years ago was converted to Communism, recently wrote about what he thinks he has found in his new faith. The author, who won international fame for his French Revolution piece, “The Assassination of Jean Marat,” and his “Vietnam Discourse,” mentioned three points: the vision of a goal of history, a consequent principle of everyday action, and a “sense of belonging.”

I suggest that these three points could well serve as reminders to us to search our own heritage and strengthen our Christian awareness.

Among the deepest impressions I received on a recent trip to Europe was my encounter with one of the great theological exegetes of the last generation, now well past 75. When I greeted him, asking, “How do you do? How do you feel?”—meaning to take a sympathetic interest in his physical well-being at old age—he immediately replied, “The situation in the university, especially among theological students, is difficult, very difficult,” and he followed this up with a detailed account of recent experiences in the field.

It was striking to see this senior person who, after a lifetime of battle would well be entitled to a little rest, nevertheless take responsibility for a larger concern, instead of getting stuck on his individual woes and ailments.

There may be a lesson in this, not only for the retired, but for every Christian—especially regarding the enormous subjectivism that can be found among evangelicals today. Far too often we come across a preoccupation with the religious self that is ready to respond to the inquiring “How do you feel?” with an extensive description that betrays a fierce subjectivism and emotionalism.

So much has this been the rule of the day that we now have the tendency to counter it with the advocacy of collectivism. Prophets in the behavioral sciences as well as in theology today proclaim: The individual is nothing (instead of everything) and has no right to hold to a separate existence.

This is a poor, mechanistic alternative. Christianity goes beyond the either-or of individualism and collectivism, and points as a third way to Christian brotherhood. So this must be a first concern for Christians today: to move on from individualism to brotherhood.

At the same time, according to the Apostle Paul (Rom. 16), the Christian brotherhood is a cooperative of people, a team in the service of the Lord. It does not merely exist for celebrating togetherness, for the sake of “fellowshiping” as an aim in itself. Some Christians stop short at this stage. For them the local church or the chapel is the world. The church, however, has a divine assignment—to serve a God-given purpose. So this must be our second concern: to recover consciousness of our aim and horizon of dedication. Communists can readily answer the question of what the aims of Communism are. Can Christians do otherwise?

One answer surely would be: The Kingdom of God is the raison d’être of the church. In the words of the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, it is the church’s foremost concern that God’s name be honored, and that his will be done on earth, as it is already done in heaven.

The kingdom of God stands for: God shall rule. In our historical setting, this means a constant conflict with “man shall rule,” the philosophy of secularism. Shrewdly, Karl Marx observed: “Either God is sovereign, or man is sovereign. One of the two must be untrue.” Christians, too, must become aware of this basic alternative that underlies all of today’s public debates.

A fresh understanding of the kingdom of God will give wide scope to Christian thinking. What does “God shall rule” mean, for example, in the professions: in the largely abandoned field of medical ethics, in business life, in legal affairs, and in politics? Moreover, the same perspective applies to the field of theology where we have a long way to go until it could truthfully be said that God’s name was being hallowed there. Even among the well-meaning, a new consciousness of purpose would mean overcoming much of the parochialism of our present theological interests, both in local and conceptual terms. The horizon of “God shall rule” would function as a much-needed yardstick for self-criticism, in the direction of a recovery of the task to counter the forces of secularism in the land.

When peter Weiss spoke of the Communist vision of the goal of history and a consequent principle of everyday action, the job of taking measure between the ideal and the actual and of deciding the course of action undoubtedly fell to human reason. If, however, God is sovereign, then also in terms of ways and means the battle cannot be fought on the basis of human insight and decision alone. We need the wisdom of the Holy Spirit in order to know which steps we are to take in our lives and in that wider conflict.

The Holy Spirit is the instructor in all matters concerning the kingdom. He must be called for counsel and asked for advice. He is not only the advocate, but also our vocator, the one who gives us our vocation, and assigns us to our place. It is his prerogative to interpret our situation in the light of God’s aim for all history, and to point out the steps that need to be taken: assessments that far exceed human ability.

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This, then, should be our third concern, next to Christian brotherhood as a working unit, and to the understanding of the kingdom of God as the goal of history: to explore in prayer the mind of the Spirit in order to understand our time and our God-given task in it.

Klaus Bockmühl is professor of theology and ethics, Regent College, Vancouver, Canada.

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