For those who haven’t read this month’s book, you may want to stop reading. I don’t know how much of what I’m about to explain will ruin the plot, but just to be on the safe side. As I said yesterday, the book is set in the near future in a totalitarian theocracy called Appalachia. The citizens are kept illiterate and are monitored at all time through devices they’re forced to carry called vidpods. No one is allowed to own a book, not even an audio version of the Bible. Punishment for violating Appalachia’s laws is severe, namely stoning. It’s a harsh life, the depiction of which is bound to make many Christian readers uncomfortable.
What amplifies that discomfort is the fact that those who wish to escape Appalachia want to get to what’s called "Outside." In Outside, there doesn’t seem to be a church of any kind. There are no morals restraining their actions. And yet, it’s this God-less society that so many people consider a better alternative to Appalachia’s religious atmosphere.
It’s a very dark picture that Brouwer paints. Would a modern theocracy be so bleak?
I happen to think it would, mostly because it’s a confusion of God’s two kingdoms, a mixing that isn’t beneficial to either.
This is an idea that Martin Luther played around with during the Reformation. Luther taught that God has two kingdoms, the kingdom of the right hand and the kingdom of the left hand. The kingdom of the right is the Christian Church and is founded on grace. This is the kingdom that Jesus speaks of to Pilate in John 18:36 when He says that His kingdom is not of this world. It is a kingdom of grace, forgiveness, and faith.
The kingdom of the left hand are the governments of the world. It is the way that God governs the rest of humanity, by working through the authorities of this world. Paul talks about this in Romans 13:1-7, where he tells the Romans, "there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God." It is a kingdom of law, meant to curb the evil that human beings often engage in.
It was Luther’s contention that the two kingdoms should not mix because they will either dilute or taint each other. A government ruled by true Christian forgiveness would be too lax in administering the law, which would only lead to chaos. A Church involved in the administering of laws could easily tip toward legalism and forget about grace. In short, the Church should never wield the sword of government. Luther even went so far as saying that it would be better to be "ruled by a good Turk than a bad Christian prince." (And remember, the Holy Roman Empire was facing an invasion by the Turks when he said that!)
Gregory Boyd, in his book The Myth of a Christian Nation, expands on this theme. It’s a book that I think all modern Christians should read. He points out that Christ didn’t ask for us to spread his kingdom through political means. Instead, it’s better for Christians to work as servants where they are. He details a number of reasons why this mixing of the two kingdoms is such a bad idea. The most persuasive to me is that the sins of "Christian" government can easily be laid at the feet of the Church. For example, by calling America a Christian nation, Christianity’s critics can blame such debacles as slavery, racism, or eugenics on Christian teaching, even though such things aren’t compatible with the faith.
Brouwer’s setting for Broken Angel is, I think, a natural outgrowth of what Luther and Boyd wrote about. In this dystopian theocracy, the politically active Christians finally get sick and tired of being marginalized and ignored. So they take their ball and go home, so to speak. They set up shop behind a high wall, set up an economy based on cheap labor and selling carbon emission credits (a very cool touch, I thought), and enforce their version of Christianity, harsh and legalistic.
It’s a cautionary tale, one I think more American Christians should consider. Christ never called on His followers to force anyone into His kingdom or coerce their behavior through political means. Christ’s true kingdom is one of service, not swords.
Agree? Disagree? Either way’s fine. But Brouwer’s book is good food for thought, as is Luther’s teaching and Boyd’s book. If nothing else, it’s something that all Christians should at least consider ... especially during an election year.
Go see what the others think of Brouwer’s book:
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirtika or Mir's Here