Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

The National Day of Prayer Controversy: What Would Jesus Think? Part 2

In yesterday’s post, I summarized a “religious case for church-state separation” found in Jon Meacham’s recent Newsweek article. In support of his religious case, Meacham draws from none other than Jesus of Nazareth, whom Meacham credits with originating the idea of church-state separation. In support of this claim, he refers to two passages in the New Testament Gospels, one in which Jesus refused to be crowned as king, and the other in which Jesus said that his kingdom “is not of this world.”

Hanakapiai-warning-4.jpgYesterday I asked: “Do these texts support the point Meacham is trying to make? Or has he become a ventriloquist who is putting words in Jesus’ mouth?” Before I begin to answer these questions so that we might get a clearer idea of what Jesus would think about the National Day of Prayer, I’d like to offer a word of warning. (Photo: A warning sign at Hanakapiai Beach on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Now that’s what I call a warning!)


A Word of Warning

Whenever anyone, including me, invokes Jesus in support of some contemporary cause, beware! Just about everybody wants Jesus on their side (except, perhaps, Christopher Hitchens). And just about everybody finds a way to make Jesus say what they want him to say (including Christopher Hitchens, actually. See my review of his book, god is not Great.). You name the issue and Jesus is brought forth to endorse it . . . or to denounce it . . . or both at the same time. So Jesus is pro-life and pro-choice, a Democrat and a Republican, a free market capitalist and a big government socialist, a supporter of traditional marriage and an advocate for same-sex marriage (or even a gay man). Though I haven’t bothered to look for it, I’m quite sure a few minutes of Internet browsing would lead to a website that uses Jesus to say about church and state the opposite of what Jon Meacham believes Jesus would say.


When confronted with the data I’ve just presented, some folks become stuck in cynicism and skepticism: “There’s no way to figure out what Jesus would think about current issues, so why even bother?” Many today are prepared to ignore Jesus as an inconsequential figure of ancient history. But Christians really don’t have that option. If we believe what Christians do about Jesus, and if we are seeking to model our life upon his, then we should at least try to figure out what Jesus might think when it comes to the issues of our day.

We will do this with some measure of plausibility only if we try to understand Jesus within his historical, cultural, and linguistic context. If we want to know why Jesus refused to be crowned king, for example, we need to have some sense of what was going on in first-century Jewish history that would have motivated people to try and make Jesus their king. Moreover, we must seek to interpret Jesus’ actions in light of his culture and also his teaching.


Far too often, Christians and others with a vested interest in Jesus have skipped too many steps in their effort to get Jesus to speak to current events. Not surprisingly, they stumble in this endeavor and fall short of an adequate understanding of Jesus, not to mention his relevance to contemporary affairs.

If you’ve studied biblical interpretation, you know that I have vastly over-simplified the process of trying to understand ancient texts and the characters within them. But just about all credible scholars, no matter their personal theological convictions, would agree that a faithful appraisal of a person from the past requires seeing that person in the context of his or her history, culture, and language.

I’m not suggesting, by the way, that devotional use of Scripture requires such a procedure. There is a time, I believe, when it’s quite right to reflect meditatively upon a text and let the Holy Spirit speak to our hearts. But this approach to Scripture does not provide an adequate foundation for a public claim concerning what Jesus might think about a given issue.


So, then, when I seek to answer the WWJT question, I will wrestle with the historical, cultural, and linguistic contexts in which he acted and taught. My interpretation of Jesus will be based on the text of the Gospels in light of these contexts. Yes, of course my own personal commitments will tend to shape my conclusions. So be forewarned! But, since I am at least trying to base my conclusions on the data of text and context, I am open to changing my mind when the evidence demands it.

Now that I’ve issued a warning about bringing in Jesus as a star witness in a case, I’ll examine the claims made by Jon Meacham concerning Jesus’ views of church and state. Stay tuned . . . .

  • Peter

    I have to say I love these modern interpretations and comparing these details to past biblical interpretations. Do you think that this topic has been discussed sometime a few hundred years ago? I would love to see documentation on their point of view.
    “Get Interactive with God with our Live Online Sermons”

Previous Posts

More blogs to enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Mark D. Roberts. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Red Letters with Tom Davis Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent Inspiration ...

posted 2:09:11pm Aug. 27, 2012 | read full post »

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? Conclusions
In this series on the death of Jesus, I have presented four different perspectives on why Jesus had to die: Roman, Jewish, Jesus’, and Early Christian. I believe that each of these points of view has merit, and that we cannot fully understand ...

posted 2:47:39am Apr. 11, 2011 | read full post »

Sunday Inspiration from the High Calling
Can We Find God in the City? Psalm 48:1-14 Go, inspect the city of Jerusalem. Walk around and count the many towers. Take note of the fortified walls, and tour all the citadels, that you may describe them to future generations. For that ...

posted 2:05:51am Apr. 10, 2011 | read full post »

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? The Perspective of the First Christians, Part 3
An Act and Symbol of Love Perhaps one of the most startling of the early Christian interpretations of the cross was that it was all about love. It’s easy in our day, when crosses are religious symbols, attractive ornaments, and trendy ...

posted 2:41:47am Apr. 08, 2011 | read full post »

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? The Perspective of the First Christians, Part 2
The Means of Reconciliation In my last post, I examined one of the very earliest Christian statements of the purpose of Jesus’ death. According to the tradition encapsulated in 1 Corinthians 15, Jesus died “for our sins in accordance with ...

posted 2:30:03am Apr. 07, 2011 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.