The Theopolitan Vision
August 5, 2019

The following is excerpted from The Theopolitan Vision, the first volume of The Theopolis Fundamentals Series, available from Athanasius Press.

I’m going to call you Theo or Thea.

“Theo” is the name we use at the Theopolis Institute to describe the kind of man who can most benefit from what we have to offer. “Thea” is the feminine version.

If you’re Theo or Thea, you’re young, or young-ish. You’re an Evangelical Christian – that is, a Christian committed to the Bible. You may be a pastor or a seminary student. You may be a lay leader in the church, or a member observing from a distance.

Theo and Thea share a desire to follow Jesus and become more like Him, an interest in the Bible, a love for the church. These loves shape everything in your life.

You love the church’s tradition, but you aren’t a traditionalist. You realize that the church has to address the challenges of the present, but you aren’t a progressive.

But Theo and Thea share something else: A restless hunger for something more.

If you’re a pastor, you feel you’re skimming the surface of the biblical text but don’t know how to dig deeper. You know it’s God’s word, but you wonder why it’s so weird. You may find yourself avoiding some biblical books (Leviticus, parts of Judges) and sticking to the clearer, safer bits, where you at least have some idea of what’s going on.

If you’re a layman or laywoman, you’re edified by your pastor’s sermons, but you suspect there’s so much more to be said. You ask questions, but they don’t get answered. You Google, but you’re rightly cautious about what passes for theology on the Internet.

You attend worship at least once a week, but you wonder if there isn’t more. You’ve slipped away in the last few months to attend an Anglican Evensong, and that somehow seems much more like worship. You know some churches have weekly communion. That seems intuitively right, though you’re not sure why.

You sense there’s something deeply wrong with today’s world, and you’re anxious for the future. But you don’t want to turn the clock back, you don’t want to stand with the doomsayers, and you think that the politicization of Christianity does more harm than good. Your skin crawls when Christians merge Christian faith with patriotism. Your skin also crawls when Christians hitch their faith to the latest fad.

You know Jesus is the answer, and that the church is called to carry on Jesus’ ministry of healing, justice, salvation. You want to be part of something big, and Jesus’ mission is as big as it gets. But you wonder if the church is up to the challenge.

You don’t want to become Roman Catholic or Orthodox. You have Catholic and Orthodox friends and you know they’re Christians. Yet you don’t buy the Papacy and don’t want to venerate icons. Besides, your mother would roll in her grave if you swam the Tiber or moved to Constantinople.

You love your church. You love its vigor and its commitment to the Bible. You love its evangelistic fervor. But you’re appalled at the divisiveness of Protestantism. You long for the church to be united.

Worst of all, you think you’re the only one in the world who feels this way. You have coffee every other week with another pastor who shares your longings, but the two of you seem alone in the wilderness. You have a friend or two at church with whom you carry on whispered conversations about your restlessness.

You don’t want to be divisive. You know that your pastor is responsible for you, and you want to honor him. You don’t quite know what you want to be different. Only that you want something more. And you have trouble being patient.

Sound familiar? If so, you’re Theo or Thea.

This book is for Theos and Theas, for pastors and laypeople, who are looking for something more. That more is what I’m calling the “Theopolitan vision.”

 What’s that? This book will explain it as straightforwardly and simply as I can. But let me give you the gist right here.

The Theopolitan vision is a view of the church and her role in the world. I’m going to show that the church is an outpost of the future city of God. The city of God exists now, in the present, as a real-life society among the societies of men. This real-world, visible community is the family of the Father, the body of the Son, the temple of the Spirit. It exists to transform and renew human societies, inside and out, top to bottom. As God’s city, the church’s carries out a global mission of urban renewal.

Worship is the primary work of God’s city. Christian worship should be attuned to the liturgical tradition of the church, the whole church, but it should avoid traditionalism and nostalgia. Our practice and understanding of worship must be shaped by the whole Bible – from Genesis through Leviticus and Chronicles to Revelation. Worship should be saturated with Scripture – Scripture read, Scripture taught, Scripture sung, Scripture turned into a dialogue of love between the Lord and His Bride.

Worship is thinly Christian unless it culminates in joyous festivity of the Lord’s table. The liturgy is the place where we encounter the Word of God, where our worlds are shattered and rebuilt, where we learn to inhabit the symbolic universe of Scripture.

A church that worships biblically, a church whose worship is saturated by Scripture, a church whose members have learned to navigate biblically through life, a church that shares Christ’s body and blood each week – that is a church prepared for mission.

The garden, the place of worship, is the source of the living water that flows to the world. The sanctuary is the beacon whose light shines out among the nations. Unless we taste the kingdom in worship – and I mean literally taste – we won’t have the words of life that the world needs to hear. If we don’t encounter the light of Jesus in His word and at His table, we won’t be lights in the darkness.

Some Theos are pastors or aspiring pastors. If you’re that kind of Theo, I commend you. Pastoral ministry isn’t what you’d call a “sexy” profession. “A clergyman is nothing,” says Mary Crawford in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, and Mary Crawford knows a thing or two about sexiness.

As a pastor, you won’t get rich. You won’t win prestige. You won’t gain attention unless you make a point of being provocative.

You’ll grind away, week in and week out, teaching the Bible to more-or-less attentive parishioners, counseling, confronting, comforting. You’ll spend an inordinate number of hours sharing the crisis moments of life – sickness, marital breakdown, wayward children, job losses. There’s no reliable way to measure success. Your work may seem pointless, the results meager.

Yet you’ve chosen this vocation, or been chosen for it. I don’t commend you for your willingness to accept obscurity. I commend you for believing that this vocation matters.

Because, despite widespread opinion, it does. It matters more than anything. A pastor at the pulpit is at the wheel of the ship of the world. A pastor offering the body and blood of Jesus at the Lord’s table is at the center of the universe. A pastor leads the charge in mission, equipping the troops to fight Jesus’ holy war.

For centuries, pastors have been despised. They’re considered effeminate, and many today are in fact female. I believe that God calls men, not women, to be pastors, and they have to be men, ready to act with courage, ready to fight, ready to lead. The Theopolitan vision aims to give you your marching orders.

But the Theopolitan vision isn’t just for pastors. It’s a vision for the church, and the church has vastly more non-pastors than pastors. The Spirit equips every man, woman, and child in the church with gifts to build the city and serve its mission.

More than the pastor, you non-pastor Theos and Theas straddle the boundary between the heavenly city and the earthly city. It’s you, the people – the laos, “laity” – who take the word and bread and glory of worship out into the corners and byways of the cities of men. Filled with the Spirit, you are the agents of God’s city who carry out Jesus’ urban renewal program.

I should warn you at the beginning: The cities of men won’t receive what you have to offer – not peaceably. Jesus warned His disciples that they would be beaten, arrested, scourged, crucified (Matt 10), and that is forever the life of the church. The world understands, sometimes better than Christians, how radical the gospel is, how fundamental the repentance it demands, how much things will have to change if the gospel is true. The world doesn’t want to repent and it doesn’t like people who call for repentance.

Don’t think for a moment that throwing yourself into the mission of God’s city is a safe decision. Jesus calls you to lay down your life – perhaps in literal ways –to follow Jesus and build His city.

The world is always hostile to the church, but some worlds are more hostile than others. Our world is more hostile than most, since it’s built on an explicit rejection of Christian faith. Our world is also fracturing and decaying. Politically, geopolitically, economically, culturally, the world is crumbling. That only makes it more vicious: A cornered bear is a dangerous bear.

Tragically, many sectors of the church have become so worldly that they too are hostile to the demands of Jesus. If you call the church to repentance, be prepared for the assaults. Don’t take up the task unless you’re prepared to die.

Death isn’t a defeat. Far from it. We share in Christ’s dying so that we can share in His abundant life and glory. When we share in Christ’s death, when we are like the early martyrs who did not “love life even to death” (Rev 12), we become a world-changing force. Courageous witness shatters old worlds and lays the foundations for new ones. It’s through the cross that God’s city renews the cities of men.

That is the Theopolitan vision of the city of God: A city founded on the blood of Jesus, sustained by the witness and blood of His disciples, established in the world to uproot and plant, to tear down and to build up.

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