[easyazon-image align=”none” asin=”1934996297″ locale=”us” height=”333″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41wXipwJk1L.jpg” width=”234″ alt=”Antonio Gonzalez” ]Embracing the Reign of Jesus
A Review of
God’s Reign and the End of Empires
Paperback: Convivium Press, 2012
Buy Now: [ [easyazon-link asin=”1934996297″ locale=”us”]Amazon[/easyazon-link] ]
Reviewed by Eddie Gonzalez.
Not many Americans would list the US among the world’s empires. Why should they? We declared independence from England, went to war to keep that independence, and established a government to avoid a monarchy. We’re a Republic, not an empire.
But that’s a limited understanding of the term empire. An empire is not necessarily just what you read about in the history books on Babylon, Persia, Rome, or China. Empire is more general, having to do with power, control, authority, monopolization of violence, marking out distinct classes of people, and of course, economics. So the term can be applied broadly, especially to large, active, and globally influential governments around the world. We can talk about the American empire, the English empire, Israeli empire; Iraqi, Brazilian, Australian, European, Asian empire; whatever it may be.
Whether or not those empires are good or do good, are just or act in the interest of justice, is constantly up for discussion. While all earthly empires are man-made and therefore tied to the nature of fallen humanity (sinful), there are times we see them doing good, acting justly. In the last few decades there has been an upswing in the number of conversations on the relationship of Christianity to Empire or global empires. There are many who want complete separation from the empires of the world, while others see the need for integration and involvement. Antonio Gonzalez’s recent work, God’s Reign and the End of Empires, is a very timely addition to the discussion. The focus of the book is clear:
When trusting in God’s creative activity in history and building up alternative communities from the grassroots, there is no need to submit to the tyranny of empire. Another world is possible and it begins now, wherever people change the nature of their social relationships and liberate themselves from oppression and violence. (17)
*** [easyazon-link keywords=”Theology Empire” locale=”us”]Other Theology Books on Empire[/easyazon-link]
For this subject, the book is laid out perfectly. The chapters flow together, one building up to the next, with a summary at the beginning and conclusion at the end of each. Early on Gonzalez set the context by discussing the history and the current stage of empires, government, economics, ecology, the poor, and other relevant issues. A healthy chapter you cannot skip out on. He then introduced the Scriptures into the conversation, and walked through the text bringing out the relationship of certain events, people, and themes to his thesis. As you might imagine, the Messiah, Jesus, was obviously going to be the central figure of discussion, and Gonzalez did not restrain himself.
While showing some of his Anabaptist/Mennonite background (we like to focus on Jesus, don’t we?), and in particular the influence John Howard Yoder’s work had on him,1 Gonzalez lifted up the Messiah, Jesus, and treated him like the God-King who is actively reigning over his people. A common phrase in the book is there where. It’s not simply the idea that the Kingdom of Jesus is something that is here but still coming: now and not yet, as some have said. There where refers to the current reign of Jesus, regardless of when and where that may be. It is the present, active reign of the King over his people.
For Gonzalez, the very point of Christianity is to be an alternative to the empires of the world. There where Jesus is, there will be a special, holy body of disciples following their master, and what they do is very important:
The Christian communities presented the ancient world with an alternative social model whose very distinctness defied the entrenched system and confronted it with its own injustice. (199)
A community of Jesus’s disciples will intentionally look and act differently. They defy the empires of this world amid their pure allegiance to Jesus. There are certain characteristics you find in those alternative models that, according to Gonzalez, exemplify a community that takes the words and acts of Jesus and the New Testament seriously. These alternative communities are radically revolutionary. They don’t just care for the poor, they eliminate the ideology and societal structures that dictate who are the rich and who are the poor. They view every member, including women, as true equals. They do not allow global economics to dictate their value, or their activities; the almighty dollar–or Euro–does not control them. They live on the outskirts of society, the outsiders choosing not to be of the world though still be in it.
. . . we can affirm that there are alternatives to domination and that these alternatives do not belong to some dark future, but begin now in the present . . . Such a project [the practice of new social relations] does not consist simply in resigned resistance to evil; rather it is a project that recognizes that the Savior reigning now over the communities is the Creator of the heavens and the earth and the Lord of all history and all humankind. There are alternatives, and they are not for the future, but for today. (364)
Communities of Jesus, alternative as they are, are not pie-in-the-sky, and they are far from easy living. The alternative that a life of a disciple of Jesus lives is challenging (especially to our prejudices) and alienating. But if that is in fact what Jesus has called us into, then is it not what we must do if He is our master?
Much to the author’s credit, throughout the book there is no sense that Gonzalez is picking on any one government. There are no anti-American imperialist rants. He, a Spaniard, does not hate on his own country, lambasting them for of such events as the Inquisition. He speaks of empires in a general way, bringing out certain examples from particular nations to help the reader get the point being made.
God’s Reign and the End of Empires is a masterclass which has helped me read the Scriptures in fundamentally new ways, and has helped answer some of the lingering questions I’ve had, along with some that I didn’t even think about. Sadly, because this isn’t a popular book (e.g. Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus, John MacArthur’s The Jesus You Can’t Ignore), it will probably not find a place in the rotation at your local Tuesday morning Bible Study. Though it’s geared toward pastors, theologians, professors and students, it’s not far fetched to see how the book would help any and all Christians seeking to challenge their status quo. I also would liked to have seen both a topical index and a Scripture index. This is a book I will be going back to time and again. As he walked through the Scriptures, he presented very well constructed and deeply discussed commentaries of relevant passages and stories. From the fall, to the tower of Babel, to Abraham, Moses, Jesus feeding the multitude, the cross, Romans 13, and others, Gonzalez found a way to weave those examinations into his thesis without missing a beat or seeming distracted or distracting the reader. The commentary and application of the passages discussed are well worth a re-read. The addition of the Scripture and topical index would have helped the book’s longevity a bit.
Skipping on an opportunity to read this text, I think, would be a shame. There are certain books I believe every church body should take time to go through collectively, or among smaller groups: Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus and Body Politics, Anne Jackson’s Permission to Speak Freely, Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited, and Andre Trocme’s Jesus and the Nonviolent Revolution (though you could argue Yoder’s Politics of Jesus covers that one). While I do not think Gonzalez’s God’s Reign will make it into that camp, that should not be a reason to avoid the book or its challenge to embrace the reign of Jesus over his particular people living as an alternative to the empires of this world. It’s simply not built to be that kind of book. I encourage pastors and Christian community leaders to take a look and start the conversations.
On an extra positive note, this is far and away the best looking book I’ve ever handled. The layout and typography are exquisite. The use of ligatures was a welcome sight. I had never picked up a book from Convivium Press, and I hope this is not the last. I see a couple of titles from other Spanish authors that will be more than welcome on my bookshelf and reading desk.
1 To be fair, Yoder was not the only influence on Antonio Gonzalez. Nor was he one of the most influential. But, that does not take away from the aspects of Gonzalez’s discussion where Yoder is obviously to thank.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com
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