Lent No. 3: The Just and Gentle Servant

One considerable problem with coordinating the Messiahship of Jesus with contemporary political life is the kind of leadership Jesus embodied and the difference between that leadership and the kind of leadership prevalent in business and government, then and now. When Jesus says, “You have heard how the leaders of the Gentiles lord it over them,” he is not just speaking of Greece or Rome but of all political systems then and now. And, by defining the Kingdom of God by the leadership it will possess, he establishes new criteria for Kingdom leadership—service to others.

Force and Leadership

From the beginning of time until now, leadership has involved a certain amount of force. One cannot be certain, but it is likely that human political organization evolved initially as a matter of self-defense. Human beings, social by nature, realized that there was strength in numbers. Predators, human and otherwise, were best deterred, not by single individuals acting alone, although that helped, but by the human capacity for organizing itself. Human beings, social by nature, quickly realized that there was strength in numbers. Predators, human and otherwise, were best deterred, not by single individuals, although that helped, but by the human capacity for organizing itself.

The biblical story does not hide the human descent into violence. It is an integral part of the story of the fall, as told in Genesis. The world’s leadership evolved upon those most capable of employing violence to achieve their ends. Only at the beginning of Western civilization did the notion of law, peaceful arbitration of disputes, and limitations on the powers of leaders begin to develop. The difference between Tubal Cain, Alexander the Great, and Julius Caesar is not as significant as we imagine. The difference between Julius Caesar and Napoleon is hardly worth discussing. The difference between Napoleon, Hitler, and Stalin is a matter of degree and technology.

The Good News

The Gospel According to Matthew contains alternating sections, some focusing on Jesus’s teaching and others on his mighty deeds of healing, exorcism, and the like. According to Matthew, somewhere in the middle of Jesus’ ministry, he went on a preaching tour, during which he performed many miracles. This, of course, provoked opposition from the Pharisees scribes and teachers of the law. In particular, the Jewish leadership focused on Jesus’s lax attitude toward Sabbath-keeping when it came to providing for human needs, the need of his disciples for food, or the need of the sick for healing. Jesus withdrew with such opposition, but the crowds still followed him. It is at this point that Matthew has the following commentary.

Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.” (Matthew 12:15-21).

I suspect that Isaiah and Jesus knew the nature of leadership in their day. The day’s leaders were not above quarreling, screaming, or violence. There were wars and rumors of wars. Leaders engaged in all sorts of schemes to gain power. Lenin’s famous quote in justification of his murderous regime, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking an egg,” is a memorable description of power politics at every age.

It is a characteristic of contemporary democracies that they are filled with public quarreling. The entire process of modern democratic political leadership relies upon constant conflict and quarreling in a bid for votes. The term “negative politics” describes the fact that in democratic societies, demonizing your enemies gets more votes than anything you might say positively about yourself. Jesus and Isaiah had other ideas about leadership and politics in the Kingdom of God.

 Isaiah 42:1-4 and Jesus

The Spirit of Servant Leadership. Isaiah begins this poem with these words: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold,my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations” (Isaiah 42:1).  Here we have four words that describe the nature of Christian leadership and therefore of the Christian kingdom: The Messiah will be:

  • A servant,
  • Chosen by God,
  • Empowered by the Spirit of God, and
  • His leadership will be focused on justice within his Kingdom.

Then, the focus on power, the will to power, the acquisition of power, and the use of power are absent from this description. As modern political science textbooks continuously proclaim, if politics is about the acquisition and use of power, the kingdom of God is entirely different. The kingdom of God is not focused on power but on justice. The justice that the Messiah will bring flows from the spirit of God, the election of God, and the spirit of a servant.

The Gentleness of Servant Leadership. After introducing the character of the servant leader, Isaiah goes on to describe the behavior of the messianic leader: He will not cry aloud or lift his voice, or make it heard in the street;  a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice (vv. 2-3). The Messiah will be:

  • Quiet in his approach to the give and take of politics,
  • Gentle in the application of power,
  • Faithful to his calling to achieve a just order

Once again, the kind of self-promotion, constant arguing, negative characterization of opponents, and other noisy elements of our contemporary politics are absent from the description of the politics of the kingdom of God. The behavior we have seen in the past, where the party and power run over its opponents, is inconsistent with one who is gentle in applying power and hesitant even to put out the slightest glimmer of light in the candle of a human soul. And finally, once again, the Messianic leader is focused on justice.

The Endurance of the Messianic Leader. Finally, Isaiah realizes that the Messianic Kingdom will not be easy to create. He reminds us that the Messiah “will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth, and the coastlands wait for his law” (v. 4). It will take physical and emotional endurance for the kingdom of God to be established. Interestingly, leadership theories often consider the necessity of high energy levels and emotional stability to achieve excellence in leadership and any organization. The Messianic Kingdom is not for the faint of heart, nor can it be created by the faint of heart.


When I was in seminary, the professors were anxious to impress upon us that the original meaning of the servant psalms in Isaiah was related to the nation of Israel and its status as a servant people. When the disciples looked back at the life, death, and resurrection of Jesu, they saw in him the fulfillment of these prophecies in a marvelous and unexpected way. This week’s blog focuses on leadership as much as on political organization. This should not hide from us that Jesus, the suffering servant, immediately created an alternative political organization. We call it “the church.” He named it “my disciples.” He called the twelve disciples and others into a community that was to be governed by messianic principles. This community did not exist separately from Greco-Roman or contemporary Jewish society. It existed within that society as a servant. Christians and the Christian church do not exist as separate from the societies in which they are located. Instead, the church exists within and is part of every society. Like Jesus, it exists not as a secular power but as a servant power. This power cannot be exercised otherwise than by Christians and their churches serving the needs of a broken world.

Mathetes describes the unique character of the Christians of the early centuries in his letter to Diogenetus:

Christians are distinguished from other men by country, language, or the customs they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive people, nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according to the lot each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their excellent and confessedly striking method of life.

They dwell in their own countries but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others and endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth is a land of strangers. They marry, as do all human beings; they beget children but do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh.

They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws and, at the same time, surpass the laws in their lives. They love all human beings but are persecuted nevertheless. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death yet restored to life. They are poor yet make many rich; they lack all things and yet abound in all; they are dishonored and glorified in their very dishonor. People speak evil of them, yet they are justified; they are reviled, yet they bless others; they are insulted, repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by Jews as foreigners and are persecuted by the Greeks, yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.[1]

Contemporary Christians probably need to internalize the message of this letter. Christians are not called to be the rulers of a society but servants. The greatest service that can be done is to simply live in a community of faith (a church) according to the standards of the Christian faith. This message has been the subject of prior blogs. It is the message that Stanley Hoss tries so desperately to communicate to contemporary churches. On the left and the right of the Christian community, the supposition that Christians should somehow be transforming society using the tools of society is a mistake. Instead, the spirit of Christ itself transforms society as a servant people go about their day-to-day business. Some of them may be leaders in government and culture. Others may never be known. All are important.

Copyright 2024, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Mathetes, “Letter to Diogenetus” https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0101.htm (downloaded February 27, 2024). The term “Mathetes” is Greek for Disciple, and the author does not identify himself. He was an early Christian (circa 130-200) who describes himself as having studied under the apostles. I have undertaken a slight paraphrase for contemporary readability.

Lent 2: A Kingdom of Servants

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all(Mark 10:43b-44).

This Lenten season, I am going to expand upon the meditation of last week. If Jesus did not intend to institute a kingdom like the secular kingdom we know, then what Kind of a kingdom did he intend to establish? How does that kingdom and its citizens relate to the “Kingdoms of the Gentiles? Before Easter arrives, I hope to have a better handle on the Kingdom of God and how it interacts with Human Kingdoms. The intention is to be devotional rather than scholarly.

Luke on Leadership in the Kingdom

As Luke tells the story of the dispute among the disciples concerning who was to be the greatest among them, we are given a clue.  The scene is the last week of Jesus’ life. It is nearly Passover. The disciples have experienced Jesus’ triumphal entry with the crowds shouting out, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 19:38). He has been in constant disputations with the Scribes, Pharisees and other leaders of the Jewish people (Luke 19:46-22). There are, however, storm clouds on the horizon. Judas has already agreed to betray him (Luke 22:1-6). Jesus has arranged a last dinner with his disciples, though they did not know this (Luke 22:7-13). He has already instituted the Lord’s supper (Luke 22:14-20).

It is at this place in his narrative that Luke places the following teaching:

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Luke 22:24-30).

Luke places this teaching near the end of Jesus’ ministry. Matthew and Mark place the teaching on the journey to Jerusalem (Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 10:35-45). Luke places the teaching at the Last Supper (Luke 22:24-23). The equivalent teaching in John is at the Last Supper as Jesus washes the feet of his disciples (John 13:1-16). Given human nature, it is quite likely that Jesus had to impress on his disciples many times the difference between his kingdom and leadership in that kingdom and the leadership they were accustomed to in secular Greco-Roman society.  We needed to be continually reminded of the difference between human kingdoms and the Kingdom of God.

The gospels agree that that the disciples did not understand Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God. They listened and heard the teaching through the lens of their own expectations of a military and political Messiah who would reestablish David’s kingdom and rule a united Israel from the traditional site of Jerusalem. We are much the same.

If we listen to the voice of Jesus in the text, we learn several things:

  1. There is a difference between the Kingdom of God and earthly kingdoms, and it shows in the differences in leadership styles. (v. 25).
  2. Leadership in the Kingdom of God is very different than leadership in secular fields. Jesus’ leadership involves servanthood (v.26).
  3. Jesus bestowed (gave) the Kingdom of God to his disciples (v. 9).
  4. This Kingdom of God is related to Israel and its Twelve tribes. This kingdom is in some way a continuation of Israel, not its replacement, as some theologies profess.

 The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of God’s chosen people who have responded to him in faith as believers and disciples of the King (v. 30). It is my view this means that the Kingdom of God is first comprised of the synagogue and church—a religious, not an earthly kingdom.

A Message for Today

The message, “It shall not be so among you,” is a message churches and pastors need to hear in a society that values large corporate churches and where much money is spent in leadership development using the insights of secular leadership culture. An occasional reminder about the nature of servant leadership in a kingdom of love is needed. One of the things I have noticed in myself and in others is a desire to “explain away” the notion of servant leadership. When I wrote on leadership, I called my theory “Servant/Shepherd Leadership” partially because of the antagonism some pastors and church leaders have to some interpretations of “Servant Leadership.” I think that this is a mistaken worry. Jesus was not a doormat. On the other hand, he did die for the world and for me as a servant of the Father.

Luke’s telling of the dispute about greatness among the disciples is preceded by a series of teachings. One is of special interest in understanding the meaning of the Kingdom of God and its relevance today. It is the confrontation between Jesus and the leaders of the people concerning taxes. No one likes paying taxes. This was as true in Jesus’ day as in our day. The teachers of the law and chief priests were desperate to put an end to Jesus’ ministry, so thy sought to trap him on the delicate issue of payment of taxes. Here is how Luke records it:

Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” He saw through their duplicity and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Luke 20:20-25).

Nothing is more fundamental to any secular government than the power of taxation. When Jesus tells the people to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, he is drawing a comparison between the kingdom he intends to establish and the kingdom of Rome and every human kingdom. In every era, the people of God will be subject to earthly kingdoms and their varying laws. Within these kingdoms, we are called to reach out in love to be salt and light, transforming that small part of the earthly kingdom under our care into some slight semblance of the Heavenly Kingdom to which we also belong.


It would seem that, as Luke tells the story of the last week of Jesus’ life, he is at pains to remind his readers that the Kingdom of God is nothing like the Kingdom of David, Rome, or any earthly kingdom. It is first and foremost a spiritual kingdom. Its king does not rule like an earthly king, and those who rule in his name and under his authority as leaders of the church and other Christian organizations must lead as servants.

For those who believe that there must be a more definite connection between faith and politics, let us wait and see what we learn over the next six weeks or so. I think that we will see how it is the Kingdom of God and our Human Kingdoms interact and relate, perhaps in a way we had not previously considered—at least that is my own hope.

Copyright 2024, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

Starting Place for Christian Public Theology

“My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36).

For Christians, any public philosophy begins with the figure of Jesus bar Joseph, hanging on a cross upon which are written the words, “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews” (John 19:19). The death of Jesus Christ was the most horrible and demeaning Roman justice could inflict—a sign of humiliation and defeat. He died with the words, “It is finished” on his lips (John 19:30). His life was over. His disciples fled, fearing for their lives (Mark 14:50; Matthew 26:56). In the hours that followed his death, the Jewish Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, was buried in a borrowed tomb (Matthew 27:57-59; Mark 15:43-46: Luke 2350-53; John 19:38-40). Remarkably, three days later, his disciples began proclaiming his resurrection from the dead and status as the long-expected Messiah of Israel—the true successor of King David. Rome was a great power, but it turned out that a greater power was manifested in Christ.

Only a week earlier, Jesus had entered Jerusalem on a donkey, as had Solomon and other kings of Israel, a symbol of his intention to serve ordinary people. The crowds enthusiastically welcomed him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13). This directly threatened the religious establishment of his day. They wanted to find a way to do away with Jesus but feared the common people (Mark 14:37;). As the week progressed, Jesus disappointed his followers and the crowd as it became increasingly apparent that he did not intend to raise an army and defeat the Romans. He even referred to his immanent death (Mark 14:3-9). Eventually, Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples closest to Jesus, went to the authorities and offered to betray him (Matthew 26:14-16; Mark 14:10; Luke 22:2.).

On Thursday evening, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, he had a final supper with his disciples (v. 12). During the meal, Judas left early to arrange Jesus’ arrest (John 13:30). After the meal, in which Jesus again referred to his death (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:15-20; I Corinthians 11:23-25), he instituted a rite his followers would continue to observe—what we call “the Lord’s Supper.” After dinner, he and his remaining followers went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he prayed (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 32-42; Luke 22:39-41; John 18:1). After his time of prayer, soldiers arrived with Judas, and he was betrayed and arrested (Matthew 26:47-56; Mark 14-43-52; Luke 22:47-53; John 18:2-12).

The scene moved to a secret nighttime preliminary hearing at the home of Caiaphas, a former High Priest and father of the current high priest. At this preliminary trial, the religious authorities declare that Jesus is guilty of heresy—the heresy of declaring himself to be the Son of God—and determine that he must die (Matthew 26: 66; Mark 14:64; Luke 71). As soon as daylight appeared, the Sanhedrin, the highest body the Romans permitted the Jews to have, was called into session. He was again convicted (Matthew 27:1-2; Mark 15:1; Luke 22:66-71). The religious rulers of the people of God had spoken; now, it was time for the worldly powers themselves to speak.

Jesus was led to Pontius Pilate, the representative of the Roman Empire. Initially, Pilate seems to have wanted to avoid having to pass judgment upon Jesus. He viewed the problem as a strictly Jewish religious problem. Recognizing that Jesus was a Galilean, he initially sent Jesus to King Herod, hoping to read himself of the problem (Luke 23:6-12). It did not work. Jesus was returned to Pilate, who interrogated Jesus and found no civil crime for which he could be convicted (Luke 23:13-16).

As far as Pilate was concerned, when Jesus declared, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36), he removed himself from the jurisdiction and practical interests of the Roman Empire—and also from contemporary categories of political theology interested in political power and the application of Christian faith and theology to the realm of practical politics. [1] Rome cared less about any ideal otherworldly eschatological kingdom, and neither did Pontius Pilate. Pilate cared less about heavenly kingdoms; he cared about Rome, its empire, and his own position and power.

Ultimately, Pilate bowed to the desires of the religious authorities and the crowd they gathered to condemn Jesus. Reluctantly, he has Jesus scourged and crucified. He dies a terrible death and is buried. It would seem that the story is over. However, it was not. On the third day, women visited the tomb to embalm the body further and discover that Jesus was no longer dead. He has risen from the dead (Matthew 28-1-8; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-13; John 20:1-13). A new age has begun, the Messianic age, but it is not the age his disciples expected. It is also not the Messianic age for which we long a good bit of the time. Jesus’s messianic age involves his followers experiencing what he experienced in sharing God’s love with others.

The difference between how Jesus acted before the Pilate and the Sanhedrin reflects his understanding that his kingdom was not to be in the earthly kingdom (John 18). The difference in Jesus’ behavior before Pilate compared to before the priests and Sanhedrin should cause those interested in political theology to be sensitive to the potential that political theology conflates two different kingdoms. Jesus defers to Pilate, but he confronts the religious leaders.

Apostolic Realization

As the Apostles, New Testament writers, and early Christians meditated on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, they came to understand Jesus not as a worldly messiah but as God in human form—embodied Divine Love. One of the earliest names for Christians was “those who belong to the ‘Way'” (Acts 9:2). Jesus showed his disciples both a way to fellowship with God and a way of life. The Beatitudes are a beautiful description of that Way. This Way of Jesus involves serving and leading others with a gentle, other-centered, sacrificial love. There is a technical word for God’s willingness to serve creation at its deepest point of need. The word is kenosis, which means “to empty.” It comes from the words of Paul:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11).

The phrase “emptied himself or “made himself nothing” (ekenosen) reflects the reality that when God reveals the nature of a perfect ruler, he chooses to reveal it through one who, though above all things, is willing to empty himself of power, take on humanity, live in obscurity, and die a terrible and lonely death on behalf of not just his friends and followers, but also for his enemies.

After the crucifixion, disciples came to terms with the fact that the messianic hope of Judaism was misplaced. Their messianic hope was always of a true son of David, who would reestablish the kingdom of Israel and defeat its enemies. That is why Acts records them asking, “Is this the time when you will restore the kingdom? (Acts 1:6). The disciples, like us, had to accept that God does not act according to our presuppositions about how he should act. In particular, they had to come to grips with the fact that God did not intend to reestablish David’s kingdom militarily.

The Old Testament gave clues to the potential that the Jewish messianic hope of the kingdom of God was, in fact, a vision of an earthly kingdom led by an earthly ruler who would use worldly means to seek, acquire, and gain power. It was not a vision of a “New Heaven and A New Earth” in which peace reigned. Their misunderstanding drove the disciples to ask Jesus if now was the time he would reestablish David’s kingdom.  This misunderstanding is why at least one of his disciples (Peter?) carried a sword on the night that Jesus was betrayed: He still thought in a traditional way about the Messiah and his kingdom (Matthew 26:51-52; Mark14:47; Luke 22:49-50; John 18:10—11).

Jesus, on the other hand, constantly warned the disciples against their culturally induced presuppositions about what the Messiah would be like and what his kingdom would be like. Luke, on several occasions, Jesus says something like the following: “Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:26). Over and over until the very end of his time with the disciples, he reiterates that he is a suffering messiahship. [2] The Son of God had to be rejected, turned over to authorities, and crucified so that a kingdom entirely different from the material kingdom with which they (and we) are familiar could be transformed by means entirely divorced from power as we (and they) conceive it.


Christ reveals the limitless, vulnerable, self-giving love of God. In Christ, God serves the greatest need of human beings and creation by emptying himself of overt power to redeem them. The message of the Cross is that God is the One who gives himself without limit, without restriction, without any holding back for the sake of his broken creation and his sinful people.[3] This is what Christians mean when we say, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). The love of God patiently bears with us, even as we presume upon the mercy of God. The love of God endures our sins, shortcomings, and brokenness as the Spirit works patiently and in love to redeem and restore. The love of God forgoes all power, becoming powerless in the ultimate act of saving love.

As Christians confront contemporary society and the gradual replacement of enlightenment culture by what we sometimes call postmodernism, it is essential to remember the self-giving love that Christ showed on the cross. Why? Because in a world dominated by the search for power and influence, Christians will be gradually seduced by the of our time if they do not center themselves upon the core revelation that God is a kind of self, giving love. When the Messiah appeared on the scene, he embodied the same self, giving love.

This means there may not really be a Christian public philosophy as it is so often practiced. [4] If political science is nothing more than the search for, acquisition of, and exercise of power, then it is clear that there cannot be a Christian public philosophy or public theology. A God who gives up power is not a hopeful role model for those who crave it.

Christians are committed to the notion that there is a greater, eternal, and uncreated power of which our human expressions are only a poor reflection. Christians believe the true reflection of how power should be acquired and exercised is found at the cross, where God in human form disclaimed any earthly, physical, political, military, or economic power and instead suffered and died for the human race. It isn’t easy to bring this revelation into harmony with any search for earthly political power. This is the beginning of all Christian reflection on public theology.

Copyright 2024, G. Christopher Scruggs,

All Rights Reserved

[1] The importance of Jesus’ reply to Pilate’s inquiry, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36) cannot be overestimated. How exactly this works out in practical theology will be a subject to be covered in this year’s essays.

[2] The number of incidents that support this is so numerous that they cannot be put in the body of the text. For a few examples, see Matthew 16:21-28, 17: 22-23, Mark 8:31-33; 9:30;1032-33; Luke 9:22-27, 24:6-8, 25-27, 46-47. It is a central teaching of Jesus that the Messiah had to suffer, be crucified, die, and rise from the dead.

[3] See W. H. Vanstone, Love’s Endeavor, Love’s Expense the Response of Being to the Love of God (London, UK: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1977). See also John Polkinghorne, ed, The Work of Love: Creation as Kenosis (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans 2001) for a deep analysis of how creation reflects the One who is love and became love incarnate to redeem and restores his handiwork.

[4] I have in mind here the kind of political theology recommended by Reinhold Niebuhr and by many liberation theologians of various stripes. The strategy of both schools seems to be “grasping earthly power for heavenly purposes.” This does not, however, mean that these theologians are completely misguided for many of their recommendations can and should inform Christian thinking about politics. This will become clearer as these blogs evolve.

The Four Freedoms and America Today

Last week, Kathy and I traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana, to spend two days at the World War II Museum. It was quite an experience. It is impossible to go through the museum without pondering the application of the lessons of World War II to our times. In my case, outside the museum. As we arrived, our cab driver let us off near a bench upon which a bronze statue of Franklin Roosevelt was sitting. Just next to him were engraved these words:

We have faith that future generations will know here, in the middle of the twentieth century, there came a time when men of good will found a way to unite, and produce, and fight to destroy the forces of ignorance, and intolerance, and slavery, and war. (February 12, 1943)

The quotation followed me through the entire tour. It was the first great lesson of the trip: Victory against tyranny is not automatic. Human beings of goodwill must find a way to unite to overcome the forces of ignorance, tyranny, prejudice, and war. It was not easy for the West to win that victory. Significant players did not always agree. There was prejudice, pride, and other temptations to be overcome. But they overcame them, and freedom was preserved.

As I pondered Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, George Marshall, Chester Nimitz, Dwight Eisenhower, and other leaders during the tour, and as I watched the faces of hundreds of unheralded young men and women caught up in an unimaginable cataclysm, I wondered if we do not need to be such people and elect such leaders in our day and time. We face a resurgence of the same evils they fought so hard to eliminate.

The Second World War ended in 1945, nearly eighty years ago, and the world order the victors created, partially to ensure that an evil alliance like Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Hideki Tojo did not threaten freedom again, is in great disarray. We see another “axis” emerging, an axis determined to undermine freedom, subvert Western Democracy, and gain control of vast populations, which will end in slavery for much of the world. Terrorism and its sponsors are as significant a danger in our day as Hitler was at the beginning of 1941. The institutions created to prevent tyranny too often are run by tyrants. Worst of all, the West has lost its sense of the reality of justice and the importance of human freedom except in matters like sex that do not seriously challenge elites.

Four Freedoms

A part of the Museum featured and was organized around FDR’s famous “Four Freedoms Speech” in part because America’s participation in the war was motivated by these “four freedoms:

  • freedom of speech,
  • freedom of worship,
  • freedom from want, and
  • the freedom from fear.

As one writer put it, these “Four Freedoms gave a moral structure and symbolized America’s war aims and gave hope in the following years to a war-wearied people because they knew they were fighting for freedom.” [1]

The pertinent part of Roosevelt’s reads:

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression–everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way–everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want–which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear–which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor–anywhere in the world. [2]

During our visit, I wondered if we do not need something like the Four Freedoms to guide our response to the challenges of our day. There is plenty of negative politics, but no leader has emerged to plot a course to a brighter future.

Context of Challenge

In this speech, Roosevelt, right at the beginning, faced the realities of the situation:

  1. Freedom is Being Challenged. “Every realist knows that the democratic way of life is at this moment being’ directly assailed in every part of the world–assailed either by arms, or by secret spreading of poisonous propaganda by those who seek to destroy unity and promote discord in nations that are still at peace.” [3]
  2. Appeasement of Dictators is Foolish. “No realistic American can expect from a dictator’s peace international generosity, or return of true independence, or world disarmament, or freedom of expression, or freedom of religion -or even good business. Such a peace would bring no security for us or for our neighbors. “Those, who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
  3. Subversion Endangers Democracy. “The first phase of the invasion of this Hemisphere would not be the landing of regular troops. The necessary strategic points would be occupied by secret agents and their dupes- and great numbers of them are already here, and in Latin America.”
  4. Maintain Core Values. “Just as our national policy in internal affairs has been based upon a decent respect for the rights and the dignity of all our fellow men within our gates, so our national policy in foreign affairs has been based on a decent respect for the rights and dignity of all nations, large and small. And the justice of morality must and will win in the end.”
  5. Defend our Nation and its Values. “First, by an impressive expression of the public will and without regard to partisanship, we are committed to all-inclusive national defense.”
  6. Support Freedom Loving Nations. “Second, by an impressive expression of the public will and without regard to partisanship, we are committed to full support of all those resolute peoples, everywhere, who are resisting aggression and are thereby keeping war away from our Hemisphere. By this support, we express our determination that the democratic cause shall prevail; and we strengthen the defense and the security of our own nation.”
  7. Move Forward in a Non-Partisan Manner. “Third, by an impressive expression of the public will and without regard to partisanship, we are committed to the proposition that principles of morality and considerations for our own security will never permit us to acquiesce in a peace dictated by aggressors and sponsored by appeasers. We know that enduring peace cannot be bought at the cost of other people’s freedom.”

There is more to dsay and o, but these seven principles might be a place to begin.


It is easy for older men to worry too much about their children and grandchildren. But I do worry. It seems that our nation is threatened, and like the comic book character, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” The generation that fought the Second World War bequeathed to us a hard-won peace, unparalleled opportunity, economic and political freedom, and a position of power from which it would be difficult for an enemy to dislodge us from those freedoms and opportunities. Unfortunately, beginning with Vietnam, elites and others began to doubt the value of our way of life. Today, we see the unfortunate consequences. Some of the prescriptions we hear from political, economic, and entertainment leaders and in the media are genuinely frightening in their totalitarian and foolish disregard for the past. I am afraid, my generation and those that followed us will have some explaining to do.

A good friend and fellow retiree wrote a blog the other day, an excellent reflection on the fundamental values that characterized the American Revolution. I have written today about the Four Freedoms. I believe they are foundational and can be the foundation of a movement for freedom in our day. We need a renewed commitment to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, economic freedom from want, and an international commitment to freedom from tyranny, political, economic, and legal. At the current time, the need to defeat terrorism and hatred stands right before our eyes.

Near the end of the tour, we saw pictures of the liberation of the Nazi Concentration camps and the terrible suffering of the Jewish Holocaust. Every General and every person who saw those camps was horrified by what had been done. The sufferings of the war were justified if for no other reason than to eliminate the evil of Nazi antisemitism. Today, in other countries and in our own we see the reemergence of exactly the kind of rhetoric and behavior that allowed the Holocaust to happen. We cannot and should not permit this to happen—and we need to remember that it was not only Jews that suffered. All those who had the temerity to stand up for freedom were at risk in Nazi Germany, as the example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others demonstrates. At this time we need to remember the words of Martin Niemöller:

First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then, they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist. Then, they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me. [4]

We all need to speak and act to maintain the Four Freedoms in our own day and time.

Copyright 2024,  G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved, 

[1] “FDR and the Four Freedoms Speech” FDR Library and Museum https://www.fdrlibrary.org/four-freedoms (Downloaded February 2, 2024).

[2] Franklin Delano Roosevelt, State of the Union Message 1941 National Archives https://www.archives.gov/milestone-documents/president-franklin-roosevelts-annual-message-to-congress (Downloaded February 2, 2024).

[3] Id. The seven points below are quotes from Roosevelt’s speech.

[4] Martin Niemöller made the comment, which has been reported in many different forms. The quotation I have given is from the “Holocaust Encyclopedia,” the United States Holocaust Museum, https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/martin-niemoeller-first-they-came-for-the-socialists (Downloaded February 5, 2024).