In his book, Against Christianity, Peter Leithart argues (well, he doesn’t really argue, he articulates a vision in a self-consciously piecemeal manner, actually much akin to theoblogging) in a very Radically Orthodox manner that the church is supremely political in its own being. The church is, itself a culture, having its own sociology (which is theology) and its own politics (which is ecclesiology). In the course of his writing he writes “against” Christianity (the Christian faith turned into an apolitical religious activity), ethics (Christian moral practice as understood separately from the totality of life in community), theology (Christian thinking systematized and dehistoricized), and sacraments (ecclesial practices as mystical transaction between God and the interiorized self).
However, at the end of all these various things that Leithart is “against”, he ends his book with a chapter entitled, “For Constantine”. In a surprising move, his emphasis on the political and cultural nature of the church leads him to insist that if the church, the civitate dei, is indeed a full-orbed challenge to the powers that be, a truly alternative polis, it must be capable of integrating and ordering all of the political, economic, and social aspects of the wider world. Thus, Leithart argues here against Yoder, Hauerwas, and company by arguing that Constantine is the logical and theological outcome of the gospel. If the church is truly the polity of God, then the church’s polity must ultimately end up ordering any and all earthly polities.
I think Leithart, despite his many great points and fascinatingly Reformed version of ecclesiocentric politics is off on this point, and I think he is off because of an overly optimistic eschatology. In fact, I wonder if it is the older versions of Reformed postmillennialism, which optimistically thought that church would bring in the Kingdom of God that is operative in his thought. His work provides a fascinating example of Radical Orthodoxy being cast into a conservative (but highly creative, mind you!) Reformed mold that is highly ecclesiocentric. I certainly commend his work, if for no other reason because I don’t think there’s anything else quite like it out there.
But what think you? Could there ever be a Christian Constantine? Or has there already been? Can the church truly be said to be a polis in the fullest sense of the world if it does not offer a program for regulating the political and economic life of the rest of the world?