In movies about politics and in movies about criminal enterprises (no inference intended here, but I can’t help reality), there is often a character known as “the fixer.” Think of Kerry Washington’s character in Scandal, or George Clooney’s character in Michael Clayton. Fixers are brought in to deal with other people’s problems. If you are calling a fixer, you’re usually not just indifferent about the way they take care of a problem, you actually explicitly do not care. Every movie with a fixer is mandated to have the line, “I don’t care how you need to take care of this, and I don’t need to know, just take care of it.” What’s important is the arrangement. The Fixer is called in to take care of the problem, and then you never want to hear from him again…until the next time you need him. The Fixer has no authority or say in the overall operations of the enterprise—criminal or political. The Fixer is called in to fix a particular problem so that we can get back on with the enterprise.
This is a popular view of Jesus in American life and in American evangelicalism. The language that is used about Jesus is remarkably appropriate for dialogue in a movie like Michael Clayton. 20th-century American evangelical evangelism is built around this kind of problem/solution narrative, an approach which draws on the lessons of 20th-century American marketing tactics. “Why do we need Jesus?” Well, “we have a sin problem.” Just like you wouldn’t need the fixer if there wasn’t a dead body and blood on the carpet, there’s a popular view of Jesus as “widget.” Need to get into heaven? Call Jesus. With that solved, Jesus has served his role, and need not speak into much of anything else.
In the gospel of The Fixer, the essential thing about Jesus and the Christian faith is that he solves the sin problem. How does he solve it? Well, he solves it for those who acknowledge that he solves it. To add anything more to this mental assent would be to add a “work” to the “free gift of grace.” By the way, grace, in this view, basically amounts to those instances where God let’s you get away with stuff that He doesn’t need to let you get away with. To say God’s grace is unending, that it never runs out, amounts to God letting you get away with stuff he doesn’t need to let you get away with in perpetuity.
This may not have been the gospel you have heard—thank goodness for that—but it is, more or less, the very core of the message—what is presented as essential—that millions and millions of Americans have received and imbibed and promoted. Willard referred to this as a “gospel of sin management.” It is as therapeutic as the “secular replacements for religion” that so many decry, and should be viewed as such.
We will understand popular expressions of Christianity in politics and public life much better if we understand the gospel which is popular among many Christians. If, theologically, salvation results from one’s mental assent to several lines of doctrine— including and primarily that Jesus is the divine Fixer, the eschatological Widget—then it should surprise no one when evangelical politics in some quarters essentially amounts to mental assent to a few axiomatic political positions. It’s the view of the gospel which allows for and is reflected by the politics. If you have a theology which suggests that you can be the worst kind of person and make it to heaven so long as you have a moment of mental assent to certain statements, then you can have an approach to politics which is full of anger, fear and hatred so long as you hold the right positions on a handful of issues. You can go about your politics by deceit, manipulation and dehumanization, and call it Christian, so long as you’re willing to say “yes” when you’re expected to say “yes” and “no” when you’re expect to say “no.” The “gospel” and the politics are not disconnected. These things are related. They go together.
Of course, the gospel of sin management is not the gospel, any more than a politics of self-interest and antagonism is a Christian politics. Jesus is not “Fixer,” but Lord. He’s not a crisis manager, but the Way, the Truth and the Life. His Life, the Life that He invites us into, is not just for after we die, but for right here and the right now. It’s happening, unfolding before us. Righteousness and Justice are the foundation of His throne, and He is King.
In politics, as in all of life, what this means is that we do not bear the burden of ensuring things turn out right at all costs. Jesus is in control, and He has paid the price. His plan is being enacted as we speak, and there is nothing evil we must do in order to preserve it. Our call is to be faithful with what we have, leaving the outcomes to Him, trusting Him. Knowing this, we will begin to view politics as the area of the penultimate and the prudential. Politics is an essential forum in which we live out love of God and neighbor. Because politics is penultimate, not ultimate, we seek to never allow political ends to come at the cost of faithfulness. We seek to be faithful in politics, but because it is prudential, we understand that it would be a kind of blasphemy to flippantly ascribe to our preferred policy instruments and political judgments the weight of religious dogma. The aim is not a political uniformity among Christians, but a spiritual integrity.
The Gospel has been obscured by those who have acted as if politics is an area of life in which Christians must compromise faithfulness in the name of God, for godly ends. Much like, by the way, the kind of logic that leads religious leaders to believe that in order to protect their church or denomination or, God forbid, Jesus’ reputation, they must lie, cheat or bully their way out of a predicament. Belligerence in politics, in any area of life, is repackaged and justified as a result of the fervency of one’s faith.
But it is our faith which allows us to deal with reality as it is. And it is our security in the Gospel, Jesus’ Gospel, that frees us up from using our power for self-aggrandizement or retribution, and frees us up to intend the good of others, including our political “enemies.” Christianity is employed to justify a lack of integrity, when discipleship to Christ is actually a matter of growing into greater and greater integrity.
This requires a gospel which does not just call in Jesus to dispose of the decaying body and clean the blood off the carpet. Jesus is not just a Fixer; He’s Lord.