The TV show The Queen’s Gambit created a surge in online chess. Despite the catchy name, I never watched the show, but as a chess player, I know what the name means. A gambit is a strategy where a player intentionally sacrifices a piece (a Queen in this case) to gain a positional advantage. We live in fascinating times because we are in the middle of God’s culture gambit.
In 313 AD, Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor, signed the edict of Milan and ended the persecution of the church within the Roman Empire. Since then, Christianity has grown in influence in western politics and culture. Today, however, politics and culture are swiftly moving away from Christianity. This is not an accident. Like a chess grandmaster, God is sacrificing this power for strategic gain.
Two weeks ago, I wrote that the disciples didn’t understand Jesus’ mission. They didn’t understand because they had a flawed understanding of the kingdom of God. The book of Acts makes this clear.
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Acts 1:6
The disciples thought Jesus was coming to kick out the Romans and establish Israel as a political power, but God’s plans for his kingdom were far different.
The idea that Jesus, the son of God, the promised Messiah, the king of kings, would humble himself and lay down his life for his enemies, was radical – so radical that it’s no surprise the disciples didn’t understand Jesus. Only later, having received the Holy Spirit, would the disciples get it. Mark would then write his gospel account to challenge our understanding.
Three times Jesus shared his plans with the disciples, and three times they were confused. Three times Jesus proceeded to tell of the radical nature of his kingdom:
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Mark 8:34
If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all. Mark 9:35
And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-44
How can we read these words and bemoan the church’s loss of social and political power? God is willingly sacrificing this power because it was never central to God’s plan, and like any gambit, a sacrifice provides a strategic advantage. Without cultural and political power, the church can focus on what is central to the kingdom of God – things like building true community and sacrificing to love and support one another.
Last week I had the privilege of supporting my friend in court. He was appealing to shorten a punishment, and he asked his church community group to come. In total, eight of us came during the middle of the workday to support our friend, a friend that none of us have known for longer than nine months. God’s culture gambit frees us up to focus on this and not get distracted by arguing over who gets to use which restroom.