Last night biblical scholar and historian Richard Horsley spoke at DePaul University. It's always difficult for me to judge the quality of public lectures of the kind that he presented, since by necessity they have to be broad enough to appeal to a wide, non-specialist audience, but then they tend not to tell me anything I didn't already know, or at least strongly suspect. But in Horsley's case, I think that he did about 3/4 of a good job of laying out the issues involved in analyzing how the message of Jesus has something to say to contemporary issues of empire and its implications.
The 3/4 that was solid pertained to the historical and sociological issues that he has dealt with so well in his work over several decades. It was interesting for non-specialists, intriguing for those of us who study these things, and it was engaging and accessible.
the 1/4 that could have been done better was the application of those historical and sociological data to the contemporary issues around the question of empire. I give him credit as a historian, he was only willing to go as far as the historical evidence allowed him to go, but from my perspective as a theologian and ethicist, a proper analysis requires a consideration of the eschatological and even apocalyptic dimensions of Christ's teaching. Because Horsley wants to understand the kingdom of God as only being a temporal and historical reality that Jesus was preaching as a mode of resistence to Rome, he wasn't able to consider the proleptic aspect of it as a reality that is brought about, not through human action, but through divine action.
This is the Moltmannian in me, I confess, but I think that when we think about Christian faith and Empire, we cannot read the history of Christianity as about the human desire to throw off tyranny and oppression, but at most about our ability to anticipate and live into a new reality in the here and now, but a reality that is brought about by God. This was missing in Horsley.
I should mention, that I don't mean this to be a brand of quietism. Anticipation is an active stance vis-a-vis the coming kingdom of God. It calls us to enact the values of the kingdom in the midst of our history and our society, and that means "taking arms against a sea of trouble" even though we may not "by opposing end them." An exodus community is one that continues to journey in the world, but does so with its eyes and its actions firmly fixed on the coming kingdom of God.