A much larger excerpt (most of the rest of this chapter, which is titled after an America-referencing line in a Prez G. W. Bush speech, "The Angel in the Whirlwind") can be viewed through the Books & Culture site - or better yet, pick up a copy of their Jan/Feb issue. A type of introduction of the themes - mostly of democratic dialogue in a time of angry tv polemics - is named after a great and haunting Wilco song. "I'm the Man Who Loves You: On Not Being Finessed by Carnival Barkers or Someone Else’s Talking Points" indicates, in case you haven't figured it out yet, that this man loves subtitles, as well as a good kick in the head.
But to return to Paul's explanation of Jesus' new way of being human [cf. Gal. 3:28], it's easy to forget the social novelty at work in his letter and the quiet revolution that would come of it. Within a few decades of Paul's writing, the Christian communities of Asia Minor were sufficiently widespread to come to the attention of Pliny the Younger, governor of Bythinia. In letters to the Roman emperor, Trajan, Pliny the Younger notes that the sect includes people of every class and observes, after torturing a couple of deaconesses, "I found nothing but a degenerate sort of cult carried to extravagant lengths." He also complains, "They have a passion for liberty that is almost unconquerable, since they are convinced that God alone is their leader and master (N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, p. 350)."
This pagan account of the visible convictions of the early Christians should give us pause as we consider how easily many Americans speak of their faith as a private, personal matter; a relationship somehow contained in the heart; an odd, airy thing called "spirituality." Such a characterization of the movement wouldn't have made much sense to the early church, and Pliny certainly wasn't describing a group of people who simply held an unconventional religious opinion or two. Admittedly, he doesn't find them especially threatening. They aren't about to take up arms against their oppressors, but they are holistically invested in a revolution. They are not apolitical. Their allegiance is to a different polity that is uniquely for all people. In this sense, we might think of them as multipartisan. They are not of this world's way of doing things, but their hope is still scandalously this-worldly. And the passion for a socially disruptive, enduring freedom won't be diminished, divided, or conquered by the prerogatives of any government. When brought before the authorities, they matter-of-factly refuse recognition of all other gods. (pp. 5-6)
Ahh... we all need that every once in a while.