A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What Is the Kingdom of God?

From Scot McKnight:
For some the “kingdom” is the social stuff, the be-good-to-others stuff, the justice stuff while “salvation” is the spiritual and conversion stuff. Another way I hear folks talk about this is this: kingdom is social stuff, it is universal stuff, it is the stuff we do to make the world a better place — in this sense, kingdom is much bigger than the church.

...many of us see “kingdom” as the “personal experience of God’s reign.” In other words, we find in the term “kingdom” our evangelical theology of the need for personal conversion. For such folks, kingdom is little different than the personal experience of salvation. This comes at the term from a modern evangelical angle and almost completely misses the Jewish context. This view of kingdom is hurting the church as much as it is helping because it feeds our individualism.

...while I can see some conversional dimensions to kingdom in the NT in the “enter the kingdom” sayings, we simply must begin where Jews would have begun: in the Jewish world, the very first connection with the word “kingdom” is “David.” God established the kingdom of David, God cut in half the kingdom of David, God disciplined the kingdom of Israel/Judah, and God promised someday the kingdom of our father David would be restored. When Jesus said, “the kingdom is at hand” in Mark 1:15, the ordinary Jew didn’t say “Wow, I can now get saved” but “Finally, our promises for the Davidic kingdom will be realized.” We must begin here or we get it all wrong.

...this means that a Jew (and Jesus) would have meant God’s true Society when they said kingdom. Let’s expand this briefly: to say “kingdom” in the 1st Century implies a King (Jesus is that King), a citizenship (Jesus’ followers are those citizens), and a Torah (Jesus’ teachings are the new Torah). One can’t say Kingdom and not think of these things in the Jewish world. Kingdom means God’s messianic society.

...here’s our problem: we have made “kingdom” so much about personal salvation that we evangelicals have colonized it. Frankly Protestant liberals have colonized it in another way: they’ve made it the Western social liberal democratic agenda. I have no reason to dispute that kingdom has a powerful socially-influential design, but we have made it too much about our personal agendas. We need to go back to see what Jesus meant by kingdom.
The next paragraph is critical:
...I have made the suggestion before and I’ll make it again. There is good reason to think that Jesus used “kingdom” for God’s promised society of justice, peace, wisdom and love. I doubt many would dispute this. But I am suggesting that what Jesus called “kingdom” is more or less, sometimes more and sometimes less, than what Paul meant by “church.” I’m fully aware of the Constantinian disaster, of making kingdom/empire the same as church, and in the process wounding church dramatically. But I want to ask us to reconsider a closer connection of kingdom with church, not by equating the two but by seeing kingdom as God’s ideal society where God’s people do God’s will, and seeing church as the (yes) political term Paul chose to describe the embodiment of Jesus’ kingdom vision as he planted such kingdom bodies throughout the Roman empire. One could say the kingdom is the eschatological fullness of what we experience now in the church.

I am then making the suggestion that kingdom is about Jesus, it is about Jesus’ people, and it is about Jesus’ people living Jesus’ teachings. The place where that design is supposed to happen is the local church.

Here’s the problem: church has become so much about religion and personal spirituality that we’ve nearly surrendered the socio-political impact the church is supposed to be as kingdom embodied in this world. I’m asking that we expand our perception of church to kingdom dimensions.
I think Scot is spot on here. Conservatives have made kingdom mostly about individual religious experience that the church becomes almost irrelevant in the divine plan of salvation. Liberals, on the other hand, have also undermined the church in emphasizing the work of God's Kingdom as a program for political progressivism. Since the church has not sufficiently gotten with the program of their political and social agenda, it's simply easier to understand the kingdom in terms that are national and not ecclesial.

Because both sides do not begin in the right place, both sides get it wrong.

It's not that our view of the Kingdom is too large; rather our understanding of the church is too small.

What do you think?
Also check out the post "What Is Church?"


Daniel said...

I don't have any big problems with Scot's analysis. Is there a lot of disagreement about what Jesus meant when He spoke of the Kingdom of God/Heaven? It reads to me like this is half of an argument. I am not sure what position Scot is arguing against. Is it just that some see "kingdom of God/heaven" as personalized rather than all-encompassing?

He says God's kingdom is all "about Jesus' people living Jesus' teachings". No body disagrees with this do they? He says "the church has become so much about religion and personal spirituality that we've nearly surrendered the socio-political impact." It seems this is the real catch. Conservatives try to effect socio-political change and are criticized by liberals (or progressives or whatever the label is). Then when the other political party gains power the Christians who identify with those politics try to effect their change with similar responses.

In the end he is right, the kingdom is about God's perfect society, one that does not seem to come until Christ returns. However I am not sure what Scot's eschatology is on this point. I do know he reads Revelation from a preterist perspective.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Interesting. Yes, I bought into what Scot said about this, what I understood of it way back at the time we met where you teach, Allan, over at Ashland Seminary.

I agree and I need to kick around, or maybe better expressed, try to water the seed and let it grow in my theological understanding, and in my life.

I have always thought that when it comes to worldly politics, everyone would be most uncomfortable if Jesus was present. And indeed he is present in his Body. And we are said to have the mind of Christ. Therefore it would seem that while we will have an agenda of the Spirit not from this world, but for this world, it will cause a shaking to be sure.

But just how we live that out, what lines we might draw provisionally, etc. Not easy. And we are too sold to worldly political ideology it would seem. And yet I think Jesus would commend some things, and rebuke many others. But in the end we in Jesus are to live in one political ideology and indeed reality. God's kingdom come in him, to be sure.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Daniel, yes... the problem is that Christians have failed to comprehend the singular significance of the polity of the church.

Ted... I think if Jesus were here today both Republicans and Democrats would want to string him up on the cross.