D.A. Carson on Kingdom of God

In the latest issue of Themelios, Prof. D.A. Carson has a good article giving an overview and response to recent approaches to the Kingdom of God. It’s a very helpful piece as a precis of what is going down on the issue of kingdom eschatology and ethics with some thoughtful critiques following. I esp. liked the line: “One wonders what stances Kuyper would have adopted had he been born in China in 1940.” True point, our views of gospel, kingdom, and culture can be determined by localized issues.

One view that Carson brings up and then critiques is the following:

3. With the triumph of Christ achieved on the cross and through his resurrection, the kingdom has dawned—a glorious anticipation of the spectacular glory of resurrection existence in the new heaven and new earth. That means Christ’s people are mandated to begin now to work out the dimensions of righteousness and justice that will be consummated at the end: saying “No” to raw power, caring for the poor and needy, reversing discrimination, being good stewards of the created order that anticipates the consummated created order. All of this is the mission of Jesus.

To which Carson responds.

Or again, the third proposal, though not superficially wrong, becomes deeply wrong because (a) the storyline on which it is based is reductionistic, and (b) the applications commonly pursued are merely hyped echoes of contemporary agendas that compared with Scripture are at best decentered and at worst naive.

I guess my problem is that I rather liked option # 3. I might have to think it through again, but as I read books like Amos (let justice roll like a river), Luke 4 (Nazareth Manifesto), and Galatians 2 (Paul’s concern for the poor), I can see how God’s reign manifests itself in liberating and redeeming acts for the human condition. That cannot be abstracted from God’s redemptive work to reconcile and rescue men and women from sin – for all injustices, social inequalities, and all environmental crises themselves are bound up with sin – but God’s kingdom surely entails that Christians work for the liberation of the human plight as both a preparation and advertisment for the consummation of Jesus’ kingdom. Paul was not an ecological activist, nor should ecological activism be our first order of business, but ecological responsibility is surely an outworking of a biblical theology of creation, human stewardship, and God’s reign exercised over the later through the former. Again, the church is not simply a social welfare arm of the government, but in proclaiming the gospel we must do a para-gospel work of caring for the poor, precisely what Jesus and Paul do in their own kingdom ministries, because they interlock under the heading of “kingdom.”

Those concerns raised, I wonder if Carson might agree as much when he writes in the end, “Christians have to wrestle with what it means to do good to all, even if our first responsibility is toward the household of God, serving as salt in a decaying world, as light in a dark world.” Can we regard that task as a kingdom task? Now I”m aware of the dangers of developing a social gospel and trying to erect a socialist paradise calling it “the kingdom of God,” but I’d say “yes,” precisely because God’s kingdom includes God’s intent to enact his Lordship over every molecule of the cosmos.

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  • Are not the calls for justice in Amos etc calls for justice among the (professed) people of God, that is, the people of the Kingdom?

    • Justice, biblically, is frequently about the delivery of others who are under oppression.

      • Yes, but it is generally the people of God who are being oppressed by the people of God. Where this is the case they are called to repent and practise justice. Where the oppression is among the nations or by the nations there is a call to repent or God himself will come establishing justice (often in wrath).

        Martin, the call for justice for orphans widows etc is within the covenant people. In Acts the principal care for the widow and orphan is within the covenant community. Of course, we have to do good to all men, and let the light of our good works shine before men so that they may see them and glorify our father who is in heaven, nevertheless, I do not see the call of the people of God to seek to civilize/christianize the nations (old or new testament) – but to show forth the praises of him who called them out of darkness into his light… to tell all that the Lord had done for them… ie, to preach the good news of the gospel.

        Do you think Christians in Nazi Germany should have spoken out against Hitler? Did Jesus or his apostles speak out against Rome, or encourage others to do so?

        • evanhadkins

          God pronounces judgement on pagan nations.

          Jesus points to greater faith in a Roman centurion.

        • Yes, Jesus and his followers spoke out against Rome all the time.

          Matthew 20:25; John 18:36-37; John 19:12; acts 17:7; Acts 4:27;

          Now I’m being a bit tongue in cheek: but the issue is what actually constitutes ‘speaking out’ against the current order. They were not “Occupy Areopagus” but something that was equally opposed to the current order in a way consistent with that order.

        • “Where this is the case they are called to repent and practise justice.”

          Well, sometimes they are just called to practice justice by delivering the oppressed. Ezekiel 18:8 and Job 29:12ff

          “I do not see the call of the people of God to seek to civilize/christianize the nations (old or new testament)”

          Matthew 28:20?

          • Ez 18:8 seems to make my point – this injunction is addressed to the covenant people. Job’s status re Israel is moot. However, I am not saying we ought not to practise and champion righteousness for all TO SOME DEGREE. I just do not think the pursuit of societal justice is the calling of the church. I think of Paul’s comment to the Corinthians.

            1Cor 5:12-13 (ESV2011)

            For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

            And those of Jesus,

            Luke 12:13-14 (ESV2011)

            Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?”

  • Martin Salter

    Agreed – and a formative text for prophets like Amos and Micah is obviously Deuteronomy. Deut 10 calls for an ethic of justice for orphans, widows, and aliens. As the Torah people live out their calling their ethic becomes missional (Deut 4). All of that is ultimately fulfilled when God circumcises hearts (Deut 30, cf. Jer 31, Ezek 36) which means part of living under, and living out the kingdom reign of Jesus is that the poor, orphan, widow and outsider are cared for spiritually and physically (cf. the whole of Acts!).

  • evanhadkins

    What exactly is the danger of a social gospel? We are social creatures. The gospel transforms our relationships. Working out justice and righteousness is reductionistic??? Really???!!!

  • John Walker

    When I read the first excerpt I was like, “Wow! This is from Carson! I may need to start reading more of him!” Then I read on. I understand his critique, but I think it actually proves to be more encompassing than the popular reformed view. While his particular quote may be reductionist, it seems the theology behind it is not.