Kingdom Work, Social Justice

This is an article in the Associated Baptist Press that ought to get some discussion:

WACO, Texas (ABP) — A rising generation of Christians intent on working for social justice must not confuse that effort with “kingdom work,” award-winning Christian author Scot McKnight said during the Parchman Endowed Lectures series at Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary.

“In our country, the younger generation is becoming obsessed with social justice,” including through government opportunities, politics and voting, said McKnight, author of The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. “What it’s doing is leading young Christians out of the church and into the public sector to do what they call ‘kingdom work.’

“I want to raise a red flag here: There is no such thing as kingdom work outside the church — and I don’t mean the building. The kingdom is about King Jesus and King Jesus’ people and King Jesus’ ethics for King Jesus’ people.

“Social justice outside the church is not biblical justice or kingdom work. It is social work. Fine, that’s a good thing. But let’s not call this kingdom work.”

Instead, he called on listeners to make the church “a beachhead of justice and peace and love” for those in need in the church. Then, “let that kind of church and kingdom and justice work spill over into the walls of your community.”

Commentary: I’m all for “social” justice. I’m fighting the trend I see today of equating “kingdom work” with public sector social justice work. As if “kingdom” is something done outside the church. As I read the Gospels, Jesus’ uses “kingdom” for himself/God as King, for his followers who enter into his kingdom vision, and for the ecclesial/social conditions created by those who follow Jesus and his kingdom vision. So, there is no such thing as “kingdom” outside those who follow Jesus. Yes, by all means, kingdom people extend kingdom into other areas but only so far as they are embodying Jesus’ kingdom vision.

Those on the right side of the theological spectrum may think I’m an ally of theirs on this point; not so. I want the church to be a kingdom embodiment and I’m not criticizing social work at all; I’m pushing back against the left-wing mistaken notion that kingdom is what happens outside the church, that kingdom is something bigger (and therefore other) than church, etc.. My view is traditionally anabaptist on this one. The local church is called to be am embodiment of kingdom realities. But kingdom realities only applies those ecclesial actions.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Mark Baker-Wright

    I’ll probably get lambasted for this, but as I understanding, the “kingdom” is God’s work in the world, through the church. That is, the church is an inseparable part of the kingdom, but the kingdom is not limited to explicitly Christians spheres.

    To put it another way, if a Christian is doing “social work” explicitly out of his/her desire to do God’s will, how is that NOT “kingdom work”? It is bringing God to bear on the world that is God’s to begin with.

  • Scot McKnight

    Mark, as in working for better laws? If so, I’d say No. It is “kingdom” in so far as it is under Jesus.

  • Bruce Barnard

    I think what many of us/them are trying to make sense of an old model that stated (or implied) that “kingdom” work was done INSIDE the “church” (we should probably define “church” better) – that the propositional/attractional model of “As long as you come to us, we’ll clothe/feed/house you” isn’t really “kingdom” work either (or the “We’ll Evangelize and Disciple On Our Campus” model of engagement). Most of us/them are trying a model of going without the requirement of coming to us first; that perhaps if God is who he says he is, we can do His Kingdom work where they are. Jesus said, “If you lift me up, I’ll draw all men unto me.”. I think that means wherever and whenever. I don’t disagree with the argument if ALL we do is social work how is THAT kingdom work (though like you believe it’s a good thing). I guess I’d like a both/and.

  • Daniel Rose

    Scot, I would love to hear you and DeYoung discuss this issue. I just finished his book, “What is the Mission of the Church” and about to your text. It seems like you guys could have a very interesting conversation. Their main argument is that the mission of the church is the Great Commission, proclamation and “disciple making” (although they don’t discuss what disciple-making looks like).

    I am curious if you have interacted with this text and your thoughts on their conclusions, as it relates directly to some of the issues raised in this post?

  • Dana Ames

    I listened to all four lectures in a row the other evening.

    Holy smoke.

    If the lectures are basically a sketch of what you wrote in TKJG, then taking that book seriously makes it a lit powder keg under so much of “low-church” Protestantism. It’s too bad that many who would be helped by it won’t read it… Nonetheless, I hope it gets a very, very wide reading.

    Hugs to you & Kris, my friend.


  • Pat Pope

    Now that I’ve read your comments in context, I would agree. I could see, though, how easily it’s going to be for someone to take what you say out of context, Scot. I would also agree with Mark’s comments at #1.

  • Bo Eberle


    The more I reflect on this question, the more I agree with you. Being entrenched in an atmosphere where emphasis is placed on social action, such as the occupy movement, identity politics, environmental consciousness, etc, all at a more or less political level, the more I wonder, as great as these things are, where the uniqueness of the Kingdom of God is, as it seems to be, at times, another word for human progress and freedom.

    The only place I’m a bit reticent to go with you is in claiming that the Church is coextensive with the Kingdom of God. I can imagine Kingdom “events” springing up in very unexpected places through the movement of the Holy Spirit, where those involved are not necessarily Christians or knowing participants. Where there are those living or experiencing “zoe aionios”I think that one could say they are, even if for only a moment, experiencing the Kingdom.

    But regardless, this is a great post and something I’m figuring out how to deal with immersed in a community that does equate social, political justice with Jesus, and have passion and commitment that I can’t hold a candle to.

  • DanielC

    Mark I do not believe that is what Scot is affirming. From what I read he is simply asserting is that we cannot lump work and efforts done by people who want nothing to do with King Jesus into being kingdom work. Thus the large amounts of people today who are doing good things for their communities and this world but do not hold Jesus Christ as Lord , just because of their social work and charity we shouldnt lump them into the being kingdom workers with and for Christ.

    I do not think Scot is saying someone who believes Jesus is Lord and is apart of a local church cannot do social work for the glory of God. That is entirely different than the left wing movement that seperates Christ from their social efforts

  • DanielC

    But maybe I am misunderstanding what He is really saying :) None the Less I appreciate the challenging thoughts you present the church with. It’s really helping me to think about things in light of what Scripture really says and not just western tradition :)

  • Aubry Smith

    Yes, yes, yes! Thank you for this post.

  • Allan R. Bevere

    As you can imagine Scot, I’m with you 110% The difficulty for so many is that it is hard work to rethink what it means for us to be the church, to embrace the notion that the church is our politics, that church is who we are, not where we go, that the church is not somehow beside the point when it comes to God’s kingdom work.

  • Dan Arnold


    What I understand you saying here makes me a bit leery so I’m hoping you’ll clarify some things for me.

    Does this mean that if I am a committed follower of Jesus in the context of my local church but I work for a secular institution that helps the homeless then this is not Kingdom work?

    Does this mean that if I am a committed follower of Jesus in the context of my local church but I work for a secular company as a computer programmer or accountant that my work is not kingdom work?

    Are you saying that Kingdom work only occurs in the context of a local church? If so, does that necessarily privilege church work over secular work?

  • Robert

    I think there’s a danger here of limiting God. He’s not just sovereign over the church; he rules all creation. His kingdom breaks through where he chooses, not just where the church happens to be.

  • Scot McKnight

    Dan, it all comes down to how you understand “kingdom.” To me you are asking questions where you assume a meaning to kingdom that I don’t and then asking questions that, if I say No to, it will sound wrong.

    If Kingdom is the society in which God’s will is done, beginning with life under King Jesus, then nothing outside that ambit is kingdom work. Kingdom work is work inside God’s society and that work expands into the world where God’s will is not being done, to be sure, but to me you are asking if secular work is kingdom work. I say No.

  • Mark Baker-Wright

    Scot in #2,

    Mark, as in working for better laws? If so, I’d say No. It is “kingdom” in so far as it is under Jesus.

    What do you mean by “under Jesus”? Are we talking about a need for some level of evangelism? I might concede that as a necessary item for “Kingdom” work (although would then note that much that is done by the Church is not explicitly evangelistic). But otherwise, what is needed for work done by a follower Christ, out of that person’s devotion to Christ (I said “God” earlier, but I really see that as amounting to the same thing in this instance. Trinitarian theology notwithstanding), to be “under Jesus”? Even passing laws (it seems to me) can be done “under Jesus”.

  • Bill Hale

    Great post, as usual. I have from time to time gotten into some heavier discussions as I have maintained doing “good work” isn’t necessarily Kingdom work – that if we call it good without Jesus, we are not and cannot actually be performing Kingdom work and even if really well intentioned good work, but not Jesus activity (see Matthew 7:21 – The Message renders it well). To be in obedience and following the direction of Jesus and the Spirit is a true Kingdom work – the fact that it is flowing from Jesus makes it a good work – and this means helping big time or just your neighbor or that stranger you encounter (divine encounter?) stands as a true Kingdom work.

  • Mark Baker-Wright


    Insofar as what you’re saying in this comment, I agree with you, too. What I’m trying to push back on–or at least get clarification on how Scot’s using terms–is the sense in which he seems to be saying that certain types of work, even though performed by Christians out of their devotion to Jesus, don’t qualify as “Kingdom” work. I suspect that our disagreement (his and mine) may have to do with how we’re defining our terms….

  • Jeff Doles

    The problem I see is when Christians on the left equate the Democratic agenda with the kingdom, and if one does not agree with that agenda then one is not really in step with the kingdom; and also when Christians on the right equate the Republican agenda with the kingdom, and if one does not agree with that agenda then one is not really in step with the kingdom.

  • EricM

    @ Scot in #11:

    So would it be fair to state your point as being that you are trying to clarify what ‘Kingdom Work’ is, and that it does not involve changing the policies of Rome toward a more just society, but subverting Rome by becoming just sub-cultures within society; which is ‘Kingdom Work’?

  • RobS

    Very good point. It seems some church are preaching a social reform gospel now that sometimes (not always) lacks the life-changing power of Jesus Christ.

    If Jesus isn’t in the equation, then it’s just a feel good effort. Feel good effort can do some good things, but the Christian needs to interject the Good News with the efforts to be “missional”. Missional acts alone without Christ is failure.

  • Andrew

    I’m leery of anything that creates a dichotomy between sacred vs. secular work. If Jesus is King over all of it, and God is truly putting everything under Christ’s feet as it says in 1 Corinthians 15, then work in many spheres can be kingdom work, so long as it acknowledges Christ’s lordship.

    There’s a tendence among some Christians–and sorry Scot, but people in ministry and Christian scholarship are often the worst culprits–to stigmatize so-called “secular” professions as lesser callings. It’s hurtful and, for my money, false. Instead of ceding the secular professions to the world, we should be challenging people to bring the kingdom into their workplaces, whether they are pastors or computer programmers.

    Another problem here is the definition of “church.” If you’re defining it as the organization and institutions of the church on earth, then I’d disagree–plenty of kingdom work happens outside those bounds. But if you’re defining “church” as the people of God on earth, and a reality that Christ-followers carry with them even when their outside the institutional church, then yes–kingdom work always happens “in the church” in the sense that it is done by Christ followers.

  • Mark Baker-Wright


    I wonder if inserting the word “missional” (which has it’s own debate in regard to definition) unnecessarily complicates matters. It seems there’s enough confusion just getting behind the definitions of “kingdom” and “church” (vs. “social”).

  • Bill Hale

    @ Mark – I know this is a tricky area as the point that doing good work in the name of Christ is really a good work – amen – but the difference may be that there is too much “us” in that situation – are we truly and properly able to define social justice, justice, etc. Its not a matter of higher or lesser I think, just that sometimes stepping back and realizing that maybe helping the neighbor down the street – because for some reason Jesus put them in your path for the here and now – is a good work just as vital and maybe more within the idea of Kingdom emerging than joining in with the effort to build, man and fund the feeding center and ignoring the neighbor because we already have our plates full. Making sense? Sometimes I am less than articulate.

  • Chris Donato

    “Social justice outside the church is not biblical justice or kingdom work. It is social work. Fine, that’s a good thing. But let’s not call this kingdom work.”

    O my goodness, amen. Keep at it. Very important subject, this.

    Perhaps you should have been invited to moderate the upcoming debate at Trinity between Mohler and Walis. I think the night will need a thoughtful moderating voice.

  • Chris Donato

    *Wallis not Walis

  • Amy Russell

    This may be a bit of a tangent, and this is just my opinion, but I think perhaps this confusion has developed because people, particularly young people (myself included) have become passionate about doing “kingdom work” or “biblical justice” but a) don’t see the opportunities for them to meaningfully serve within or through the church; b) see movement occurring outside of the church that solves the problems or works with communities they are passionate about, and c) meet people through serving outside of the church that are “better people” (to be blunt, I would say people that act more like Jesus) than the Christians in their churches.

    I also think though, other people on “my level” could care less what its called – Biblical justice, kingdom work, social work. Their motivations to work socially are driven by their faith, and that’s all that matters to them.

    I would agree that there can be a danger in this, that they are being led “out of the church and into the public sector” which can at the end of the day skew their core to be completely socially based instead of kingdom based; even though in the beginning they were driven by “kingdom” principles.

    Just my opinion but that’s how I see it.

  • DRT

    I want to push back some. I agree that social benefit work and helping people can and does happen totally outside the kingdom. I agree that it is wrong to label all social justice kingdom work.

    But, ISTM, the line on this will be so wide and fuzzy that we could disenfranchise people with designating it. OTOH, I am a big fan of changing things up so we can concentrate on new things all the time. So, I feel this is a great short term tactic, but would not live and die on deciding what is on which side of the line.

  • DRT

    Andrew#21, I would like to push on your comment.

    I could imagine someone who has a rather humble job in the kingdom, but has a large and outrageous agenda in the secular world to help people. I don’t think, and Scot needs to chime in, that would be considered lesser than kingdom.


  • Fish

    I think it depends on the definition of “kingdom.” I see Jesus as King of all creation, not simply the institutional church or organized Christianity.

    It is hard for me to see how two people taking the exact same actions can be categorized such that one is doing Kingdom work and the other is not.

    For all I know, Jesus might prefer the one who serves the least of these out of love but hates organized religion over the one who serves the least of these because they’re doing it on a very cool retreat with the youth group.

  • DRT

    Amy#26, love your comment. I too think that there will be people who are more on the kingdom side and people more on the social side, there are many parts to the body. Or, is the body strictly for in-kingdom work?

  • DRT

    I am talking too much but:

    Fish29, I think you are making the assumption that it is better to do kingdom work than social. I am seeing it is that kingdom work is the work in the area where Jesus is king.

  • Mark Baker-Wright

    Bill at #23

    but the difference may be that there is too much “us” in that situation – are we truly and properly able to define social justice, justice, etc.

    I think this is very much worth bringing up, and certainly something we should be considering. I think the question for me becomes, how are we defining terms such that a work–however good–is outside the bounds of “kingdom” work? Is it because the institutional church hasn’t sanctioned (or commissioned, or perhaps there’s a better word to put here) it? That would, at least, allow for a consistent way of speaking about work that ensures that it isn’t just about the individual doing the work (however much they may claim that it is done for Jesus).

  • DRT

    …so kingdom work is the export industry of kingdom products?

  • DRT

    …so SOCIAL work is the export industry of kingdom products?

  • Andrew

    DRT #28–

    Thanks for the pushback and I’m eager to hear Scot’s thoughts.

    I want to abolish the term “secular.” It all belongs to God. Understood properly, participation in all of life is a sacred calling.

    In the world–of which Christ is now King–there is the kingdom breaking through, and there are the forces of sin which oppose the kingdom. But there is no particular *territory* in which kingdom work cannot be done.

    If we want to identify kingdom work, the question is not “does it happen in the church” but “does it bring about the coming of the kingdom and participate in Christ’s reign.”

    One final comment: Christ’s kingly reign knows no bounds. It is all-encompassing. The church on earth, however, is limited. How, then, can we say that kingdom work only happens in the church?

  • Bill Hale

    Mark @ 32 – ahhh now the hard question comes up! I am not all that comfortable with the idea of having to have the institutional church endorse something, maybe that is one end of the spectrum, and I am not comfortable with the idea that we can (and having a bit of group think that “we” are doing Jesus work because we are feeding the poor, healing the sick, etc. – see Amy’s comment @ 26 isn’t all that far removed from the highly individualistic stance that is really undermining of the faith and the Gospel message – not that I am trying to be disrespectful but thinking putting faith as second there – maybe too ambiguous but like I mentioned earlier saying I believe in Jesus and He wants me to feed the poor so I do but at the same time ignoring your neighbor down the street makes me wonder – He has us in a certain place and a certain now and He sends people across our pathes for His reasons not ours). I am afraid we do just to do because we think it is the right thing to do and spend too little time coming to an understanding of faith and obedience.

  • DavidJ

    I think that I would agree with some of the reservations Andrew has expressed above. I see two issues brought up in this article.
    First the secular (political)vs spiritual (church). I definitely think there is danger in too much separation. An extreme example of the danger of this separation would be the events in Chile under the Penochet regime discussed in Torture and Eucharist by William Cavanaugh (great resource for this topic).
    The second issue is with the understanding of secular work. I don’t think there is an easy answer here. But, my thoughts keep going to Matthew 25:31-46. Does this mean whenever acts of mercy and love are carried out that the Kingdom of God breaks in, regardless of ones creed? Thanks for a great article Scott! This is really helpful dialog. I found myself being challenged by all the comments.

    “Bless my mind to illuminate me with your wisdom; bless my lips to allow me to speak your word; bless my heart that I might live the gospel”

  • Mark Baker-Wright

    Bill @36
    I am not all that comfortable with the idea of having to have the institutional church endorse something,

    Neither am I (which I think was at the heart of my original push-back at comment #1). But it would give us some common definitions to work with.

  • Ted M. Gossard

    Andrew, Yes, we certainly can’t confine God’s rule to the church. God rules over all and in all things his rule is at work.

    But don’t you need to make the distinction Jesus made when he said the kingdom of God had drawn near? What ends up being the fulfillment of God’s kingdom through Israel. This is a special kingdom rule, indeed from where God will reign in all things in the end- but which begins now, all in and through Jesus. Found in the church, period.

    So I wonder if you’re failing to make an important distinction which I think is made in scripture.

  • gingoro

    Scot I really think you need to define what you mean by kingdom work. I’m about half way through TKJG and being in a Calvanistic church that uses the historic confessions regularly I do not find much that is new or different except perhaps for some emphasis. I’ve always been suspicious of church groups that major on the plan of salvation and conversion-ism. While I would agree that not all social work is kingdom work, never the less IMO some is even when the (Christian) individuals are not employed by a religious organization.
    Dave W

  • DRT

    Andrew#35, I think you are equating kingdom work=work in keeping with kingdom principles. But I think Scot is saying kingdom work=work in the area where Jesus IS the king. It is not a point that Jesus is not the rightful ruler of it all, but it is a point of order to emphasize that Jesus is not the king in much of the secular world. IMO of course.

  • Blessed Economist

    I agree with the point you are making in this post. The problem is that when Christians enter the public sector, they can do good stuff, but they must do it according to rules of the public sector, which often conflict with the will of Jesus. During these conflicts the rules of the public sector always win. Those who join the public sector lose the freedom to obey Jesus.

    The same applies to making laws. The law making process involves compromise with people of the world, which means King Jesus cannot always be done. Passing laws to coerce good behavior can often be contrary to Jesus will.

    The key issue defining the kingdom is not the type of work (child support v software engineering), but whether Jesus will can be done and is being done.

    So if three Christian have been led by the Spirit to start a baseball bat manufacturing factory, which they operate according to the will of Jesus, because everyone who works in the factory contracts to implement their decisions, then this is part of the Kingdom of God. I presume Scot would say this part of the church, being the society where God’s will is done (not just because it is baseball).


  • Mark E

    “If Kingdom is the society in which God’s will is done…”

    I would think you also need to define what you mean by “society.” Do you mean the institutional church or the collective of people who are doing God’s will? If you mean the former, then by definition you limit kingdom work to only that which is done under the auspices of the institutional church.

    There are other definitions of kingdom. Willard defines kingdom as “God acting.” By this definition, a follower of Jesus who is paying attention and obeys the teachings of Jesus and the Spirit’s prompting to act is doing kingdom work, even if it is social justice oriented, secular, and done outside the umbrella of the institutional church. I also would not put it past God to act through individuals many would not consider Christians.

  • Naum

    Begs the question to what actually constitutes “the church”? Is it a building with a posted cross where people gather on Sundays? Or is it the “spirit” of all believers (and “guests”) in the universal, catholic (little ‘c’) “church”?

    And we live in such a multicultural, integrated society, it’s difficult to separate kingdom work out of the secular world. I think it’s one of the major failings and hypocrisy of today’s conservative Christian that believes there is no role for government (which in democratic society is “we the people”) for helping the poor, establishing social safety nets, regulating business, etc.… all the while they enjoy immensely the privileges and perks of a “public” society, for which if they eschewed, would be living the life of a pre-modern hermit or commune.

  • Scot McKnight

    Last two comments…

    No, when three contract … that’s a business in my book.

    Society is the word I use for the koinonia of Jesus’ followers.

  • Scot McKnight

    I’m observing how many want to ask questions about the public sector here. This to me is the whole problem.

    Kingdom is about forming the society, the koinonia, of Jesus’ people and I’d want to focus on those issues. How can we make our church, our local church, more an embodiment of the kingdom vision of Jesus.

    But everyone seems intent on trying to show kingdom in the public sector.

    Where did this come from? The disconnect of church and kingdom.

  • Andrew

    Ted #38 and DRT #40-

    Excellent points and I think you’re both right.

    My main concern, I guess, is with the effect of the argument that kingdom work only happens in the church. Does it unfairly privilege church ministry over other vocations? Does it give accountants, CEOs, and, yes, social workers license to say to themselves, “Well, I guess since I’m working in a secular profession I don’t really need to think about doing kingdom work until Sunday.” If so, that’s not a good thing.

    Instead of focusing whether kingdom work happens “in” or “out” of the confines of the church, why don’t we talk about “church” as being an identity that Christ followers take with them everywhere they go, proclaiming Jesus kingship in all areas of life?

    Thanks for the discussion.

  • Andrew

    Scot #48-

    I’m guessing the disconnect of church and kingdom came from the dominance of the gospel of personal salvation. But given your recent book I’m sure you know better than most if that’s truly the case or not.

    For many, the church is a place you go to get saved, and kingdom talk is just an addendum to the soterian gospel–if people get there at all.

  • John W Frye

    Soct, I think with the soterian Gospel’s long reign, there was no place for many who wanted to do ‘robust King Jesus Gospel work.’ The definition of kingdom got stretched to cover things *outside the church* conditioned by and limited to the soterian gospel. Getting people saved in the soterian world had nothing to do with justice issues, etc. So Christians longing to do more than ‘get people saved’ called their efforts “kingdom work” and, yes, it was apart from the church. Does this make sense? Your book is going to make us, if we are serious, think about and reframe many, many aspects of the KJG church.

  • John W Frye

    SCOT, Sorry for misspelling your name in comment #47.

  • Mark Baker-Wright


    Where did this come from? The disconnect of church and kingdom.

    This confuses me. I’m certainly not trying to disconnect church and kingdom. I have pretty expansive definitions of both. I’m suspecting that you may be operating under a more limiting definition of “church” than I am, but I’m still not sure.

  • scotmcknight

    You are right and I thought about getting into how the soterian gospel created this problem and a salvation culture, and Rauschenbusch saw right through it.

    But a robust King Jesus doesn’t abide a liberalism of culture either …

  • Bill Hale

    Mark @ 51 – thinking we may be seeing church as somewhere on this spectrum of the monolithic campus structures on one end to the Starbucks type of gathering (really those are just flip sides of the same coin), but church isn’t about that as it is the body of believers growing into Kingdom people and doing Kingdom work – love a small book by James Dunn The Justice of God here – its about right relationship and not necessarily or solely about what we tend to think of as “justice” – which form of “justice” we seem to think is the business of the church in whatever form and that is the disconnect IMHO

  • Blessed Economist

    Scot #45
    Maybe we have a different defintion of business. You seem to be assuming that three Christians getting together to establish a business are not doing Jesus will, or not part of the koinonia while the engage in this activity. I do not see why the koinonia of Jesus cannot be involved in business activities, although they would have to function very differently from most of the businesses we know to be according to God’s will. The society of Jesus will have to produce food and clothing for itself.

    I am curious. Do you see your work at Northpark university as kingdom work? What about the publication of your books. These are both business activities?.

  • Mark Baker-Wright


    Actually, I think I’m with you re: your “church isn’t about” (the spectrum of structures to gathering of people), but rather about “the body of believers growing into Kingdom people…”. The problem is that it is the very question of “what constitutes ‘Kingdom work’?” (or perhaps, “what is meant by the Kingdom?” although think that’s less the disagreement here) that is a question here, and thus although I think I agree with you, it doesn’t actually get us any closer to an answer.

    Scot, I apologize if I’m being difficult here. I’m really trying to be open to being taught. If ultimately we disagree, that’s one thing, but I’m not really sure what you’re getting at that isn’t covered by Christians acting (perhaps in secular areas) for the advancement of God’s world, which it seems to me that you want to say is “social work” (however important) and not “Kingdom work.”

  • Joshua

    I’m a little dumbfounded by the presumption that “Social Justice” is Christian. “Social Justice” is a political viewpoint associated with a political system. Politics essentially is man’s tool for oppressing men. Just because one approach targets a certain group that you deem worthy of being targeted by the government, does not make it the work of God.

    The Kingdom of God is about service-under, there is no system of human government that operates in this way. Even the system of government that the proponents of “Social Justice” espouse uses government to exercise power-over one, in order to benefit another. “Social Justice” seeks to use governmental power to take from one, and give to another. This is NOT the work of Christ, nor the Kingdom. God should not, and cannot be co-opted into being in-line with human politics.

    As followers of Christ, we should show mercy, compassion, love, charity and acceptance to others based on Spiritual motivation, not social motivation. This should also be done individually in our personal lives, and through our churches, not through political establishments. We should strive to do the work of God on Earth, which should come from the body of Christ. No government is the body of Christ, the Church is the Body of Christ.

  • DRT

    We need a happy hour like this every friday.

  • Scot McKnight

    I don’t want to ignore Amy’s comment way back …. very true, and I think it touches precisely on what John Frye said later: the soterian gospel creates a soterian culture wherein “church” is about the gathering of the saved to hear a sermon and sing some songs and feel good about it all.

    A king Jesus gospel culture will be different and it will be teaching, worship, etc, but all in the context of (1) following Jesus and (2) embodying his kingdom vision in the here and now. In other words, under Jesus as King — whole Story — it will be a “society” or “koinonia” of justice, love, peace, and wisdom and that culture has a responsibility to extend itself to others via gospeling (fullest sense possible).

    The soterian culture deconstructs that gospel culture, so I believe. It subverts it. It makes it superficial.

    I see too many questions about the extension aspect and almost nothing about what Jesus was on about: creating a koinonia of his followers who lived this out. The church is to be the kingdom society/koinonia in our world.

    What we have too much of is Christians abandoning the Body of Christ to do kingdom work where it can’t take root in the way it is designed.

    My MacBook is a disaster and it is torture typing a comment on it. On to the iPad.

  • Blessed Economist

    Saturday lunchtime here.
    This is a great way to get out of mowing the lawns.

  • Tom

    So was Wilburforce not doing Kingdom work? He was trying to change the law to better reflect his belief! How about Bonhoffer? What abour Dr.King or H B Stowe? I find it very hard to draw the line here. How about parachurch or even college professors? Is the college part of the Church? Where two or more are gathered?
    I would also ask if the interfaith justice groups meet the profile of the church. This seems to be a difficult position to define.

  • Scot McKnight

    OK, Tom, I ask one back to you:

    Was Plato doing kingdom work?


    Was Hitler doing kingdom work when he helped created the Volkswagen phenomenon?

    I say No to each.

    Kingdom refers to the society under Jesus as King, the society that does the wlll of God as taught by Jesus.

    What does “kingdom” mean to you?

  • Jim


    for what its worth, I think your comments are spot on! I’m a progressive Christian (stop the snickering), and am also struggling to figure out how to do kingdom work/social justice stuff faithfully.

    Your thoughts and writing on the subject has been a help.

    Thank you.

  • Jim

    BTW: the VW is pretty close to a “kingdom” car – until the Prius that is LOL

  • Tom

    I need to read your book. I’ll order it tonight. I guess I aleays saw being in the Kingdom as being one who follows the King! Following the King with others is Church. I also see many, like Luther, MacDonald, even Wesley and others who left the established Church to make their own way. How do we define church? Two or three gathered in His name? If they work for social justice together would that be Kingdom work? It seems that the church has not been the best place to find social justice work. Many Christians actually supported evil through the church (slavery?, persecution, even Hitler by many)

  • Steph

    OK, so what does this look like? Does it look like the community in Acts where each brought what they had so that the needs of all in the community were taken care of? Genuine love and care for each other and sacrifice? Living out those principles within the community where Christ is King? (But really, why not elsewhere as well? Is doing it elsewhere lesser or just other?)

    When and how does this church reach out? Do we just live it out in our church community and let people come to us? Do we not have initiatives to care for our greater community as well?

    “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”
    Is it perhaps a matter of jumping ahead, trying to convert the earth into the Kingdom when we should be focusing on the church as the Kingdom first and foremost?

    Pardon all the questions. I’m trying to understand. I don’t actually have any comment to make other than seeing if I understand.

  • Attie

    This is a very helpful discussion. Thank you all. The soteriological gospel reduction resulted in a church without a mission. Now we are running the risk of a missional gospel reduction to create a mission without a church – and sometimes I think mission without King Jesus. IMHO

  • Scot McKnight

    Steph, Yes to those first few questions. A koinonia living out the kingdom vision of Jesus.

    Attie, that last comment is perfect: some want “mission” with no church. King Jesus with no Body!

  • Chris Smith

    AMEN, Scot!!!!

    Pursuing governmental/policy solutions as our first course of action is a shortcut that will ultimately lead us astray from God’s reconciling work in the world, which is primarily (but not exclusively carried out in the gathering and life together of the reconciled people of God.)

    John Pattison and I have been working at articulating a vision of “Slow Church” and we use the language of church (vs. Christianity) intentionally, as there is a “slowness” to the way God has chosen to reconcile all creation — i.e., primarily through the church. As Stanley Hauerwas argues in the last part of his new book WAR AND THE AMERICAN DIFFERENCE, the only viable alternative to a culture of injustice and violence is local church communities that embody Christ’s reconciliation daily in the midst of our neighbors in our particular places.

    Chris Smith

  • Jim


    I’m trying to understand the implications of what you are suggesting. So if I decide to work with foster children and work through a local (secular) organization, would that be kingdom work? Or would I need to set up a structure through the local church in order to do the same thing for this to be kingdom work? Or would both be kingdom work?

    How would you view this example?

  • J. Christy Wareham

    When a Christian is driven by his or her devotion to Christ to enact social justice, that is, as far as I can tell, service to the Lord and, as Scot terms it, “kingdom work.” I don’t know who invented that phrase, but Scot is not the only Christian who has a say in what it means.

  • Chris Smith


    I can’t speak for Scot, but my answer would be that it’s not so much a matter of WHAT is done, but HOW and WHY. Are we acting as autonomous individuals, narrating our own stories, or we acting as part of the locally embodied people of God, living within the scriptural story of God’s reconciliation?

    So to use the example you offered, I hope most churches would bless you and support you to do the work you describe… and make that work part of the ministry the church community as a whole is doing. It wouldn’t necessarily have to have a “structure” within the church or be made into a large-scale operation, just that the church would recognize that you are doing this work and doing so as an extension of the church community — and also provide wisdom / support so that you don’t get in over your head, etc.

    Chris Smith

  • rjs


    I’d like to hear what Scot has to say as well – but the scenario you give seems perhaps ideal, but somewhat unrealistic. By unrealistic I mean not commonly part of the church vision.

    Is it really a function of a church to provide wisdom, support, and training for Christians to engage in furthering the kingdom of God in their various contexts – whether taking in foster children or the kind of examples that Tom gives in #60?

    Do we have to act as part of a locally embodied people of God – and if so does that mean finding a locally embodied people of God who that supports your mission (assuming you feel a calling)? Or does it mean channeling your efforts in tho the endorsed and directed missions of that local body?

  • Chris Smith

    RJS —

    Yes, I certainly agree that it’s all to rare for churches to function in this way. But I am speaking from my own experience here at Englewood Christian Church (Indianapolis) and this is essentially the vision we are trying to embody together here.

    As to your last question, I think it’s a both/and… Following Yoder (“Hermeneutics of peoplehood” and gifts chapter in Body Politics), I think churches should take the shape of their mission from the gifts of members that God has gathered in that community, and of course also attentive to the places in which they are. But on the other hand, sometimes we may put our deepest hopes/longings on hold and invest ourselves in work that is driven by the gifts/desires of others. It’s a never-ending conversation, a discerning together, and that’s really what’s all too rare these days where individualistic autonomy reigns supreme. We need to create spaces in our churches where we can openly discuss our hopes and dreams and discern how they fit with what the reconciling work we see God at work doing, and to utilize these God-given gifts/desires as we seek to labor together in the direction we see God moving. (I could tell a bunch of stories of how this has played out here at Englewood). I thought Scot handled this notion of hopes/dreams so well in ONE.LIFE…

  • Tom

    Sometimes Christians need to act autonomously to do the work of the kingdom. Think of a Christian in the South prior to 1860. If he or she only did the work that was sanctioned by the church, they wouldn’t have opposed slavery. How about the Church of England folks at the time on the revolution. I could give many more examples. The church has been on the wrong side many times in history. I think most of the church is on the wrong side right now. Standing up in our churches today causes splits and problems in most churches, so most of us find a place we are comfortable to worship and act on our own or through another agency outside the church and many have done in the past.

  • Mijk V


    Let’s assume you’re right for a moment–that sometimes ‘autonomous’ individuals can judge what is morally right independent from (and in spite of) the church. How does that happen? That is, how does one determine that they are right and the church is wrong on a particular issue?

  • Mike Gantt

    The church has no more claim to “kingdom work” than does those doing social work. In fact, it has less. When the kingdom of God came, it rendered the church obsolete. What matters is keeping the commandments of God – who is Jesus Christ our Lord.

  • Tom

    Mijk V,
    I admit that I’m not sure. I just look at history and see the church on the wrong side of so many issues. I do think that many people did Kingdom work independent of the Church. I’m not sure how that happens or why. I do think that God leads us in ways we don’t expect quite often. Many times, it has been painful for the people who left the Church. Many times they were persecuted by the Church. I think people in the Church confuse the voice they want to hear with the voice of God, and a charismatic leader can make them do it as a group. This includes Luther and Calvin and many, many other well meaning Church leaders.

  • Michael


    Sounds like something C.S.Lewis once said:
    “Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. ” (Screwtape letters)

    Faith and gospel are our goal, kingdom work is a means ?

  • Paul Chaplin

    This discussion is fascinating, thanks to Chris Smith for flagging it!

    I work for a Catholic international development organisation, which articulates its faith proudly in its work, without evangelising. The organisation employs many non-Catholics and non-Christians.

    The organisation is linked with, and given mandate by, the relevant bishop’s conference, which makes it less disconnected than the average NGO from church, but yet I suspect Scot that you wouldn’t see this as kingdom work any more than my working for any old NGO (even if I attend mass a few times a week at the cathedral next door – as a non-Catholic). I myself would be very reluctant to see what I do as any “more” kingdom work than a friend working for a homeless shelter etc.

    So the key disconnect is not between justice-seeking work and church support/mandate in the broad sense, but disconnect with local church involvement amidst local community? Am I somewhere along the right lines?

    It sounds like many here are trying to anticipate the kingdom through their work, even if it’s not explicitly Christian, and may well not be explicitly or remotely local, and are also perhaps quite involved in their churches, although perhaps not more than brewing tea on Sundays and playing guitar, and are confused that it sounds like they’re not doing any “kingdom work” (although maybe just attending a church is that?).

    It sounds like you would suggest that probably “kingdom work” can only really be done with other Christians (exclusively). I suspect this is unfair, but I’m unsure how to imagine it otherwise.

    Might there be something such as “kingdom-approaching work?” That is – work that might try and create a society better reflecting conditions for human flourishing, but missing a key part which is church integration into all life? I suspect the answer is no, that all is destined to fail unless it is conceived by and through church community?

    Lastly, I suspect that many here have always hoped/believed that they could (at least attempt) to make their whole lives a pursuit/enacting of “kingdom work”. Is this an ill-conceived hope? Perhaps we can’t be 24/7 kwerkers? Or, is this the right vision, and should we perhaps be leaving work in secular settings, or even Christian settings where we are disconnected from our locality?

    Or, as has been discussed, is it instead a question of attitude/relationship, that simply working for xyz non-profit is not “kingdom work”, but being sent out by our local church to work for xyz non-profit could be?

  • Lisa

    After reading through this discussion, I’m wondering if you are familiar with George Eldon Ladd’s concept of Kingdom (such as Jesus and the Kingdom, 1964, Gospel of the Kingdom, 1990, or the discussion of the Kingdom in his NT Theology. If so, can you tell me how these concepts compare to / differ from, or have influenced your own? What comments do you think Ladd might contribute to this discussion?

  • Amos Paul

    @ Andrew 21, 35, & 47
    @ Fish 29
    @ Mark E 43
    @ Naum 44
    @ Tom 60 & 64

    You are all 100% percent. I just wanted to voice my full support behind everything you’ve said. The Kingdom of GOD is God’s Kingdom. It is Christ’s rule and reign *over all Creation*. Anything that is good (that is, truly advances the force of good in its substantive) is a part of the Kingdom–as being good means being in subjection to Christ which means serving his Kingdom.

    I will admit that it is, indeed!, a common error that we can somehow seperate the mission of Kingdom work from the community of God’s people who are trying to serve Him better. Mainly because, pursuing Kingdom work means pursuing service to God which also means joining and serving in the community of believers in some way, shape, or form.

    But, I will assert unequivacolly that this view that ‘church’ and ‘kingdom’ are literally the same thing is, IMO, completely wrongheaded. The Kingdom is the Dominion of the King. It’s all about our ruler–King Jesus–and what that rule is (so, in that sense, I’ve been a fan of TKJG). But the Kingdom, then, is necessarily not about Christ’s people–at least not primarily. The church is the extension of Christ’s Kingdom into the communal life of His believers. It’s how we are called to operate in serving Him.

    Though when I say curch, I mean it in the broadest sense of the church Universal which is *realized* by specific communities. I can only imagine the following verses placed in the context of a church denom that thought they had a monopoly on Kingdom Work (the extension of Christ’s dominion over Creation).

    Mark 9:38-40, “Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.

    Anyone truly doing Christ’s work is all on the same team here–the Kingdom team. When a person joins that team they are called into His church… these are not, however, the same thing.

  • Kristin

    I think I get it….

    Perhaps we can view social work and social justice as a way of giving the world a ‘taste’ of the kingdom. It’s like a form of evangelism. But the point is moot if there is no place where the kingdom exists fully. You can’t give someone a taste if there is no pie to begin with. The city on a hill can’t be a beacon if it’s just a half-developed town. This is what the church is called to be – the place on earth where King Jesus reigns – not a taste of 25% or 60% but the full 100%.

    The problem with confusing social justice with kingdom work is that you end up with a lot of incompleteness, little snippets here and there that, while representative of the kingdom (and that’s a good thing), there’s nowhere where the kingdom is fully invested and developed.

  • Chris Donato

    Revisiting this post (again) in light of tonight’s upcoming debate @Trinity between Mohler and Wallis.

    As a two-kingdomite, I resonate with current models of the anabaptistic tradition (i.e., Yoder forward). I’m not sure, however, that that model was as helpful prior to this past century.

    What do you make of the concept of dual citizenship, Scot? It seems the anabaptists (of yore) were unable to articulate it, or, rather, they disdained the notion altogether?

    In short, I see the Mohlers and the Wallises as two sides of the same coin. How is the taken-for-granted right-side activism—couched in kingdom terms—any different than the left?