Making the World a Better Place

Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 3.24.22 PMIn our last post on John Nugent’s fine new book, called Endangered Gospel, we saw that Nugent sketches three “visions of a better place,” with the fourth and his view not yet articulated.

1. The Heaven-Centered View

2. The Human-Centered View

3. The World-Centered View

Before we get to his view, we need to provide a “Theology of Making the World a Better Place,” and here is Nugent’s sketch. It is probably fair to say that this is the theology of what I call the skinny jeans kingdom theory (and perhaps NT Wright’s too?).

  1. God created a very good world and called humans to look after its wellbeing.
  2. Humans acted so sinfully that creation itself was broken, too. In response, God set apart the descendants of Abraham to do something about that brokenness.
  3. Though Abraham’s descendants failed to make this world a better place, God sent Jesus to cast a clearer vision of world betterment. After doing so, Jesus died on the cross to conquer sin and death— the very things that were keeping this world from becoming the better place God intended it to be.
  4. God did not want Jesus to fix this world by himself, so he gathered Abraham’s willing descendants, empowered them by his Spirit, enlarged their ranks to include all ethnic groups, and sent them into all nations to continue his work.
  5. Jesus will return someday and complete the task of world betterment (26).

But Nugent thinks this, too, sells the Bible’s story short.

So here is John Nugent’s “better place” kingdom-centered view.

1.God Creates a Very Good Place

2. Humans Corrupt God’s Very Good Place

The fundamental difference Nugent offers here is that God did not put humans on earth to make the world a better place. Rather, according to him, God uses the powers to make the world a better place. This emphasis on the powers, which conforms to the powers in the NT, is not found in other approaches to the Bible’s narrative. He disagrees with this “dominion” approach. Nugent sees the powers as institutional structures — angels, kings, governors, local rulers, heads of households.

To make the world a better place, God institutes a plurality of competing powers—an international system of checks and balances (48).

My point is this: The tasks of keeping sin in check, meeting basic needs, and making the world a better place are crucial for human thriving, but they are tasks that God has assigned to ordinary human power structures. Most people assume that the powers hold world history in their hands. The powers are the movers and shakers. What they do has potential to make life better for all people. This is why everyone gets so excited around election seasons and regime changes. What rulers do appears to be most important.

God’s people have always been tempted to be like these powers (49).

3.God Uses the Powers to Make This World a Better Place

4. God Forms a People to Prepare for a Better Place

5. God Sends Jesus to Inaugurate a Better Place

6. God Calls the Church to Embrace a Better Place

7. God Calls the Church to Display a Better Place

8. God Calls the Church to Proclaim a Better Place

9. God Makes This World the Very Best Place

So the question is: Why humans? Why the church? (Next post.)

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.