This series on the gospel of the kingdom and Alcoholics’ Anonymous 12 step program is by T, our lawyer friend who has been part of this blog since we began.
The King Jesus Gospel & AA– 1
I think being raised Southern Baptist has helped give me a lifelong curiosity in ‘the gospel’ and evangelism and I hope to always keep it. Over the last decade or so, though, the work of several authors (Wright, McKnight, Willard, Gorman to name a few) turned that curiosity into a tornado in my mind with their focus on the gospels and the kingdom of God. The tornado tore my typically evangelical theological constructs of the gospel down to its very foundation—Jesus—and slowly started to build again. Only this time in the rebuilding, I didn’t have just Romans and Paul and the reformers to help me build. I had Matthew, Mark, Luke, John . . . and Paul, the whole of the New Testament speaking “gospel” together, and even the Old Testament giving meaning beyond God’s impossible legal standard. What all these voices harmonized to say, and often emphasized as gospel, was:
God’s kingdom has come and is coming! Jesus, who came, died, and rose again, is the Christened King of God’s government come to earth!
Or, to be especially brief, “Jesus is Lord!”
This government, or reign or kingdom, is more of a dynamic between the Christ-King and his people than a place. Specifically, it was and is an intimate dynamic in which God got to actually lead and provide for humanity, and include them in his family and work in the way he always intended. Looking at the verbs of the NT, it was a holy and powerful God-people dynamic, with Christ as its lynchpin and head, which we entered, or failed to enter, received or failed to receive. It was an administration, which Jesus was leading and inviting us into as his apprentices and co-laborers. The government of God had come and was looking for a people to rescue and to incorporate into the King’s work of rescue and healing. The cross and resurrection is the big climax, the ultimate surprise plot twist, of how the Christ-King came to earth with peace and goodwill instead of a sword. He fell on the sword of God’s judgment instead of swinging it. Jesus and Paul were indeed telling the same story of God’s kingdom coming to earth with goodness and power, telling the same “good news,” but Jesus was himself the main character–the king–living through the unexpected and intense climactic battle of the cross and resurrection, and Paul was telling his story–which he understood as the story of the Christ-King coming to earth, rescuing people from the kingdom of darkness, and inviting them to join the administration of light.
Hence, Jesus would invite people, in hope, “Follow me” because he is the true and rightful leader of all. Or, to put his hope another way, he hoped they would ‘repent and trust him,’ as his apprentices, that they would ‘enter’ and ‘receive’ his government as grateful and willing participants, joining his family business of making all things new though his love and power. But to do this, they’d have to follow his path and do what he did: empty themselves of all other priorities and agendas, let their life on their terms die, so that they can live a new life for him and through him and with him. This is the path, the story, not only of any disciple, but of death and new life. Even if we put the gospel in purely ‘kingdom’ terms, we are confronted with the same choice. Specifically, the issue is whether we want to ‘receive’ the management of heaven or if we want to ‘enter’ God’s administration, to be provided for and empowered and led as one of his people and ambassadors. Do we want to actually ask God to let his name be honored above all (including ours), his government to come (not ours), his will to be done in our particular corners of the earth–at least through us, or do we want to pray for and continue to seek our name, our reign, our will be done? This is the crisis that the Gospel creates.
So, you may be saying to yourself, this is great and all, but what does this have to do with AA? Folks who have been in recovery likely see it plainly. For today, I invite everyone to look at AA’s classic 12 steps, or at a version repurposed for Christian discipleship, and give me your thoughts on that question:
Are the steps a fitting response to the King-Jesus gospel? How so? How not?
Willard would often turn this question around to see if the gospel we were announcing naturally led those who accepted it into a life of apprenticeship to Jesus. Since that is the response of the first Christians to the gospel they heard, I think it’s a fine question. And, on that note, I think that is one of the confirmations that the many voices today that are advocating for a King Jesus gospel are on the right track. The next posts will consider other ways that recovery groups can give (back) to the Western Church.