David George Moore, who regularly does interviews and reviews for the Jesus Creed, decided to turn the tables and interview me on the recently released, Kingdom Conspiracy: Retuning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church. Dave blogs at www.twocities.org.
Moore: A note to the Jesus Creed community (and Scot is not paying me for writing this!): I read quite a bit and fairly widely, but Kingdom Conspiracy is in that smaller circle of formative works. Aside from the many “classics” (Augustine, Bunyan, Chesterton, Lewis, et al.) which have impacted me, Scot’s book now joins contemporary writers who have been most influential: Lundin, Wood, Newbigin, Willard, Peterson et al.
Scot’s description of justice in the coming kingdom made me choke up. Kingdom Conspiracy is well-written and truly a seminal work all Christians must wrestle with. I trust Kingdom Conspiracy sparks many meaningful conversations!
Moore: What circumstances led you to tackle this subject?
Two things. First, in the last 15-20 years I became convinced that when Jesus said “kingdom” he had “Israel” in mind. For me this began back in the late 90s when I wrote A New Vision for Israel though I did not think through the theme as much as I have in the last five years. Second, hearing one person after another baptize or sanctify what they were doing by using the term “kingdom.” Kingdom has become a good word (church a bad word) and they were using “kingdom” to make what they were doing something ultimately significant. I’m all for seeing what we do as significant, or attempting to do so, but increasingly I was hearing the word “kingdom” used for dimensions of our life that had very little to do with what the Bible means by this term.
Moore: Give us a quick sketch of your overall argument.
My argument is that kingdom has been colonized today by two crowds: the social justice crowd who use the term for any good thing done by any good person in the public sector for the common good. The redemptive crowd tends to reduce kingdom to those moments when God breaks into history in a redemptive way – either in evangelism or in a person realizing God’s kind of truth or when someone is healed. I believe kingdom has five major components in the Bible: a king (God, Jesus), a rule (both redemptively and in governance or lordship), a people (Israel, the church), a law (Torah, Sermon on the Mount as expressing Jesus’ teaching of Torah, and roughly life in the Spirit), and a land (clearly the Holy Land until the Gentile mission, and then perhaps/probably? an expansion of that land promise to places in the diaspora through the establishment of churches [I’m not thinking here of physical space but of spiritual and social occupation]).
Moore: “Young, restless, and Reformed” types should appreciate Kingdom Conspiracy, not the least of which is your focus on the local church. What are a few big ideas you would like the YRRs to get from your book?
The YRR are probably more diverse than many of us know because we tend to see them through their representative pastoral leaders (Piper, Keller), but if I may generalize I would contend that most of them are Kuyperians in their theory, conscious or not, of how the church and the state/government relate. It seems to me that Kuyper, who represents a more conservative political posture toward the state, has gained control of American evangelical types while there is a burgeoning more progressive wing that is beginning to form inside evangelicalism (see David Swartz).
If this is a fair depiction of the context, I’m hoping the YRR will see that there is no such thing as Kuyperian in the New Testament and that the Bible’s posture toward the state emerges out of a commitment to the church. I may need to emphasize that: the early Christians who are at work in writing and as figures in the New Testament were not thinking of influencing Rome or shaping Rome or working to find positions of political influence to redirect Rome. They saw Rome as corrupt and were calling Rome out of Rome into the church. So the church became a socio-political matrix where God’s kingdom work was on display. So, I’m hoping they will reconsider the Biblical foundation for Kuyper’s approach – which was formed in the Netherlands to speak into a growing pluralistic world.
Moore: I spent several years on staff with Cru (formerly named Campus Crusade for Christ). Do parachurch organizations participate in “kingdom work”?
This is a good question and it’s hard to speak a fair word here. So I’ll put it as a brief formula: to the degree Cru or IVCF or any parachurch organization emerges from and supports or is instrument in forming a local church it is kingdom work; to the degree it is on its own or distant from or not forming a local church it is less kingdom work.
There is a long history of parachurch independence that concerns me; there is at times a tendency for parachurch organizations to map their own path because they are not willing to wait for a local church to get behind a given agenda or vision. Yes, too, there are good reasons for Christians to cooperate with one another in ministries but I return to the above point: it depends on how intensely it is committed to a local church. My general impression is in fact the opposite: these parachurch organizations are on their own and answer to themselves (or a selected board).
I have said this on the blog a few times of late. The decisions of universities in California might get more parachurch organizations to think more carefully about shaping a ministry through a local church at a university campus/city.
I believe in the church as both universal and local as the locus of God’s kingdom work.
Moore: Keeping with your early encouragement (p. 19-20) to define important matters, what makes a church a church? It surely can’t be every building which has a sign calling it a church, can it?
I never want to suggest a church is a church because of a building. A church is gathering of local church who are committed to one another for the purposes of worship, instruction, and fellowship. A church in the NT requires elders and deacons and pastors and such gifts. A local church is an embodiment of the church universal.
Moore: You briefly mention Ralph Waldo Emerson. I have spent a fair amount of time with Mr. Emerson as a discussion partner of sorts. It seems that individualism may be the most formidable challenge for church leaders to address, but they rarely do. Please give us a few of your thoughts.
Individualism is an easy target and it is an important target and it is a misunderstood target. We have to affirm individual response and individual responsibility in the faith and in the church. But modernity has led the Western world toward a more radical version of individualism that has influence (or reshaped) the church. Instead of our consciousness being “I am church therefore I am Christian” many today would think “I am a Christian and therefore I choose to participate in the church.” But the Bible presents God’s work through the People of God as a People, which includes individuals, but not just through individuals.
Perhaps the measure of individualism is how often we give up what “I” want to do because our “church” has something else for us.
Moore: Finally, Mike Bird has a question in his review (Euangelion/Patheos) of your book revolving around how you would respond to Peter Leithart’s Defending Constantine? You can certainly give a brief response to it, but as one who generally shares your concerns over “Constantinian Christianity,” allow me this final question: What do you think about Newton’s counsel to Wilberforce that he should not become a minister, but rather stay in “politics” because it was a better platform from which to see slavery abolished?
I found Leithart’s Defending Constantine exaggerated and tipped toward his own political theories instead of painting the more accurate picture of Constantine, who was a violent overlord and whose Christianity was woefully inadequate, and thus I was surprised by the blurbs by Hauerwas and Wright. I began to review Leithart on my blog but put the book down because I got tired of his agenda. Take a look sometimes at George Kalantzis’ approach to Leithart. I’m with Kalantzis. Or read Robertson’s biography/study.
Newton had his reasons, and I have mine for saying the best way for the church to operate would have been a revival among Christians both to eliminate slavery among Christians and to embody embrace of former slaves in local churches, repentance from the sins of slavery and exploitation, restoration to the Body of Christ, and the creation of an equal society of saints, slave or free.