Kingdom: A Proposal

Kingdom: A Proposal November 19, 2014

Kingdom ConspiracyMy proposal for understanding kingdom is that we need to let the Bible’s use of the term “kingdom” shape our kingdom theology. Why? Because our kingdom theology will shape kingdom mission, and what spiritual practices/disciplines we develop will follow from mission and kingdom but also reshape mission and kingdom.

If kingdom means justice (often in the public and political sector), then activism is the mission and practices will involve actions like feeding the hungry. If kingdom means redemption, the mission is redemption and practices will fall in line — evangelism, healing, and the redemptive influence in the public sector.

Yes, but far more.

Kingdom has become the go-to language of approval. Kingdom is good; church is bad. We never say the “institutional” kingdom but we say the “institutional” church. We can talk about the “church-box” but no one would ever say the “kingdom-box” because in so doing we want to disparage or at least criticize the church. No one seems to want to criticize the Bible’s vision of kingdom. People open up the word kingdom and pour into it all their favorite ideas but seem to open up the word church and pour into it all their negative ideas and at best their realistic ideas. (More about this in another post.)

My proposal in Kingdom Conspiracy is that kingdom in the Bible has five core ideas and kingdom can be defined this way: a kingdom is a people ruled by a king. I break that definition into five elements:

1. A kingdom has a king.
2. A kingdom has a king who rules or who exercises redemptive power.
3. A kingdom has a king who rules a people.
4. Kings rule by way of a law.
5. Kings establish their rule in a place (land).

Five questions follow:

1. Who is the king?
2. How is this redemptive power or rule exercised?
3. Who is the king’s people?
4. What is this king’s will?
5. Where is the kingdom today?

Answer each and combine them and we can arrive at an answer of what the Bible means by kingdom.

In the history of the church each of these elements has been appreciated or emphasized in various ways and according to various locations. It will come as no surprise that Israelites and messianic Jews find #5 to be of value while Gentiles with little sense of the OT narrative don’t value #5.

But there’s more: the emphases of the late 20th Century have been on #2 and #4. Some emphasize the kingdom as God’s rule or God’s reign, and can be quite overt that kingdom does not mean place or “realm.” For some kingdom is about evangelism (a very evangelical thing to make it) or healing (a very charismatic thing to make it). One has to either ignore the OT or believe the NT totally disconnects “kingdom” from Israel or from land so that from Jesus on it means only reign or rule (and no longer realm). Inside some emphases on #2 is that God “rules” over all creation so therefore “kingdom” is any element of creation and created order and created people that is coming in line with God’s designs. Another theme in the emphasis on #2 has been it’s Now but Not Yet idea: the kingdom arrives in Jesus but there is a future final kingdom in the Age to Come.

Others think kingdom is about ethics or law (#4), and so kingdom is wherever God’s will is done. Or, what is more common, kingdom is wherever justice and peace come into expression among people.

My proposal is that while these themes are important (rule, reign, justice, peace), the kingdom cannot be reduced to these without doing damage to one of the other elements.

My contention, too, is that #3 has been ignored to the detriment of the church.

Kingdom in the Bible entails all five and we would do well to bring back this five-fold emphasis in our talk about kingdom today.

Kingdom refers to a people ruled by a king.

Who is the king? Who is the king’s people? How does this king rule? Where is this king’s rule?

What does mission look like when we take all five into consideration?

What practices are to be developed if we take all five into consideration?

 


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  • “A Kingdom is a complete society. It has farms and families, carpenters and courts, houses and horses, roads and schools, engineers and entertainment, work and wells, merchants and midwives, artists and gardens. The scope of a kingdom covers every aspect of life. The whole of society is controlled by the king. There is no society apart from the kingdom. A new kingdom with a new king means a new society. Every aspect of that society will be under the authority of the king.

    Jesus came to establish a new kingdom. This new kingdom requires a new society structured and organised in a way that reflects his character and will……

    A kingdom is not just the people ruled by a king, but all the economic, legal and social institutions that support their lives. The Bad Authority Shift corrupted all human institutions, so as the Kingdom comes, they will need to be restored. When people receive the gospel, the institutions that make up their society will need to be transformed to align with God’s will.

    • People are born into the Kingdom by repenting and submitting to the authority of Jesus.

    • Institutions shift into the Kingdom when the people with authority over them submit their authority to Jesus by obeying his word and his Holy Spirit.”

    (Kingdom Authority (http://amzn.to/1EZ1M6b) pp.13,135).

  • I agree with this, but I might still have different emPHAsis on other sylLAbles. 😀 I look forward to reading the book. But, yes, yes and yes to the idea that kingdom cannot be divorced from the people of God. Yes, the kingdom of God always implies both King and people.

    I don’t think that kingdom either “means” evangelism (for the evangelical in me), nor healing (for the charismatic in me). But I do think that Jesus came into Jewish culture in a time when they had strongly held ideas about what it would it would look like for God to “restore the kingdom to Israel” and he intentionally both tapped those themes, stirred them, and critiqued them sharply. So much so that even John the Baptist and the 12 were left asking the most foundational of questions at the close of their respective times observing Jesus. But I think that they were right to think that, ultimately, the kingdom is Christologically shaped, since the Christ is king of the kingdom. So, if you ask what is the kingdom about, I ask what was Jesus about. If you ask what are the priorities in the kingdom, I look at the priorities of Jesus. If you ask what are the laws of the kingdom, I ask what is the law of Christ? And the activities or means or mission of the kingdom? Look at the Christ. So when Jesus says I have come to . . . (destroy the works of the devil, or find the lost sheep or do what the Father is doing or bind up the broken hearted, etc. etc.) then in telling us about his mission, he is telling us a lot about what his kingdom will be about. And whatever he spends his time doing (and training and sending his disciples to do), he is telling us a lot about how, in his kingdom, his people will pursue his ends. So I am more concerned that “kingdom” stay connected to “Christ” in our day than to “Church” though I agree that they are all bound together (as with “Spirit”, “Father”, etc.)

    So I don’t say that kingdom “means” healing or evangelism or justice (in a limiting way), but it does include those things, and it includes them to the extent that the gospels reveal them as activities or pursuits or priorities of the King and/or his disciples/people.

    Finally, on the “where” question, that is more nuanced, mainly because Jesus himself gave a “where” answer, and tied it directly to the activity of the Spirit. Or, elsewhere, Peter and the Revelation speak of Christians generally as a “kingdom of priests” despite the likelihood that the location of these folks was spread well beyond Judea of the day. But I agree that the growing idea that the Church (or connection to a church) is irrelevant to questions of citizenry or activity of the kingdom is a bad idea and needs to be confronted. Spiritual and relational connection both to the King and his people is basic to being connected to the kingdom of God.

  • Shane Scott

    Scot, I’ve been thinking about this point in connection between Acts and the epistles. Acts emphasizes the preaching of the kingdom (1:3, 8; 8:12; 17:7; 19:8; 20:25; 28:21, 31), but what this preaching created was local churches all over the world, addressed in the epistles. So for example, Acts 17:1-9 never uses the word “church” in regard to the work done at Thessalonica, but based on the letters to that church, Paul’s preaching that “there is another king, Jesus” created a local church in Thessalonica. And in the first letter Paul says, “we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1:12). The sharp dichotomy in “kingdom” talk and “church” talk that you are zoning in on makes Acts and the epistles almost irrelevant to each other, it seems to me. Thanks for this great post!

  • Bill Sahlman

    I don’t know.. Kingdom doesn’t have to be so connected to ‘king” … I think the idea of kingdom envisioned/described in the Biblical narrative is a socio-political reality. so, what would abetter word be today? kingdom has too much baggage. too much history that is no longer relevant. I think, contextually, studying Rome and the caesars supports the idea— that “kingdom” to the first century people who were under its weight, saw it as a negative, overwhelming, unchanging … reality. Then the Jesus story brought hope and new life to that story. a new “age” .. yes, they saw it connected to a king,.. a male figure who would rule… that was their world. But I don’t think that is the vision, or even the message. I think the message transcends male/dominance/power/threatening rule by one dictator.

  • Shannon Claussen

    Bill,

    I’m not sure that I can agree with the statement, “Kingdom doesn’t have to be so connected to ‘King.” It absolutely has to be connected with a “King.” But this King and this kingdom we are talking about cannot be defined by the normal terrestrial standards. Jesus used the perfect word to proclaim His position. The God-man, carpenter’s son used the very best word to announce His reign and authority.

    Do you think the Jews would have responded to “The Realm of God is Here”? No, kingdom/king were precisely the words that would get the attention and infuriate the authorities, so that Jesus could be officially crown and inaugurated on the cross at Golgotha.

    See, the beauty found in Jesus’ announcement as “King” of a new kingdom is that this King, was inaugurated by His death. When you look at the way Jesus was inaugurated you will see how radically wonderful and antithetical this King and Kingdom truly are.

    Additionally, kingdom is not only “a socio-political reality.” It is a place, or realm, a people, and a way of life (or way of being), that is ruled by the greatest-in a paradoxical sense-King in all the cosmos. When you take a multi-dimensional word like “Kingdom” and flatten it out into a “socio-political reality” you end up turn a bold, rich, engaging word into something bland and ordinary. Let’s not do that to Jesus’ kingdom.

    Scot, can’t wait to read the book!

  • Philip Molitor

    How about defining god’s kingdom as Dallas Willard did; ‘the range of his effective will, where what he wants done is done. The person of God himself and the action of his will are the organizing principles of his kingdom, but everything that obeys those principles, whether by nature or by choice, is within his kingdom.’ Seems to answer your five questions fairly well.

  • John W. Frye

    Shane, based on your own observations, I reach the totally opposite conclusion. The Book of Acts and Paul’s letters demonstrate that “kingdom” and “church” are the same!

  • Shane Scott

    Hi John – please pardon my lack of clarity, because what I intended by my post was to show the strong congruence between “kingdom” talk and “church” talk! My point was that the preaching of the kingdom in Acts produced churches addressed in the epistles.

  • John W. Frye

    Shane, my bad. We are on the same page. Thanks for clarifying.

  • Dennis Parish

    Scot,

    In “The Kingdom Conspiracy”, Chapter 9 “Kingdom Mission as Church Mission,” you distinguish between the motives of the kingdom citizen when doing good deeds in the church fellowship vs. in the public sector.

    In the church fellowship, the kingdom citizen serves Jesus by living “an ordered life under King Jesus in the context of local church fellowship. ” pgs. 108-110.

    In public sector, “the kingdom citizen is compelled by love to ‘good deeds’ or ‘doing good’ in the public sector” but this is not to be considered kingdom work, but good citizenship. pgs. 111-115.

    You then conclude that “the publc sector and systemic elements of social activism are not kingdom mission but instead Christians “doing good” in the public sector for the common good. As such, this activism is good–very good and inevitable–but good works are not the same thing as kingdom work” because they are not “designed to make the church a better place.” pg.118, 122.

    You go on to interpret Matthew 25:35-40 to hinge on the importance of doing good deeds to the “least of these brothers [and sisters] of mine,” with textual the understanding that brothers and sisters refer to the followers of Jesus. pgs. 120-121.

    I agree with your interpretation of the Matthew text, for the reasons you cite and several others.

    However, I can’t find this distinction between kingdom citizens and others within the text of the Jesus Creed itself, which commands us to “love your neighbor as ourself.” So I am thinking for my use of the creed of revising the creed after the love God command into something like the following:

    “Just as I have loved you, you [disciples] should also love one another (Jn: 13:34). Love your neighbor as yourself.”

    Is this revision consistent with your position in “The Kingdom Conspiracy”?

    Your new book has really opened my eyes to the role of the church in God’s plan. I look forward to your upcoming book on Paul and the church.

  • scotmcknight

    Dennis, I like that revision. Or perhaps
    Love God
    Love neighbor, then
    Love One another.