Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Emergent Kingdom

For a long time I struggled with the idea of the Kingdom of God. Whenever I read through the Gospels I realized just how much Jesus preached, displayed and simply talked about it and I didn't think that Christians discussed it far enough. And when they did it seemed like it was just a sentimental term rather than anything deeply theological. As time went on, sin began to creep into my heart and I would judge others and write them off just because they weren't using Kingdom language. Because of this, I actually became somewhat fascinated with emergent/emerging leaders because they were talking about the Kingdom whereas, at least I thought, other people weren't. But what I have come to see is that merely using Kingdom language does not necessarily mean that one understands or fairly represents the heart of Jesus' message.
Some people have said that we need to return to the red letters of Christianity because that's where true Christianity lies. I need to disagree with that idea. Though it is true that Jesus' words are precious, they are no more precious than the inspired words of the apostles. We need to read our entire New Testaments to understand the Kingdom, the heart of Jesus' message.

So when we turn to people like Paul, Peter, or John we need to ask the question, "What has happened to the Kingdom language?" It doesn't seem like they talk about it that much. Well, even though the language isn't there (at least as much as in the Gospels) I would argue that the concept certainly is. And I believe it is there in ways that people like Brian Mclaren miss out on.

When people like Brian Mclaren speak of the Kingdom they emphasize God's future world being brought into the present. Jesus is Lord of the world now and we ought to build God's Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven. The way this works itself out for Mclaren is that Christians should do things like work to fix the physical order and make people's lives better in the present. These are all good things and I agree with a lot of what Mclaren says but I think that his emphasis of some things and his de-emphasis of other things should cause discerning Christians to read other authors when seeking to gain a biblical understanding of the gospel.

In Mclaren's writings you will often find caricatures of the Christian gospel. I am not going to quote him directly but he often says that the gospel is not simply a way to get to heaven when you die. Again, I agree with that. But what scares me is that with those statements he seems to be including the forgiveness of sins. In other words, the forgiveness of sins is not of first importance to him. Perhaps I am wrong on this; but I think it is obvious in his writings that it's not a great concern of his.

Now back to the apostles. I think that the idea of penal substitution, or the forgiveness of sins, is of great importance to them. It was central to the gospel they preached and it is something that Christians are often called to remember. In 1 Cor. 15 the apostle Paul says, "Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve." The forgiveness of sins was so important to Paul; he even says that it is an essential part of the gospel in which all true Christians stand. Do you stand on this gospel?

So why are so many people preaching a gospel of the kingdom instead of a gospel concerning the cross work and the resurrection of our Lord? May I suggest it is because they have misunderstood the Kingdom. I think some are using Kingdom language but failing to preach the kingdom.

There are other ways to talk about the Kingdom of God without using the phrase itself. One of my favorite examples comes from Galatians 1:3, 4 where Paul says, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age." Here Paul displays an awesome understanding of the Kingdom yet also maintains that the forgiveness of sins is of first importance to the gospel. There is an evil age, or an evil kingdom ruled by the prince of darkness himself, and then there is the Kingdom of God. This evil age is marked by sin, evil and death where the Kingdom of God is marked by holiness, life, peace, joy, etc. Everyone living in this present evil age is under the wrath of God and needs their sins forgiven. To be forgiven is to be transferred from one kingdom to another. We can live in God's kingdom now but we await the day when it will be fully revealed. All true Christians stand on the cross and resurrection because by these the Kingdom has been made possible for them.

Yes we should display God's Kingdom to the world by taking care of people and God's created order. But we must remember that the message Jesus gave us to preach is that, "the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem." This is the only message that will deliver people from this age into the age to come. This is how people truly experience the Kingdom. They must repent and put their faith in the crucified and risen Lord of the world.

Written by Nick Mitchell © 2008 The King and His Kingdom Blog