Category Archives: Kingdom

The Tension of the Kingdom

Photo credit: Eve Anderson

 

Despite the fact that I made a point out of the believers who had so confidently preached the message of a “Bible-guaranteed” (i.e. Harold Camping-guaranteed) rapture last week, they were on to something: the second coming of Christ is something Christians look forward to experiencing.

That is because the second coming of Christ, which is foretold in the New Testament, promises the full arrival of the kingdom of God.  But wait!  The Bible describes Jesus as saying:

Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” (Luke 17:20-21)

This notion of “now, but not yet” (i.e. that the kingdom of God has come but is still coming) is a tension that, in his book Kingdom Come, Allen Wakabayashi analogizes to getting a pile of presents on Christmas morning as a kid but only being allowed to open two of them.  The kingdom of God (“God’s dream society on earth” to borrow the words of Scot McKnight) came with the coming of Jesus (described in the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) but won’t be fully realized until Jesus comes again – an event awaited eagerly by all Christians because it means restoration for all of God’s people.

So what does this “now, but not yet” tension have to do with Faith Line Protestants?

First, this tension is essential to understanding the message of the kingdom of God that Jesus was preaching.  And, to restate my central thesis on FLP for the past several months: the message that Jesus was preaching is the message that we as Christians should be preaching.

Second, this tension confuses us as Christians.  It seems like one must choose between (a) preaching to the world its sinfulness and it’s need for repentance or (b) trying to act out of concern for the earthly needs of others through acts of social justice.  Rarely does one hear from Christian teachers that these two concepts can be brought together without contradiction. In my experience, it’s typically (a) a fixation with “winning souls” because judgment is coming or (b) a way of living out faith only by serving others without concern for eternity.  Neither tells the full message of the gospel.

But the full message is apparent.  Indeed, we see that the restoration of an individual soul and the restoration of a broken world are wrapped into a single man (who was both human and divine) through his life, death, and resurrection.  In Christ, these two seemingly opposite notions eternal need and earthly need find harmony.

If you’re of the (a) type, you don’t see the benefit of interfaith work because it’s not an activity that embraces your desire to point out everyone’s sin, and if you’re of the (b) type, you might engage the interfaith movement passionately while missing the mission of communicating a message.  (Actually, I think this exercise of categorization, although never perfect, can be really helpful in understanding Christian life in a religiously diverse world.  It can also be dissected a bit further.  That’s a teaser for my next series, where I’ll draw help from Gabe Lyons’ new book The Next Christians.)

If we, as Evangelicals, want to communicate the message of Jesus Christ to the world around us, we must speak – and live – the whole message.  The tension of a kingdom that is being realized but is not fully here is the great paradox of the kingdom message.  How do you understand the tension of the kingdom?  How does it influence the way you live?  I’ll wrap up this series the kingdom of God in my next post as I suggest some answers to these questions.  In the meantime, we’d love to hear what our readers think.

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What Harold Camping Taught me About Being a Christian

Harold Camping is still here.  For that matter, so am I.

The world’s population of Christians wasn’t “raptured” last Saturday night as 89-year-old civil engineer-turned Bible numerologist Harold Camping predicted, which leaves at least a few Christians dumbfounded, embarrassed, and several thousand dollars poorer.

Naturally, I didn’t buy-in to Camping’s game, which is seemingly directly contrary to Matthew 24:36, and I even took the time for a chuckle on Friday when a friend pointed out the post-rapture service Eternal Earthbound Pets.

But sadly, several believers were featured in the media this weekend as having spent their life savings on placards and advertisements to warn the world of a “Bible-guaranteed” May 21, 2011 apocalypse that Camping was “utterly, absolutely… absolutely convinced” was going to happen.

As a Christian, I’m embarrassed.  Here at Faith Line Protestants, Cameron and I like to talk about evangelism and our relationships with people of other faiths – opening a can of worms that we don’t necessarily know how to close.  But the sad demonstration by Camping and his followers this week has pointed once again to the thesis that Cameron and I are trying to articulate to other Christians:

It’s missing the point.

For all the media buzz and interviews I saw leading up to May 21, 2011, not once do I remember hearing the message of the kingdom of God – the message that Jesus was preaching.

It’s not a message that denies Jesus’ second coming or the notion of judgment.  It’s not a message that ignores the need to recognize one’s imperfections, the requirement of repentance, or the truth that redemption is found only in Christ.

But it is a message that talks about restoration, about compassion, about forgiveness.  It means restoration for the individual soul and the whole world.  And it’s so much more than a ticket to heaven (whether you’re boarding that train at Jesus’ second coming or via the more… traditional method).

As a Christian, I feel a responsibility to communicate to people of other faiths and traditions (including those of no faith at all) that the message of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection was a message far greater than what Family Radio billboards were preaching.  In fact, I believe that when this message is communicated clearly and effectively, people of other faiths and traditions (including those of no faith at all) may even be interested in knowing more.  When it’s a message presented through scare-tactics however…

Gabe Lyons and Jonathan Merritt said it well in their reaction piece on the Washington Post’s On Faith:

It seems this charade provides both Christians and the watching world with a teachable moment. Christians need to recognize that fear-based conversion tactics may work on young children, but they rarely resolve rational thinkers’ long-term concerns about faith. Those who went running for the rapture must now sit to wrestle with the serious questions that plagued them before. We must learn that it’s easy to rile people up with future headlines of destruction, but it’s better to inspire people with God’s will for our lives in the present.

When Christians succumb to thinking that sees escape as the answer to the world’s brokenness, we know we’ve taken a wrong turn. Jesus didn’t shrink from talking about future realities, but it’s hard to ignore that he spent the majority of his life restoring brokenness, rather than running from it. Christians often become so focused on the afterlife that they stop investing in their current life. Harold Camping will have done us all a favor if this serves as a wake-up call to Christian escapists and fear-peddlers.

Restoring the brokenness, not running from it.  That’s the message I want my life to preach.

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God is on the Move

Part III in a continued series on the kingdom of God and the interfaith movement.


I can’t stop thinking about the kingdom.

Like I’ve discussed in my recent posts, it’s been on my mind ever since my interfaith work intersected with the church of my youth as I was reflecting on my relationships and experiences in light of North Park University theologian Scot McKnight’s ideas put forth in his book One.Life.

And I’ve been pulling out some books – old and new.  On my desk in my office, you’ll find papers from Lab on a Chip intercalated with articles from Christianity Today and printouts of from the White House’s recently announced Interfaith and Community Service Challenge.  You’ll find books on following Jesus stacked with an anatomy atlas and a box of cereal (because, yes, I do practically live at my desk on campus).

And as a good graduate student should, I am chipping away bit-by-bit at everything – skimming a bit here and there, thinking, reading, highlighting (and occasionally remembering to eat breakfast).  And amidst the bustle, I am finding a pervading sense that it all fits together, though I am only slowly gaining the ability to articulate it.

But I’d even venture to say that the common thread in all these things has something to do with the kingdom of God.  Today, I want to take another look at the kingdom message.  As Allen Wakabayashi in his book Kingdom Come begins to explain the meaning of the kingdom of God, he draws on C.S. Lewis’ great allegory The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:

“Four children stumble into a magical land called Narnia.  The true king of the land is Aslan, a magnificent lion, the Christ figure.  Yet at the time of the story, Narnia is under the rule of the White Witch, who has cursed the land so that it is perpetually in a bitter cold winter with no Christmas.  But at one point in the story, Christmas does come as Father Christmas comes, dispensing gifts.  Then springtime begins to melt, the trees release their snow covers, flowers bloom and birds chirp.  What is going on?  Father Christmas explains, ‘Aslan is on the move!  The Witch’s magic is weakening!’  We come to understand that wherever Aslan draws near, springtime breaks out in the midst of the bitter winter of the White Witch.”

Just as the effects of Aslan’s movement are seen in the restoration of Narnia from winter back to spring, Wakabayashi suggests that the kingdom of God is about the “reinstatement of God’s intentions for his entire creation.”  It is a continual process of renewal.

As a Christian, I have hope for the melting snow, blooming flowers, and chirping birds that signify the kingdom of God.  They are things I have experienced in my own spiritual life: forgiveness, fulfillment, purpose. Yet they are also things I see God bringing piece-by-piece to the world around me, often administered through one person serving another.  Perhaps it’s even reflected in the mess on my desk: technologies for promoting health, training that enables the service others, a personal search to further understand God.

This is also the message that I want to communicate through my interfaith work – especially through the structured service and storytelling I mention repeatedly:  God is on the move.

Restoration has come and is coming.  This, I think, is the message of the kingdom of God.  It’s also the story I’m telling to others, with both words and actions, as a Christian in the interfaith movement.

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Investigating the Kingdom

Part II in a series on the kingdom of God and the interfaith movement

It's got something to do with a mustard seed...

Roughly two weeks ago, I suggested that a clearer understanding of Jesus’ ministry would help us to understand better this idea of evangelicals doing interfaith work.  Today, I continue that discussion with a closer look at the idea of the kingdom of God.  It’s been a busy time, so I apologize for the delay in writing, but look for this discussion to pick up in the coming weeks.

I’d like to focus this current exploration of Jesus’ ministry with two questions:

1.       What was Jesus preaching?  (i.e. what was his message?)

2.       How did Jesus preach? (i.e. how did his words and actions communicate that message?)

I began to answer question 1 with enigmatic statements about the “kingdom of God,” referencing Scot McKnight’s One.Life where he suggests that a message that communicates only a directive to accept Jesus (in order to escape hell) and live a pious life is a truncated version of what Jesus was preaching.

But the whole gospel – the gospel of the kingdom of God – is a holistic message of God’s desires for our world.  It’s a message of restoration for the individual soul and the whole society.  It’s a message that I believe was not only reflected in Jesus’ sermons and stories, but his relationships, his healing of others, and his death and resurrection.

But we’ll get into how the kingdom message was communicated in coming posts.  For now, I want to borrow from Kingdom Come, by Allen Wakabayashi, where some key examples from Jesus’ parables discussing the Kingdom of God are outlined.

“In fact, when we consider Jesus’ public teaching we find that the kingdom of God was central to his ministry.  Jesus used parables as his primary means of public teaching, and most of them are about the kingdom of God.  For instance, he compares the kingdom of God to the following:

These parables are one way Jesus communicated the message of the kingdom of God.  Each one needs unpacking and, although I won’t promise a dedicated post on each one, I guarantee that my future writing will take a closer look.  For now, I invite you to follow the links for each passage to an online Bible resource to investigate these parables on your own.

Before signing off for the day, here’s a reminder of where we’re headed:

The interfaith movement is an invitation to serve others and share stories with people from other faith traditions.  Jesus too was a storyteller and a servant.  And while the interfaith movement wasn’t founded for spreading the Christian gospel, Evangelical Christians are invited to the table to tell stories and serve others, thus it becomes a space for communicating the gospel in a unique way.

But we must look to Christ as a model for how to do this.  How did Jesus communicate the good news?  How did he present the message?

The interfaith movement doesn’t seem to be compatible with evangelism that manifests as a crusade to accuse the world of its sinfulness.  Sin – a failure to live up to God’s standard – is a part of the message, but if our mission as Christians is only to tell the world what it has done wrong in our eyes, I don’t know that our voices will be heard.  Jesus, however, was heard by many (although not everyone… another discussion for later perhaps?).

Let’s continue to look to Jesus’ example and seek an understanding for how evangelicals are called to interfaith work.

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The Kingdom and the Interfaith Movement

This really has nothing to do with Mickey Mouse - I promise.

 

As a Christian, I think that the Kingdom of God has something to do with the interfaith movement.

Okay, let me explain:

I talk to (well, okay… I really hear about much more than I actually talk to) many Christians who aren’t interested in the interfaith movement because of two primary reasons:

1. Fear that participation in the interfaith movement represents a condoning of spiritual practices and/or theological systems that are inconsistent with the Bible

– AND –

2. A lack of appeal, as the interfaith movement doesn’t set an obvious place for a traditional notion of evangelism

Now, reason 1 is easy to address– we simply need more Christians who have actually given the interfaith movement a chance and who understand and practice a model for interfaith cooperation that does not blur the lines between faith traditions and does not require you to state that you’re a-okay with anyone and everyone believing anything and everything they want to believe.

Reason 2, on the other hand, is trickier.  And as we’ve been gnawing away at reason 2 for a few months here at FLP, I’ve started to discover something: the Kingdom of God has something to do with the interfaith movement.

But what?

First, let me be up-front with what I am not saying.  The Bible does not paint a picture of a society in which people of different faith and philosophical traditions work together to make the world a better place and then call it “God’s Dream Society On Earth.”  If I were saying this, I would be fabricating a faith tradition that wasn’t Biblical, and I would have created a cheap derivative of Christianity.

So here’s what I am saying: the Bible, more specifically the New Testament–and even more specifically, the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John)– do start to paint a picture of what we might call “God’s Dream Society On Earth.”  And it’s called the Kingdom of God…but it’s not the interfaith movement.

Yet there’s a connection here:  Jesus preached the gospel, which is not to be confused with the gospels, the written accounts of Jesus life, death, and resurrection (i.e. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).  “Gospel,” translated from the Greek euangelion , also the source of the English word “evangelism,” means “good news.”  And Jesus preached it.

Jesus preached the gospel, which is to say the he preached the good news, and this good news was about something – it was about the Kingdom of God.

So Jesus preached the good news of the Kingdom of God.

And now, I have something to argue with my faith tradition: what are WE preaching?

Are we preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God?  Or are we preaching something else – an incomplete gospel, or a misguided gospel, or a mistaken gospel?

You see, I think that the failure to see an opportunity to be evangelical (i.e. telling the good news) in the interfaith movement reflects a failure to preach the gospel that Jesus was preaching, as well as a failure to see the gospel that Jesus was preaching.

Scot McKnight says in his book One.Life: “After years of speaking at churches and teaching classes, I’m convinced the average person doesn’t know what Jesus meant when he used the word kingdom.”

And Scot later continues to put it plainly (and in a way we can all understand):

“By kingdom, Jesus means: God’s Dream Society on earth

A comment on one of our recent posts said “nobody has a monopoly on the proper method of evangelism.”  I agree.  But I’m also convinced that if the “good news” our evangelism is preaching is only the “accept Christ to avoid hell, and then lead a pious life” track, then we are missing a crucial part of the story.  The Kingdom of God is something bigger.

So what is the Kingdom of God?  This piece is meant to be a teaser – because I think the only way to really understand the Kingdom of God is to return to the source through which it is communicated – the Bible.  So, here’s an invitation: join me in a little journey as I go back through the gospels over the next several weeks for a look at exactly what Jesus’ Kingdom of God message is all about.  Until then, I leave you with something to think about:

I believe our job as Christians is to communicate the good news of the Kingdom of God, just as Jesus did.  And what were some of the primary techniques Jesus used?  Storytelling and service.

These are precisely the tools of the interfaith movement.  The interfaith movement invites us to come to the conversation to serve others and to tell stories, and to do that service and tell those stories in context of relationships with people of other faith traditions.

Does anyone see where this is going?

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