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The Gospel of the Kingdom (4)

Alan Streett’s book, Heaven on Earth: Experiencing the Kingdom of God in the Here and Now (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House, 2013), is nicely laid out along canonical lines. By this I mean that he surveys his subject following the arrangement of the biblical canon, starting with Genesis, and then working his way through the mountain tops of the Old Testament. After surveying the Gospels, and addressing his theme in the epistles, he lands on the heavenly heights of the Apocalypse.

imagesStreett shows the reader that the kingdom of God was first revealed in Genesis 1:28 by the command to: “Fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion . . . over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” The kingdom of God is first revealed in the opening chapter of the Bible! Here is the foundation of all theology, including kingdom theology. (Time and again I am amazed, so much so that I am no longer amazed, at how every central theme of the Bible is revealed in the narrative of Genesis 1-3!)

Following this proper beginning

The Gospel of the Kingdom (1)

Every Christian I know agrees that the gospel is essential to Christianity. It is “the power of God to salvation” (Romans 1:16). We know the word gospel means “good news” but what is this good news really about? And what is salvation? Is it escape from earth, life in heaven, missing hell, having our sins forgiven, or inviting Jesus into my heart? Likely we’ve all heard one of more of these answers given to that question.

The problem is not that there is no truth in these standard, simple answers but rather that this minimal truth is inadequate, even peripheral to the correct biblical answer.

images-1Mark’s Gospel begins with words that I frankly missed the first thirty years of my life: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Whatever the gospel is the record of this message is what the writer will give to his reader in the Gospel of Mark. (Of course, it is also to be found in the other three Gospels, which together give us the rich, full and

What Does God Require of Us?

What does God ask of us? God asks that Christians be true disciples. If you are a disciple you will follow Jesus with your heart, mind, soul and strength. And you will not “just do it” as Nike famously says. This cannot be done all alone by your hard work. You were not redeemed to pursue God’s kingdom alone. You were made for God and God is a community of persons in eternal oneness. You were redeemed to grow and develop within a community of faith set apart by this relational God. This, it seems to me, includes both formal and informal expression. Baptism and the eucharist are more formal times and places for discipleship. Corporate liturgy is the same. Scripture reading, a wonderful private exercise, should also be a part of your public life with others. (Sadly, this has been all but lost in some of the most conservative evangelical Protestant churches where very little of the Bible is public read.)

When we became disciples we were invited to walk on a journey. We entered a road, a pathway, that leads us somewhere if we will

Living and Ancient-Future Faith in Babylon (5)

images-3The words of Jeremiah 29:6 are rather shocking if you get the context and historical moment right. God is telling his people that they will be in this state for a long time thus they should become active in the culture of Babylon, not separatists who go private. When we are not sure whether we will be somewhere for very long we rent or stay with family and friends for a season. But if we plan to stay we are inclined to get a house and begin planting ourselves in the city in which we live. Building, planting, marrying and giving in marriage are signs that a normal community has been established.

Verse six is striking for sure but verse seven provides the perspective that we desperately need in modern Babylon. These exiles are told to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf. . .” This is the counsel I believe God has for the church in the West in the twenty-first century. We

The Church As God's Social Strategy (3)

images-3The second form of the church – political/social – is called the conversionist church. This form argues that no amount of tinkering with the structures of society or state will adequately counter the effects of human sin. What is needed is the conversion of individuals. The promises of secular optimism are false because they too quickly bypass the biblical call to personal repentance and faith, a repentance and faith that lead us to reconciliation with God and our neighbors. “The sphere of political action is shifted by the conversionist church from without to within, from society to the individual soul” (Resident Aliens, 45). Since the conversionist church works almost exclusively for inward change it can really offer no alternative social ethic of community to the world. The exception, at least for many within this particular model in America, has been to embrace a pro-life position in the political world. Generally speaking conversionist churches abandon all other “life” and “moral” issues, leaving them to the state alone. In this way they very often opt for a

Why Politics Matters and How We Got the Wrong End of the Stick (4)

images-1Readers of James Davison Hunter’s magnificent critique of how Christians have sought to transform culture in America will know that he critiques Stanley Hauerwas and Jim Wallis unfavorably, just as he does conservative icons Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus. Hunter argues for what he calls, in a memorable phrase, “faithful presence” – which he defines as an ideal of Christian practice that is both individual and institutional; a model that plays out not only in all our relationships but in our work and the various spheres of our social (shared) common life.

I generally follow Hunter’s arguments but I believe his emphasis upon “how” culture is impacted, and made from the top down, is not altogether right. I believe his big picture solution, that of “faithful presence,” is quite right but I also believe that Christians should act as salt and light in the daily hubbub of life by being there and being faithful to their calling. Colson is not altogether wrong about the impact of the “little platoons” (a term he popularized in his

Why Politics Matters and How We Got the Wrong End of the Stick (2)

It has become our unquestioned assumption, in the modern American context, that we have the “right’ to develop our potential to the fullest extent possible. This assumption is constantly fed by pop-psychology and a goodly number of new unexamined religious ideas. We are a culture in love with power and the power we love is our own to be very precise. The only ultimate check on this personal “right” is the “rights of others.” We live, after all, in a democracy. Whether we are politically liberal, conservative or moderate (all slippery and notoriously difficult terms to define in our present context) we generally believe that it is our God-given right to change the leadership of our nation, state or local community. We then translate this idea of political rights into our everyday lives. Because we deeply cherish, without questioning why this is so, our personal freedom to have and use power we then assume that all good communities, including religious communities, should be built on the assumption that a good society, or a good church, encourages us to express our views and seek to make changes

Living as Aliens in Post-Christendom Culture (5)

images-1Christian sociologist James Davison Hunter has written one of the most important studies of what it means to be faithfully present in the modern, increasingly post-Christendom world that I have been describing over the last two weeks. His magisterial book, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (Oxford, 2010, has helped many of us think about how to live faithfully in the modern context. Perhaps the most important question that Hunter asks, and answers, is: “How might Christians in the 21st century live in ways that have integrity with their traditions and are more truly transformative?” I have attempted to provide some response to this same question by writing about living in a time of cultural and spiritual captivity as “a colony of heaven,” or as “aliens.”

Hunter suggests that what is really needed is a different paradigm of Christian engagement with the world, one he calls “faithful presence”–an ideal of Christian practice that is not only individual but institutional. His model works out both in relationships

Living as Aliens in a Post-Christendom Culture (2)

If living the Christian life as “aliens” really describes Christian community/church then we can understand why we are a “colony of heaven” in a “strange” land. The biblical portrait of the Christian church is one in which the church “exists for mission as fire exists for burning” (Emil Bruner). This gives us our clear identity. The DNA of such “aliens” is mission precisely because God is missio Dei. God, the Father, is a sending God who goes out into the broken land with good news by sending his Son (John 20:21). We are not drawn together simply for ourselves but rather to be the people of God engaging in Christ’s mission together. We do not do this simply as individual projects or programs that we contribute our money to but remain personally detached from. Even local congregations are not meant to do this all alone but as part of the Church in their city or area, the whole body of Christ living out their alien status in partnership and deep love.This is one reason why our divided state is such a serious scandal to the gospel.

Living as Aliens in a Post-Christendom Culture (1)

I suggested in my series last week, “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” that Christians were called by God in Christ to live as “a colony of heaven” (Philippians 3:20). Because of this calling we are to live as God’s new creation, thus as “aliens and exiles.” This is clearly the same point made by the apostle Peter when he writes:

Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. [ Live as Servants of God ] Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge (1 Peter 2:10-12).

imagesI decided, upon further reflection, to look at the primary uses of the English word “alien” in our modern context to see how we use this word and to see