Alan Streett is Senior Research Professor of Biblical Exegesis and holds the W. A. Criswell Endowed Chair of Expository Preaching at Criswell College in Dallas, Texas. I discovered Alan’s work, decades ago, through a book titled, The Effective Invitation. At the time I was reacting quite strongly against all forms of evangelistic invitation, having become an ardent Calvinist and having also accepted the idea that every form of “public invitation” was biblically questionable. His book raised enough questions, even in my state at that time, to make me a lot more cautious about my rigid conclusions about this subject. (My views on this subject have moderated considerably over the years. I believe an “effective” invitation can and should be used in the right context.) I say all of this because when I met Dr. Streett last year I was not particularly prepared to meet such a gracious, capable, Christ-like scholar. He had no obvious agenda except to love me and welcome me into his fellowship. I know, I know, I was biased by one title and by the professor’s reputation, which I knew so little about. I admit this freely.
I am not the first person to judge a book by its cover, or judge an author by reactions to an older book that he wrote for a different time and occasion. I now realize that I have written older books too, some that still have value but books, nonetheless, that I would not particularly like to be judged upon in terms of my further reflections and developing biblical theology. This is all to say that I did not endorse Alan Streett’s new book, Heaven on Earth: Experiencing the Kingdom of God in the Here and Now (Harvest, 2013), because I felt compelled to do so. Nor did I endorse it because of a long relationship. I endorsed it because I believe it to be an exceptional primer on the kingdom of God. I also believe we desperately need such primers in the modern church.
I use the word primer with care. Let me explain, lest it seem like a condescending choice of words for my fervent praise. The word primer comes from Middle English, and referred to a layperson’s prayer book. It also comes from the Medieval Latin primarium. It generally refers to a small introductory book on a subject. In one sense my choice of this word is debatable since Streett’s book numbers exactly 300 pages. But I am using the word in a specific way – to describe a book that is accessible, readable and so plainly written that it powerfully invites the non-technical reader into it’s thesis without requiring a technical vocabulary or academic background. Don’t misunderstand me. R. Alan Streett is a first-rate biblical scholar! But here he has written a book for the people he teaches week-by-week in a large downtown adult Sunday School class in Dallas. This is why I call it a primer. I intend that this word be understood in the most respectful way.
As an aside, I regularly try to encourage first-rate biblical scholars to write books just like this one. The vast majority cannot, or will not. I have a sense of why this is so, at least in my humble view, but no simple solution to the concern. Either way I see this as a real tragedy. Scholars tend to write books for fellow scholars and almost always find themselves stuck in the ditch of academic form and style. Alan Streett is not only a biblical scholar but a competent teacher of the laos, the people of God. I give thanks to him and to God for this commitment. True scholarship should serve the whole church, not just the academy. I beg my friends who are scholars to recognize this plea for a better taught and stronger church. It is easy to condemn and another thing to do real good.
In my previous two blogs I have shown that the kingdom of God and the gospel are one and the same message in the New Testament. I have also shown that most Christians do not understand this relationship. I have suggested that if these points are true then we face a biblical and spiritual tragedy of major proportions that transcends all churches and denominations. We argue continually about the meaning of the gospel and yet we rarely relate the good news to the kingdom. Streett writes, “Christians rarely set out to twist the gospel. But they often preach a gospel that is shaped more by tradition and culture than by the Scriptures” (Heaven on Earth, 20).
Streett is not writing a “diatribe,” or a polemical book which screams: “I know the gospel and you don’t.” He expresses his highest regard for all who labor to make Christ known. But he is rightly concerned about what we are teaching in the church and what we so easily call the gospel. He demonstrates that the gospel “is about the kingdom as defined by Jesus” (Heaven on Earth, 21). In so doing he shows that salvation is more about wholeness of life than about heaven in the age to come, thus his title: Heaven on Earth. He concludes: “From start to finish the good news is about how God’s people of every generation can enjoy kingdom benefits and blessing while they are still alive, not only after they die and go to heaven” (Heaven on Earth, 21). If Jesus came to bring us “abundant life” (John 10:10) why is it that so few Christians seems to experience it? One reason, according to Alan Streett, is that the truth of the kingdom is not understood or practiced by the vast majority of Christians in America. I completely agree with him.