Saturday, December 16, 2006

the vision of the kingdom of God and the old liberalism

The vision of the kingdom of God from Scripture that is capturing a good number today, in several camps- among them, evangelicals and emergents, has a familiar sound to it, from a faint, and to many, not such a faint recording from the past. Without getting into names, and some of that can be explored in the survey found in N.T. Wright's book, Jesus and the Victory of God, there is a general feeling among many conservative Christians, that the desire to see a kingdom of God theology impact our understanding of the gospel and of the work of God in Jesus in the world, is not a little in debt to such past old liberal thinkers.

Yes. These thinkers did stir up a hornet's nest, or cause a reaction that started well, but hasn't ended well, in "fundamentalism". And yes, they were not committed to the teaching from Scripture that sees Scripture as a special word from God- the word of God, written. However, they often did raise intriguing views or possibilities about what Jesus was all about. Many of their ideas, deservedly so, belong on the scrap heap of their modernist worldviews. However some of what was said provided enough question to help others dig deeper to find better answers than what some of conservative Christian theology has provided.

What I'm trying to say is that while the vision of the kingdom of God in Jesus, and from Scripture, (which has revolutionized my own theology in the past five years, first through N.T. Wright, then helped by Scot McKnight, for me) owes some things at least in stimulating thought, from old Christian liberalism, it is something other than that. And is beholden to an ongoing study of the historical setting of Jesus and Paul in that general time, both as to the world in which they lived with the worldview they lived in, as well as the same high view of Scripture both Jesus and Paul were committed to.

We need to open our Bibles afresh, to the possibility of a better theology, and way of seeing the Story's beginning, unfolding, and ending. Of course I'm not at all suggesting a departure from orthodoxy. This holds to essentials that are part and parcel in Scripture, as understood by the Church through the Spirit, through dealing with issues during past centuries. But what I'm referring to is an openness to wanting to see God's Story as it looked to Jesus and Paul during their lives.

To do so will at least mean an adjustment for many of us. Away from the old privatized, inner devotion to God which is depicted in the idea that "the kingdom of God is in you." And towards the teaching that "the kingdom of God is among you, or in the midst of you", in Jesus, and in his community. And not only that, but the kingdom of God which will take over the world, someday, is now at work in the world in every sphere. Yes. To see all people reconciled to God in Christ (2 Corinthians). And also to see all creation reconciled as well (Colossians). This is all part of the vision of the kingdom of God that we are to see, and be living in and for, in Jesus, in this world.

Just some ponderous and I'm sure, very "laylike" thoughts, I think need to be addressed and worked on in this consideration of the vision of the kingdom of God found in Scripture, and what impact it should have on us in our belief and practice, today.

Do you have any thoughts to add here? Or challenges?


Mark Goodyear said...

I love "lay-like" thoughts!

Growing up, I was taught that the kingdom of God was heaven. We'd get there when we died . . . if we were good.

Ted Gossard said...

Mark, Yes. We were taught something similar to that, though we more than less knew better about the being good part.

I do think scholarship from the old liberalism did indirectly help Christians eventually deal with the place and content of the kingdom of God in Jesus' teaching and mission.

RonMcK said...

I am intrigued that you found the Kingdom of God through NT Wright. Reading Wright is quite hard work, so anyone who finds something is doing well :-)

I found the Kingdom of God, years ago, through reading the New Testament. It seems to be quite obvious there, and not hard work at all.

Ted Gossard said...

Ron, Great point.

We read Scripture subjectively, of course, according to a grid we have. I mean, theologically. So that, if I'm taught a classical dispensational view of the Bible, verses pulled out to defend that (etc.), then I will not read passages in the same manner I would if not taught that.

N.T. Wright, I think, overall helps us read Scripture in a way that makes better sense of its whole and parts. Though I don't agree or see his every jot and tittle.


RonMcK said...

I always prefer to read theologies through the grid of scriptures, rather than read the scriptures through the grid of a theology. This is not always easy, but I find that it works better. As soon as you identify with theological position your mind becomes closed to good things.

Therefore, I prefer to say the opposite of what what Brian McClaren said in Generous Orthodoxy. I am not an evangelical, I am not reformed, I am not catholic, I am not emergent, etc. I feel free to go to all the same streams and have found good stuff in them, but I have also found things that do not fit with the scriptures, so that I have to stand apart from them.


Ted Gossard said...

Ron, Thanks.

I agree that what you do should be our intent.

But I am saying we all read with a lens. Good theology reflects the Story. Our goal should be to read Scripture and let it speak for itself. But in so doing, we can't escape the task and responsibility of needing to handle accurately or "rightly divide" the word of truth. In so doing we will be theological, and we can't, nor should we try to escape that.

I see theology as in part our human attempt with the Spirit's help to receive the inspired written Word from God, so that we find our place and identity, as well as identifying all else, in the Story of God.

In so doing, we will see themes, such as the Trinity, or covenant, or promise, etc., as having importance in the Story, that becomes evident all the way through.

I will end here, so as not to make this longer. But I appreciate your thought, and look forward to whatever response you may make.

RonMcK said...

I do not disagree with you.
Unfortunately, reading with scriptures without a lens is impossible. And often they are helpful. I guess it is about having the right lens.