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New creation, Spirit, blessing and kingdom: a clarification of terminology

I have been rather bothered recently by the way in which the emerging church - though not only the emerging church - makes use of the concept of the ‘kingdom of God’ to define its mission, the idea being that the task of the church is to extend or build the kingdom of God on earth. Very often there is an implicit polemical aspect to the usage: we build the kingdom of God rather than merely convert people; or we are more concerned about the concrete social dimension of the kingdom on earth than the rarefied - if not mind-numbing - prospect of an eternity in heaven. The phrase ‘kingdom of God’ appears to capture for us something of the down-to-earth political and moral relevance of the gospel that we are so anxious to reintroduce into Christian discourse; and it gives substantial theological justification for this shift in missional focus. But I am not at all sure that this is how the term works biblically.

I have tried to think this through in a number of recent posts: see ‘New creation and the kingdom of God’, ‘NT Wright and the confusion of kingdom and new creation’, and ‘Getting frustrated by An Emergent Manifesto of Hope’. What brought me back to it again was a conversation with Greg Boyd last week in which he put to me the formulation that ‘kingdom’ is what protects or defends the new creation. I’m not suggesting that this is how Greg understands it himself, but I think it gets at something important.

What I want to do here, in light of that conversation, is attempt to clarify what seem to me to be the key terms in this debate and how they interrelate: new creation, life in the Spirit, blessing, and kingdom of God. The following colourful diagram presents the structure of the argument; it lacks, however, a narrative dimension and it may help to correlate it with the diagrams in ‘We have to go back, but not to square one’.

New creation

The foundational calling of the people of God was to be a new creation - an alternative to the corrupted macrocosm, in which the original blessing of Genesis 1:28 would not only be recovered but also transmitted to the nations of the earth. The creational promise is repeated to Abraham and his descendants: they will be blessed, God will make them fruitful and multiply them, and they will fill the land. In Isaiah the restoration of Israel following the exile is portrayed as a new creation (Is. 51:3; 65:17; 66:22). That restoration is ultimately realized in the renewal of the covenant and the gift of the Spirit in the New Testament. Jesus’ resurrection embodies the restoration of Israel, but it also anticipates the final renewal of all things. The church is a community of those who have, as Paul says, put off the old humanity and put on a new humanity. The final hope of the church is not to go to heaven (that may be an interim hope but I rather think not) but to be part of creation remade, no longer subject to wickedness, decay and death; and it is this prospect that fundamentally determines our identity and mission - hence the arrow in the background pointing back from the future ‘destination’ to the present existence of the people of God. We live and act in the light of the remaking of heaven and earth.

Life in the Spirit

In the Old Testament what gave shape and discipline to the creational microcosm of Israel was the Law. It stipulated the terms and conditions under which the people would experience the original blessing of creation: ‘And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God’ (Deut. 28:1-2). When Israel persistently sinned, however, the Law pronounced not blessing but judgment, the outcome being a protracted state of ‘exile’ that lasted down to the first century and the appearance of John the Baptist in the desert.

Under the new covenant it is not the Law that gives shape and discipline to the creational microcosm but the Spirit of life - the power which raised Jesus from the dead, the power which will give life to the bodies of those who suffer with him, the presence of the living God in the midst of his people, the Spirit of prophetic expectation. The Law has been written in people’s hearts. This experience of the Spirit of life cannot be reduced to a narrow set of ‘charismatic’ distinctives: the whole of creational life in the microcosm must somehow be an outworking, expression, embodiment of the pressing reality of the creator God.

Blessing

The microcosm exists in a complex relation to the macrocosm. Despite its original vocation Israel lived mostly in conflict with its neighbours, and second temple Judaism in the end was destroyed by the massive military force of Rome. The new creation in Christ has learnt how not to be bullied and victimized by the powers of the macrocosm - it has learnt to love, to forgive, to seek reconciliation, not to fear death - and so can afford to be generous. Insofar as the life in the Spirit of the microcosm has a positive impact on the old creation, the church mediates the original blessing to the nations and cultures of the world. But the same life in the Spirit must sharply set the new creation apart from the old, and in that respect the people of God will also be an offence, a challenge, a stone of stumbling to the nations and cultures of the world.

The kingdom of God

Israel becomes a kingdom when the people find that they need someone to go out and fight against their enemies (1 Sam. 8:20). The whole notion of ‘kingdom’ has to do with the problems that arise when the new creation people is placed in the midst of hostile nations - and specifically when those nations become agents of divine justice. You can’t create a garden in the wilderness and expect everyone to respect its boundaries. This is the kingdom question: Who is going to protect it? How is it going to be defended? And what will happen when the hooligans break in and wreck it?

The well known proclamation of Psalm 2:7 (‘The Lord said to me, "You are my Son; today I have begotten you."’) comes as a response to the aggression of the nations: ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, "Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us."’ We find the same context of conflict in another royal Psalm with critical christological significance:

The Lord says to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool." The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! … The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth. (Ps. 110:1-2, 5-6)

In Isaiah the good news announced to Zion that YHWH ‘reigns’ (Is. 52:7) has to do with deliverance of the people from captivity in a foreign country. Kingdom is given to the Son of man figure in Daniel 7:14 following a war between a pagan kingdom and the saints of the Most High.

The theme of the kingdom of God becomes prominent in the Gospels because Israel is again oppressed by its enemies. To speak of the coming kingdom of God is to speak of God acting soon to defeat Israel’s enemies, including, provisionally at least, satan and death, to liberate his people from their captivity, and to install Christ as king in defiance of Caesar. So it is when the accuser and oppressor of the saints has been thrown down that the announcement is made that the ‘kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come’ (Rev. 12:10).

In my view it is a mistake to reduce this intervention to the cross and resurrection. The New Testament tells a longer story that culminates in the vindication or justification of the Son of man community against the pagan imperial powers that opposed it - that is, against Rome. But the main point to grasp is that the ‘kingdom’ language defines not the missional practice of the church but the action of God to safeguard the integrity and autonomy of his new creation people, not least when they come under attack from the nations and cultures that surround them. The kingdom is not something that the church builds but something that was announced. When Jesus teaches his disciples to pray ‘Your kingdom come…’, what he has in mind is not the mission of the church but the coming transformation of Israel’s circumstances - the defeat of Israel’s oppressors, the restoration of the people, and the giving of the kingdom to the Son of man.

So I would argue - and I hope I’m not just splitting hairs - that ‘mission’, if we must call it that, arises out of the existence of the people of God in the midst of the nations and cultures of the earth as ‘new creation’, shaped and disciplined by the Spirit of life. At the interface between the microcosm and the macrocosm blessing happens. When the integrity or even the existence of the microcosm is contested, whether from within or from without, the conviction comes to the fore that the creator God will always act sovereignly, as king, to judge or redeem or liberate his people. The garden in the wilderness remains vulnerable: new creation is a risky endeavour. But it is defended by the one who has been given all authority, who must reign until all his enemies have been subjugated (1 Cor. 15:25).

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"The foundational calling

"The foundational calling of the people of God was to be a new
creation - an alternative to the corrupted macrocosm, in which the
original blessing of Genesis 1:27 would not only be recovered but also
transmitted to the nations of the earth."

I recently went through my objections various aspects of your new/renewed creation logic on this post from Peter, and he and I had a nice extended discussion about it (we missed you, Andrew, since your remarks were the subject of the post). In that thread you centered God’s original creational blessing in Gen. 1:28:

And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it…"

I pointed out on Peter’s post the obvious fact that mankind has already fulfilled this blessing in spades. Now I see you’ve backed up a verse, to Gen 1:27:

And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them.

This verse is presented not as a blessing to be fulfilled at some future time, but as a fait accompli, intrinsic to the already-accomplished work of creation. Peter and I talked indirectly about this one too; i.e., did man lose God’s image somewhere along the way, say in the Fall? It was an interesting discussion Peter and I had; I remember it fondly — no need to repeat it here. I do have one new thing to add, or actually one old thing:

For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God… (1 Cor. 11:7)

Here Paul seems to believe that man retains the original image of God from creation. Ah, but wait, I see a loophole: Paul is addressing his remarks not just to any ordinary men, but to the men of the church at Corinth. If only those who are of the Church (or the post-resurrection version of Israel, or the microcosm, or whatever) receive the creational blessing, then Paul’s rationale for men keeping their heads covered while praying or prophesying is relevant only to men of the Church. (Presumably the unchurched can go bareheaded while praying and prophesying and God won’t take offense — or at least no more offense than He already takes due to their membership in the "corrupted macrocosm.")

Okay, that’s all I’ve got for now.

Blessing and image of God

John, I’m afraid Genesis 1:27 was an error. I’ve corrected it to 1:28.

So the question is, To what extent is the ‘blessing’ of creation restricted to the injunction to fill the earth/land? Even if ‘And God blessed them’ refers back to verse 27, the main point would still appear to be that as man and woman they are blessed in their procreative capacity. We have the same blessing linked to the command to reproduce in verse 22.

I would probably argue that the command to be fruitful and multiply in effect establishes the conditions for the blessed and prosperous existence of humanity in the world - hence the continuation about having dominion over the earth and living things. Certainly in the Deuteronomic context blessing consists of more than numerical increase: it is the general well-being in the land of a people that keeps the commandments. So it doesn’t seem unreasonable to read Genesis 1:28 in the same way.

On the matter of recovering the image of the creator Colossians 3:9-10 is of particular relevance:

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

Paul speaks of putting off the old ‘man’ or humanity (anthropos) and putting on the new humanity, which is being renewed with regard to knowledge (consciousness?) according to the image (eikona) of the one who created it. He then highlights a crucial aspect of what this renewed humanity means by saying that ‘Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all’ (Col. 3:11). Presumably it is merely accidental that he overlooks ‘male and female’ here, unlike in Galatians 3:28.

"Certainly in the

"Certainly in the Deuteronomic context blessing consists of more than
numerical increase: it is the general well-being in the land of a
people that keeps the commandments. So it doesn’t seem unreasonable to
read Genesis 1:28 in the same way."

It’s not unreasonable, but it’s not an interpretation that’s demanded by the text. I don’t think there’s a compelling exegetical reason in this particular case to interpret earlier events by the later, such that the Abrahamic promise restates the original "be fruitful and multiply" creational blessing while concentrating its scope on a "microcosm" within the larger created order. As discussed in Peter’s post I alluded to previously, your "microcosmic" reading denies full human status to everyone who isn’t part of the Abraham-Israel-Church microcosm. To make that ontological distinction between the incompletely human and the fully human is, I aver and document in that other post, both unbiblical and fascistic.

As you say, the Deuteronomic promise "consists of more than numerical increase." Only the numerical increase, as well as the ability to subdue the earth and to dominate the earth, is explicitly stated in the Genesis 1 blessing. It’s evident that man has increased numerically and has subdued the earth. Why not just let the Abrahamic covenant supplement rather than restate that original fulfilled blessing? I.e., everyone is fully human, but only some humans participate in the supplementary covenant of faith. righteousness, and eternal life.

I don’t think there’s a

I don’t think there’s a compelling exegetical reason in this particular case to interpret earlier events by the later…

Well, you’ve also got the development of the creation narrative to take into account, the general disintegration of human experience: expulsion from the garden, death and pain, violence, the express rejection of divine purpose. Moreover, there is the literary-historical argument that Genesis 1 is the product of a Deuteronomic theology, is there not?

…your “microcosmic” reading denies full human status to everyone who isn’t part of the Abraham-Israel-Church microcosm.

Not at all. The argument is that God brought into existence a new humanity - not a superior humanity - in the midst of the old humanity. What made it different, at least in theory, was a) the presence of the living God in the midst of Israel; and b) the obedience of Israel to the Law of God. You have missed my point somewhat if you understand it as an ontological distinction. It is not even, necessarily, a moral distinction. Israel was not chosen for the sake of ethical or political or cultural superiority but for the sake of faithfulness to the creator God.

Why not just let the Abrahamic covenant supplement rather than restate that original fulfilled blessing?

Because not only the creation narrative but also much of Old Testament theology appear to suggest that something of the character of blessing was lost when the couple were expelled from the garden. Again, this is not about being fully human - it is about being a sign of how God intended humanity to exist in intimate and obedient relation with its creator. At the very least, the Old Testament regards the nations are seriously misguided for their worship of idols. Israel never believed that it was meant to supplement that condition - it was an alternative to it.

Re: I don’t think there’s a

You have missed my point somewhat if you understand it as an ontological distinction. It is not even, necessarily, a moral distinction.

Good. If in the OT Israel is to be regarded as the "new humanity," it’s a matter of categorization, of God naming them "the people of God" and setting them apart from the other nations. Israel’s separateness is geographical (the land of Israel) and relational (the covenant between God and this people). But it’s not an ontological separation between one kind of material being and another. There’s never any indication that God chose Abraham and his descendants because of some genetic or inherent moral difference they already possessed, nor did God transform the Israelites into some other kind of being (fully human or superhuman) as a result of His choosing them to be His people. The "new creation" of a microcosm composed of God’s people isn’t a new material creation like the one Genesis 1-3 presumably describes, but rather the creation of a new relational category that marks Israelites individually and collectively as "the people" among all other people.

The same presumably can be said for the Church and individual Christians. It is through participation in "the people" that an individual ordinary human is able to put on what Paul calls "the new man." This designation too becomes a relational, categorical distinction rather an ontological (or gnostic) one. In other words, it’s not that the Christian exchanges one kind of biologically human self for a different and better one. Rather, it is through individual participation in what God has categorized as His people that an individual enters into a new and transformational relationship with God.

Re: I don’t think there’s a

Exactly. Very well put. 

Re: I don’t think there’s a

No - it’s the other way round! It’s through ontological transformation (faith, repentance, Spirit reception) that an individual is able to participate in “the people”. This was not the case in the OT, but it becomes the case from the NT onwards. The only basis that the NT knows of membership in the people of God is where Jesus is Lord and the Spirit lives. That is an ontological precondition. You don’t obtain that by becoming part of the people.

Re: I don’t think there’s a

No - it’s the other way round!

I was trying to grasp what Andrew was saying, to see if we can agree on what we (dis)agree on. That Andrew regards the collective as defining the individual while you say the opposite is part of the longstanding debate between you two. My issue has to do with the nature of Christian transformation as it occurs both individually and collectively. By invoking the word "ontological" (I probably meant "ontic") I unnecessarily confused matters that were already becoming clear. So I suggest we forsake the philosophical jargon for now.

In this discussion I was interested in exploring the nature of humanity and the self, the sheer thingness of being a human. The new creation, the new creature, the new man: do these terms refer to some fundamental and essential difference between kinds of human being, as if Christians are transformed into members of a species or race that’s essentially different from, and superior to, non-Christian humanity? Or is it that becoming Christian embeds ordinary biological humans in a different matrix of relationships and meanings and purposes? I was proposing that the latter is closer to what Andrew is talking about than the former. In my discussion with you on your post I thought we agreed on this as well without confusing one another by invoking ontology.

It’s certainly no small thing to arrive at this sort of agreement. Luther reached his irrevocable split with Rome over the matter of transubstantiation: after consecration do the bread and wine retain their material essence, or are they changed into some entirely different sort of substance, or are two fundamentally different kinds of substance present together in the elements? It’s a similar sort of longstanding discussion we’ve entered into here.

Regarding the debate about individual versus collective transformation, in this particular context the two are hard to separate. When a baby is born which comes first: her humanity or her individuality?

Re: I don’t think there’s a

Sorry if I misunderstood you John - your interpretation of what it means to be the new creation does (as far as I can see) reflect Andrew’s position. However, that is not the position of the NT, from almost any point of view. It is not the relationships, the participation in a new community, that guarantee personal transformation. That is provided by allegiance to Christ as Lord and Spirit reception - which is the precondition of membership.

If I could put it another way, I may take up my home in a hen-coop, but that wouldn’t make me a hen. I may live in a hangar, but that wouldn’t make me an aeroplane (airplane to you) . I may be a pig, and rent out an apartment in London’s exclusive Mayfair district, but that wouldn’t change me from being a pig.

In the NT, and in Acts, it is always the response to the preaching of the gospel (I mean the gospel of Jesus’s death and resurrection) in faith, in which allegiance is given to Jesus as Lord and the Spirit is received (usually audio-visually), which provides the basis for membership of the people of God. The glue that holds the people of God together is their unity in the Spirit - or koinonia in the Spirit, and their allegiance to Christ. You don’t get this simply by joining the crowd (or the club).

It’s interesting that Andrew’s position reflects the postmodern anti-ontological bias, in which reflection on ‘self’ or ‘inner being’ is regarded as outmoded and inadmissible. This may be the postmodern mindset, but by contrast, ontology is a primary issue of the scriptures. The question of what was wrong with Israel that she so persistently rebelled against God is the agonizing heartcry of the OT. The provision of the new covenant was an ontological necessity, in the light of the failure of the old, and is consistently presented as such.

 P.S.

But - and this thought came to me while I was mowing the lawn, and is added about two hours later - to be completely even-handed, and to prevent Andrew getting cross with me again, from his point of view, the ‘gospel’ so described was only intended for the 1st century(ish) people anyway, and so wouldn’t apply to us today. We have a different gospel - but that sounds inflammatory, so maybe one could say, we have no gospel these days. We simply have the new creation pog (people of God), which one simply joins.

Re: I don’t think there’s a

I may take up my home in a hen-coop, but that wouldn’t make me a hen.

 Peter,

How one becomes a chicken isn’t the farmyard’s only concern. I’m asking whether there are two distinct species of chicken in the coop: the ordinary natural chicken and the Christian "new creation" chicken. Does joining the new flock transform the individual ordinary chicken, or does the individual "hatched again" transformation enable the ordinary chicken to participate in the new flock? This sort of chicken-and-egg distinction is not my focus. I want to understand what difference there is between ordinary and new chickens, both individually and collectively. That you insist on focusing exclusively on whether the chicken or the egg comes first suggests to me that you are having difficulty seeing the forest for the trees.

  

Re: I don’t think there’s a

John - the forest was cleared so that the hen-coop could be constructed in the clearing. But I think it’s time to draw a line under this conversation. You keep moving the goal posts - to mix metaphors again. The difference between those who are ‘in’ the people of God, and those who are ‘out’ is quite simple. ‘In’ = owning Jesus as Lord and receiving the Spirit. ‘Out’ = the converse. What else do you want to know? This is as true of individuals as it is of God’s people as a community. The way into that community is to own Jesus as Lord and receive the Spirit. ‘Spirit’ is the boundary marker of the new covenant people as the ‘Law’ was of the old covenant people.

Re: I don’t think there’s a

But I think it’s time to draw a line under this conversation.

Okay, I’m fine with that. I said a few comments back that I understood
and agreed with both you and Andrew about my concerns. It’s good to
agree sometimes. Sorry about the sarcasm in my last comment.

The difference between those who are ‘in’ the people of God, and those who are ‘out’ is quite simple.

Simple for you maybe, but not for me. In recent discussions on OST
"the people of God" has been characterized as both a "kingdom" and a
"new creation." The latter term carries more baggage than the former,
and I’ve been trying to unpack the bags to see what’s inside. You, Peter,
regard "the people" as an aggregation of individuals who "own Jesus as
Lord and receive the Spirit." It’s possible to look at it the other way
round: "the people" is an alternate reality permeated by the Lordship
of Jesus and the presence of the Spirit. It’s a figure-ground thing: is
it what’s inside you that matters, or what you’re inside of? The New
Testament would have it both ways: "Christ in you" and also "in Christ."

Another analogy: are you an English-speaker because English is in your
head, or because you live in an English-speaking society? The answer is
"both," but one can gain different insights depending on whether one
looks at English as an individual competency or as a language. To
extend the analogy perhaps beyond the breaking point, let’s suppose that English is the best language in the world. My main concern is
whether English-speakers, individually and collectively, are somehow
different from or better than, say, French-speakers. The answer, presumably, is that they are not.

Re: I don’t think there’s a

John - to extend this conversation perhaps to breaking point, and certainly way beyond the theme of the original post:

- I don’t regard the people of God as an ‘aggregation of individuals’. It is a genuine people, a community, bound together by their common allegiance to Jesus as Lord, and permeated by the Spirit. The essence of this is very simple. Allegiance to Jesus as Lord also means applying his teaching. This is where, according to G.K.Chesterton, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been tried and found difficult.” But if you want to unpack the bags and find out what is inside - this is it, as presented in the NT, assuming that the NT still is of direct relevance to us today.

- You are right - it is both “Christ in you” and you “in Christ”. But there is a way in, which is as described above. There is no mystery at all in the NT about this.

- I didn’t find your final comment at all sarcastic, but quite amusing. It reminds me of a quote from James Joyce’s ‘Finnegans Wake’ - which combines a punning play on the names of Saxon English kings with a cyclical view of life and history and a popular catchphrase: “Eggbirth, Eggblend, Eggburial and hatch as hatch can”. (Finnegans Wake - the deconstructive linguistic matrix text par excellence, which we might all do well to study - but that’s pointing to a separate post).

Another nice diagram,

Another nice diagram, Andrew. Your description of the kingdom relates to your view of the parousia, reflected in judgment on Jerusalem and Rome(?), as said to be an event which has already occurred - the eschatological guarantor of the church’s protection and survival.

I see the NT presenting the kingdom as something much more dynamic. It centres in the first place on Jesus. His announcement in Mark 1:14 proclaims a realised event: "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near (engizen - at hand). Repent and believe the good news!" We could quibble about the precise meaning of engizo, and whether it meant something about to occur (like the parousia), or something that was already occurring - but arguably it means both - and that the time had been fulfilled with the appearance of Jesus in person, and it would be fulfilled in all his actions (not just one of them). I have argued this more thoroughly in my post on Christ and Eschatology.

To illustrate the view that the kingdom had already arrived in the person of Jesus, we see that this kingdom, unlike the national, warrior kingdoms of Israel and the OT, is characterised by supernatural activity - in its authority - Mark 1:17-18, the casting out of demons - Mark 1:21-28, healings - Mark 1:29-34, authority over creation - Mark 4:35-41, raisings from the dead - Mark 5:21-43, and the evidence in the whole of Mark of a clash between two kingdoms.

This acivity of the kingdom is summarised in Matthew 12:28 - "But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you." There is an equivalence between the activity of the Spirit and the kingdom of God.

This equivalence is further illustrated by Jesus’s reply to those who came from John the Baptist, asking if he was the expected messiah, "the one who was to come", or if they should expect someone else. This confusion is highly instructive. John was influenced, presumably, by Israel’s nationalistic expectations of a messiah who would overthrow the pagans, and impose a kingdom similar to the OT exemplar of David. Jesus’s reply is even more instructive - and he points to a kingdom modelled on that foretold by Isaiah - Matthew 11:4-6 containing direct allusions to Isaiah 35 and 61.

In short, the kingdom which Jesus came to inaugurate is supernaturally inspired, is closely associated with the work of the Holy Spirit (which becomes even more pronounced in the statements in Acts 1 as forerunners to Pentecost), is dynamic in its operation, and has been continuously demonstrated throughout history to the present day.

The kingdom doesn’t so much guarantee protection of the church, as guarantee and demonstrate its victory over the opposing powers. This victory comes about in surprising ways - with death and martyrdom sometimes being the prime engine of further victory and growth.

It goes without saying that the greatest victory of the kingdom can be seen in the death and resurrection of Jesus - since these events guaranteed the new creation, and are the source, in the person of Jesus himself and his identification with the church, of its life and continuation. 

Kingdom is only a metaphor for something for which words are probably inadequate. The OT example of kingdom likewise falls far short of the developed understanding of kingdom which came in the NT. The NT gives us a forward vision of what the kingdom will ultimately look like: when the kingdom is "handed over to God the Father" and he becomes "all in all" - 1 Corinthians 15:24, 28. But we are still in the realm of metaphor, and it would be unwise to interpret this as the termination of the kingdom. Rather, it is a picture of the kingdom’s completeness - over the whole earth.

From a missional point of view then, the kingdom can be seen as the confirmation in works and wonders of the words of the gospel - which proclaims the person and acts of Jesus. That is how it appears in Acts, but with the qualification that sometimes the wonders themselves were the sole expression of the kingdom - bringing literal sight to the blind, healing for the sick, and a variety of expressions of new life. Today, these expressions are complemented by a wide spectrum of possibilities - in the arts, music, literature, drama, political and community activity, social justice movements, environmental awareness and action, and so on. All these things have significance for the kingdom when they point to the person of Jesus as its fons et origo, its future completion, and the one who would draw all people to himself.

Re: Another nice diagram,

I still think you’re reading far too much later (gnostic) theology into the texts, and there’s not much I can do about that. But I’m not saying that the kingdom that Jesus announces is not supernatural or spiritual in its nature - it is a victory over Israel’s enemies and that includes satan and death; and it is a victory by way of suffering and trust in the God who remains faithful to his promise to Abraham.

But the fundamental point remains: ‘kingdom’ has to do with how God deals with Israel’s enemies; it is not used in the New Testament to define a programme of social action. Whether we regard the exorcisms and healings as evidence that the kingdom has already come or as prophetic signs of the future renewal of the people of God and future defeat of evil, makes no real difference in this respect. They are closely associated in Jesus’ mind with an event that will deliver Israel from the hierarchy of powers, from the Jewish leaders upwards, that oppress it.

The kingdom doesn’t so much guarantee protection of the church, as guarantee and demonstrate its victory over the opposing powers. This victory comes about in surprising ways - with death and martyrdom sometimes being the prime engine of further victory and growth.

I would agree with this - except I don’t see the conflict between ‘protection’ and ‘victory’. Israel’s king would protect or defend or safeguard or deliver the people by winning victory over their enemies.

On the missional question, here’s how I would put it. The gospel in the New Testament was the announcement, first to Israel, then to the world, that God was acting as king to judge, redeem, restore and that he was doing this through Jesus Christ. The outcome of that is that his restored people now exists, dispersed throughout the world, ultimately secure under the lordship of Christ, as a community that bears witness to the creator God.

Because of Christ we no longer have to deal with the wrath of God and the eschatological consequences of that: that is the sense in which we are a post-eschatological church. Our missional task is to live, as an active, generous and dangerous presence, in the midst of the nations and cultures of the world as God’s new creation. Everything about us should be evidence or a sign of the fact that God acted sovereignly in Jesus to redeem his people and that we now live under Christ and not Caesar or any other power. But that is simply the precondition for being God’s creational microcosm, for experiencing the blessing of living an authentic created existence, which is the gift that we have to give to the world.

Re: Another nice diagram,

Andrew - isn’t most of your final paragraph gnostic in content? How do you know the people of God are supposed to live in the way you describe - unless you have access to some hidden knowledge about it? The NT won’t help you - that is all to do with unique times and events which have long passed - according to you.

On the other hand, I think I have summed up very well a continuing significance of the kingdom of God from NT times, based on NT teaching and example. The kingdom is not purely to do with victory over Israel’s enemies - or anybody’s enemies, but, in my understanding of it, to do with how the people of God are to act and live their lives now - renewed by the executive power of the kingdom, which is the Spirit. This is not based on gnostic information, but the principles and practice of Jesus, which are of relevance beyond the 1st century.

Incidentally, if emerging church gurus are saying that we build the kingdom - I think that is misguided. The kingdom is always described as something given, not something we build. It is God’s expression of his power and presence amongst us - not the contribution we bring to him. I think that is a very important distinction - otherwise we reduce the kingdom to something manmade and manufactured.

We aren’t going to agree, are we?

Re: Another nice diagram,

I have answered that first comment too many times already. The fact that the New Testament deals with a particular period in the narrative does not make it irrelevant, any more than the account of the exodus was irrelevant to the identity of Old Testament Israel. We are the product of the complete story, which includes, but in my view cannot be limited to, the New Testament - because the new Testament very clearly places itself within the whole biblical story. The whole story teaches us how to live - and in any case, Jesus told the disciples that the Holy Spirit would continue to teach them, did he not?

What I mean by ‘gnostic’ is not that a viewpoint depends on special knowledge or information but that it tends towards a dualistic dissociation of theology and history so that the answer to the human problem is found in a divine intrusion into history to save people from history. I think evangelicalism has mythologized Jesus to the extent that he has too much of the gnostic redeemer figure about him.

Re: Another nice diagram,

The Holy Spirit "will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you" - John 14:26. However, the Holy Spirit, apparently, will not remind us of everything Jesus said, since those things don’t directly apply to us. Or if he does remind us, it is not so that we will need to do anything about the things he is reminding us about. Or maybe those words were for the authors of the gospels only, so we don’t need to be reminded of them. It’s all very confusing. Maybe I’m just gnostically challenged.

Re: Internal politics of the new creation

What about politics?  Sure, there’s politics along the edge between the kingdom and other nations wandering in the wilderness, but what about internal politics?

For people of the new creation living within the context of the announcement of the kingdom of God, are there internal politics?

And by politics, I mean different interpretations regarding meaning and resources.    

Or would you describe the people of the new creation as apolitical and the context of the kingdom beyond internal political struggle?

Could you address that?

Re: Internal politics of the new creation

That’s a very good question, and I certainly don’t have an easy answer to hand. If we are to understand ourselves not merely as an aggregation of saved individuals but as a society apart, then politics must come into play in some form. I doubt if we can reasonably expect the new creation to be ‘apolitical’.

There must be some sense in which we represent the possibility of organizing human society around the powerful reality of a creator God; there must be some sort of concrete demonstration of justice and communal integrity; there must be an active demonstration of self-giving love; there must be a collective pursuit of social meaning; the possibility of dealing redemptively with failure must be in evidence; and we will have to do this largely without having recourse to the political resources of Christendom.

But a major part of the task will be story-telling. We will only ever represent new creation inadequately - highly inadequately. But we are also called, I think, to tell the story of God and creation, God and his people, and of the future of God, in imaginative, practical, communal ways. I wonder, in fact, how much of a difference it might if our ‘internal politics’ is oriented not towards an absolute practice but towards symbolic representation.

Re: Internal politics of the new creation

What do you mean by "absolute practice" oriented politics? And by "symbolic" oriented politics do you mean storytelling?

Re: Internal politics of the new creation

Sorry, that was a bit rushed, and this won’t be much better. Yes, by ‘symbolic’ oriented politics I mean story-telling. What I guess is necessary is that the people of God should not be presumptuous in attempting to embody in its own life the ideal of the microcosm. There must be humility, a recognition of inadequacy. The missional task exists in the tension between trying to get it right and pointing to the hope of a final transformation of creation. But this really needs a lot more thought.

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