Friday, July 29, 2005

The kingdom of Christ

Reading is often a juggling act for me. This summer I've either finished or am in various stages of reading (or listening to) Richard Middleton's The Liberating Image, Anthony Hoekema's The Bible and the Future, Russell Moore's The Kingdom of Christ, Matthew Scully's Dominion, Dostoevsky's The Brother's Karamazov, and John Updike's Seek My Face. That's not counting the books I've ordered but haven't gotten to yet (with Peter Enns' Inspiration and Incarnation high on that list).

One of the books that, having actually finished it, I'm recommending all around is... The Kingdom of Christ, by Russell D. Moore. It does a good job of placing the evangelical debate about the nature of the kingdom of God in historical, sociopolitical, and theological perspective. In this blog and a few that follow I'll paraphrase some of Moore's major arguments and comment on some of my favorite passages.

The Kingdom of Christ is about the evangelical struggle, especially over the past fifty years or so, to come to terms with the meaning and significance of the kingdom of God. Evangelical Christians were up against Protestant liberalism, on the one hand, and serious division within their own ranks, on the other.

To begin with, Moore notes at several points in his book that at the beginning of the twentieth century Protestant liberals understood the kingdom of God in an ethical, anti-supernaturalist (p. 23) and socially comprehensive manner. Here's a quote from the "Social Gospel pioneer Walter Rauschenbusch" (p. 158):

The Kingdom of God is not confined within the limits of the Church and its activities. It embraces the whole of Christian life. It is the transfiguration of the social order. The Church is one social institution alongside of the family, the industrial organization of the society, and the State. The Kingdom of God is in all these, and realizes itself through them all.

Unfortunately, this view of the kingdom limits it to the possibility of broad social and political evolution (with the church as only one part among many) in the present age (without a robust expectation of the supernatural consummation of God's purposes in the future). Conservatives saw this as liberals taking the "opportunity to remain within the circle of religion and yet have less of the obsession of God" there (p. 23).

However, evangelicals had their own problems defining the "kingdom." There were the dispensationalists on one side, who relegated the kingdom of God to a future age of fulfillment for national Israel. The present "church age" was considered to be a parenthesis in the plan of God. On the other side were the covenantalists, who understood the church to be the present manifestation of the kingdom, but tended too to emphasize individual salvation at the expense of God's larger purposes in the restoration of the heavens and the earth (p. 23).

Moore's book then goes on to show that, through a common commitment to the study of Scripture, dispensationalists and covenantalists have addressed the weaknesses of their systems in a way which honors the eschatological and Christ-centered nature of the kingdom in the New Testament. As a result, a consensus of sorts has emerged (at least among evangelical scholars) as to the nature of the kingdom of God, with distinct implications for Christians and the church in the social and political arenas. More on that consensus in the near future.

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At 8:51 PM, Blogger Mark Traphagen said...

I'll look forward to hearing what he thinks that 'consensus' is, since my experience is the opposite; I hear nothing but arguments about the nature of the kingdom!


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