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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

ECM and Specifics--Thy Kingdom Come

[The following post is a continuation of some ECM observations. Check out the other posts in the series to get up to speed.]

ECM and Specifics--Thy Kingdom Come

If you've spent any time talking to someone from "emerging" circles, you've heard the word "kingdom." The phrase "kingdom of God" or "kingdom of heaven" (this post will not attempt to explore any difference in these phrases) are certainly Biblical terms. Using this term is certainly not a bad thing, for Jesus used it often. Many who speak of the "kingdom" merely claim to be adopting Jesus' language.

However, like a Sicilian squealing "inconceivable," I'm just not sure they know what the term means. The more they use the word, the less it denotes. One has to wonder if this is intentional, for in my experience, those who use it most seem less capable of giving a definition. Is the word attractive because Jesus used it, or because it can be a bit hazy?

[Side note: The above paragraph used a cultural reference (gasp), suggesting maybe some have painted me with too large a brush. I do not hate culture, nor can culture even be avoided. Everyone lives within a culture, just everyone isn't obsessed with American "pop culture." I would also point out that it was merely an illustration and that now we will be turning to the New Testament, not the works of Rob Reiner.]

Perhaps Acts 1:1-8 can provide some definition. Consider the following:
    1. "The first account I composed..."
Luke makes reference to the Book of Luke, Chapter 1. Acts, therefore, is a continuation of the first book he wrote to Theophilus. In the introduction of Luke, Luke explained his intention. Luke desires to compile a history for Theophilus (v 1). Luke worked hard to gather all the eyewitness information and record it in a sensible order so Theophilus could follow along (v 2-3). He did this so that Theophilis could know the exact truth of what he had been taught (v 4). Truth was available, and Luke's written account should make that clear to Theophilus.
    2. "until the day He was taken up to heaven..."
Luke makes it known he is picking up right where he left off. He ended the book of Luke with the ascension and begins the book of Acts just before the ascension. We're not missing any major portion of the story.
    3. "by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles..."
Christ spent His last moments with them instructing. These instructions were not advice or helpful aids, Jesus was giving them commands (orders [entellomai] means a strong command each of the four times Luke uses it). He was telling the apostles what they were to do. However, we must not see that this time of clear instruction has ended, for Jesus Himself said, "But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away..." (John 16:7). Are we really to believe that Jesus gave the apostles clear teaching for them to obey and then left us with less? The Spirit Who led Christ in instructing the apostles has now given us His completed revelation and resides within us. Jesus said we are better off now with our instruction than the intense training these apostles received for 40 days.
    4. "speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God..."
During these forty days, Jesus presented Himself to the apostles, gave them many proofs of His resurrection (undoubtedly, much of the proofs involved teaching from the Old Testament), and spoke to them about the kingdom of God. We're not given much description for what that looked like, but the disciples response later will help us understand.
    5. "He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem..."
The kingdom of God is sandwiched between clear instructions. Luke lays out that He has commanded them, spoke about the kingdom of God and then commanded them regarding the Holy Spirit. He told them to stay in Jerusalem. He told them the baptism of the Spirit was coming. He told them it would be a matter of days. His instruction is very clear. Why would we assume He got foggy during the kingdom of God sections?
    6. "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?"
The disciples are all gathered together and ask Jesus, "Are you at this time restoring the kingdom to Israel?" Clearly, the disciples were fired up about the kingdom. Jesus had been speaking to them about it for forty days and now they have one big question: "Now?" There are also a couple of other things to note from their question: a.) It could be immediate. The disciples do not ask Jesus if the long, slow development of the world into a multi-millennia program is about to start. From what Jesus had taught them, we must assume the kingdom was described in a way that meant it could imminently arrive. b). It would be by Jesus. The disciples did not believe they would be restoring the kingdom. They asked Jesus if He was going to do it. However Jesus chose to speak of the kingdom, we have to assume that over these forty days it was presented in such a way that the disciples believed it was the Lord's work. They do not even ask if "we" are going to restore the kingdom, having some role within the restoration. All responsibility is placed on Jesus' shoulders. c). He would restore Israel. These apostles, trained on a crash course in the kingdom, came away believing He would restore Israel. This is key for two reasons. The word "restore" means to return to its former state. (This is the same word Luke used to describe Jesus healing a man's hand.) Apparently, when Jesus spoke of the kingdom, it sounded a lot like the kingdom of the Old Testament. Thus, they also believed the kingdom was coming to Israel.
    7. "It is not for you to know times or epochs..."
One could easily say the disciples got it all wrong and their question exposes their dense nature. Certainly, they had a track record of misunderstanding Jesus' teaching. Yet in this situation, Jesus only addresses one point of error: timing. He does not say, "Enough with the Israel talk, fellas, I'm done with her." He does not say, "No guys, this kingdom is a spiritual-inside-the-heart thing. It doesn't look anything like the kingdom used to." He doesn't even say, "Me? No guys, you are the ones who will usher in the kingdom!" To the idea of Jesus ushering in a kingdom much like what Israel had experienced before, Jesus simply says, "It's not for you to know when." If they were wrong about their expectations of the kingdom, Jesus did not set them straight.
    8. "And you shall be my witnesses..."
Witness is not really a kingdom related term. It's connotations are that they could testify to Christ's life (especially to His resurrection) and to His teaching. It also is the same word (martus) which can be translated "martyr" (Acts 22:20, Revelation 2:13). Christ commissions them for the role of being His witness.

While there are certain elements of the kingdom that are hard to understand, it is amazing how this confusion can turn "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36) into "this world is My kingdom." However, many today consider the kingdom already here, or that it is our responsibility to usher in the kingdom. Rarely is this conflict noticed.

But of all groups, shouldn't our fellowship notice this the most. Within our Statement of Faith (which is silent on issues like creation, complimentarianism and is surprisingly brief about God the Father), we articulate:
11. SECOND COMING. The personal, visible, and imminent return of Christ to remove His church from the earth (1 Thess. 4:16-17) before the tribulation (1 Thess. 1:10; Rev. 3:10), and afterward to descend with the Church to establish His millennial kingdom upon the earth (Rev. 19:11-20:6).
Our fellowship takes a decidedly premillennial perspective. We determine that Israel and the Church are separate. We determine that Christ is returning before the Tribulation (let alone before the Millennium). We also determine that Christ will establish His kingdom rule. (On a side note, I also find it strange that those who know our fellowship and are attracted to this language have not read Greatness of the Kingdom, possibly the gold-standard book of our fellowship's history.)

Today, many employ kingdom language to describe good works that are happening on the earth. Helping the poor, dealing with political injustice and cleaning up the environment are considered kingdom work. Most startling, these works can often be severed from gospel proclaiming ministry and even implimented by unbelievers and yet still considered of the kingdom. Surely, in the kingdom the poor will be cared for, the environment will be clean and justice will defintely be on hand. Therefore, it is wise fo the believer to pursue these God pleasing issues today.

However, to believe we can usher the kingdom in through these efforts, or to belive this is all there is to the kingdom is to miss much of God's future plan. Christ alone will usher the kingdom into existence at God's appointed time. Yet, these details are ignored or misrepresented, despite the fact that it provides the clearer language in Scripture.

If people really wanted to adopt Jesus' language, they'd spend much more time speaking of these future elements. We could probably speak of the kingdom less, but speak more clearly about how the Word describes it, and people would understand it better. After all, the kingdom isn't totally "inconceivable."


  • At 9:25 AM, Blogger Brad said…

    Number of good points here. Wish I had more time to interact with them.

  • At 9:41 AM, Blogger Dale Harris said…

    Appreciated your interaction with Acts 1, Danny. Couple thoughts...

    - Be careful not to base your entire argument on silence (i.e., what Jesus didn't say in his response to the disciples' question) ... that's a big-time offender in Carson's list of Exegetical Fallacies

    - Obviously this wasn't a book, but I would have been interested to see some interaction with the Kingdom language in the Matthew 13 parables ... those in the ECM like to refer there ... and I've never seen them quote Acts 1

    - I think we must remember that the Kingdom exists in an "Already/Not Yet" manner. I saw your post very much emphasizing the "not yet" part. However, let's be careful not to build up one side of the spectrum to the detriment of the other.

    - Living out the "already" part does not mean we instead of Christ are responsible for building the Kingdom. Just as the mustard seed grows into a huge tree or the leaven spreads through the whole loaf, so too the Kingdom message should be spreading throughout the whole world, bringing initiatory glimpses of the Kingdom that will be the reality when Christ sets it up.

    - Giving glimpses of the Kingdom is what I think of when I see these references to the Kingdom. I know many within the ECM are a-mill, but that is how I think the Bible defines these terms and is the theology I hold. That's why social justice issues are important ... they help provide glimpses of the coming Kingdom, which makes Jesus' message attractive (by showing its ultimate outworking) to those who need a relationship with him.

  • At 9:44 AM, Blogger Dale Harris said…

    In my last paragraph, I wasn't very clear and it could have sounded like I'm a-mill.

    By "that is how I think the Bible defines" etc., I was referring to the 1st sentence in that paragraph.

  • At 9:20 PM, Blogger danny2 said…

    just a couple of responses:

    a) the second to last paragraph says:

    However, to believe we can usher the kingdom in through these efforts, or to belive this is all there is to the kingdom is to miss much of God's future plan. Christ alone will usher the kingdom into existence at God's appointed time. Yet, these details are ignored or misrepresented, despite the fact that it provides the clearer language in Scripture. (do i have to say "emphasis mine" if i typed it myself?)

    i never claimed there isn't an "already" element.

    b) the point of my post was not to explain the kingdom. the point of my post was to articulate the deficient portion of the emerging teaching on the kingdom.

    c) you yourself admit the emerging don't really talk about the kingdom in acts 1. but i would ask you, do you hear them really break down these statement in matthew 13:

    39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. 40 "So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age.

    49 "So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, 50 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

    obviously, many avoid the hell issue all together, but anything i've heard usually ignores "end of the age" stuff too.

    d) have you read greatness of the kingdom? i don't think it presents a "not yet only" perspective to the kingdom. i recommended the book in the post and i would say it shows a much, much more balanced view than the emerging camp.

  • At 10:31 PM, Blogger BReformed said…

    I agree with your recommendation of "The Greatness of the Kingdom".

    Another authoritative and exhaustive work is called "The Theocratic Kingdom" by George N.H. Peters (written in 1884). You can find this 3-volume set used on eBay or Amazon; it's $100 new. McClain calls it "the massive treatise", and quotes Peters several times. It is worth the expense and time to read it.

  • At 11:53 AM, Blogger Terry White said…

    Thanks for the link to "Greatness of the Kingdom" by McClain, Danny. After all these years, it's still selling strong--several thousand copies a year.

    --Terry White, publisher, BMH Books


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