Saturday, September 17, 2005

Kingdom of God

I'm doing a Bible study for my old youth group back home. Of course, everybody in it now was a kid when I was in it, so that's gonna be weird. My brother's a senior in high school now, so at least I know some of his friends.

Anywho, I'm planning to talk about the Kingdom of God. It's totally unfathomable to me that this was the main thrust of Jesus' teaching, yet it receives so little airtime in the church environment. Jesus' teaching on the Kingdom was, simply, revolutionary. I like to call it that, the Revolution of God. I think that's closer to what Jesus (and others who used the term before and contemporaneously with him) meant when they said "Kingdom of God". In the Hebrew Scriptures (which is what I'm trying to call the Old Testament, out of respect for my Jewish friends) Kingdom of God meant the reestablishment of Israel under God's rule within history, along with a lot of utopian images such as lions laying down with lambs, no oppression of the poor, no sickness or early death, and the like. When Jesus uses it, the Kingdom goes far beyond the political and earthly, but doesn't (I believe) preclude the political. What I mean is, a lot of evangelical Christians seem to think that just because the Kingdom Jesus talked about wasn't the theocratic nation-state other people seemed to think it should be, that it's entirely a spiritual/moral concept.

It isn't.

What Jesus teaches is a complete moral/social/political revolution. Selfishness is out, altruism is in. Vengeance is out, forgiveness is in. Love is the new hate. Those old ways of life (anger, lust, judgment) are simply not going to work in God's Revolution. I think H.G. Wells said it best, ironically enough (Wells was decidedly opposed to Christianity). In a history of the world that he wrote, he said the following about Jesus' teaching on the Kingdom of God:

It was not merely a moral and a social revolution that Jesus proclaimed; it is clear from a score of indications that his teaching had a political bent of the plainest sort. It is true that he said his kingdom was not of this world, that it was in the hearts of men and not upon a throne; but it is equally clear that wherever and in what measure his kingdom was set up in the hearts of men, the outer world would be in that measure revolutionized and made new.

All that is to say that the Kingdom of God is not theocracy. It is not Christians seizing control of governments. But as more and more of the world comes under God's Revolution, changes in our political/economic structures are inevitable. I think communism in many ways tried to do what Christianity should have done, and one of these days, we American Christians are going to have to drop our love affair with capitalism. It may be what we have to accept right now, but an economy based on greed (read Adam Smith) is not going to work in the Kingdom of God. It should disturb us that the early church appeared to operate in a way that would appeal much more to Karl Marx than to Donald Trump.

So if nothing else I hope I can get people to get off thinking only about life after death, the selfish gospel that Dallas Willard calls "the gospel of sin management." Ask ten Christians why Jesus came to earth and 9 of them will probably say something like, "To die for our sins so we can go to heaven when we die." Bullcrap! I'm not saying that isn't true, it's just so small. He wanted us to have a better way of life. He wanted to change us. He wanted to set people free, not just from the guilt of sin, or from death, but from the very fear of death. From the whole way that life is generally lived. The "quiet desperation" that so many of us experience all the time.

I'm blogging this mostly to get my thoughts out. I have to finish this Bible study and I find it easier to think here for some reason.

I also like "Revolution of God" because a key part of the Kingdom message is repentance. What an ugly, heavy word. Repent. We hate it, and try to avoid it. Or we love it excessively, and turn the God of Love into a small god who barely stands you, with his arms crossed and an angry look on his face. Repent in the original language means literally to turn around, to change direction. And hey, look! That's what revolution means too.

Jesus comes at just the right time and says, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!" Time to change. Time to revolt against the old ways of selfishness. Get ready to change, for God's Revolution is here! It's already among us.

May it come swiftly.


Anonymous said...

Considering you're in college and taking some pretty in depth classes regarding biblical literature, let me remind you that you are writing to a church youth group. Short attention span and most likely a bit self-absorbed. You have a good idea for a message, but try and make it apply to them in their current situations (friendships, boyfriend/girlfriend relationships, schoolwork, general understanding and acceptance of others). They haven't studied as in depthly as you have and some of them may not be as intelligent as you, so make baby steps in your connection from one concept to another.

Anonymous said...

Also, may I add, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a very good movie, if you're into that sort of thing...

Travis Greene said...

Whoever you are, your advice is excellent and I shall not ignore it. I hate that I tend to suffer the same affliction many preachers face: I'm answering questions nobody's asking. Jesus always related things to concrete life, and I should do the same. Thanks.

Friar Tuck said...

Your nameless friend makes a good point, but I also think being too practical could hurt you too. I think you need primarily tap in the idea that Jesus was a little bit of a countercultural rebel. In other words, you can do the big conceptual thing..I disagree with anonymous there..especially if you do it in an energized fashion (see Tony Campolo for a prime example of how this may work).

I think he is right in that you have to find a point of connection though, and not assume everyone is where you are...thus I suggest the JESUS IS A BAD ASS REBEL AND HERE IS WHY approach

Rod said...

I have been exploring the notion of Jesus as a revolutionary and his His kingdom as a revolution for some time now, but you have made the next logical step in paraphrasing the the Kingdom of God as the "Revolution of God." I will definitely be using that nomenclature in my reflections.

How does one read the Sermon on the Mounth, the parable of the sheeps and goats, and the socio-economic practices of the church described in Acts 2 and 4 without seeing the revolutionary implications of the Gospel? We have to be conditioned into not seeing the obvious. We are blinded by the greed, materialism, and hyper-individualism of our society and are influenced by the pious religion of medieval European Christianity which was transferred to us Americans through the Puritans. I have an excellent quote from Bonhoeffer's "Ethics" that captures the consequences of such a theology:

"Some who seek to escape from taking a stand publicly find a place of refuge in a private virtuousness. Such a man does not steal. He does not commit murder. He does not commit adultery. Within the limits of his powers he does good... It is only at the price of an act of self-deception that he can safeguard his private blamelessness against contamination through responsible action in the world. Whatever he may do, that which he omits gives him no peace. Either this disquiet will destroy him or he will become the most hypocritical of Pharisees."

Travis Greene said...

Bonhoeffer's a great example of how following Christ should impact our politics, force us to take on the systems that trap people. Bonhoeffer had Naziism, which is certainly more obviously evil than the more subtle "powers and principalities" in our society. But in the long run, who can say which is worse? Is an huge, painful tumor that forces us to treat it better or worse than a slow malady that we don't realize is ruining us until it's too late?

Travis Greene said...

P.S. The bible study went well. I didn't have much time, though, so it was pretty brief. I think next time I may talk about how God's creation and our stewardship applies to ecology.