Q&R: What is the gospel of the kingdom? And where is it now?
Reader: I’m really trying to hone in on simple definitions of “The Gospel” and “Kingdom of God.” Do you have a couple of go-to definitions?
Brad: The New Testament says that Jesus preaches the Gospel of the Kingdom, which he says is “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent [turn around and toward] and believe [trust with your will and your life] the good news [that God loves you and welcomes you to participate]!” What we discover as he continues is that this Kingdom has come near in the person of Jesus, through his ministry of liberation (Mark 1:15). We discover through the Gospels that ultimately, the means by which this kingdom becomes universal is through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, through which God is revealed as self-giving, radically forgiving, co-suffering love, and his victory over darkness, dread, and death is established. This is the same gospel preached by his apostles and evangelists (Acts 8:12) and is the gospel that Paul says he received and proclaims (1 Cor. 15:3:1-11 is his clearest summary).
Reader: And something I’ve wrestled with for years is, why doesn’t Jesus’s victory, and the good news of the Kingdom of God, have more power, more visibility in us and through us, in the here and now?
Brad: I suppose that the upside of the kingdom of God (that Love wins) is experienced as a downside because Love never coerces. The ‘wise persuasion of Love’ went to the uttermost (death on a Cross, descent into hades, resurrection from death) BUT as Love, our response must be reciprocal, a willing surrender, a complete trust that God is Good and all he does is goodness. Where the kingdom of God seems to lack visibility and power in the here and now is because not many people trust the Jesus Way of living, including Christians. We cling to control when the narrow way of Love urges us to let go. But the good news is that our recalcitrance and, indeed, evil itself, is finite. Even the hardhearted may yet bottom out our resistance to perfect Love. At least when we see Him face to face. But gratefully infinite Love is eternal. He mercy endures forever. So we hope, even while we urge folks that his Way is the Life and that more abundant. His table is full and delicious and nutritious … but we do like our junk food, right?
Reader: Like in the same way satan, sin, and death seemed to steal us and chain us up without our consent, why can’t we automatically be chained to Jesus and our identity in Him since He won us back?
Brad: You’ve answered your own question here. The way of satan, sin, and death are about chains and without consent (but was it really?). But God is love, which is comprised of mutual consent, no chains allowed, willing surrender rather than bondage. Of course, Paul willingly calls himself a bondservant of Jesus Christ… he freely offers his whole life and will to the Love of Christ. And he proclaimed that this was his true source of power. Even when bound by human chains, he turned all of Europe on its head. Visibly. Powerfully.
Reader: If we inherited our fallenness, and that was our second nature, why haven’t we been restored all the more to our original goodness through Christ’s victory?
Brad: I think that your “ifs” might be overstated. What did we inherit? Not Adam’s guilt. That’s Augustine’s error. But like Adam, we begin as babies, then toddlers, then children who discover that we too can say YES to God OR NO to God. Our freedom to do so becomes quite a problem, as it did for them. As we become teens and then adults, our NO might become more assertive… perhaps even rebellion, with all its consequences. Is it so much that we’re “fallen” as that as immature free creatures, we inevitably turn away or trip ourselves up, just like the prodigal son. And when we do, what does a good and merciful Parent do? They come to find us, come alongside us in mercy, and graciously offer a hand to pick us up and restore our original goodness. Sometimes we think original goodness = perfection. Adam and Eve weren’t perfect (as in ‘complete’). They were moral infants whose stumbles are subsumed into the bigger journey of their redemption. And that’s it. A journey. A fairly straightforward call to love and be loved, but we do tend to meander into pits (often, of our own making). In other words, I’m saying that you didn’t fall from your original goodness (the image of God). It’s just that life (my choices and others) has tarnished that beautiful diamond, but Jesus is at work, cleansing away the stain and causing it to shine again (the likeness of God) as we give ourselves to his loving care.
Reader: It makes sin seem more powerful than redemption and restoration, no?
Brad: That depends on how you think our story will end. And what we think sin is. Sin is turning from Love. And Love is more powerful than sin in that it never turns from us. And when we turn back, Love is already waiting. But what you’re seeing is that Love does not coerce our RE-turn. It doesn’t overpower our agency. So it takes a long time and gets real messy. But that’s how relationships work. We don’t ask God to force on us what we wouldn’t want a husband to force on his spouse or a parent on their adult child. You seem nervous about that freedom intrinsic to love … and given what we did to Love at the crucifixion, no wonder. But the alternative would be the dehumanization of our species.
Reader: Is it because while Jesus was victorious in the ultimate sense, we have to choose victory and cooperate and participate with the Holy Spirit each day in order to make the Kingdom manifest on earth until He returns?
Reader: The same way we can choose to participate and cooperate with our old sin nature?
Brad: I don’t believe in a ‘sin nature.’ We have a human nature. But you are exactly right about participation. Who, in our human nature, will we emulate: Adam’s autonomous grasping for what he already was (like God), or Jesus’ perfect surrender, letting go completely because he knew who he was?
Reader: Or maybe because God is love and He can’t chain us or coerce us into a relationship with Him the way the father of lies and spirit of accusation does?
Brad: Yes, see! You DID answer your own question! Nicely done.
Reader: Why does the kingdom of darkness still get to play a part in the world at all? Wasn’t that kingdom dismantled?
Brad: The kingdom of darkness IS the shadow we create in our turning. The kingdom of darkness is basically human rebellion. And as long as we choose that, it reigns to whatever degree we spurn Love.
Reader: Why can’t the kingdom of God rule now, if satan sin and death have been defeated?
Brad: I think it does, wherever we see people RE-turn toward divine Love, get transformed by that Love, and release that Love into the world. It may be less rare than you imagine, especially if we resist the overwhelming bombardment of the ‘bad news’ that gets all the press, even as 385,000 newborn babies come into the world today. And they will stumble, and they will know mercy, and they will be included in the restoration of all things, no matter how badly we mess things up. Good news: ultimately, Christ promises that at the end of the ages, the restoration of all things. Penultimately, “we are those upon the end of the ages HAS COME.”