Thursday, August 16, 2007

Kingdom and Gospel Part 2

Yes, the inversion of the title was intentional and it kinda tips my hand as to where I'm going in this second post. I'm going to just cut to the chase, with only one caveat: I may be guilty of a PUI (posting under the influence) due to some heavy duty back pain I've been blessed with as of late. I am on both prescription pain killers AND muscle relaxants - all that to say I've got a get out of purgatory free card (read: plausible denial) if any of the following transgresses orthodox boundaries :-)

If the idea of God's people under God's rule is a (the?) central theme of the Bible (and yes that is a big, though highly possible "if" but for present company, we'll just assume it - and yes Thomas and all you other Graeme worshipers you can add to that "in God's place") then I think perhaps we've (by we, I'm thinking western Christianity in the evangelical strain whose roots [at least the western part of them] lie in the Reformation no matter how bad free-willers may try to deny it) tried to replace that center with another. Huh? Ok....

In the last post I made mention of texts that seem to connect the "gospel" to announcements of God's sovereign rule. While I may not be a biblical theology kinda guy (though I'm getting better here) that does seem to be a theme of tremendous continuity connecting the Testaments. So perhaps the "Gospel" could be better summed up as "God's Kingdom is already/not yet coming and you better get on board" as opposed to "Ask Jesus to come into your heart." The center shifts so it's no longer "eternal fire insurance" oh and you get the Kingdom to boot; but rather, "You want the Kingdom, well you need a new heart and the only way you get that is if God replaces your heart of stone with a heart of flesh and gives you new birth by His Spirit." The difference may be subtle as it actually plays out in conversation (and it may not be), but there is a big difference. In the first model, the Kingdom is incidental to personal salvation; whereas in the second model personal salvation is "incidental" to the Kingdom.

If nothing else, this seems 1) to make better sense out of the sort of textual data mentioned in the previous post while still allowing for the the traditional soteriological texts 2) it allows for a more simple continuity regarding salvation in both Testaments (though Ockham's Razor is not infallible) 3) as an added perk, it puts to death the whole Lordship debate.

As G pointed out well in the comment section of the first post, I am not saying the Gospel is less than justification/conversion/redempton etc. It is that AND more. As Baylor alluded, it gives a better explanation of why the Ressurection was so important (Romans 1 - he was appointed Son of God with power...His reign has begun). Speaking of Baylor, his recent post about the criticism Derek Webb has received for defining the Gospel when put on the spot and not including penal substitution (which I would imagine he does hold to), this strikes close to home. The critics (watchbloggers/TRs) consider anyone placing undue emphasis on the Kingdom when talking about the Gospel is "left leaning" (read: Liberal). Nevertheless, I think we may be missing a big part of the Gospel when we claim to be proclaiming it. The good news is Jesus is King! (and as NT Wright would be quick to add 'and Ceasar is not' but there I go off into liberal land again). By simply proclaiming Him as Savior, we are missing part of who He is - a crucial part - and not being biblical (or at least New Testament) in our gospelizing.

This is precisely why the Gospel is a stumbling block to some - yes because of the scandal of a crucified God - but also because they don't want to bend the knee. If Jesus wants to save me, hey, I'm all for it, but if this somehow entails me having to bow before Him, I bow to no one. Yet this is precisely what we've done in western evangelism (I don't know how it's done in other parts of the world, I can only speak of what I know). Perhaps it's because (to hat tip Krister Stendahl) of the "introspective conscience of the West" but often all we care about is "What do I have to do to get out of hell?" or "How can Jesus make my life better?" "Screw the rest of the message, that's all I care about." And such thinking has left us with what I would suggest is a reductionistic and misleading approach to the Gospel. I'm not knocking Reformed theology nor dropping penal substitution or justification; I'm adding and reordering.

Anyway, that's all for now. I'll post more on this if it percolates anymore in the future (and it probably will). I'd also love any thoughts or feedback anyone cares to offer.

16 comments:

jeremy brown said...

I'm with you on this. Do you think that part of the emphasis on individual soteriology in our popular gospel presentation is due to a (perhaps unhealthy) preoccupation w/ systematic theology since the Reformation (and, to a certain degree, prior to it - see Aquinas) as opposed to biblical theology? Most systematic textbooks don't do a lot of interaction w/ Jesus as King or the kingdom itself in the context of soteriology. Perhaps attention to the narrative within which theology is revealed is starting to yield a truer understanding of what the good news really is after all...

Russell W. White said...

Mihelis, how many times have I told you that prescription narcotics and rum do not go together! Oh well . . . some people will never learn. Anyway, I would like to be the token Dispensationalist basher this time around. What I am postulating is that the modern popular Dispensationalist movement with its intent to place a steady and sure discontinuity between the two Testaments has separated the Kingdom aspect which is postulated to be connected only with an earthly kingdom from the soteriological aspects of God's redemptive plan.

In the older testament, God was simultaneously King and Savior as demonstrated in the Exodus account or Deutero-Isaiah. By placing such an artificial divide betwixt the two, the Dispensationalist has artificially compartmentalized God's interaction in history. If we would all de-construct our theological culture, we would most likely come to realize that we too have this bias and presupposition ingrained into our theological sub-conscience paradigm.

I agree with what Nate is implying, viz. we all must be ready to stand up to our previous inclinations, provide a one finger salute, and change our story to match the story of the text.

Nate, thanks for the community and proposing this angle. I think it will be of great assistance. Btw, keep up the narcotics us. It would appear that your lucidity of thought and perspicuity of your writing is direct proportional to how doped up you are!

Nate Mihelis said...

Jeremy,

I think you're exactly right. Not to say that there's no place for systematics, but I do think this may be an example of where it can be misleading. ST asks the texts questions and tries to answer them from various parts of the Canon. While this is not bad, sometimes 1) ST asks questions the text was never meant to answer directly 2)Sometimes the questions may not be broad enough, resulting in a reductionistic perspective.

Russell,
I'm not sure you've EVER told me not to mix prescription drugs and alchohol...in fact I can't imagine such a thing coming out of your mouth :-)

While I agree an overemphasis on discontinuity probaly led to this type of dichotomy, the dispensationalists aren't the only one's to blame. Your point is excellent regarding the OT understanding of GOd as Savior and King particularly as demonstrated in the Exodus. Dispensationalists (at least the non progressives se God as Savior now and King later.) However, Dispensationalists tend to trumpet eschatology more than anything else; whereas it's the refomred guys who are crucifying anyone neglecting penal substitution, redefining justification/imputation and connecting the Gospel with Kingdom.

I'm not claiming the Elijah syndrome (us young guys are the only ones who got it right) I just think we need to be genuinely reformed - ie reformata semper reformanda and sola scriptura.

Luther's Stein said...

Mihelis,

I think, Ironically, it is not the ST crowd that is up in arms about the Penal Substitution thing -- they are quite comfortable with adopting both the Christus Victor and the Penal Substitution models -- it is the Biblical Theology crowd with so much at stake. Perhaps the issue here isn't one of ST, but of the primary integrative content of "gospel."

Chris Bruno said...

Tim,
I don't fully follow your comment. Are you saying that systematic theologians are okay with multiple views of the atonement whereas biblical theologians are troubled by anything apart from and/or in addition to penal substitution?
crb

Nate Mihelis said...

Baylor,

I'm not sure I'm following you either.

Russell W. White said...

Apparently, Baylor has once again imbibed in excess from "Luther's Stein."

Luther's Stein said...

Sorry if I was unclear. When I said that it was the BT guys "with so much at stake," my point wasn't to say that ST is detatched or untouched by this problem, but that the discussion about the atonement is happening primarily in the field of Biblical Theology. For instance, I find it interesting that Dr. Carson and Wright -- by all accounts Biblical Theologians -- are battling for ground in this discussion. My point was to say that this might be because the issue at stake is situated more appropriately in Biblical-theological fields and not systematic treatments of the atonement. I was suggesting that perhaps the issue at stake is the struggle for the primary integrative biblical-theological metanarrative for interpreting the atonement rather than simply a systematic treatment of it.

Luther's Stein said...

BTW Russell, I can't deny it . . . guilty as charged.

Nate Mihelis said...

Ok,I think we were talking about two different things, I see what you're saying now. I mentioned the atonement in passing as an example of what falls under soteriology. My point wasn't yeah or nay on the penal substituion, what I was referring to was the fact that Biblical Theologians (at least anumber of evangelical ones) have demonstrated a better understanding of Kingdom as it relates to redemptive history. Thus it would be easier for these sort of folks to connect kingdom to Gospel, rather than say, a systematic approach (perhaps more of the popular level rather than philosphical theology) might begin with "what must I do to be saved?" Sure this is a "biblical" question but it was asked in a very different sitz im leben. I think what Jeremy was driving at was gospel presentations built on this type of approach to the scriptures rather than reading along the (to bring Keller into it again) Scriptures to articulate what God is doing in the World and how it relates to us.

MOsborne20 said...

I appreciate the kind words on our behalf, and we are certainly encouraged by the prayers of the saints on our behalf for the sake of the kingdom.

Speaking of kingdom, let me chime in on your posts about the gospel and the kingdom. I have to quibble with is a couple of potential logical fallacies (and, no, I don't remember the Latin name for them, nor do I have any inclination of appearing smarter by spending time looking it up!). Anyway, in your first post you said,

"To be sure they [the Gospel accounts] incorporate the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (a la 1 Cor 15:1ff), however, that only comes up at the end. Much of the material, particularly the proclamations of Jesus seem more kingdom oriented than "evangelistic" as we often think of it."

Later you said,
"Peter's sermon in Acts 2 is filled with Kingdom ideology. In fact, repentance doesn't even come up until the very end when the hearers say, 'what should we do?'" Isn't the end the point? Isn't Peter's whole point to lead them to individual repentance in light of the kingship of Jesus? Isn't the point of Jesus' ministry all leading up to the cross, resurrection, and ascension (thanks for keeping us 'full' gospel Bob)? It's not fair to underemphasize the cross events in the gospel accounts and individual response in Peter's sermon simply because they are 'only at the end.' When in reality, one could argue that because they are at the end so powerfully and consistently they deserve the emphasis.

I think we would all agree that the reign of Jesus would not be good news for anyone apart from the cross, empty tomb, and the right hand of the throne. WE have all pissed off a perfectly worthy and glorious God (Driscollian take). Or to put it like Hebrews: we have trampled the blood of the Son and insulted the Spirit of grace. It'd be better for us if He were not sovereign. The only good news is that He is proclaiming peace to the contrite through the death, resurrection, and ascension (Bob, should we put the return in there too?)

Anyway, isn't this why the NT so consistently puts together the concepts of Savior and Lord? There is no gospel apart from the reign of Christ, and there is no gospel apart from the cross, resurrection,and ascension (now I know why the ascension always get left off!) of Christ. Not to be a soft "both/and" guy, but I think I have good Biblical grounds.

Let me put a quick plug for Carson's message at the gospel coalition conference. He seeks to answer the question "What is the gospel?" and he deals with all the stuff we are talking about. It was great stuff.

Nate Mihelis said...

I didn't know Carson's message was up, and I'll definately listen to it. Also, I don't think we disagree as much as you might think here. I'm not trying to drop the cross/atonement or any other soteriological elements. I'm trying to add Kindgom (and perhaps make it fairly cetral but only due to it's unifying effects on otherwise seemingly disparate elements). I don't disagree that Peter's call to repentence was central and that it's position at the close was climactically "strategic" (though obviously he wasn't speaking from a manuscripted document). But I think your point here highlights the point I've been trying to bring out. Peter spent a ton of time talking about the King and Kingdom; this led to repentence. Instead, we invest out content in evangelistic discussions talking about repentance, the cross and various soteriological points, but never put them in a Kingdom context. Kingdom gets treated under eschatology if at all.

So I'm advocating a both and approach; the appearance of a reverse pendulum swing may derive from my attempt to make my point forcefully. I didn't want to end these posts with people walking away saying "Yeah, yeah, we do that" when in fact, I don't think I've hardly heard it done. So again, the Gospel is not less than substitution, justification, ascension, etc. It is more. It is set in the context of a a King and Kingdom. I'm not trying to play the Gospels off against the epistles, but you'll find minimal discussion of substitution and justification in the Gospels (it is here and there). More often than not you will find Jesus proclaiming the Kingdom. I'm simply trying to reconcile His message with that of the Apostles. The Kingdom seems to me to be the unifying thread. So though the "good news" can be nutshelled in a number of ways, I begining to think the most precise abbreviation is "Jesus is Lord." And while I agree that Lord and Savior both need to be proclaimed, all too often I think they are proclaimed as interchangeable synonyms.

MOsborne20 said...

Nate,

I appreciate your response to my comments. A couple of thoughts and a couple of questions.

Our level of agreement is indeed great. I appreciate your attempt to shake us out of potentially reductionistic way of thinking about/presenting the gospel.

We are wise not to "pit" the gospel accounts against the epistles as if Paul differed from Jesus. The gospels seem less loaded with justification, substitution, etc. And the epistles seem less loaded with kingdom talk. However, I think careful thinking in both places will show that they are symmetrical.

When you say that Jesus was proclaiming the kingdom would you agree that in His proclaiming of it He was calling for individual repentance?

Would you be comfortable saying the most abbreviated form of the gospel is that Jesus is Lord and Savior?

MOsborne20 said...

Nate,

Have you ever clicked on the "Two Ways to Live" button on Justin Taylor's Blog? It gives a presentation of the gospel that is kingdom oriented. If you get a chance, check it out and let me know what you think.

Nate Mihelis said...

I actually used to have one of their tracts and that's probably the best I've seen; well that and Piper's little evangelistic booklet.

I would be inclined to say yes, in the Gospels Jesus was calling for individual repentence; though Wright could quickly persuade me to say national repentance which isn't too wide of the mark, especially considering a nation is made up of individuals. Of course Jesus did on occaision call those who were of other ethnicities. So to the one who says individual, I would probably qualify it: "in the context of national repentance" and to the one who says national, I would probably qualify: "a nation is made up of individuals." The good old both/and strikes again.

I love the statement "Jesus is Lord and Savior." and it certainly has biblical precident. I still think that if you want to say the MOST abbreviated, you could stop with "Jesus is Lord." Either statement is going to have to be unpacked anyway, but obviously the later has two less words. Sure you could argue that if taken in canonical context, just "Jesus" would imply all, but I think the lowest we can/should go is the propositional level, in fact I have been known to argue communication takes place largely above the propositional level; that is to say on the level of discourse. But that's a whole nother post (Tom I hope you're reading this!) I argue Jesus is Lord is sufficient because in a fallen context, for Him to rule a people with any type of reciprocity (that is to say a people not in hell) it assumes He is Savior. The reverse would not be true as Ryrie has so damningly demonstrated. "Jesus is Savior" doesn't necessitate that He be Lord, thank you easy believism. So yeah, Jesus is Lord AND Savior certainly adds clarification. So while I do think Jesus is Lord is the most abbreviated statement of the Gospel, that is a HUGE bit of nitpicking on my part and is only significant in an acontextual vacuum. The reality of it is such abbreviated statements need to be unpacked in there canonical context and redemptive historical significance for a postmodern or even post-postmodern pagan to be converted. So I guess when the rubber meets the road, in a sense, it becomes a moot point. But you have definately helped to refine my thinking on it, so I still consider the present discussion to be immensely profitable.

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