Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Evangelicals and the Kingdom of God

For some time now, accusations have been hurled against conservative evangelicals which contend that we are so concerned about the eternal that we neglect our stewardship over the temporal. Principally, these charges have come from within the Emergent Network, and admittedly, the reputation they tie to a few corners of the evangelical world is sometimes earned.

The mistake however, has been to contend that because certain evangelicals have neglected the more holistic parameters of their calling, this is neccesarily the fault of evangelical theology.

Nevertheless, Emergent leaders, most notably Brian McLaren, have asserted that our insistence on a "Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation" approach to Redemptive history and worldview is the cause for why some evangelicals have ignored, for example, social justice issues. McLaren's conclusion is that the "Gospel" of conservative Protestants, which centers around the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ for the forgiveness of sins, isn't really what Jesus or Paul had in mind. Therefore, McLaren offers an alternative understanding of the Gospel that, in his view, removes the cross and resurrection from the center, and puts in its place the "Kingdom of God." Says McLaren: "The seeking of justice in history, doing what is fair or right in history is minimized because the important thing is what is BEYOND history. The question [for conservative Protestants] is “are we getting people to understand here so that they can get to heaven?”*** In short, McLaren contends that Protestants have often said "we will save your souls, and at the same time steal your natural resources," justifying how we took advantage of other peoples and nations by stating that we gave them the "Gospel" in return, and he is probably right! His mistake is blaming all of this on the Gospel of the cross and ressurection. Moreover, his oversimplification of substitutionary atonement contributes to what essentially becomes a "straw man" argument.

McLaren's mischaracterizations of the Protestant Gospel are answered in a new book written by Russ Moore, one of my former seminary colleagues, who now serves as Vice President and Dean of the School of Theology at Southern Seminary in Louisville Kentucky. Dr. Moore's latest work, The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective essentially lays to rest contentions that sinful ommissions of our missional responsibilities in the past are related to a conservative Protestant presentation of the Gospel. In fact, Moore contends that it is the conservative/Protestant Gospel which, when rightly applied, will most effecively address the very issues that currently concern groups like Emergent. Below is a small sample of an interview Crossway Books conducted with Moore that illustrates this point.

CROSSWAY BOOKS: But what about the criticism that Christians are so focused on future renewal that they neglect
current problems?
RUSSELL MOORE: Seeking first the Kingdom should not dampen Christian concern for social and political justice, but
heighten it. After all, the priorities of the King—seen in his ultimate goal at the restoration of the creation—must
become the priorities of the Kingdom colony, the church. We see something of this principle in the New Testament
when James confronts the churches for their economic injustices. He does not simply appeal to timeless truths about
partiality, but instead indicts the church for a defective eschatology. In the same way, the priorities of the
eschatological Kingdom must transform the priorities of our churches—including the ways we think about culture and
politics. If the messianic kingdom is marked by "pity on the week and the needy" whose lives are threatened by
"oppression and violence" (Ps 72:12), then how can the church ignore the "unwanted children" languishing in Russian
orphanages or "invalids" wasting away in lonely nursing homes? If the coming Kingdom is marked by a King who
judges with fairness and equity (Isa 11:3-4), then how can the believing community be silent in the face of judicial
abuse of power? If the Kingdom is ruled by believers from every tribe and nation (Rev 5:9-10), then how can Christians
stand by while some of the cosmos's future rulers are denied justice because of the pigment of their skin? If the
Kingdom will mean the restoration of the material creation under the rule of human beings, then how can Christians
fall into the extremist positions of either side of the environmental movement—seeing the natural order as a resource
to be exploited carelessly or seeing humanity as a parasite on the earth? If the Kingdom—both in the creation and in
the new creation—shows that human purpose is found in creative labor, then how can evangelicals be surprised when
a welfare state leads to despair seen in crime, family breakdown, drugs, and alcohol abuse?
Perhaps most pertinent to the current era, evangelicals must understand what the biblical vision of the Kingdom
teaches us about the essential goodness of life itself. Abortion, euthanasia, and other assaults on innocent life are not
just liberal and they are not just mean. They are part of an ongoing guerilla insurgency against the image of the Creator
himself. When we plead in the public square for the sanctity of human life, we are saying something that we learn
from the Kingdom we will see in our own resurrections from the grave— that life is better than death because the gospel is more glorious than the curse."

Well, so much for the contention that the Reformation Gospel doesn't address holistic issues or social justice! ON the contrary, it is the only message that will better humanity in this life, and save humanity for fellowship with God in the next!

***McLaren quotes taken from a conference in which I was allowed to hear his views on various atonement theories.

****To read the entire interview with Russell Moore, click here:


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