Today, we will hear from Keith Beebe:
The heart of Jesus’ message and ministry was “the Kingdom of God,” a topic he talked about more than any other. All three synoptic gospel writers summarize the content of Jesus’ message as “the good news of the kingdom” (see Mt. 4:23, 9:35; Mk. 1:14-15; Lk. 4:43; Acts 1:3), and it is clear that Jesus intended for his followers to proclaim and demonstrate the Kingdom of God to the world (see Lk. 9:1-2, 10:9; Acts 28:31). Despite its centrality to the mission of Jesus and his early followers, the Kingdom of God is a topic about which the contemporary Western church is pretty confused. Whenever I teach on the topic, I usually survey the class or conference participants for a concise written explanation of the term, and I end up with a multiplicity of diverse answers—including “the church,” “heaven,” “the afterlife,” “Israel,” “angels,” and “the Millennium.” (What is wrong with this picture?)
Several historical, cultural and theological factors seem to contribute to this confusion—including modern democratic ideals, religious relativism, particular eschatological scenarios, and the over-reliance upon one theory of the Christ’s atonement (i.e. penal substitution or moral satisfaction) over some others (i.e. Christus Victor). However, I believe the primary problem rests with the post-Enlightenment, naturalistic (anti-supernatural) worldview assumptions that influence/shape our reading of the Scriptures and distort our understanding of the redemptive power and activity of God and the intended mission for the church.
Understood biblically, the Kingdom (Hb. malkuth; Gk. Basileia) of God is the dynamic “reign” or “rule” of God. Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom of God is “in your midst”; that the reality of God’s supernatural power and authority has intervened (and is intervening) within our troubled world to overcome the powers of darkness and redeem/rescue people from those destructive forces. God’s ultimate defeat of those demonic powers took place in Jesus’ death and resurrection: “Having disarmed the (spiritual) powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col. 2:15), and has thereby “rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Col. 1:13) where God’s redemptive, supernatural power and authority can be experienced in our lives and ministries.
This message—and the redemptive works of healing (physical, emotional, spiritual, relational, social/cultural, institutional, etc.) that accompany it—is truly good news that our troubled world desperately needs to experience and the church has been called to deliver. Unfortunately, many Western Christians are more steeped in the culture’s naturalistic worldview assumptions than they realize, often functioning as “practical deists” who are content with a moralistic, programmatic or institutionalized approach to being the church. (When is the last time you heard a sermon on how to pray for the sick, or help someone with demonic oppression? Yet, read the Book—it’s all there!) It is no wonder that the Christian movement in most parts of the “enlightened” West has been in a sharp decline.
Keith Beebe is Chair and Associate Professor of Theology at Whitworth University, where he has taught Church History, Western Civilization, and Biblical Studies since February 2001. Ordained as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church USA, Keith has served as churches in California, Montana and Washington. He received his Ph.D. in Church History at King’s College, Aberdeen, Scotland.