Kingdom and mission: a pants classification

I mentioned before the distinction that Scot McKnight makes in his Kingdom Conspiracy book between a “pleated pants” view of kingdom as the redemptive activity of God and a “skinny jeans” view of the kingdom as social activism in which the church may be more of a hindrance than a help.

You probably have to be American really to appreciate the sartorial metonymy, but I think we can usefully extend the classification.

Paul’s parable of the olive tree

In Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church Scot McKnight takes aim at two broad misconceptions of what the kingdom of God is: the “skinny jeans” reduction of kingdom to social activism, and the more conventionally religious “pleated pants” approach, which regards the kingdom as primarily an expression of God’s redemptive presence in the world.

The church should not be doing mission on the basis of a false view of this central biblical concept. The “kingdom of God” belongs to the story of first century Israel and what it became, and McKnight argues strenuously that how we think about and do mission today must take this historical narrative into account.

As Scot McKnight says, the meek ought to have inherited the land

Let me state this as clearly as I can…

(I’ve picked up something of Scot McKnight’s combative tone of voice here.)

The sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7 was not preached to or for the benefit of the post-Christendom, modern-going-on-postmodern, global church.

It was preached to beleaguered first century Israel. It was a call to a section of first century Israel to pursue a particular course of action, to think in a particular fashion, to embark on a particular journey at a time of extreme national crisis, when a storm and a flood were about to sweep away the house that Israel had built on the sand.

On second thoughts, the five act play model doesn’t work

I wrote a piece recently offering my revision of Tom Wright’s five act play model of biblical authority. The aim was to take account both of the realistic character of biblical eschatology and of the historical experience of the church. This was my proposed narrative structure:

  • Act 1 The people of God and the land
  • Act 2 The clash with pagan empire
  • Act 3 Jesus and the coming of the kingdom of God
  • Act 4 The people of God and the nations
  • Act 5 The people of God and global secularism

An illustrated guide to Tom Wright and an introduction to “transtomism”

I have been reading an excellent little “visual guide” to the thought of Tom Wright by Marlin Watling. The book is called The Marriage of Heaven and Earth, it’s self-published, and is available as a paperback or on Kindle. Coincidentally, my copy of Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion arrived today. Will it never end?

The book kicks off with an introduction to “Tom” the person—a “veritable rock star of contemporary theology”—which gives a mildly hagiographical slant to it. Then we have three main sections: a summary of the four concepts that Watling thinks are key to the thought of the popular Wright (Bible as story, the good news about Jesus, the kingdom of God, and a “new take on morals”); his proposal about a new worldview; and, quoting from the press release, an “overview of humanity’s mission, with an eye toward the end times”. It is not a summary of Wright’s Christian Origins and the Question of God books.

John the Baptist and the wrath to come

What did John the Baptist have in mind when he warned the Sadducees and Pharisees about the wrath to come (Matt. 3:7; Lk. 3:7)? Is there any scope for thinking that he is talking about more than—that his language exceeds or transcends—the disastrous events of AD 70? This is one of those posts that started out as a comment but got too big for its boots. It develops part of the argument put forward in ”Getting saved in the Gospels”.

I think we have to assume that if a Jewish prophet in the first century warns the leaders of Israel about the wrath to come, tells them that trees which do not bear good fruit will be cut down, and uses the language of threshing, chaff, winnowing and fire, he is speaking, as the prophets did, about God’s judgment on Jerusalem.

Getting saved in the Gospels

Christianity is reckoned by most people, I imagine, to be at core a religion of salvation. The defining event is the cross, understood as an act of atonement or redemption, the means by which people are saved. If you are not a Christian you are “lost” or “perishing”. If you become a Christian, you don’t simply convert or join: you admit that you cannot save yourself, that you need a Saviour, therefore you repent of your sins and are saved. You then become part of a community of saved individuals, the church, and are expected to do what other saved people do, until eventually you die and go to heaven.

This has certainly been the overriding paradigm for the modern conservative and evangelical church, and we all naturally assume that it’s biblical. At the heart of the New Testament must be the simple and consistent gospel proclamation: you are a sinner, but the good news is that Jesus died for your sins; so believe in him and be saved from lostness before death and annihilation or worse after death.

Why I don’t like being labelled a “preterist”

I asserted in the last post on the “firstfruits” that my reading of New Testament eschatology “is not preterism; it is a matter of taking the historical perspective of the early church seriously”. Peter thinks that taking the historical perspective of the early church seriously is exactly what preterists do. So surely, the distinction is spurious?

I have to say, my effort over the years to distance myself from modern preterism has been a little tongue-in-cheek, but there is a serious point to it. Preterism frames our reading of the New Testament in a particular way, both historically and hermeneutically. My contention is that the evolving literary-historical methodologies of New Testament studies will provide, in the long run, a broader and more robust basis for constructing a properly “evangelical” theology for the age to come.

What role do the “firstfruits” play in New Testament eschatology?

I was asked how I understood the reference to “firstfruits” in the New Testament. It’s a rather obscure topic perhaps, but a bit of word study won’t go amiss and may shed some light on the eschatological narrative.

In case you’re not familiar with my idiosyncratic way of reading the New Testament, my view is that the “eschatological” material has mostly to do with events in a foreseeable future: judgment against Israel, judgment against the nations, the vindication of the disciples and the churches, and the rule of Christ over the nations. This is not preterism; it is a matter of taking the historical perspective of the early church seriously. On the margins of the apocalyptic-prophetic vision of the New Testament, however, is a final judgment of humanity, defeat of evil and death, and renewal of heaven and earth.

Justice, justification, Jesus, Jerusalem, and the hell of fire

I was recommended Tim Keller’s book Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just as preparatory reading for a sermon at Crossroads International Church in the Hague this coming weekend. It’s a compassionate, practical, carefully argued, and in some ways quite audacious exhortation to the conservative evangelical church—and from firmly within the conservative evangelical church—to recognise that practising social justice is an integral part of biblical teaching. “The most traditional formulation of evangelical doctrine,” Keller says, “rightly understood, should lead its proponents to a life of doing justice in the world.”

Given the theological starting point, it’s an excellent book, and we could leave it at that. But it seems to me that in places the scriptural substructure is rickety and on the verge of collapse. If it holds up long enough to enable Reformed Christians to take social justice seriously, all well and good. But in the long run I think that we are going to have to undertake some extensive renovations.

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