N. T. Wright on God’s Kingdom and Prophetic Truth-Speaking

N. T. Wright contrasts the Kingdom of God with all other earthly kingdoms.  God’s identity as cruciform and his character of self-giving love orients and shapes his Kingdom.

An essential component of this is prophetic truth-speaking.  This is often confused among many Christian people today who applaud the angry and hysterical political rhetoric that dominates public life in the West.

Prophetic truth-speaking is something far different.  It involves speaking plainly and faithfully about injustice, exploitation, misuse of power, and oppression of the weak and defenseless.  It has no time for public relations obfuscations, the smoke screens of political scheming, and the rhetorical justifications of imperial domination.

With reference to John’s Gospel, Wright puts it like this:

Jesus explains (18:36) that his kingdom is not the sort that grows in this world.  His kingdom is certainly for this world, but it isn’t from it.  It comes from somewhere else—in other words, from above, from heaven, from God.  It is God’s gift to his world, but, as John already pointed out in the prologue, the world isn’t ready for this gift.  The key is this: if Jesus’s kingdom were the regular sort, the kind that grows all too easily in the present world—the sort of kingdom, in fact, that James and John had wanted!—then Jesus’s followers would be taking up arms:

“If my kingdom were from this world, my supporters would have fought to stop me being handed over to the Judaeans.  So then, my kingdom is not the sort of that comes from here.” (18:36)

The difference between the kingdoms is striking.  Caesar’s kingdom (and all other kingdoms that originate in this world) make their way by fighting.  But Jesus’s kingdom—God’s kingdom enacted through Jesus—makes its way with quite a different weapon, one that Pilate refuses to acknowledge: telling the truth:

“So!  said Pilate, “You are a king, are you?”  “You’re the one who’s calling me a king,” replied Jesus.  “I was born for this; I’ve come into the world for this: to give evidence about the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  “Truth!” said Pilate.  “What’s that?” (18:37-38).

The point about truth, and about Jesus and his followers bearing witness to it, is that truth is what happens when humans use words to reflect God’s wise ordering of the world and so shine light into its dark corners, bringing judgment and mercy where it is badly needed.  Empires can’t cope with this.  They make their own “truth,” creating “facts on the ground” in the depressingly normal way of violence and injustice (pp. 144-145).

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2 responses to “N. T. Wright on God’s Kingdom and Prophetic Truth-Speaking

  • Jaime Hancock

    When I started attending the congregation where I now attend, I was asked if I believe that prophecy is a functioning gift of the church. I responded in the affirmative, because I do believe that prophecy is a functioning gift of the church. But I realize that what I mean by prophecy and what is often meant by prophecy do not always line up. What I mean by prophecy is a broader term than what they usually mean. It is often used in some churches to refer to a prophetic utterance about the congregation itself, but the Biblical usage is much broader and does refer more to truth telling, in all its arenas, including the political.
    I think this wrong usage of the word is what causes some church people to be upset or offended when they hear a singer like Bruce Springsteen or Paul Simon referred to as a prophet, particularly if they are not of the same political persuasion. But prophecy doesn’t come from one’s political stance. True prophecy originates from Truth, and calls all back to Truth.

    Grace and Peace,
    Jaime

    • timgombis

      Well-said, Jaime. It’s true that artists often function as prophets because they can see through pretensions and hypocrisies and can talk about perverted dynamics in ways truly capture what’s going on.

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