On Not Advancing the Kingdom

John Goldingay has some very interesting things to say in his book, Do We Need the New Testament? In several places he repeats the notion that neither Israel nor the church were called to advance or bring in or implement the kingdom of God.

There is no direct link between seeking to restrain injustice in society and the implementing of God’s reign. Implementing God’s reign is fortunately God’s business. We have noted that the New Testament does not talk about human beings furthering or spreading or building up or working for God’s reign (p. 47).

An uncomfortable truth about the Holy Spirit is that we cannot control its coming and operation, as we cannot bring in or further or work for God’s reign. . . Our relationship with God is not contractual, so that we could fulfill the right conditions and it would have the desired results, as if our relationship with God resembled putting coins in a vending machine (p. 60).

Unfortunately, Goldingay doesn’t elaborate much on this notion, for it surely runs against the grain of much Christian rhetoric about advancing the kingdom or working for a kingdom agenda.

In our Gospel of Mark course from a weeks ago, we lingered over Jesus’ words about receiving the kingdom.

Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them (10:15-16).

We were struck since most of us are used to language of advancing or furthering or even entering. But Jesus speaks of receiving it.

What sort of language do you most associate with the kingdom of God – receiving or advancing? And what is intended by each of these? What do we typically mean by advancing it, and what might Jesus mean by receiving it?

3 thoughts on “On Not Advancing the Kingdom

  1. Michael Pahl

    This is a good reminder, that the Jesus of the Gospels (esp. Synoptics) uses the language of “receiving” and “entering” the kingdom. God’s reign is a gift, something God brings about, and we receive it and enter it. But I wonder if within the Gospels themselves, and then with the rest of the NT, drawing on OT biblical themes, there might be warrant for thinking at least about participation with God in extending God’s reign throughout the earth.

    I’m thinking of Matthew’s Great Commission, for example – the language is of making “disciples” (student-followers, apprentices) who would then presumably carry on the teachings and tasks of their rabbi/master. That basic idea of Jesus’ followers continuing his work in the world at least makes room for an idea of “kingdom-extending.”

    Then there are ideas in Paul like 1 Cor 3, of people planting and watering but God making growth, that could be drawing on some of Jesus’ kingdom imagery. Or even Paul’s “body of Messiah” language, with the church being Jesus’ body on earth, presumably then continuing Jesus’ mission. Again, we participate with God in Jesus’ ongoing kingdom work.

    Then there are the wider biblical-theological themes related to the kingdom of God, such as ideas from Gen 1 about humanity created in God’s image, i.e. as his royal representatives, reigning over the earth as representatives of God the Creator-King. This is in the background for at least some of the “restoration of the image of God” ideas in the NT, thus opening up the idea that we are in fact in Christ to participate in this reign even now.

    So yes, it is a helpful reminder, it can keep us from moving down some wrong sorts of post-millennial “we build the kingdom” or God’s Spirit only works through the Church kinds of emphases. But this kind of appeal to biblical language misses a wider biblical theology that calls on us as Jesus-followers to participate in God’s kingdom-building work in the world, methinks.

    A few initial, first-crack sorts of thoughts.

  2. David Church

    Michael, these were the exact verses that came to my mind. God is surely in charge, but He also uses His followers as tools. How can we believe if we have not heard and how can we hear if no one speaks?

  3. philjames

    What do you think of Wright’s position (as I understand it, anyway) that the Kingdom of God is God’s just and loving reign over creation through his human vice regents. This at least seems to be what the gospels present God’s Kingdom to be: God reigning through his Christ.

    Union with him can only be received, but I’m reminded of the helpful comments you once made about the nature of faith/receiving- it looks like something. Maybe like implementing, advancing or participating?

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