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Monday, April 4, 2011

I'll bring this Kingdom with a Gun.

For the last several years I have been aware of a growing understanding of and emphasis on the Kingdom of Heaven. Up through the late 90's I didn't really hear very much about the Kingdom of Heaven and what little I did seemed to come from a broadly premillenial theology which identified the Kingdom of Heaven with a millennial political reign of Christ on earth. In other words people didn't really talk about the Kingdom being something that happens now so much as something we can all (or at least some of us) look forward to.

I don't intend to make the argument for current, ongoing Kingdom theology, that has already been done quite effectively. As I said, things have changed since the 90's; as far as I can tell, they have reverted to what the majority of Christians throughout history have actually thought on the subject. Suffice it to say that I fully believe that the Kingdom of Heaven is something that all Christians are tasked with incarnating (fun theologian word) and promulgating (fun philosopher word).

So, taking the immediate importance of the Kingdom as a given, what I do want to talk about is the manner in which we are attempting to bring that kingdom (I was personally surprised to realize that this is also why I am a libertarian). I believe that we have been given a specific set of tools and tactics for our kingdom building efforts. The tools, show up mostly in various epistles and are generally referred to as the "gifts of the spirit". Taken in tandem with our own talents, educations and circumstances; and used in cooperation with the rest of our communities, I believe that we have everything we need. The tactics are given rather explicitly by Jesus, in all four of the gospels and essentially revolve around loving God and loving our neighbors (see earlier posts for thoughts about neighbor loving). Paul gives some useful, practical examples in his epistles and we get to see the whole process in action both in Jesus' life and in the Acts of the Apostles.

What stands out as absent from both of these areas is any mention of the sword. We do not build the Kingdom by force, by threats or by violence; rather our tools and tactics fall under some combination of the true the good and the beautiful (faith, hope and love anyone?).

Now up to this point, I suspect that most of my contemporaries would agree (although I know that some of you are expecting a sneaky Bill-wordgames-trap). So here is my big pill to swallow: I believe that our tools and tactics force us to exclude government as a way of bringing the Kingdom. Why? Because nearly everything that government does is essentially based on violence. All laws are based on the premise that if they are not obeyed, the offender will be thrown into prison against their will. If they resist arrest, they can be killed. If that is the basis for law then law cannot be the basis for Kingdom building. The Kingdom is built on consent; on bringing people into relationship and offering a better way (see what Lewis has to say about the "tao" to get a good idea of this). It cannot be based on force and because all government is based on force (check out what Paul has to say about rulers specifically being people who have been given the power of the sword), it cannot, it must not be based on government.

Let me end by stating what I am not saying. I am not saying that all government is bad or that all laws should be opposed by Kingdom builders. The government is tasked with justice (again check out what Paul has to say about what rulers are given sword power for). I am all for Christian political activism on issues that involve correcting injustices (I fully expect to see Christians lined up on both sides of the death penalty debate). I am especially in favor of the use of government power to stop those who would, themselves, use force against others. I am saying only that we cannot and must not use the government to try to make people into better people. Force, and therefore government will never cause generosity, mercy, courage or temperance. It will never plant the seeds of real agape in a single heart.


  1. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the second coming supposed to be a, not violent per say, but judgmental coming with the horsemen and all?

    And here is a thought. So I make the connection that the sword and the government are more suited towards being, or more preferable as a threat than a force? Such as, we might be more scared of the threat of being judged than the judgment itself.

  2. OK, in response to your first comment I will give the time-honored answer of the amillenialists: I have no idea what on earth IS going to happen when Jesus comes back, but I do know it's gonna be big.
    My reaction to the thought is that I don't think that there is an essential difference between the power of threat and the power of force. A threat which is not backed by force is no threat at all; so any real threat implies force.

  3. interesting...a few years ago I put together a summer colloquia - a discussion group really - wrestling with these issues. I called it "The Aquinas Conversations" after Aquinas and his thoughts on coercion and force and violence. Really great discussions, I love that sort of thing and would love to do it again. I did put together one other the following year entitled "The Newbigin Conversations"...

    I'm contemplating the Kingdom-Building language here...something about it strikes me just now, I'll have to think on it.

    (btw - love the Lewis/Tao reference!)

  4. ^ Aquinas rocks!

    I think you are right, Bill in that God wins people over stealthily, sneaking into their hearts and doesn't force them to be good as in "do and you shall be." And I think it is pointless to impose morals by passing laws. Of course, what you are really arguing depends on your definition of "Kingdom," as you stated outright. By Kris's comment, I can assume his premise is that the Kingdom is yet to come, when He comes again in a blaze of glory. However, some theologians, I assume, believe Christ already established His Kingdom and left his disciples to build it in preparation.

  5. Aquinas does indeed rock. Seven I would have loved to just listen to those conversations (and would certainly look forward to any which were scheduled in the future??..) and I am certainly interested in any feedback on kingdom language and theology. Because this is a relatively young revival (the earliest I ran into it was my Dad talking about "new" older ways to interpret kingdom parables) I am still running into exiting bits of forgotten orthodoxy (and orthopraxy for that matter) and I am still trying to get a handle on modern applications and language for this ancient doctrine.
    Nichole, I think that's a great assessment of the divide between late 20th century kingdom theology and pre-enlightenment/post-enlightenment imminent kingdom theology. I would certainly count myself among the thinkers who hold that "Christ already established His Kingdom and left his disciples to build it in preparation." I believe that this is at least part of what the Vineyard is talking about with "now and not yet" theology.