The kingdom of God is cross-centered. That is for certain. The kingdom of God is one where Christ crucified, and risen from the dead is to be viewed as most glorious. One in which this Jesus is not merely some ‘good, moral teacher’, or a flaky hippie who just patted people on the back and told them they don’t need to turn from their evil ways, but that they just need to try to be a “good person” to go to Heaven, or that they could follow whatever “god” they wanted. That is not reality, and that is certainly not the way Jesus Christ spoke. These thoughts were sparked from a conversation with two friends, and in the following paragraph, I’d like to paraphrase them, but also share my thoughts. By and large, these thoughts are from a conversation about those who write and speak often about the kingdom of God and social justice, but more often than not do not discuss personal salvation or the crucified Savior. I add them, because I think these are important things, and they were good reminders, and helpful in shifting a few of my thoughts, and perhaps in correcting or opening eyes to things that are lacking in otherwise good worldviews.
To often people talk about “the kingdom of God” without talking about “the kingdom of the cross.” Now, these particular people I’m referencing do good things, and write very challenging things that Christians today need to take into account more. Things such as a lack of concern for caring for the “poor, widowed, orphaned”, and the disenfranchised, downcast, and abused. This concern most perfectly stems from a joy and love and appreciation of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. The “kingdom of the cross” needs to be at the forefront in all we do. Our love for people needs to stem out a love for God, and true love for people can only flow from a sinner who has received and accepted undeserved love from the holy God whose presence we have no right to enter in to without the blood of Jesus shed on Calvary.
Too often (and this is speaking of a few particular well-known figures in this school of thought) they point people to Gandhi, rather than to Jesus. They encourage people to look to someone who didn’t even understand and refused to confess who the real God of the universe was, rather than to those who have experienced the grace of the Almighty One. “Don’t just point me to Gandhi, or quotes by Gandhi, he didn’t even have his thoughts straight on the most important question-“who do you say Jesus is?” No, point me to the Word of God, that is living and active and cuts to bone and marrow, point me to Jesus, and let me follow in the footsteps of Christ-followers who have set an example in word and action in loving on people who need loved.” How foolish is it lie to a dying person and tell them that they’re not dying? How much worse is it to give them candy to make them ‘feel better’ for the moment without giving them the cure for what their very soul longs for? One thing that people who ascribe to this misguided Christian worldview is get caught up in trying to “be Jesus” to people, instead of pointing them to the real Jesus. Do these people have needs, they sure do. More than anything, they need pointing to Christ, and also need to have their needs cared for.
I conclude by saying that many of the well-known figures who speak in these ways are challenging, and they are helpful, and are doing things that more Christians need to be doing, encouraging, and living themselves. However, when you strip the cross and the penal substitution from the “gospel” and the “kingdom of God”, you deceive yourself and lose the power of the gospel. Jesus did not say that caring for spiritual needs are divorced from physical needs, or that we have to choose between doing “social justice” or evangelism. No, Christ commanded both to be done, by all who follow Jesus.
On my part, was this a bit of an emotion-laden post? Yes. Am I wrong in some of these thoughts? Without the context of the conversation, or the specifics of whom I’m referencing, it might come off in not the way I intend it to. But as always, if anything I’ve written is incorrect, or falsely exaggerated, I’m willing to admit it, and change it if I become aware to it. But, to the best of my understanding, I think these are true statements. Do I have all of these things mastered? I know the gospel, and I know the core truths, on those things of “first importance” I won’t try to portray an heir of humility that is actually wishy-washy beliefs. But I will admit, on the things that are of secondary importance, and that flow out of the gospel, I’m still trying to learn and understand more deeply, and most of all more biblically, and also to live out. I pray for the power for all of us to do that more.
ps-Check out Justin Taylor’s summary of Greg Gilbert’s thoughts, and even a link to Greg Gilbert’s thoughts on this.