Thursday, February 03, 2011

The Kingdom: Commenced and Coming

Bob Whitesel was telling me at lunch how revolutionary George Ladd's theology of the kingdom was at Fuller when he was there in seminary.  It's an odd story to me, because to me I have always found both Albert Schweitzer's rendition of Jesus (the kingdom is entirely yet to come) and C. H. Dodd's rendition (the kingdom is entirely here already) as so strangely extreme in the light of the gospels.  Ladd's idea of "inaugurated eschatology"--the kingdom has begun in the person of Jesus but is not fully here and will not be fully here until Christ's return--has always seemed commonsensically the best description both of the gospels and of Christian theology.

But Bob has helped me see that these ideas, which for me in seminary were simply different ideological positions, were originally ensconced in what was going on at the time of these scholars.  Ladd, for example, gave theological justification to a burgeoning charismatic movement for whom it was important to see the spiritual gifts of the kingdom as present reality.  John Wimber, for example, was about to start the Vineyard movement at the time.

No doubt the same could be said for Schweitzer and Dodd, especially Dodd.  It's a reminder that historical Jesus research often has as much or more to do with those doing it as with the historical Jesus.  I'm not at all saying such investigations are illegitimate.  I'm just confirming what so many have said before: when we see Jesus as our model for today, we often see Jesus as a mirror of ourselves.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

I have said before, that political liberty is ultimate if we value the real world, not transcendental "Kingdom of God" talk. Nor do I think that "Kingdom of God" talk is valid in any realm, because it all become semantics to what and how one wants to define one's faith. Different people will define it in different ways. The same goes for how one understands "Jesus life". There are many scenarios and "types" of Jesuses...

Politics and religion, irregardless of what the Christian Right proclaims, was not intended to be mixed. And that is because one cannot and/or should not coerce another man's conscience in regards to religious convictions, or lack of them nor his vocational interests/concerns.
But, then, the Church is dissolved of "real world" solutions, isn't it? Unless they vie for the NGO solution or linguisic subterfuge.
Biblical Christians can be as dangerous as Islamic radicals!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

What if we define "faith" as agnosticism. Faith is whatever one does, or values in the political realm. Then, religion is dissolved of power, because it ceases from evaluating "truth" claims objectively and only views indidividual life as objectifiable. Then, one is known as a "person" and not as a category. Life becomes a possiblity of a multiplicity of choices and not a segregated or sectarian and special category of narrowed interests and values. The sacred and secular is dissolved, except for an individual's personal boundary making. Then, people can be diverse in their interests and values, making different commitments of value, without being labelled in a category of "being in" or "being out". Instead, people would be persons of individuality and worthy of respect, acknowledgment and value in and of themselves, apart from relgious cateogories....and identifications!

Steven Jones said...

Angie! You sure do love to argue! :)

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Hi Steve!
Yes, my husband will vouch that if there's no one to argue with then I'd argue with myself. Argument is not a bad thing, as it helps to clarify one's thinking. If one isn't clear in one's thinking, then one will be a pawn for others to manipulate. And I believe, then one would miss understanding and fine-tuning what they value and why.

Ken Schenck said...

I only wish I knew who you were arguing with. Your comments generally have nothing to do with anything I'm talking about. ;-)

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I just affirmed your analysis. What was "in my head" skewed my reading of what you wrote. What I understood and how I then, responded.

The Kingdom of God has lost significance for/to me. So, I was probably reacting to that, but also struggling for/in my quest to understand how people respond when they believe in "Kingdom of God" lingo.

Self perception and one's place in life has a lot to do with how we interpret and understand things. One's role in one's family of origin and how that filtered one's perception of oneself can affect how one sees themselves and their future, as well as how they expect others to treat them. Counselling affords a better stance in self-respect.

one's understanding of themselves, position/place in family and experiences, present struggles or interests, all affect our reading and interpreting and response or reaction to others and what they say. This also goes for reading scripture.

David R said...

Knowing this makes it difficult to judge someone who takes a different eschatological opinion than one's own. If it is a reflection of 'how you see God working in the world', then it will be based on one's primal instinct of being optimistic or pessimistic.

If you don't see Divine intervention doing much to change the world, you'll side more with Schweitzer (who I believe decided that Jesus was wrong about the Kingdom coming at all). Phase two of this view seems to be, "Well if God is not going to pull through for His people, then we'd better make up for His no-show".

If you do see God working, you'll side more with Dodd.

Of course, the middle position, The Kingdom: Commenced and Coming, can be criticized as well for being a cop out. Anything that goes wrong is a result of the 'It's coming' part. Anything that goes right is attributed to 'It's already here'. Either way, you can interpret the situation to advance your own predetermined beliefs.

But with this view, you're basically advising yourself to withhold judgment until the end, when all is made clear. Which is not bad, I suppose.

It just threatens folks who have already decided that God is not going to make good on His promises.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Then why talk in spiritual terms at all? Humans are humans, the world is the world and politics is pollitics!

David R said...


Some people do try to incorporate Kingdom of God beliefs into their worldview. It sounds like you no longer do. If that is your position then you don't need to talk in spiritual terms.

The point of my post was just to acknowledge the difficulty of debating another person's eschatology if it is indeed rooted in one's personal experience.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Are you saying that I was speaking in spiritual terms? I was speaking in skeptical terms, but it really doesn't matter, because as you point out, both positions will interpret their experience differently.

What you said was a bifucation of reason and revelation. Those that are existentialist, which is the interest of many today, seek to "prove" scripture through human experience.

As we are all humans, then how can we debate reasoning from experience? Wasn't this Kant's position on knowing something "in itself"? Therefore, there is a movement to create "messiahs", or "heroes" through Incarnational theology. This is to be expected from piestic or psycological behaviorial, or literary/myth types...They will explain the acceptable behavior as "Kingdom of God" or "Christian character", depending on whether a particular person is a believer or a skeptic!

So, those that are prone to the "belief mode" will "rejoice for their redemption draws nigh" when they are persecuted, while those that are more skeptical will have 'Christ formed" in them (which is the "hope of glory") throught habit formation..

One, then, has to ask how can anyone "objectify" another's life?

dave said...


The topics you are bringing up sound like they would be much easier to discuss in a group or in person. In the interest of not clogging up Dr. Schenck's blog with this discussion, feel free to e-mail me through the link.

RichGriese said...

I found _The Life of Jesus Critically Examined_ by David Friedrich Strauss to be the best Jesus work I have read. I'm probably not the only one, since the book changed the way Christian history is done to this day.