Will it be “kingdom” or will it be “soteriology”? This, in my estimation, is more central to the emerging movement than many think. Traditional evangelicalism is stuck in the Pauline theology of salvation (soteriology) and many of us in the emerging movement do not think that is the only language game in town. But what is the relationship of the “kingdom” to the “church” (the Body of the saved ones)? I’ve got a suggestion. What do you think of it?
There are three basic models for relating kingdom and church, and I can’t draw on my WordPress program (nor on Word), not because the program can’t do it but because I don’t know how to do it. If one of you diagrams, I’ll do my best to include them here.
First, the classical dispensational type model is that Jesus taught the kingdom, Israel rejected it, and to one degree or another, Jesus then turned to others to establish the universal Church; the kingdom then is God’s future engagement through Israel. Imagine three circles: Kingdom, Church, and then the Final Kingdom.
Second, the most typical model I see is one in which the Kingdom is the big work of God in this world (big circle) and the Church is a dimension of that Kingdom work but not the whole of the Kingdom work. Imagine a big kingdom circle with a smaller church circle in it.
Third, I suggest we think of another model: I call it the rhetorical or linguistic model. The problem of the second model is two-fold: (1) Paul and most of the early Christians didn’t think with the word “kingdom” the way Jesus obviously did and, most importantly, (2) too many theologians have come to the conclusion that “kingdom” is one thing and “church” is another thing. In other words, because there are different terms there are different objects. Not so fast here.
My suggestion is that both Jesus and Paul (to reduce the conversation to manageable proportions) were thinking of the same “thing” (the “place” or “community” of God’s redemptive work) but used different terms. Jesus thought with “kingdom” and Paul thought (of the same thing) with “church.” So that they are not two different things but one thing that are “imaged” through two different terms. No two terms do the same things, so Jesus’ word (kingdom) and Paul’s word (church) have slightly different connotations, but both thought their term described the community wherein God’s purposes were to be manifested for the good of others and the world.
So, when I hear folks say “kingdom” is bigger than “church” I’m not so sure that is right. This means two things: we need to think more carefully than to say kingdom/church must refer to two different things because there are two terms and we just might start thinking of “church” as a lot bigger than we have previously thought.
Well, this is my suggestion. I think Paul’s primary use of “kingdom” is eschatological (the future Eschaton), leaving “church” for what goes on now in the Diaspora communities (his context). Jesus saw kingdom as both now and later, thereby using the same term for both.
My thanks to a reader, Craig Sadler, for these models.