In this last post on Russell Moore’s book on the kingdom, I want to look at the heart of his last chp and then offer some concluding observations.
First, progressive dispensationalists are beginning to see the Church as a present manifestation of the Kingdom, while older “dispys” thought the two terms, Church (spiritual converts) and Kingdom (tended to be Millennium), were unrelated. Darrell Bock is a good example of one who sees the Church as a model for culture.
Second, the older “covies” tended to think of the Church as the Kingdom, but today there is a real tendency to side with Ladd in seeing the Church as a present-day manifestation of the Kingdom while looking forward to the Kingdom.
What all this means, and I’d like my readers to hear this once again, is that George Ladd’s debates in the 60s, 70s, and 80s have now born fruit. He was rejected by both dispensationalists and covenant theologians in his day, but both sides of these folks have come to greater terms with their own heritage in light of Ladd’s work and have modified themselves enough to say that they now both stand with Ladd in seeing an inaugurated eschatology as the operative principle needed for both soteriology and ecclesiology. Which means, both salvation and church are shaped by our understanding of Kingdom. There is continuity with Israel in the Church, there is a new stage of work in Christ and the Church, and that the kingdom and Church are not identical.
Moore extends this consensus: there is a radical concentration of God’s work in the Church in the present age, rather in the political, economic, and academic orders (151-2); the church is at the center of God’s saving work; the atonement creates a community not just saved individuals; the church is where the holistic work of God is at work; the rise of parachurch ministries threatened a NT concept of the church that needs to be reclaimed (Moore sees this happening in the SBC, for an example); church must be defined and he then develops the notions of ordinances (baptism by immersion), membership and church discipline.
On politics, he weighs in against Rauschenbusch’s collapsing of both kingdom and church into societal ethics and justice (I’m not sure Rauschenbusch did this from my read of him; his followers did, but I will be the first to say that R. did not maintain a genuine biblical balance.) Kingdom ethics pertain to the Church, not to society. He sides here with Hauerwas at times. Political work ought to proceed from the Church into the community rather than through political action committees or through a movement. His is a call for a robust commitment to the local church.
Moore works against Stan Grenz trenchantly in this chp, contending that Grenz’s theory of kingdom and community could break loose from the church, breaking the necessary connection to the redemptive work in Christ.
I wonder what Russell Moore does with the proliferation of denominations, and at least what he does with the major traditions: RCC, Orthodoxy, and the major denominations of Protestantism. Is there one right one? What I see coming out of this chp is an inherent commitment to one denomination, or at least to one local church, and it leaves me wondering about the relationship of Christians across such local churches or denominations.
Here are my final observations of the book:
Moore’s book is the most important book there is today on a conservative evangelical theological perspective on kingdom and its interface with socio-political issues. It stance is very clearly on the conservative side of the political spectrum. It is, in this sense, an alternative to thinkers like Hauerwas and Yoder.
First, I’d like a focused definition and a greater delineation of what the kingdom of God is: is it the society in which God’s will is done in the present world? is it the dynamic presence of God? is it the now/but not yet tension created by the Spirit of God in the present world? is it the eschatological expectation of the final kingdom? Overall, Moore’s work used such kingdom of God but I found it a bit thin on definition and delineation as an entree into the very issue itself.
We need a page by page analysis of Kingdom in the teachings of Jesus and how that message is shaped by OT kingdom and the rest of the NT’s perspective.
Second, what Moore weighs in against, the parachurch and individualistic nature of evangelicalism, is precisely what gave rise to the consensus he thinks is so promising. Now that leaves me with the question if whether or not these features (parachurch, individualism) are not needed for the evangelical (or even emerging movement) movement to maximize its present gains.
Third, Moore regularly led me to think that it would have made this book much better had he interacted with the evangelical left political proposals and kingdom soteriology of such folks as Ronald Sider, or even the anabaptists like John Howard Yoder and Hauerwas. These folks were occasionally mentioned, but their kingdom soteriology is not that far off from that of evangelicals and their robust ecclesiology would be a good place for interaction. I would even have liked a robust interaction with Rauschenbusch, for it is in him that one finds the fullness of a socio-political vision that derives from kingdom, but which went awry because it failed to stay in touch with its evangelical roots.