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The Emerging Kingdom of God

When you enter into the “emerging conversation,” you will find very quickly that you are entering a conversation about the Kingdom of God. In fact, I believe that the Emerging Church Movement’s (ECM) understanding of the Kingdom of God is foundational for ECM’s theology, particularly its ecclesiology. So, according to ECM, what is the Kingdom of God?

First, let me reiterate the importance of the Kingdom of God for ECM theology. The Kingdom of God is everything (or as McLaren says, “the truth that could change everything“). The Kingdom of God is the mission. The Kingdom of God is the Gospel. But, like everything in the emerging conversation, terms are sometimes difficult to define. What, afterall, is the Kingdom of God?

Robert Recker has outlined at least seven historical views of the Kingdom of God (in a 1979 Calvin Theological Journal article, but still relevant). I widdle these seven down to three: 1) the Kingdom of God is future, either at the millennium or Rev. 21 (this is Classical Dispensationalism), 2) the Kingdom of God is present (Augustine and the Campus Crusade “within you” view), and 3) the Kingdom of God is progressive (Ladd and the popular “already-not yet” theology). Leading ECM spokesperson Brian McLaren believes that the church up to this point has failed to grasp the true meaning of the Kingdom of God and provides at least 8 reasons why this is so (see The Secret Message of Jesus, 211-214). McLaren believes that ECM is on the cusp of uncovering the true meaning of the Kingdom of God.

In typical ECM fashion, many writings begin by stating what the Kingdom of God is NOT. For example, in The Secret Message of Jesus (SMJ), McLaren says the Kingdom is not atonement for sin, salvation, church, future, heaven after death, or even Christianity itself. So what is the Kingdom of God? According to SMJ:

  1. The Kingdom is Present Now: Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Therefore, ECM believes that the Kingdom is God’s present reign and God’s transforming work now, not in the future. As Ray Anderson says, it is “a transforming spiritual, social and economic power of liberation and rehabilitation of humankind.” Rob Bell says that heaven and hell are Kingdom realities present today.
  2. The Kingdom is Bigger than the Church: ECM believes that the church is not necessarily the center of God’s intentions, the Kingdom is (because the church is not the Kingdom…George Ladd says the same thing!). But Brian McLaren also says that the Kingdom of God is bigger than Christianity itself (see SMJ, 282 footnote 141). In fact, McLaren says that Christianity can hold the Kingdom down! This is most likely a reference to Christendom and the institution of the church, but a strong statement nonetheless.
  3. The Kingdom of God is Everyday Life and Social Transformation: Gibbs and Bolger summarize that ECM views the Kingdom of God as being bigger than personal salvation (see Emerging Churches, 63). Rather, ECM views the Kingdom of God as social transformation, primarily through acts of justice. The recent An Emergent Manifesto of Hope makes this point abundantly clear.
  4. The Kingdom of God is Inclusive: ECM believes that the Kingdom of God can take many forms inside and outside of Christianity. Many believe what Doug Pagitt expresses: “my presupposition is that the gospel calls us to participate in the things of God wherever we find them.” Some within ECM conclude that the Kingdom of God includes people of other faiths (see Gibbs & Bolger).

So this is the ECM definition of the Kingdom of God. This is a long post with a ton of theology and implications. In my next post I’ll give some of my views on all this, but for now, what do you think?

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  1. October 30, 2007 at 3:47 pm

    First thought, we haven’t given near enough attention to the Kingdom of God in our circles. . . I look forward to hearing what you have to say next.

    • Margaret
      January 30, 2012 at 8:30 am

      I agree with Pastor Chris. I’m also very interested in Pastor Chris’s book where he says: “I am under contract with Crossway to write a book on forgiveness.” Thanks and God bless, Margaret

  1. January 9, 2008 at 2:58 pm
  2. January 28, 2008 at 2:59 pm

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