Having finished N.T. Wright’s How God Became King (see September 27 post), a few somewhat scattered and searching thoughts.
First, my conviction about the old Methodist division remains strong and grows. A reading of Wright’s book will challenge that problem and offer a way not only to heal an ecclesial wound, but to propel us forward more energetically in mission.
But each side will have to recognize – if you accept Wright’s basic claim – the shriveled way we read the Gospel narratives. “Orthodoxy” (in the broad popular sense) fares no better than liberal “progressivism.”
Part of the tragedy of the modern church, I have been arguing, is that the “orthodox” have preferred creed to kingdom, and the “unorthodox” have tried to get a kingdom without a creed. It’s time to put back together what should never have been separated.
Second, many will be troubled by Wright’s use of the term “theocracy,” but he is careful to explain. He by no means sets up any return to Christendom’s past. King Jesus establishes his power by serving and dying, rather than by killing. “He has come to that place [his kingship] and maintains it by, and only by [emphasis added], his humility and self-giving love,” (p. 247). And his community of followers are called to do exactly the same.
Finally, what strikes me most powerfully is the implication of this book for the character and witness of the church. Back to the worrisome theocracy: In the Cross-shaped Kingdom, God’s people are to be “the royal priesthood who will take over the world not with the love of power but with the power of love…” (239). “Take over the world” is scary language which Wright full well knows. It nevertheless holds our feet to the fire. Jesus is Lord. He’s not just “Lord” of my individual spiritual/moral life. He is the world’s Lord, above all nations, powers and principalities. The bodily resurrection and the ascension to the right hand of the Father bear witness. The cross, the resurrection and the ascension inaugurate his kingdom, in this world, but not of it.
Thus, we his followers don’t believe in Jesus to escape this world (a huge point in the book). We believe in Jesus in order to serve this world and serve in this world, in all the ways the Bible tells us to serve, including sharing in the suffering of Jesus.
No “two kingdom” theology here; no two realms with “religion” safely quarantined from public life. Rather, a call for a truly public witness. Which makes this book, in the end, far more troubling than comforting. But oh, what a vision…