May 9, 2011Missiology

Musings on the Missional Manifesto, Part 3: Kingdom

On Thursday, we looked at the second affirmation of the Missional Manifesto regarding the gospel. Today, we take a look at the third affirmation on the kingdom.

Here is the wording of the third affirmation in the manifesto:

Kingdom: We affirm that the gospel is the good news of God's Kingdom. The Kingdom is the active and comprehensive rule of God over His whole creation. The sovereign reign of God brings righteousness (right relationships with God, others, and creation), restores justice, and brings healing to a broken world. The Kingdom of God has been inaugurated but is still "not yet." It will not be fully revealed until Jesus returns. The church, birthed in the wake of the kingdom, serves as an agent of the King in the "already and not yet" of the Kingdom by proclaiming and spreading the gospel and living out its implications.

As you can begin to see, each of the affirmations really begin to flow into one another. After establishing Scripture as the guide that frames our thoughts on the mission of God, the framers established that the Bible's grand theme is that of the gospel as both "God-Man-Christ-Response" and "Creation-Fall-Redemption-Restoration." Today, we add another facet to the gospel message, as the manifesto says, "that the gospel is the good news of God's Kingdom."

There is no question that there as the missional conversation has grown, there has been a keen interest in understanding how the Kingdom of God intersects with mission. In order to understand the missional church, we must consider the Kingdom of God. I think that is a good pursuit but not without some concerns historically and theologically.

Some people who talk about the Kingdom and God's work in the world need to read up on their history. This is not the first time we've had this conversation and it has not ended well. I see much "missional historical naïveté" at work and, honestly, it concerns me. Some of the words I hear from some missional thinkers are the same words that theologian J.C. Hoekendijk said decades earlier-- and it led to theological and missional ruin (see my earlier comments about J.C. Hoekendijk here and here).

In previous decades, proclamation of the gospel of the Kingdom became swallowed up in, as missiologist Paul Hiebert said, "with our own utopias-- with Marxism, capitalism, or socialism." [1] I would also add the "social gospel," "liberation theology," and "solidarity with the poor" movements of the 20th century to Hiebert's list. Unfortunately, these movements all but supplanted mission with social action. (For more information on these movements, see my posts here and here).

However, I cannot avoid the plain teaching of scripture about the gospel, the Kingdom, and the church. I think we need to take the risk to talk about the Kingdom of God and to live out the implications of the gospel. Understanding the nature of the Kingdom of God is critically important to living missionally as the church corporately, and as followers of Christ individually. That is why the framers have included a statement on the kingdom in the manifesto.

Over the last several decades, the Kingdom of God has become more central in missional thought. In his Contemporary Missiology, Johannes Verkuyl writes: "Missiology is more and more coming to see the kingdom of God as the hub around which all mission work revolves." [2] Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Ridderbos even called this perspective the "new consensus" in his book The Coming of the Kingdom.

In this view of course, the kingdom is not defined spatially or institutionally, but rather as the vibrant, active rule of God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. The good news is thus the good news of the kingdom that has come; God is with humanity while at the same time reigning over humanity.

But as the manifesto says, though the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated, it is still "not yet."

I recently wrote a Bible study resource called Sent, put out by Threads, a division of Lifeway. In Session 2 of Sent, we talk about the "already not yet" aspect of the Kingdom of God. Here's a couple of excerpts from the session that explains this in greater detail:

The kingdom of God burst into the world in the person of Jesus Christ. He came in power, and His death on the cross secured victory over death. The end is no longer in doubt. And yet there are still battles to be fought. There is still a kingdom to be advanced. We have work to do, and we do it until the day when Jesus splits the sky and comes back again. We find ourselves living in the already but not yet.

...In the kingdom of God, the values, priorities, and goals of God in Jesus Christ are paramount. It encompasses the spiritual realm, sure, but it also encompasses the physical one. Things like justification, sanctification, and glorification are rightly discussed in the kingdom, but so are issues of the unborn, the poor, those who are sick, and caring for God's creation. The goal of the kingdom is to make things as they should, but it's still in process. And we get to partner with God in the creation of that kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. God has left us to represent this kind of kingdom on earth and - by the power of the Holy Spirit - to move it forward in the time between the already and not yet.

The manifesto's affirmation on the kingdom ends with this sentence, "The church, birthed in the wake of the kingdom, serves as an agent of the King in the 'already and not yet' of the Kingdom by proclaiming and spreading the gospel and living out its implications."

We will look at the role of the church in mission in more detail when we look at affirmation #5, but I want to make a comment of why we included a statement on the church in this affirmation.

Congregations are called to cultivate the knowledge of the rule of the King throughout the world. This means that local churches cannot be ends in themselves because the church is not the ultimate end of mission. Local churches are, rather, the instruments of something much larger than themselves.

For example, when people look into the church (not the building of course, but the covenant community of Christ followers) and they see marriages restored, people made whole, and miracles taking place, they should say, "Oh, that's what the Kingdom of God looks like." Thus, the church is a sign and an instrument of the Kingdom. It engages in Kingdom work for a Kingdom agenda. The church is the Kingdom's tool.

In all, the Kingdom of God is a central theme in the New Testament as it is both our current experience and future hope of God's redemptive reign. This makes it an important issue as we consider the work of the missional church.

Next, we will look at the fourth affirmation regarding mission. Be sure to read the preamble and affirmations here, and then come back and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments.


[1] Paul Hiebert, "Missiological Education for a Global Era," Missiological Education for the Twenty-First Century: The Book, the Circle, and the Sandals: Essays in Honor of Paul E. Pierson (Eugene, Or: Wipf and Stock Books, 1996), 34-42.

[2] Johannes Verkuyl, Contemporary Missiology (Grand Rapids, MI: WB. Eerdmans, 1978), 203.

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Musings on the Missional Manifesto, Part 3: Kingdom