Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Kingdom

One of my flat-bellied friends phoned me the other day and said that he had finally figured out why I don’t talk much about the kingdom of God. I was intrigued as I think of myself as speaking about the kingdom frequently. In the course of the conversation, I realized that I don’t actually use the words ‘the kingdom of God’ that often. That doesn’t mean, however, that the kingdom is not important to me, or that I am not addressing it in my books and lectures.

Any reader of Matthew, Mark and Luke knows that the kingdom of God is a central subject. The kingdom of God, or the kingdom of the heavens, is mentioned 55 times in Matthew, 20 in Mark, 44 in Luke. But in John it is addressed only 5 times. Does this mean that John is not interested in the kingdom? No, of course not. In the place of the kingdom language John prefers the language of ‘life,’ which he uses 43 times. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, the good news is that the kingdom of God has come. In John, the gospel is that real life has come. Either the kingdom and real life are two different things or they are speaking of the same reality. As an interesting side note, Jesus speaks of salvation only twice, once when speaking with Zaccheus, and once with the woman at the well.

Much has been made of the differences between the Synoptic Gospels and their kingdom emphasis, and John and his emphasis on eternal life, but the obvious point of connection between them all is the person of Jesus. For me, all of the great New Testament ideas—new covenant, kingdom, eternal life, salvation, atonement, adoption, justification, regeneration, baptism of the Spirit, redemption, heaven, etc.—have their true content and meaning in Jesus himself.

The new covenant is the new relationship established in Jesus’ own experience between the blessed Trinity and broken, sinful humanity. In Jesus the Father, Son and Spirit have reached us in our traumatic darkness, and established a real relationship with us at our very worst. Our contribution was to crucify the Father’s Son. Dying in the arms of our bitter and cruel rejection, Jesus embraced us in our treachery—and he brought his Father and the Holy Spirit with him. This is the new covenant, the new relationship established in the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the incarnate Son. Jesus is the new relationship. He is the one in whom the blessed Trinity and broken humanity meet and are together.

To my mind, to speak of the kingdom of God is to speak of the same reality from another angle, or with a different emphasis. The kingdom of God is not about some kind of abstract rule of God, whereby he imposes his authority upon his creation from a distance by law, or even by grace. The kingdom is about the sheer life and joy, the peace and goodness, the shocking love and abounding fellowship and creativity of the Father, Son and Spirit setting up shop on earth in Jesus, and through the Spirit’s witness and work, the kingdom is about this very life in Jesus coming to full and abiding and personal expression in us, and in our lives, and in our relationships with one another, and in our relationship with the whole creation, until the earth and the cosmos become a vast burning bush alive with the trinitarian life of God. (T. F. Torrance would be proud of that sentence!)

Real problems arise when we separate the great New Testament themes from Jesus himself. They then become abstract, non-relational and impersonal concepts, devoid of the life and relationship of the blessed Trinity. They become commodities or things that we can possess or manipulate or control apart from Jesus himself. Salvation becomes a legal exchange rather than an ongoing relationship of shared life in our darkness. The further these ideas are removed from Jesus himself, the more they are separated from each other as well. We end up with a vision of the kingdom of God, of salvation, of eternal life, and of adoption, which have little in common. But when we think of these great themes from a center in Jesus himself and his own life and relationship with his Father and the Holy Spirit, they become unique expressions of Jesus and of his relationship with the human race and creation.

Jesus teaches us that eternal life is not possession of an infinite battery pack, but knowing his Father through him. “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). “And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding, in order that we might know Him who is true, and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life (1John 5:20). Eternal life speaks first and foremost to the quality of our existence, not to its duration. It is abounding or super-abounding life, as Jesus said (John 10:10), which is so ‘alive’ it cannot be extinguished, but endures forever. And this life is not something altogether different from that of the Triune God. It is the trinitarian life itself, shared with us relationally in and through Jesus. Eternal life is the thriving, flourishing, rich and unencumbered life that comes to expression in us as we know the Father himself with his Son in the Spirit, not in isolation, but together with others. This life is not self-centered, but other-centered. Fueled by freedom to love and to be loved in fellowship, which comes from knowing Jesus’ Father, this life overflows in goodness and joy, and in freedom to give ourselves for the benefit of others. Such life could not possibly be contained, but overflows into our relationship with all creation.

Salvation involves both a retrospective and prospective dimension, as John McLeod Campbell said. Retrospectively, salvation focusses on the removal or overcoming of sin and its consequences. Prospectively, it focusses on renewal and the giving of life. Dying a humiliating death in the embrace of a thousand disgusted faces, Jesus submitted himself to our sin and iniquity thereby becoming “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He takes away our sin by bearing and suffering it personally, by enduring our scorn and bitter rejection, by dying in our hatred. And he was not alone. In submitting himself to suffer such injustice and brutal murder at our hands, Jesus not only made himself the scapegoat for our ills, but he was making our alien humanity the dwelling of the Holy Spirit. He was ushering into our great darkness his own relationship with his Father (life) and his own anointing with Holy Spirit (baptism). He is both the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and “the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33). In him we are both justified and adopted, our sin is overcome and we are included in the eternal life of the blessed Trinity.

In this way the trinitarian life set up shop, so to speak, on earth, in our death and hell, the new relationship was established with broken sinners, real ‘knowing’ of the Father was opened in our darkness, and the Holy Spirit “accustomed Himself” to dwell in our flesh, to borrow a great phrase from Irenaeus, . Such is the kingdom of God—and eternal life, salvation, justification, adoption, the new covenant, heaven. They are all about Jesus himself and what became of the blessed Trinity, and to us, and to creation in him.

Thank you, Holy Spirit. We will have more light, please.

21 comments:

John said...

Thanks Baxter - Reading your post is a highlight for me. Have a blessed rest of your summer!
John Connor

Chris Black said...

Baxter, we guys in Denver love you and appreciate your wisdom. We look forward to the next time we can share some "life" on John Connor's back porch! Thanks!

Erkki said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
C. Baxter Kruger, Ph.D. said...

Thanks guys, your thoughts are very encouraging. Thank you for taking the time to write. Blessings

Colin said...

Thanks Baxter ! I appreciate the insight you have, as well as the theological soundness in your presentation. I have been devouring your material (books, DVD's, audio lectures, etc) for a few months now, and the "big picture" is certainly becoming a lot clearer.
You're a blessing to the world !!

Richard said...

Thank you, Baxter, for sharing your insightful thoughts on this issue. Furthermore, your comments remind me that there are indeed notable differences between what the Synoptic Gospels say and what John's Gospel says. For instance, salvation seems quite conditional (as in "forgive or God won't forgive you") in the Synoptic Gospels. While in John's Gospel, salvation is most reachable and permanent through belief only. The same holds true for such issues as how eternal life is secured and how much faith is needed to "move mountains" with God. Also, it is of note that the Synoptic Gospels record a bunch of parables from Jesus. However, John's Gospel repeats none of these Synoptic parables. (In fact, not even Luke repeats in his book of Acts even one of the parables found in his Gospel.)

So what is going on with the differences between what the Synoptic writers report and what John reports?

Well, I have studied these differences a great deal and have come to feel that the Synoptic Gospels are primarily reporting on the "historical" Jesus as He pressed folks hard up against the cross with the silliness of their law based notions. In contrast, John, in his Gospel, primarily shows us what the "present" Jesus means to us in our here and now. Furthermore, this all fits quite nicely, in my opinion, with Trinitarian Theology and its presentation of God's communion of love through Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to us.

Anyway, please keep up the good work.

All the best!

J. Richard Parker

Lee Schwartzrock said...

I find your comments very interesting, Richard.

I’ve noticed that apparent conditional salvation also, and wondered about it. It makes perfect sense that someone who is tied up with resentment and hatred, cannot have really appreciated the wonder of God’s greater gift to us, so I have just pushed the concept onto the back burner. John’s, (and Baxter’s), concepts seem to get the horse before the cart; because how can we have the peace to forgive, when we lack the understanding of what the Godhead is truly like?

The idea of Jesus coming to endure our rejection, turning the other cheek, to finally win our love, means so much more to me than a Father willing to beat on his son, so he can gain his composure, and thereby find a way to remain in the same room with us reprobates.

There seems to be no end to what I need to learn to make sense of the Bible.

Lee

jeremy said...

Funny thing is unlike Erkki i came out of a strong Arminianist church background like the vast majority of Australia and this 'decision anxiety' background did a vast amount of damage to my psyche, as it places the importance on the human choice factor, yet i never see Arminianism given flack in the Perichoresis world at all unlike Calvinism.

KS said...

I finished my DTS at Oakridge NZ last year, with Adrian and Juanita leading the way...OH MY GEESH! FInally the spirit had the freedom to move and to heal what had occurred in my life. This amazing feeling of peace came upon my heart and I finally understood what freedom in christ actually meant! Everything was different though, reading my bible through my old glasses no longer resonated truth to me, something had happened within my train of thought that transformed all of my perceptions. Adrian showed me a chapter of "The Great Dance" and I remember the feeling of complete Joy in finding something that was fitting 100% into my new born life. Baxter, I wish I could give you a big hug brother! Bless your heart and keep on keeping on.

Much love from Alberta, Canada

Mike said...

Dear Baxter, Thanks for posting this on my birthday -- my 56th birthday. What a wonderful birthday gift to me. I absolutely love your corelation of Kingdom in the synoptics to Life in John. It makes such clear sense. My study group is going through Across All Worlds right now and you are reshaping the whole spiritual landscape of our lives. Thank you, Jesus, for the gift of Baxter Kruger.

Mark Simpson said...

Great stuff! I've linked to this post at the Trinitarian Social Network of Perichoresis at www.sharedlife.org.

Anonymous said...

What's a 'flat-bellied' friend?

Chris said...

Dear Dr Baxter, I am from South Africa, living in Cape Town and someone at my church told me to go to your website. Our church is called Divine Embrace and we are a grace believing teaching church, it was way back in 1987 that I had a revelation of the completed work of Christ on my behalf or humanities behalf that has forever changed my life. Way back then we were not accepted in the wider church circles and many believed we have been deceived. I then experienced that God sees me Holy, justified, righteous, all my past and future sin already been forgiven not because of me but all because of Him. I then believed that the whole world was included in His death, burial and ressurection. Started reading books of especially E.W. Kenyon ect. Finally to cut a long story short, it thrills my heart to find that more and more people accross the globe is starting to belief the finished work of the cross and that He came to give us grace upon grace upon grace. God Bless Chris

Anonymous said...

I ask again, what is a "flat-bellied friend"? I have googled the expression and found 3 references crop up, but they don't really help me understand what you mean, Baxter. They don't seem flattering, but I'm sure you're not being nasty to someone. So please explain.
Warren, from Sydney Australia

Anonymous said...

"flat-bellied" refers to those 20-something year olds that have not started to expand around their middles. Very obvious in church-league basketball games, where invariably the "flat-bellies" are skins, and the more "mature" players keep their shirts on :)
H

Rick said...

Hi Baxter,

As always, good post. I have found, what is to me, a very helpful take on the Kingdom of God from one of the Old Testament words for "rule" or "dominion". The Hebrew word is "mashal" and carries the root idea of "to make like" or "to compare" It is sometimes translated as "parable" because a parable tells how one thing is "like" another. So, to rule over something is to make it like yourself, to bring it into an order consonant with your will, purposes, etc.

With this in mind, I understand the Kingdom or Rule of God to be the exercise of His power to bring things into His likeness-to conform things to Himself. If that isn't what He was and is doing in Jesus, I don't know what is. This is just Ephesians 1:10, (and so many other scriptures)isn't it?

Blessings

Denny said...

Hi Baxter,

Just wanted to write to thank you for bringing me out of my Western Mindset,I became familiar with your teachings years ago. I will say I had a hard time embracing aspects of Neo-Orthodox philosophy,just as I had a hard time embracing Calvinistic concepts. I had to find what was TRULLY Orthodox,and that led me into the Eastern Orthodox faith. I still listen to you on occasion,but I have found some wonderful Orthodox speakers that I listen to on a regular basis. I know the Lord is working through your ministry to bring others to Christ,and to enjoy in "The Great Dance". Thanks Again

Denny

crossingtheriver said...

You have the gift of making the incarnation into poetry which proclaims His beauty in our lives. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

has this blog stopped ?

The Pondering Pilgrim said...

Baxter, what's happened? Are you still with us?

Luciano Lombardi said...

Baxter,

If you have a chance - can you explain from your own perspective the enhypostasis and the anhypostasis ....would like to read how you describe it within your big picture ...