OK – so we have started answering the 12 mistakes from last week’s post, and here’s the second mistake from the list:
The Mistake of Only "Salvation in Heaven," not "Kingdom on Earth"
And you’d think I could keep it brief this week because Phil has already unloaded on this one pretty well over the course of the last month or so. But I really haven’t been blogging much since my so-called hiatus (for which many of you are grateful, right?), and I have a couple of things to say on this subject which I think are worth airing out.
Let's start here: we have to understand the importance of the word "only" in this affirmation. If you omit that word, and the statement goes, "The Mistake of ‘Salvation in Heaven,’ not ‘Kingdom on Earth’," (comma on the inside, Dan, but on the outside of the original quote marks) we get the emergent/liberal/social gospel gripe that Jesus was preaching a kingdom of this world rather than something which requires a plan, as they say, from before the foundation of the world.
What I read this complaint to mean, then, is that it is not either/or – it is not only "salvation in Heaven", nor is it "only" "kingdom on earth". It is both salvation and kingdom. So as we assess the critique as a so-called "mistake", we need to frame it as the complainer frames it and not like the fish in the barrel we intend to shoot.
And in that complaint, there is on the one hand, a lot to complain about. For example, part of the "salvation + kingdom" model is local church. Another part is doer of the word and not hearer only. Stuff like love one another and cup of cold water. Being a saved person doesn’t just make a "not yet" promise, but also an "already" promise and implies some "already" responsibilities.
The question is at what place have we replaced the Gospel – the proclamation of what God has done, in Jesus Christ, for His own purposes – with cultural idolatry? In spite of some real kvetching lately in some circles about Mark Driscoll’s sermon which kicked off his current series on Philippians, he makes a great point in his prologue there which is summed up in this way: in our search for joy, we often fill in with stuff, people and religion when in fact we need to be filled in with Jesus. As another wise man has said, the Gospel is the solution to Culture and not a slave to culture.
So when we start making a big deal out of the Kingdom matters – the "already" matters – of the Gospel, we have to be certain we aren’t confusing a result with the cause.
You know: saved people will act differently – because they are new on the one hand, declared righteous, and because they are, on the other hand, grateful for being new and declared righteous.
So maybe a better way of making this objection is to say The Mistake of "Salvation in Heaven," without "Kingdom on Earth". It speaks to the matter of both/and more clearly without rejecting, for example, the eternal nature of God’s plan, the transcendent nature of God Himself, and the metaphysical nature of man’s plight (that is, a problem which is not merely a symptom but actually a disease).
And here's the thing: a metaphysical problem requires a metaphysical solution. What that doesn't mean is that the problem is non-corporeal and therefore some kind of invisible pixie dust is necessary to solve it. What it does mean is that the the fundamental nature of who and what we are requires more than a band aid, more than a witty saying or a slogan. What it requires is some kind of solution by the Creator to turn it from car wreck to Chrysler 300.
And that solution is wrapped up in the death and resurrection of Jesus, which is not a dualistic solution, but a holistic solution for mankind. It covers all the bases.
I tell my adult Sunday school class that Paul himself hangs pretty much everything on the Resurrection – the whole Gospel is in the balance of whether Jesus really left an empty tomb. He says it this way in Romans 1 (ESV):
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus ChristNotice, without violating and conciliar affirmations which we agree with and also affirm, that Paul doesn’t say that the virgin birth is what declares Jesus to be the Son of God: it’s the resurrection which declares this of Him in power.
No resurrection: no Jesus who can give grace and apostleship or fulfillment of the holy Scriptures.
But we say that to say this: the resurrection doesn’t just point to a future state or a future fulfillment. It points to bringing "the obedience of faith among all the nations". That’s something that has to happen now.
But how that happens now is not hardly for the sake of becoming a better you, or by obtaining your best life now. It’s not about being rich or healthy. In fact, it is often presented most vividly when we are afflicted or unable to manifest what the world would call "success".
Paul ended his life chained to a pillar in a cave or a dungeon, and he told his dear friend Timothy not to be ashamed of his own afflictions, nor of the cross, nor of the persecutions all who lead a Godly life must experience. He said, instead, that this is how and when the Gospel is preached – in faith in spite of trials.
And this, dear readers, is the meaning of "Kingdom on Earth". Our sovereign is Lord of All, and we ought to act like his subjects when we are in all circumstances. Yes: preach a salvation from sin which delivers from the final judgment, but live here and now for the sake of demonstrating that Kingdom which is to come.
If missionary agencies aren't delivering this message, using these means, they are definitely wrong. The Gospel is not either salvation or kingdom: it is both. And may Jesus come quickly.