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Monday, 18 February 2013

Kingdom, Cross and World Transformation

I will come on to say something about the work of the cross in relation to the personal life, which is where it must begin. But I have been reflecting on it in relation to the hope of world transformation which has been central to the kingdom message I have believed and preached for many years.

In the dissertation that I completed for my MA last month, I examined why the restoration movement did not have a greater impact on society, as its theology - of kingdom here and now (see here) - might have indicated it could have. There were various reasons that I considered but central to my conclusion was that there was a lack of an understanding of the centrality of the Cross in our theology of the Kingdom; I now think that this is central to any engagement with society and attempt at social transformation. I quote the key paragraph below (commenting on what I saw as a tendency to triumphalism and a 'proclaiming the answers' model to social engagement):


It is possible and likely that this model arose as a result of the excitement of moving from an eschatology of defeat and escape to a positive one of victory and world transformation; from one of retreat to one of ruling. It was a positive and welcome kingdom theology but the results of my reading, research and reflection have caused me to conclude that its adherents didn’t always fully grasp or expound the countercultural and crucicentric nature of the kingdom of God. A book that was an early influence on some in this movement was The Community of the King (Snyder, 1977) which argued that the church did not exist for itself but as the means of the transformation of society – a kingdom community. But Snyder specifically warned in this proposition for a theology of social transformation that the cross must be kept at the centre of the kingdom vision:
…the present expression of the Kingdom demands crucifixion ethics not triumphal ethics. The Church today must not live as if the Kingdom were already fully established: it is called to live the paradox of the King who ended up on a cross. (Snyder, 1977, p.30)
My contention would be that a failure to realise this paradox in its call to social engagement ultimately hindered that engagement. The principle of selfless service and sacrifice expressed in the cross is the essence of the unique and countercultural nature of God’s kingdom. It was not that such a truth was never expressed (see Mansell, D, Jan-Feb 1992, pp.24-28; and Wright, 1986), but it was not sufficiently emphasised. A crucicentric perspective on the kingdom enables an engagement which puts the emphasis much more on serving than ruling, on transformation through identification with a fallen and suffering world rather than simply through proclamation to that world. This creates a basis for an approach to public dialogue and the finding of common solutions for the common good that is much more conducive to public theology. 

6 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. Why did you remove it Deane? I was looking forward to responding to it.

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  2. I believe that centrality of the Cross has to be paramount in our theology of the Kingdom. I believe the restoration movement did not have a greater impact on society because it and other movements were not outwardly focused enough to have an impact. Movements need to break out of the model of building church in buildings and start to build church in the world. These are my own opinions but I strongly believe that the format of how we do church has to change in order to have an impact in our society. Richard Harris

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    1. Thanks for that, Richard. I wonder if we truly grasp the message and power of the cross more then it will take us out of the church walls more into the world. After all, it was for the cross that Jesus left heaven and came to earth. It was at the cross we see Jesus identifying with sinful and suffering humanity most fully!

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  3. "on transformation through identification with a fallen and suffering world rather than simply through proclamation to that world"
    I'm taken with this phrase and reflecting on a way of understanding people that I use in group and team development at work called the MBTI. One aspect of this looks at people who have a preference for thinking and those who have a preference for feeling. The thinking preference tends to step outside of a problem, look at it objectively and proclaim a solution into the problem. The feeling types step into a problem, connect with the people and discover a solution within the problem. They identify with the people and the problem. I'm wondering if the restoration movement you describe Trevor had a strong Thinking type culture and that didn't sit comfortably for a sustainable period, to effect societal change and to bring a heavenly environment to earth, with people who's preferred type and identity was Feeling. Both types are good and a healthy culture will celebrate and encourage identities that either Thinking or Feeling preferences. A free family of loved lovers loving others looks like a really good environment to grow this kind of culture.

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    1. Very interesting, John. Although I'd want to see the Cross as far more than a basis for an empathetic approach to life, this ability to identify with the feelings of others is crucial.

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