Friday, July 28, 2006

Kingdom of God Part 1

Wow! It's been a long time since I posted something. I have just been going some different directions, but I have had alot of things that I have wanted to blog about. Something that I have been giving alot of thought to lately is the idea of the Kingdom of God. I have been trying to understand what it is and how it is different from the kingdoms of this world.

First of all, I would like to say that I have come to the conclusion that the Kingdom of God is not a far-off place that believers in Jesus will go to when they die. This is the idea that I had for many years, but it just doesn't seem to hold water for me anymore. Why would Jesus say things like "the Kingdom of God is near" and "the Kingdom of God is within you" if He was speaking of a "land far far away"? Jesus had some interesting things to say about the Kingdom of God such as:

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you."
Luke 17:20-21 NIV

Wow! It sure doesn't sound like the Kingdom of God is a "place" so to speak. This would mean that the Kingdom is not confined by time and space barriers. The Kingdom of God can be "near" for one person, and at the same time "within" another. As heirs of the Enlightenment, we like to confine things to spatial dimensions that can be experienced through the five senses. That is why it is so easy to speak of the Kingdom of God as "heaven"--a "place" believers in Jesus go when they die. Could it be that heaven is not far from any one of us? Could it be that heaven is not a far-off place, but rather a dimension that is separate from and yet simultaeneously intersecting our world? Hmm.

At this point, let me go off on a bit of a tangent. Could it be that because we have looked at the Kingdom of God as a "place" to endeavor to go and not a present reality to be experienced, we have tried to squeeze the operation of the Kingdom of God into conformity with the kingdoms of this world? For example, since the kingdoms of the world advance through force, have we tried to advance God's Kingdom in the same way? Sure the Crusades are one horrific example, but could it be that they are merely one among many examples?

It seems to me that many times believers in Jesus try to advance God's Kingdom using the tactics of the world. Oh, we might not put a sword to someone's throat as coercion to conversion, but we will gladly slice and dice them up using the latest findings from Christian apologists. It seems that we will gladly make unbelievers look and feel stupid in order to "win" them to the Lord. Maybe we are winning the argument, but are we in the process losing the person? Hmm.

Another way in which we imitate the kingdoms of this world is in our power structures.

25 Jesus said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves".
Luke 22:25-26 NIV

Jesus here says that His Kingdom is not going to be like the kingdoms of this world. "The kings of the Gentiles" used there power to keep their people under control, but in their minds, it was for the people's own good (thus the title "Benefactors"). They set the rules, and the people had to follow. Doesn't this sound alot like your average pastor? While calling him/herself a "Benefactor" (ie. "I'm doing this for your good") they set themselves up as a "covering" for the sheep. A member is told that he/she is only safe under the covering of the local church which includes the headship of the pastor. This seems a far cry from what Jesus had in mind--"But you are not to be like that". While trying to imitate corporate America, has the Church become too efficient? It seems that we are more interested in growth than in people. Oh sure, we know the right things to say "We want to reach the lost", "Let's bring God's love to our community", but at the end of the day, are we really concerned about individual people? If so, why don't we invest more in the people that God has brought across our paths instead of looking for "more". Whose kingdom are we really expanding?

A final way that I believe we try in error to advance the Kingdom of God is through politics. It seems to me that Christians have at many times tried to impose "God's will" on others through the ballot box and through political parties. I believe that we have been guilty many times of expecting unbelievers to act like believers. One "hot potato" right now is the possible legalization of gay marriage. Many Christians are fighting legalized gay marriage tooth and nail. Many ministers have said that the idea of gay marriage is a threat to the institution of marriage itself. Really? Who instituted marriage; God or the state? Is my marriage only valid because I have a document from the state of North Carolina? Would my marriage somehow be in jeopardy if my state legalized gay marriage? I think not. Could it be that while many gay couples are holding out for the legalization of gay marriage, if allowed to marry, many would find that it did not bring about the fulfillment that they thought it would? Could it then be the beginning of the disillusionment of many a gay couple and thus result in a more genuine openness to the Source of true fulfillment, Jesus Christ? Hmm.

I don't know all of the answers. In all honesty, I'm not completely satisfied even with this post. But, I do know that "love never fails". While my arguments for the resurrection of Christ may prove weighty and yet I see someone turn away from Jesus, "love never fails". While I can run "my" church like a well-oiled machine and still be dissatisfied and see "my" people be dissatisfied, "love never fails". I can legislate the morality of the entire world while watching unbelievers grow more embittered against the Body of Christ, but "love never fails". Could it be that we have overestimated the power of fleshly ideas to change the hearts of people, while underestimating the power of God's love shown through believers corporately, and individually to accomplish the same purpose? What do you think?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Presuppositions: "Pre"-"Suppositions"

There have been some very interesting topics going around the blog world lately. In interacting with others, I have noticed that we all come from different perspectives colored by our life experiences, educational backgrounds and individual stations in life. We each come to the blogosphere with our own presuppositions. I would like us to take a little time to think about our individual presuppositions, and how they affect our interactions in the world of blogging, and our day-to-day encounters with people who share our perspectives as well as those who do not.

What are presuppositions? First, lets ask what a supposition is. According to, a supposition is "something supposed; an assumption." A presupposition is defined as "to believe or suppose in advance". When used as a noun, it means "the act of presupposing; a supposition made prior to having knowledge (as for the purpose of argument)". Therefore, I think it would be fair to define a presupposition as "an assumed understanding of a thing decided upon before acquiring a complete knowledge of the subject."

Is it bad to have presuppositions? I don't believe it is. As a matter of fact, I think that it is impossible not to do so. Because of factors within and beyond our control, we all enter into and experience an idea with certain core beliefs which act as a lens through which view the subject at hand. Presuppositions are not within themselves harmful, but they can quickly become so when we fail to recognize them for what they are; assumptions made without complete knowledge of a subject.

As I see it, the danger is in our confusing our own presuppositions with absolute truth. When these two become enmeshed, it is hard to separate our own opinions from the facts. This becomes especially true when dealing with theological and doctrinal issues. If we are not cautious, we quickly confuse what the Bible actually says with our own interpretation thereof. This can lead us to be uncompromising in the name of defending "biblical truth". The danger is two-fold. First, we can easily mislead ourselves and others with ideas that we superimpose upon the text. Second, we are hardly teachable because instead of being open to whatever the truth may be, we believe that we have already found it.

It is sobering to realize that the lens we look through is sometimes "a dark glass". (1 Corinthians 13:12) Many times I have staunchly defended an idea that, upon later examination, I found wanting. Many times, I have read my own ideas into the Bible, instead of letting the Bible formulate God's ideas within me. Most of the time, I have never even noticed that this was happening.

Jesus made a sobering statement:

Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind." Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, "What? Are we blind too?" Jesus said, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains. John 9:39-41 NIV

Notice that Jesus did not condemn the Pharisees for not knowing everything about the Kingdom. Instead, He pronounced them guilty of sin because, while being ignorant, they claimed to have it all figured out. I get weary of conversing with people who seem to have all of their "doctrinal duckies" in a row. Some people package their systematic theology so air-tight, that it seems they leave little room for the Holy Spirit to bring enlightenment and correction into their lives. Instead of approaching every subject with a level of humility, we sometimes go into a discussion with a view to "winning", or changing the other person's mind. What happens is that we remain in the same level of maturity that we entered the discussion with. Instead of growth, we experience stagnation.

Why do we insist on our own viewpoints? Well, there are probably more complex reasons than I can address here, but I think that one reason I have seen in my own life is a level of personal insecurity. When my identity is based solely on how "correct" my belief system is, then my life becomes like a stack of dominoes. If I allow you to push one over, then my entire world-view and identity might come crashing down. This is very threatening to one's sense of spiritual and mental equilibrium. After all, if I am wrong about this, then I might be wrong about that, which means I might be wrong in this area....etc., etc. So, instead of looking at each conversation, each discussion as an opportunity for growth, we pull out our doctrinal armor, and begin to do battle.

This takes me back to my previous post on "Truth...Proposition or Person?". Am I called to embrace a highly-nuanced set of propositions, or a living relationship with a living Person? If it is the former, then I will fight tooth and nail to defend the "truth". If it is the latter, then I can become pliable, ready for my own ideas to be challenged, and if need be, found wanting, because I realize that my identity is in Jesus, not in how "right" I can be. After all, if my interpretations and opinions will not hold water, why should I be afraid to discard them?

So, what should we do? Well, I think that the answer is not to abandon all of our presuppositions and thus be "tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching". (Ephesians 4:14 NIV) Instead, I think that the answer lies in our recognizing what our presuppositions are: supposed ideas that are "pre"sumed, and are therefore derived prior to having a complete understanding of a subject. My presupposition is that this will help each of us to enter every conversation with humility, discerning biblical truth from our own "assumed understanding" of such. What do you think?