How the Gospel of the Kingdom Produces Missional Apologetics                                        johnarmstrong

April 6, 2009 newsletter
John H. Armstrong

The Bible is a book of truly big ideas. We often miss the really “big ideas” because we spend too much time on the lesser ones, often the ideas that we enjoy debating with other Christians. If we are to become missional apologists then this all has to change, sooner than later. I believe we must return to the one really big idea of the gospel of the kingdom.

But here is the problem-we assume that we all know the gospel. (I want to challenge this assumption as long as I live.) We think the gospel is simple (it is in one profound sense)-it is good news about getting our sins forgiven if we personally trust Jesus to save us. You know, “Invite Christ into your heart and get your sin problem solved so you can go to heaven when you die.” The problem, of course, is that this is not the gospel of the kingdom at all. . .

When Jesus began to teach in the synagogues, and heal the sick, he “proclaimed the good news of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23). The gospel means, in its simple essence, good news. The good news, in short form, is God’s provision of complete salvation through the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

When the writers of the four Gospels wanted to report that the gospel was being preached they said things like this: “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). Jesus even spoke of the necessity that was placed upon him to “proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 4:43).

Some have argued, falsely I believe, that this kingdom of God/good news connection is not found in the Fourth Gospel. (Some even once argued that the gospel of the kingdom was for the Jews, not for the rest of us. Thankfully this idea is almost totally dead.) But consider this about the Fourth Gospel-the most oft-quoted of all texts about new life in the gospel is found in John 3 where Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about his need for birth from above. Here our Lord says, “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born again” (John 3:3) and later “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5). The point here is obvious. Being born of God, and believing the good news, amounts to seeing and entering the kingdom of God. The new birth and the kingdom are intimately connected.

Though the Pauline epistles speak far more often of the gospel without this kingdom link, the same message is still found there. At least sixteen times Paul writes about “inheriting” or “living in” the kingdom through the good news of grace. And the writer of Hebrews, the second letter of Peter and James all refer to “the kingdom” as well. The Apocalypse even says that God “has made us to be a kingdom” (Revelation 5:10). Make no mistake about this-our loss of this emphasis on the gospel and the kingdom is not small. In fact, so far as I can tell, this might be the most important loss to the message of the good news in the modern era.

Social Gospel, Spiritual Gospel, or the “Gospel of the Kingdom

In the 19th century a great debate arose in the Christian church about the gospel. Some argued that what was missing in the era of great revivals, and the later post-Protestant developments in church history, was the social gospel. By this they had in mind the fact that the gospel spoke to things like justice, mercy and concern for the poor. Many evangelicals saw danger in this social emphasis and reacted. They defended the biblical truth that the gospel was about sin and forgiveness, about grace and personal salvation. The great tragedy was that this debate not only divided the church but it radically altered the way people heard and understood the most important message ever given to humankind.

What was the cause of this loss? I believe the answer lies in this question of understanding the nature of the gospel of the kingdom. When we pit personal forgiveness against the transforming power of the good news to change lives, through God-given repentance, we have missed the point. The gospel of grace changes us and changes everything around us. This is not a private message. It is a public declaration of what has been done in Jesus Christ. It is a message that announces to the whole world that God “through him [Christ] . . . reconciled to himself all things” (Colossians 1:20).

When we make the gospel exclusively about private forgiveness, without the call of God to share in reconciliation and transformation in the world, we invent a privatized message that does not transform people and cultures. This message has no connection to the kingdom, which is the actual context of all forgiveness and personal salvation. In avoiding the “works” paradigm many evangelicals have actually created a gospel that is detached from the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We have lost the gospel of the kingdom.

When Simon the Sorcerer professed faith (we wonder if his faith was real in light of what follows in the story) Luke records that Philip had been proclaiming “the good news of the kingdom of God” (Acts 8:12). When people believed this same gospel they were baptized. Later in Acts we read that the gospel was preached in many cities and new disciples were told that they would have to go through many hardships “to enter the kingdom of God” (Act 14:22). But even more persuasive is the text in Acts 19:8. Here we read that Paul entered the synagogue in Ephesus and “spoke boldly for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God.” Do you not see it? We would think this text should say that he argued about the gospel. But Luke has no hesitation at all in equating the proclamation of the good news with the reality of the kingdom of God itself.

An Authentic Kingdom Community

One can rightly deduce, from reading the whole of Scripture, that the church is not identical with the kingdom of God but the community that we call the church exists to serve that kingdom. The church expands the kingdom’s impact throughout the whole world. Simply put, the gospel-and thus the church-are always directly related to the kingdom. We have separated them and this has created nothing short of spiritual chaos.

People made in God’s image long for relationships. Having lost their relationship with God through sin they have lost all deeply satisfying relationships with their fellow human beings. All the unrest and social breakdown in the family and society is the result of this brokenness. But the gospel of the kingdom restores broken relationships, with both God and people.

Genuine loving relationships, in which trust and respect are central, are desired by all people. This is a part of that “God-shaped vacuum” we have heard about. And this is why the greatest apologetic of all is missional, or communal. People cannot function as they were made by God without relationships. This is why they gravitate to bars, civic clubs, college fraternities and sororities, sports teams, Gay Pride groups, Internet chat rooms and hundreds of other expressions of human community. And this is why the church fails to present the gospel of the kingdom effectively when it is ceases to be a unique community of people living eternal life in loving relationships.

The fullness of the kingdom of God must be preached and it must be demonstrated. This is not an either/or, but rather a both/and. The best apology that we can give to people today is to show them the implications of the kingdom of God at work in a healthy church. This is why the evil one attacks the church the way he does. He does not need to attack the world. The world already does what it does because they follow him. He attacks the church (cf. Ephesians 6, which refers to spiritual warfare in corporate ways, not private ones) because if the church fails to preach and live the gospel of the kingdom then there is no apologetic that can draw the world to the church.

Conclusion

The generation born since 1965 longs for community more than any I have ever encountered. I am not surprised by this given the impact of modernity and consumerism. I believe the answer to this is missional apologetics.

Put more simply, the answer is found in loving communities that are involved in the real lives of deeply broken people. The staple of kingdom/gospel ministry will always be intentional spiritual friendships. Let me put this as plainly as I know how:

No Christian should ever be without at least one intentional and significant relationship with a non-Christian.

Note, I did not say every Christian is an evangelist. Nor did I say that every Christian is to be a trained apologist. (A careful study of Colossians 4:2-6 will dispossess you of this faulty, but all too popular, notion.)

I have known several Christians who left other religions to become followers of Christ. One, a Muslim, told me time and again that the one factor that drew him to become a Christ follower was the love that he saw in Christians for one another. Several studies of the reasons why Muslims convert to Christ show the same thing. It is not our ability to convince them that Mohammed is a false teacher, or even that the Koran is dangerous, that ultimately wins them to Christ. It is their seeing us living in a love that they cannot and do not know.

The great early church theologian Tertullian said this so well: “It is the Christian’s way of life that shows the validity of his beliefs: goodness is their identifying characteristic” (cited by William Dyrness, Christian Apologetics in a World Community, 28).

(I usually don’t post excerps from others in such detail, but this was so good and fit in with my recent posts and conversation with some that I made an exception. John Armstrong is a very dear friend,Director of ACT3 ministries. He teaches a course in Missional Apologetics at the Billy Graham School of Evangelism at Wheaton College).E4Unity

To follow the Four Part Series-Here

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