Kingdom is one of the most overused and misunderstood/misused words with Christians today. “Kingdom work”, “Kingdom goals”, “Kingdom mission”, “Kingdom results”, “Bringing the Kingdom to earth” are just some of the phrases I’ve heard recently that uses the word Kingdom to describe what a particular person was doing in their church or ministry. Everyone seems to have a definition of Kingdom and all want to use it with what they are doing. However, many are using this term incorrectly.
In his newest book Kingdom Conspiracy, Scot McKnight addresses this very issue and considers what Kingdom truly means and how we can best understand it. McKnight begins by using two labels to describe the general direction and understanding of Kingdom use by Christians today. He calls one group the Skinny Jeans Kingdom People and the other group the Pleated Pants Kingdom People. The Skinny Jeans Kingdom People see kingdom work being done by anyone making the world better or doing social justice, in or out of the church. McKnight further describes it by saying, “Skinny Jeans usage: Kingdom means good deeds done by good people (Christian or not) in the public sector for the common good” (Kindle Loc. 147). The Pleated Pants Kingdom People say that Kingdom work cannot be done everywhere and anywhere because if Kingdom is everything then Kingdom is truly nothing. The Pleated Pants Kingdom People want to focus on the redemptive side of Kingdom. The Kingdom is now and not yet, but it is not everything as they make clear.
To move the conversation forward McKnight says to both of these positions a new rule: “never use the word ‘kingdom’ for what we do in the ‘world.’ These two approaches to kingdom, one focusing on social activism through the public, political process and the other focusing on redemptive moments, reveal important truths about the kingdom in the Bible. (…) Yet I’m convinced that both of these approaches to kingdom fall substantially short of what kingdom meant to Jesus” (Loc. 407) McKnight continues by considering the story of the Kingdom. A Kingdom story must begin with a well understood Kingdom theology. “A kingdom theology must be rooted in Scripture so that we form a genuinely biblical concept of story” (Loc 473). McKnight shows that most Christians understand the story of the Bible in one way through a Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation form. What McKnight does is shows it through an A-B-A form (Plan A, Plan B, Plan A Revised) that includes a modified CFRC form in it.
Plan A shows God rules the world through his elected people, but God is the one and only King. Plan B shows a human king for Israel is Plan B in God’s eyes. Plan A Revised shows God returns to Plan A through Jesus as God now rules once again. Plan A Revised is in Jesus, who is called Messiah, who is also called Son of God, God establishes his rule over Israel one more time as under Plan A. Our understanding of Kingdom story must begin with God as King and God as King in King Jesus. Jesus is the Lord, the King, the Messiah, and the Savior. Kingdom is the telling of the story currently (now) and in the future (not yet). Kingdom is Christological and Eschatological.
If that is how we are to understand Kingdom story then we must also begin to understand Kingdom mission in light of this. We must enter into the story being told through conversion and deepen our participation in that story through discipleship. “There is no Kingdom mission without surrendering and submitting to Jesus as King and calling others to surrender before King Jesus” (Loc 729). McKnight takes it a step further against the Skinny Jeans crowd saying that there is no good for the common good until humans surrender to King Jesus. This is huge in understanding Kingdom. In considering discipleship, the church has a responsibility of preaching the whole of the Bible and showing this Kingdom story to people. This is a serious task that McKnight feels is not happening well in local churches. Churches should be leading their people in understanding how to read the Bible and understand it through a Kingdom lens.
McKnight throughout the rest of the book narrows in on what Kingdom means and focuses on the King in Jesus. There is hope in the Kingdom because the Kingdom is now and is in the future through Jesus. There is redemption in the world through Jesus and Jesus alone. McKnight steps on some toes in a way by spending a chapter focusing that there can be no Kingdom outside of the Church. Not that Kingdom work does not happen in communities, but it is through the body of Christ evangelizing and making disciples that the Kingdom is truly furthered and grown as we come to understand who the King is in our lives. The Kingdom is now and is in the future through Jesus. McKnight unpacks Kingdom very well and much deeper than I can go here in a quick overview of the book. I would highly recommend this book to all Christ followers and especially to all pastors. It was one of the best books that I read in 2014, and could not recommend it more to you.