The Whole Gospel of the Kingdom
by Bryant Myers
From time to time it is useful
to ask the question, what is the gospel!? We donít need to do
this because we think the gospel changes; it doesnít. But we may
have changed and so may our understanding of the Bible. Jesus
repeatedly reminded us that we have a problem with our eyes and
ears. Apparently if we truly are seeking him our seeing and
hearing can improve.
So what is the gospel?
Who believes what?
For many evangelicals, a
response comes quickly: forgiveness of sins. Jesus Christ came,
died, and was resurrected so those who say yes to Christís offer
might have eternal life.
For many from mainline
traditions, the answer is: Christ and his kingdom. Less concerned
with the historicity of Christ, these brothers and sisters say
that Jesus came to establish a different kind of social order
characterized by justice, peace, and reconciliation.
For many from the Pentecostal
and Charismatic tradition, the answer is different still: Jesus
came that we might know Christ and his power in our daily lives.
We no longer have to be slaves to our fears, addictions, and inner
Whatís the problem?
Ron Sider insists that for our
understanding of the gospel to be biblical, our definition must
reflect the kinds of things Jesus spoke of when he talked about
the gospel. Ron notes that, "virtually every time Jesus spoke
the gospel, he talked about the kingdom of God."
The kingdom of God was the
subject of Christís first sermon (Mark 1:14). The kingdom of God
was the only thing Jesus called the gospel (Matt. 4:23) and the
topic on which he focused his teaching to the disciples during his
last 40 days on earth (Acts 1:3).
Jesus said the kingdom was the
key to understanding his teaching (Luke 8:10). In the Sermon on
the Mount, Jesus said that the kingdom of God was the first thing
we should seek and that everything else will follow (Matt. 6:33).
The coming of the kingdom is the first petition in the prayer
Jesus taught us to pray (Matt. 6:10).
Luke closes the book of Acts by
telling us that Paul "boldly and without hindrance preached
the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ"
(Acts 28:31). Jesus even said that "this gospel of the
kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all
nations, and then the end will come" (Matt. 24:14).
If Jesus associated the idea of
the kingdom of God with the gospel, then so must we. This calls
into question all three of the admittedly overdrawn caricatures I
described earlier. The gospel as kingdom is forgiveness of sins,
and it is the call to a different social order, and it is about
However, before I develop this
further, there is one additional observation that we must make
about the kingdom of God.
The person and the kingdom
E. Stanley Jones, the missionary
to India who shaped the missiology of Lesslie Newbigin, insisted
that we must never separate the person of Christ and the kingdom
of god. Why? Because Jesus is the embodiment of Godís kingdom.
The best news is that the
kingdom of God is not a theological concept but a name with a
human face. Better yet, this person came and dwelt among us,
"tempted in every way, just as we are" (Heb. 4:15).
Jonesí point is that the kingdom of God has indeed drawn near
but has done so in the form of a person. "Jesus is the
kingdom of God taking sandals and walking," Jones said.
Toward a holistic
So how might we think about
Jesus and the kingdom of God? What kind of frame would avoid the
incompleteness of the caricatures I described previously? I think
there are some important clues in the calling of the disciples as
recorded in Markís gospel.
Mark tells us that Jesus,
"appointed twelve - designating them apostles - that they
might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to
have authority to drive out demons" (Mark 3:14-15). When the
apostles are sent on their first solo ministry outing, Mark
reports, "They went out and preached that people should
repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people
with oil and healed them" (Mark 6:12-13).
Mission activists are quick to
pick up on the preaching, the healing, and the casting our stuff.
We want to go and do likewise. What we do is shaped by our
The evangelical, deeply
concerned with the truth of the gospel, tends to focus on
preaching, the gospel-as-word. The socially concerned, shocked by
the disregard that too many Christians show for justice, migrate
quickly to the healing part and the doing of good deeds, the
gospel-as-deed. The Pentecostal, concerned for the willingness of
both evangelicals and mainline folks to assume that the gifts of
the Spirit gave out in the first century, find themselves
preoccupied with casting out, the gospel-as-sign.
The two stories of the apostles
in Mark suggest that all are right and wrong at the same time. For
Jesus, the gospel is linked to the kingdom of God which extends to
all areas of life. The whole gospel of the living Christ is
gospel-as-word, gospel-as-deed, and gospel-as-sign.
Broken and lost
Kwame Bediako, a friend and
Ghanaian theologian, sat with me one evening in Accra. "You
Western folk do something silly. You think that if you cut up a
dog and study its parts, you now understand what a dog is. Even
worse, you sometimes sound like you believe that by putting the
part back together in their proper places, you now have a dog
again. But you donít. You have a dead dog. When you took the dog
apart, you lost the most important piece - the fact that the dog
is a living thing!"
Living things lose their lives
when we take them apart. When we separate Jesus from the kingdom,
we lose the life of the gospel and reduce the kingdom to an
ideology. This is Jonesí [E. Stanley] point. When we separate
gospel-as-deed from gospel-as-word or gospel-as-sign, the life and
truth of the gospel are lost too. Why?
No aspect of the whole gospel
equals the gospel in its completeness. Words are ambiguous until
deeds clarify the meaning of our words. After all, in America four
out of five people say they are Christians. Only when they act
like Christians do we know for sure what their words mean.
Deeds are ambiguous until words
identify the motive and the meaning behind the deeds. Good
Buddhists and good atheists can work for justice and be
environmentalists. Only words explain that we seek justice and the
well being of the environment because we follow a Lord who
commands this of us. And signs are ambiguous in the same way.
Satan can counterfeit miracles too.
Word, deed, and sign must work
together as a living message, pointing to a living Lord. This is
why a holistic understanding of the gospel, a kingdom
understanding of the gospel, is so critical.
Uniting being and doing
Remember the importance of never
separating the person of Jesus from the idea of the kingdom of
God? This is the most important piece of this conversation.
When I quoted Markís account
of the calling of the apostles by Jesus, did you notice the reason
for the calling, the words I skipped over so quickly so I could
comment on the doing of the gospel?
Jesus said he called the
disciples so they could be with him. Being with him precedes the
casting out, the preaching, and the healing.
The kingdom of God is a call to
a relationship, not a program or ideology, regardless of whether
the program is evangelism, social action, or spiritual warfare. We
are called to be with the living Christ.
This is the best news there is.
Christ provides for our being before he asks us to be obedient by
doing. There is no dichotomy of being and doing in the gospel.
It can be no other way. We
cannot do that which we are not ourselves. Being is always the
prerequisite of doing. No evangelist can be used by the Spirit if
she is not alive in Christ. No social activist can love the
love-starved unless he is in relationship with the one who is Love
to us. No healer or exorist can name the name of One whom she does
not know and whose power she has never experienced.
The gospel of the kingdom
I find it helpful to picture the
gospel message as a pyramid. The top of the pyramid is being with
Jesus, life in and with the living Lord. This relationship gives
life to all that lies below it.
Each of the corners of the
pyramid is one dimension of the gospel: preaching or the
gospel-as-word, healing or the gospel-as-deed, casting out or the
teaching, preaching, and doing theology. Gospel-as-deed means
working for the physical, social, and psychological well being of
the world that God created. Gospel-as-sign means praying for signs
and wonders, those things that only God can do, as well as the
church serving as a living sign of a kingdom that is and has not
yet fully come.
If we break the pyramid into
pieces, it is no longer a pyramid, just as a dog cut into parts no
longer is a dog. For the gospel to be the gospel, all four aspects
have to be present. They are inseparable.
The metaphor works in another
way. You can lead with whatever aspect of the gospel most directly
addresses the need of the person to whom you are witnessing. If
that person suffers from poverty of being, you can offer life with
the living Christ. If the person hungers for truth, words may be
best. If the person suffers from hunger or injustice, we should
begin with the social action that addresses the need most
directly. If the person lives in fear of the spirits or feels
disempowered to the point of giving up, then the power of God over
the spirits would seem like the place to start. In this way, the
gospel begins wherever people are.
The only sin is if we stop there. While the
gospel begins where people are, it always has more to say.
Everyone, regardless of where their gospel journey starts, is
entitled to encounter the whole of the gospel in time. All of us
need to know the Jesus who is word, deed, and sign, the Christ who
is the kingdom walking in sandals among us.
Bryant Myers, "The Whole Gospel of the
Kingdom," MARC Newsletter, #99-1, February 1999,
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