Previous to this post (here and here), I’ve described two of McKnight’s proposals in his book Kingdom Conspiracy. Now I’d like to turn towards the more controversial proposals in the book: that the Kingdom is the church and there is there is no Kingdom (now)outside of the church. He lays the groundwork for these assertions in ch. 5 and ch. 6. Here goes. The Kingdom is a People Governed By A King
In chapter 5, entitled “Kingdom is People,” McKnight argues that throughout the Bible, especially the Old Testament, “kingdom” implies “a king, a rule, a people, a land, and a law.” In the OT, “Kingdom” always refers to Israel, a circumscribed area ruled by a king. He spends some time on how land is important (but I think I prefer the very dynamic understanding of inhabiting the land as gift as seen for example in Brueggemann’s book The Land). McKnight covers all five of these components of Kingdom, going into some detail from various texts. But the crux of the issue for McKnight is his statement on p.74: in the Bible, “the “kingdom” always refers to a people governed by a king.”
The kingdom therefore is not merely a dynamic that happens ‘magically’ in redemptive moments. It is not merely good works that follow a principle of justice extracted from Jesus life and teachings wherever that may be found. It is not “the spiritual reality of God at work in this world to transform God’s people into Christlikeness” ala Dallas Willard (p.84). It is a geopolitical people under a king. (p.66)
Now I prefer “socio-political” reality over his “geo-political.” Geo-political sounds too static to properly convey the idea of the OT and NT. Nonetheless, I too believe, along with McKnight, that the Kingdom is a spatial reality formed among a people socially as a political reality: a people together in the world. These people tend to their geography, where they live as part of inhabiting a place. This social reality takes visible shape wherever God’s people gather together to submit one to Jesus as Lord (or King) and live under His rule, power and authority. Out of this dynamic a social reality is birthed that makes the Kingdom visible. This social reality (or political reality) is a prolepsis, a harbinger, a making visible of God’s kingdom among us as a sign and foretaste of where the rest of the world is going when “all things have been made subject” (1 Cor 15:25) and ”the city has no need of sun or moon to shine in it” (Rev 21:23). The Kingdom then, in my words, is the social space of His Lordship.
The Kingdom is the Church
In chapter 6, building on chapter 5, McKnight makes an even more controversial claim. He takes aim now at the now affectionately labeled “skinny jeans and pleated pants” justice people. He asks, if the Kingdom is always a people governed by the King, is the church this people?
McKnight’s answer to this question is a qualified “yes.” Playing off of Jesus first and his words to Peter in Matt 16:16-19, “and I tell you Peter … on (you) this rock I will build my church … (and ) I will give you the keys to the Kingdom …” McKnight says “Jesus connects the present church (a people) to the future kingdom (a people). He connects what Peter does now in the church to what God will do then in the kingdom … church and kingdom are indissolubly connected … The church, then, is what is present and peopled in the realization of the kingdom now.” (p87). McKnight then exposits on this claim in the ensuing pages.
One of his best observations is made in anticipation of those who would argue that if what he says is true, then the present day church is a sad expression of the Kingdom. It bears little resemblance of the Kingdom described by Jesus. In response, McKnight warns against comparing the church now with the Kingdom not yet. Such an understanding places undue expectations on the church with the inevitable accompanying disappointments. McKnight says instead we need to compare “kingdom now with church now, or kingdom not yet with church not yet. But to compare church now with kingdom not yet is not fair to the church.”
McKnight has opened the door here for this very important conversation. Where is the Kingdom? And What is the relationship between Kingdom and the church? The Kingdom has become a nigh master-signifier meaning so much stuff, that it is hard to tell what would not be included in Kingdom work. (See my epilogue on Brian McLaren and the Kingdom in this book here). McKnight has clarified some terms, set the Table for various positions on the issue, and given us much to chew on in terms of the Bible. This book is significant as an accessible conversation starter.
Where all this leads (or flows from) is McKnight’s most controversial claim: there is no kingdom now outside the church. BOOM! McKnight said it. And now the discussion hits full tilt. McKnight makes no one happy with this statement. The Skinny Jeans progressives are unhappy with the necessity of the church, the pleated pants are equally disjointed over the too close equation of the church with the Kingdom. And I myself have gone a few go arounds with Dr McKnight. But I’ve learned a few things since he wrote the dedication page for this book. I hope to nail them on the next (and concluding) post on Kingdom Conspiracy.
Til then, what do you think of McKnight’s proposals? A.) The Kingdom is a People governed by a king. B.) The church is the kingdom.
Looking to study these things in depth? With McKnight and other scholar practicioners? Check out the newM.A. in Theology and Missionat Northern Seminary.