Saturday, March 10, 2018

TTT #7 The Kingdom of God is More about Society than about Individuals

Consider with me one more article concerning the Kingdom of God before we move to a different topic in the next/eighth chapter of Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now (TTT).
Who Is “You”?
Unlike many (most?) languages of the world, in English there is no difference between the singular and plural second person pronoun. That is, you can refer to one person or to two—or many more—people.
Partly for that reason, there has been some misunderstanding of the Bible for those who read it exclusively (or even primarily) in English. In spite of being able after seminary to read the New Testament in Greek, to a degree, I usually just read the English translation for devotional use and even for sermon preparation before going to Japan.
As I began to prepare sermons in Japanese, however, over and over again I noticed that passages I had always thought of as speaking to individuals were, indeed, speaking to multiple people, to a community, for you was plural in Japanese just as it is in Greek.
“You” in the KoG
Western Christianity has usually placed far more emphasis on individuals than upon society. Accordingly, individualistic interpretation of the Bible emphasizes that God loves me, Jesus died for me, I can be saved through faith in Jesus, and when I die I will go to Heaven.
To be sure, that is an important part of the Gospel message—but it is certainly not the only, or maybe in the larger scheme of things, the most important.
Emergent church leader Brian D. McLaren has importantly emphasized this point in recent years—but, unfortunately, many Christians don’t seem to have gotten the point yet.
One of McLaren’s books is The Secret Message of Jesus (2006). That “secret message” he elucidated shouldn’t have been so secret, for it was, after all, a central teaching of Jesus.
What was that teaching? It was primarily not about isolated individuals but about the kingdom of God, a new society populated by people who form a community of faith.  
“You” and the KoG Here and Now
Not only has the Western understanding of the kingdom of God often been individualistic, it has also often been other-worldly. By “other-worldly” I mean, of course, that it has been more about life after death rather than about life now on earth.
The “pie in the sky by and by” sort of thinking was used by some, and perhaps many, slaveholders in the nineteenth century to mollify their slaves. And to some degree the same kind of thinking was utilized by white Christians to keep African-Americans satisfied with their inferior status for a century, and more, following the end of the Civil War.
Martin Luther King, Jr., alludes to that sad situation in his powerful book Why We Can’t Wait (1963). He writes, “To the ministers I stressed the need for a social gospel to supplement the gospel of individual salvation.”
King says that he also rejected religion which “prompts a minister to extol the glories of Heaven while ignoring the social conditions that cause men an earthly hell.”
Throughout his book introduced above, McLaren emphasizes that "the secret message of Jesus isn’t primarily about ‘heaven after you die.’ It doesn’t give us an exit ramp or escape hatch from this world; rather it thrusts us back into the here and now so we can be part of God’s dreams for planet Earth coming true" (p. 183).
So surely, one of the true things that everyone needs to know now is that the kingdom of God is more about society than about individuals and is about now as well as the future.
[In the seventh chapter of TTT, which you can read by clicking here, there is much more to read regarding this important matter.]


  1. A wise word to the American Church.

    I have found much the same variance by reading in Swahili and German. Like you, I use an easy modern version for morning readings, and the New American Standard or New King James for a more accurate translation. While there is some focus on individuals, the context does lean toward the whole Kingdom. This is what I like about Judaism and Orthodoxy (and even Islam, and the covenant of Noah).

    This is one of my two key pet peeves of the American Church - 1) It’s all about ME, Jesus, all about me; and 2a) Luv ya Jesus, luv ya, luv ya Jesus, or b) My Buddy who art in heaven, love is your name – give me what I want. (“Love” is as weak in English as “You” – maybe more.) As a corollary, when we sing “Blessed be the Name of the LORD” (Job’s prayer), the people stand and clap and dance. I would rather tear my clothes in weeping and fall on my face. We have also completely lost the “Fear/terror of the LORD” (again we come back to “My Buddy who art in heaven…”)

    The term “Justice” is also an issue, since there are two very valid meaning for the word, and we need both. But as you know, I am not a fan of the Justice warriors who look for trouble and are mean at heart. The seem to miss the salvation of God through Christ by sacrificial atonement - that which we could not do (as well as "Love your enemy" - those they hate). The same is true of the Justice system when it is unjust – I have encountered that several times as well. Society is a "case" which needs a foundation which is ethical, but that is falling apart on all sides. Just give me average people of goodwill - they are the majority, and there across the spectrum of humanity.

    "Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy Name. Thy (eternal) Kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven..."

  2. Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson in Kentucky makes this pertinent comment:

    "A good point, Leroy. Jesus used the plural in his statement, 'The kingdom of God is among [or within] (bentos) you' (Luke 17:21)."

  3. I see three levels to the gospel "you." Individuals do get called out for prophetic missions, but then they get sent back to complete their missions. In the end it is almost all about the collective "you." However, between, is the group "you" which Jesus illustrates by calling his disciples. The church is challenged to be such an intermediary as well.

    Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:20 "For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." If you read the verses both before and after that one little is said of individuals, except to point out that when one goes astray, the shepherd must leave the 99 to search for the one. (Matthew 18:12-14) The radical individualism of the modern prosperity gospel is an example of a terribly distorted reading of the Bible. Anyone who thinks that a pile of money is a sign of personal salvation should take a careful look at what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, "No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth." (Matthew 6:24) Money is a useful tool of trade. It is not, however, to be loved or served. A man sitting alone with his pile of money might as well be a dragon in a fairy tale, sitting on top of a pile of gold while the people in the town below tremble and starve. How often we are all convicted by Cain's question of God, " . . . am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:9)

    Thank you for sharing the wonderful McLaren quote. Sometimes the good news is such a secret that even the church does not know it!

  4. I don't particularly see the need to make responses to the comments above, but I do appreciate Anton, 1sojourner, Glenn, and Craig for posting/sending their comments.