Kingdom Conspiracy: Thinking It Through, Part 3 (Stanley Hauerwas)

KingdomConspiracy2We’re discussing Scot McKnight’s latest book Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church.

So back to Hauerwas —

“The heart of the gospel is that you don’t know Jesus without the witness of the church. It’s always mediated.”

You see, the gospel is the “good news of the kingdom” (Matt 4:23: 9:35; 24:14). And so if the church doesn’t demonstrate the good news, there is no good news. To the extent we Christian fail to live Acts 2, we contradict the gospel. Hence,

“The first task of the church is to be the church.”

We might prefer a country club with a steeple. Or even a civic club that does good things for the sake of being good. But the gospel calls us to a very particular, very special way of living with each other — and if we fail to get it done, we shame the gospel.

And perhaps the first symptom will be an inability to evangelize — either for lack of desire, feeling that we have very little to offer, or because our churches contradict our teaching.

“The church doesn’t have a social strategy, the church is a social strategy.”

How do we make the world a better place? How do we change the culture? Well, we are not called to these things. They may result from what we’re called to, but they are not the goal.

Yes, the Bible frequently speaks of “good works.” Amen. But never “good works to transform the culture of the world so that the realm of Satan becomes a more pleasant place to live.” Rather, the good works must point toward Jesus — and his body, bride, and household. They are inseparable. After all, if the church isn’t preaching Jesus to the lost, just who do we expect to do it for us?

No, as the bride of Christ, our first goal is to be his suitable helper — a good wife who never brings shame to Jesus but instead brings him praise and glory. We need to learn to be the church — the kingdom of God, not yet fully realized, but sufficiently filled with his glory that the lost see Jesus in us.

And when that happens, the idea that we should introduce people to Jesus, not the church, will seem just as absurd as it is. We are the body of Christ. We may not be very good at it, but we’re the only body he has.

If we bring people to meet the church, surely they’ll see the church pointing toward Jesus in everything that they are, say, and do. Surely.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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6 Responses to Kingdom Conspiracy: Thinking It Through, Part 3 (Stanley Hauerwas)

  1. Gary says:

    Jay, it sounds like a false dichotomy to me to portray good works that point to Jesus as being necessarily different from good works that transform the culture of the world. I’m not sure that’s what you’re intending to communicate but that seems to be the meaning of your words. The Christian impulses behind the abolition of legal slavery in the West, for example, were both with the consequence that life did become more pleasant for many. When God is reigning in his church then the church will be a foretaste to the world of the coming fullness of the Kingdom of God. That doesn’t change this world being the realm of Satan but it does provide some oases in the desert as it were. The implication throughout this series that good works done by those who do not yet know Christ count for nothing with God runs counter to the teaching of passages such as Matthew 25, Acts 10 (Cornelius), and Romans 2:10. Good works of course do not earn salvation for anyone but they are pleasing to God no matter who the doer of them is. God is the author of all that is good and good works by anyone spring from their creation in the image of God.

  2. Jay Guin says:

    Gary wrote,

    Jay, it sounds like a false dichotomy to me to portray good works that point to Jesus as being necessarily different from good works that transform the culture of the world.

    Good works done in the name of Jesus can certainly change the culture of the world. That happened in the centuries following Jesus. Roman culture was changed. But the church never thought of itself as engaging in cultural transformation. Rather, the church did good works in the name of Jesus, people were converted, people were transformed, and the culture changed because so very many people became Christians.

    When we seek to shortcut the process, by changing culture without changing people, we’re just making the world of the damned a nicer place in which to be damned. We are, in fact, working contrary to God’s intentions revealed in Rom 1 — where God turns the world over to its sinfulness, so that sin may be seen as sin.

    (Rom 1:28-31 ESV) And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

    The Christian response to a world filled with unrighteousness is not billboards teaching the world to be righteous or better school programs or better welfare systems. It’s Jesus.

    We’d all like a better world. We’d all like a less debased culture. The solution is not fixing the movie industry or closing porn shops. It’s preaching Jesus. It’s filling hearts with the Holy Spirit. It’s learning to worship the right God.

    And part of this is doing good works in the name of Jesus because those who love Jesus also love the lost and want them to have good things — but even more, they want Jesus to be honored — because if Jesus is not honored, nothing else matters.

    That does not make it wrong to do good without mentioning Jesus. But when we do good not in Jesus’ name, we are at risk that credit is given to one of his competitors.

    (Eph 6:12 ESV) 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

    (1Pe 3:21-22 ESV) 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

    We’ve been trained not to think in these terms. When the scriptures refer to “rulers” and “authorities” as enemies of Jesus, we skip to the next verse, but Paul is really quite clear. Of course, in his world, it was easy to see Rome as the enemy of Jesus.

    (Col 2:15 ESV) 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

    We just need not to be naive about today’s rulers and authorities. We need to recognize Jesus as a higher power and honor him above all others — and never be satisfied with giving glory to a lesser authority.

  3. Gary says:

    Jay, I agree that the best thing the church can do is to simply be the church: to teach, evangelize, baptize and minister to those in need. You are probably aware of David Lipscomb’s teaching that Christians should not vote or serve in the military or government in any way. His basis was the same as what you set forth regarding the rulers and authorities of this world. In the old GA commentary on 1 Corinthians Lipscomb asks why Christians would want to build up what we know Christ will destroy at his return. I don’t see a logical stopping point between Lipscomb’s position and what you have set forth. Do you take this as far as he did? If not what is the logic behind an intermediate position?

  4. Jay Guin says:

    Gary asked,

    In the old GA commentary on 1 Corinthians Lipscomb asks why Christians would want to build up what we know Christ will destroy at his return. I don’t see a logical stopping point between Lipscomb’s position and what you have set forth.

    I disagree with Lipscomb. His book Civil Government is actually very thoughtful and makes good points. His error, I believe, is that he fails to recognize the in-betweenness of civil government.

    Yes, human government is often in competition with Jesus for the loyalties of its subjects. This is always wrong. But, no, we can’t do without human government while waiting on the return of Jesus. Human government is thus, not so much a necessary evil, as a necessary but temporary expedient that very, very easily becomes evil.

    See my earlier post at http://oneinjesus.info/2007/10/the-new-perspective-the-church-and-politics/ for much more detail.

    Death is also God’s enemy, and yet we should work with hospice care and otherwise seek to alleviate the suffering of death. We can’t make it go away by pretending it’s not real. Therefore, withdrawal from government no more helps God out than withdrawing from the care of the mortally ill or comfort for those who’ve lost loved ones. Death is an enemy of God, and so we seek to mitigate the pain it brings to the world — we don’t hide from it. Just so, the governments of man will be overthrown when Jesus returns. In the meantime, we work to mitigate the harm of government — by protesting abuse, by pushing for humane policies — and doing all this in the name of Jesus.

    We don’t secularize the church to be more influential. Rather, like the prophets of old, we cry out against injustice — in the name of Jesus.

    (Isa 1:16-17 ESV) 16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.

    (Isa 1:23 ESV) 23 Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them.

    Isaiah protests the wickedness of the government — not just that they government did bad things but that it failed to do the good that government is supposed to do — and yet he does so as a prophet, not a political theorist.

    But crying out against injustice is not the heart of our mission, because the redemption of government is not the heart of God’s mission through Jesus. Rather, because we love the oppressed, we cry out on their behalves — out of love for those suffering under unjust laws — and our love comes from the love of Jesus.

  5. Gary says:

    I agree Jay. The only thing I would nuance is that injustice is usually synonymous with sin and evil. But I think we’re on the same page on the involvement of Christians in government. I would extend your approach to other secular institutions.

  6. Jay Guin says:

    Gary wrote,

    I would extend your approach to other secular institutions.

    Entirely agree.

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