Scot McKnight’s Kingdom Conspiracy: Defining “Mission” in Kingdom Terms, Part 2

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

Fourth, kingdom mission as church mission means forming and indwelling a local church fellowship. The most political thing you and I as followers of Jesus can do, the most political thing we as kingdom citizens can do, the most political thing we as the church of King Jesus can do is to gather together in order to do things the church is called to do.

(p. 104). Scot now sounds very neo-Anabaptist, that is, like Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder. But there is more here than neo-Anabaptist theology.

So where do we go to find what the church — as church — is supposed to do? Well, Scot takes us to Acts 2, to read Luke’s description of the Jerusalem congregation as an ideal (very Church of Christ, if you ask me).

  • A fellowship formed by the apostolic gospel
  • A family formed by fellowship with one another
  • A fellowship formed by table fellowship, Eucharist, and prayer
  • A family formed by the presence of God through the Spirit
  • A fellowship formed by economic sharing
  • A family formed by evangelism

(p. 106). So there’s a First Century pattern of church life for you!

In other words, we don’t just stand for justice in the public realm; we embody justice in God’s grand experiment, the church. We mock peace in the world if we don’t first form a peaceful fellowship. We mock justice when the poor suffer in our midst and may choose, because of their discomfort among us, not to participate in our “kingdom” fellowship. We mock our defense of love when our own fellowships are marred by divorces and fractured relationships and lack of love for other kingdom citizens who don’t have our theology.

(pp. 106-107). I love how Scot turns yet again and again back to the text to find his answers. So many theologians start with a really good idea or two and then either founder as they seek to get to get practical or else find no answers in the text itself — but the text speaks to those who will listen.

In Church of Christ terms, it’s not so much about getting the forms of assembly and church organization right as getting the substance of the kingdom right — the outpoured Spirit, the Messiah as Lord, a community shaped by the Spirit into a cross, justice lived out among the faithful.

It’s easy to go to the legislature to force others to be be just and righteous. It’s so much harder for your church to become just and righteous — showing the world the face of God.

Fifth, kingdom mission as church mission means learning to live in the world as a free people. …

So we begin right here: those who live under King Jesus in the kingdom fellowship called the church are free from the dominating stories of their culture and free to do what God calls them to do — even if it means rejection, repudiation, and suffering.

(p. 107). This is a tough one, because most American Christians do not consider themselves to be under any dominating stories. After all, we Americans fought for freedom and liberty back in the Revolutionary War. Why would be anything but free now?

Here we can see a radical exemption for Jesus’ followers: kingdom citizens are set free from the world’s ordering system, but they are to live an orderly life because they live under King Jesus and because in so ordering themselves they can witness to a new kingdom order.

(p. 108). Okay. This sound biblical, but I still don’t quite get it. What is “the world’s ordering system”? Hopefully, Scot will return to this theme.

Sixth, kingdom mission as church mission means an ordered life under King Jesus in the context of local church fellowship. Kingdom mission means we don’t listen to the world’s stories but to the kingdom story, and part of that kingdom story is that Jesus is King and has appointed some under-leaders. We are summoned to do two things at the same time: we both serve Jesus alongside the under-leaders, and we listen to the under-leaders as those appointed by Jesus.

(pp. 108-109). In the Churches of Christ, this is a problematic claim. On the one hand, traditionally, we’ve ceded considerable authority to our elders. Elders in Churches of Christ have a level of authority not found in most denominations with American roots — because most American denominations provide a certain level of democracy, but the Churches of Christ have correctly perceived that the scriptures say nothing of democracy or majority rule.

On the other hand, we often do a really bad job of selecting and training elders. We’re just dreadful at this in most places. And even when we do select good, Spirit-filled men, we struggle to submit to their authority because we’re Americans, and therefore have a very strong sense of individualism and autonomy. We just don’t naturally commit to someone else’s authority.

And so our theology and tradition do not line up well with our practices. And it’s a very serious problem.

McKnight concedes that some leaders are so abusive that the right thing for a Christian to do is to refuse to submit. But this cannot be the rule. Rather,

Jesus created a church where leaders would be under King Jesus, and disciples are created by Jesus to live in that kind of ordered church.

(p. 109).

Our individualism leads us to think that to “listen to Jesus” means we can add “alone” or “and to no one else.” But this means we are actually not listening to Jesus, because Jesus — in calling the Twelve (Mark 3: 13–19; 6: 7), then informing them that they would govern the kingdom (Matt. 19: 28), then sending them out to disciple others (28: 16– 20), and then through the Spirit commissioning more and more leaders (elders, deacons, teachers) to serve both under King Jesus and under the original under-leaders — made it clear (not to put too blunt a point on it) that he uses leaders. That means your pastor and your elders and deacons.

(p. 109). Nor does this mean that our leaders must achieve near-impossible standards of perfection before we submit to them. After all, a cheap and easy way to rebel is to constantly insist that the leaders be just so and do just so before we will submit to their leadership.

There’s always something less than ideal about any leader. We can’t use the imperfection common to all humanity as an excuse to be autonomous.

But leaders are not infallible, nor were the apostles. But Jesus was, and the Infallible One told us to listen to the fallible ones because through them we would hear from Jesus. I don’t know any other way to put it. God sets up local churches with leaders so we will hear from Jesus as our leaders listen to Jesus and we listen to Jesus.

(p. 110). This brings to what is, to me, one of the more difficult concepts in the book: how do we distinguish between “doing good” and “kingdom work.” Why isn’t any good that we do in fulfillment of the kingdom mission?

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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39 Responses to Scot McKnight’s Kingdom Conspiracy: Defining “Mission” in Kingdom Terms, Part 2

  1. Gary says:

    McKnight’s strong dichotomy between good works done by Christians because they are Christians (Kingdom works) and good works done by all others runs counter to Scripture. We find no such distinction in Matthew 25 (perhaps the most ignored chapter of the Gospels among Churches of Christ). In Acts 10:4 we find that the prayers and alms of Cornelius ascended as a memorial for him before God. Romans 2:10 establishes that God accepted and rewarded good works of unbelieving Gentiles on the same basis as good works done by the Jews. Paul is emphatic there that all who do good works receive “glory, honour and peace” from God. Paul writes Romans for Christians so what he writes of Jews and Gentiles is the same today for Christians and all others. I once heard Reuel Lemmons say that truth is truth no matter who says it. I believe the same is true of good works. All deeds that reflect the nature of our God of compassion, mercy and justice bring glory to God whether they are done by a Christian or by one who does not yet know Christ. Our world is blessed by countless Cornelius’s- those who by the nature of the God whose image they are created in help the poor and the hurting and the least of these in our society. For all of them their good works ascend as a memorial for them before God. Jesus told us that whoever is not against us is for us. Christians need all the allies we can get in this world whose ruler is Satan. Looking for common ground with all who reflect the heart of God would seem to be the most fruitful way of advancing the Kingdom of God in the world today.

  2. Jay Guin says:

    Gary wrote,

    We find no such distinction in Matthew 25 (perhaps the most ignored chapter of the Gospels among Churches of Christ).

    The next post takes up Matt 25. I was very surprised at what McKnight found there. In fact, the next post begins McKnight’s defense against exactly the concerns you express here. I don’t want to get too far ahead of tomorrow’s post.

    But a couple of points to consider. First, Cornelius’ good works were done for the benefit of the Jews, God’s people. The Pillar Commentary explains that by “the people” or “the poor” Luke has reference to the Jewish people. (BDAG definition 4: ho laos = the Jewish people).

    Second, and much more importantly, McKnight distinguishes between good works in general — which are praised by God, even like God — and kingdom work. “Kingdom” does not equate to all good things. Jesus didn’t come so that there’d be good in the world. Rather, he came for a very particular mission and purpose — certain very particular good things. And these define kingdom work.

    There was good in the world long before the dawning of the kingdom. Jesus didn’t merely rename the good “kingdom.” Rather, he pointed his followers toward very particular good works that are of the essence when it comes to the kingdom.

    The next two posts will lay out the theory and some key scriptures.

  3. Jay Guin says:

    Gary,

    What does Ladd make of these texts?

    (Joh 3:3 ESV) Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

    (Joh 3:5 ESV) Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

    Putting water baptism to the side for the moment, clearly the essence of Jesus’ words is the need to receive the Spirit to be outpoured when the kingdom dawns. And in Acts 2, those who received the outpoured Spirit were added to the church.

  4. John says:

    A couple of points. I agree with Gary that we are to be thankful for all good works, regardless from whom they come. All good things are of God. Landon Saunders said something similar when he wrote, “Truth is anything that is true”. Also, Abraham J. Heschel said, “All phenomena is of God.” And it was James who wrote, “Every gift which is good is from above, and comes down from the Father, who is the source of all Light”. I think “Every” is the key word.

    Secondly, we have in our nation a problem of Christians keeping a dividing wall between their religious practice and their social and political beliefs. For example, many conservative Christians, if they found themselves in the company of Christians of color, would embrace them, tell they love them, call them “Brother and Sister” and loudly proclaim, “We are one in Christ”. Yet, they still hold the view that the nation was better off when segregated and whites held all power. For them a religious belief “baptizes” all political and social inequalities. Whereas in the first century the church dissolved such inequalities. I can see how McKnights points on fellowship and economic sharing could be used by many who state, “As long as we do it in the church, then…..”

  5. While we may approve of and even rejoice in the “good” that non-Christians do, we cannot equate their good works. Surely “kingdom work” must be done in the name of the king, mustn’t it? One may work for equity of races because God is the Creator of all along side another working for equity of races for political or humanitarian purposes. Same work; different motivation. One is kingdom work; the other is political or humanitarian work.

    While we can appreciate political or humanitarian motivated allies, we should not mistake their efforts as being to advance God’s purposes. If God can use the purposes of the proud Assyrian king for His own purposes (Isaiah 10), He can surely use and bless the good intentioned work of others who are NOT His people.

  6. Gary says:

    Jay, I will respond to your particular points in several messages but, first, a general point. I of course understand that Christians of all people are to do good works. That is what we are saved to do in this world and perhaps the next as well. I also understand that God’s people are to be guided in our lives and works by God’s Kingdom-Reign as we are taught in passages like the Sermon on the Mount. But I don’t see the necessity or scriptural basis for denigrating or even classifying separately good works others do who are acting on the basis of their creation in God’s image. Where in Scripture is such a distinction made? On the contrary, when Jesus is asked in Luke 10 about what is necessary to have eternal life he tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus goes out of his way to highlight a person who was not Jewish or one of his own followers as exemplifying a Kingdom lifestyle. He ends the parable with the instruction, “Go thou and do likewise.”

    There is also the matter of God’s sovereignty. Any work that furthers God’s Kingdom purposes is really a Kingdom work when you think about it. I believe McKnight’s emphasis on distinguishing Christian good works from good works done by all others stems from his misidentification of Kingdom/Basilea with the church. The church is God’s Kingdom only in a secondary and derivative sense. It is where God reigns most obviously in this world but God’s reign and where he is reigning are not identical. In the same way light and lightbulbs are closely identified with one another but are not identical. More on this later after my smartphone charges.

  7. Gary says:

    Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words defines basileia/kingdom as “primarily an abstract noun, denoting sovereignty, royal power, dominion … then, by metonymy, a concrete noun, denoting the territory or people over whom a king rules.”

    Similarly, George Eldon Ladd writes on p. 19 of The Gospel of the Kingdom, “The primary meaning of both the Hebrew word malkuth in the Old Testament and of the Greek word basileia in the New Testament is the rank, authority and sovereignty exercised by a king. A basileia may indeed be a realm over which a sovereign exercises his authority; and it may indeed be the people who belong to that realm and over whom authority is exercised; but these are secondary and derived meanings. First of all, a kingdom is the authority to rule, the sovereignty of the king.”

    Please correct me if I’m wrong but McKnight seems to give short shrift to the primary meaning of kingdom and instead tries to make the equating of kingdom as church the primary meaning.

    While in some contexts basileia/kingdom may mean church that is not the meaning of it in most passages of scripture. Take your concordance or pull up online the New Testament passages that contain the word kingdom and try to substitute church in the place of kingdom. In the large majority of those texts church simply doesn’t fit the meaning of the text.

  8. Gary says:

    Jay, concerning Ladd and John 3:3,5, Ladd was certainly an Evangelical through and through and affirmed the necessity of the new birth as a condition of receiving eternal life. I checked his references in The Gospel of the Kingdom and confirmed this. I’m not sure of what implications this has that you have in mind.

  9. Gary says:

    Jay, regarding Cornelius, I don’t see the significance of him having helped Jews rather than Gentiles. If he had been stationed in Spain and given alms to Gentiles there would his alms and prayers then not ascended to God as a memorial for him? In the Parable of the Good Samaritan we don’t know the religion or ethnicity of the man who was robbed and left beaten on the road to Jericho. It seems like a potentially dangerous distinction to make to elevate helping those of one group over another. I’m not at all saying that you advocate such but where would such a distinction lead?

  10. Larry Cheek says:

    Gary,
    Please help my understanding of your comments if I have misunderstood you. A summary of the your concept would be that an atheist performing good works to mankind is receiving the following from God. “All deeds that reflect the nature of our God of compassion, mercy and justice bring glory to God whether they are done by a Christian or by one who does not yet know Christ.” You continue with, “Paul is emphatic there that all who do good works receive “glory, honour and peace” from God”.
    Your quote, “Romans 2:10 establishes that God accepted and rewarded good works of unbelieving Gentiles on the same basis as good works done by the Jews.” you have added a word to convey your concept, that is not found in any of the versions translated in the English language.

    (Rom 2:10 CEV) But all who do right will be rewarded with glory, honor, and peace, whether they are Jews or Gentiles.
    (Rom 2:10 ERV) But he will give glory, honor, and peace to everyone who does good–to the Jews first and also to those who are not Jews.
    (Rom 2:10 GNB) But God will give glory, honor, and peace to all who do what is good, to the Jews first and also to the Gentiles.
    (Rom 2:10 GW) But there will be glory, honor, and peace for every person who does what is good, for Jews first and Greeks as well.
    (Rom 2:10 LEB) but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and to the Greek.
    (Rom 2:10 LITV) But glory and honor and peace will be to everyone working out good, both to the Jew first, and to the Greek.
    (Rom 2:10 MKJV) But He will give glory, honor and peace to every man who works good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
    (Rom 2:10 RV) but glory and honour and peace to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek:
    DARBY 10 but glory and honour and peace to every one that works good, both to Jew first and to Greek:
    ASV 10 but glory and honor and peace to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek:
    AV 1873 10 but glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:
    ESV 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.
    ESV NT Rev. Int. 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.
    HCSB 10 but glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does good, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.
    ISV 10 But there will be glory, honor, and peace for everyone who practices doing good, for Jews first and for Greeks as well.
    KJV 10 But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:
    The Message 10 But if you embrace the way God does things, there are wonderful payoffs, again without regard to where you are from or how you were brought up.
    NET 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, for the Jew first and also the Greek.
    NASB95 10 but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
    NCV 10 But he will give glory, honor, and peace to everyone who does good—to the Jews first and also to those who are not Jews.
    NIV 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
    NKJV 10 but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
    NLT 10 But there will be glory and honor and peace from God for all who do good—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile.
    NRSV 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.
    WUESTNT 1 Therefore, you are without a defense, O man, everyone who judges, for in that in which you are judging another, yourself you are condemning, for you who judge practice the same things. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. And do you reason thus, O man, who judges those who practice such things, and are doing the same things, that as for you, you will escape the judgment of God? Or, the wealth of His kindness and forbearance and longsuffering are you treating with contempt, being ignorant that the goodness of God is leading you to repentance? But according to your obstinate and unrepentant heart you are storing up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God who recompenses each according to his works, to those on the one hand who by steadfastness of a good work seek glory and honor and incorruptibility, life eternal; but to those on the other hand who out of a factious spirit are both also non-persuadable with respect to the truth and persuadable with respect to unrighteousness, wrath and anger. Tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man who works out to a finish the evil, both upon the soul of a Jew first and also upon the soul of a Gentile, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who works out to a finish that which is good, both to a Jew first and also to a Gentile.
    NRSV NT Rev. Int. 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.
    RSV 10 but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.
    YLT 10 and glory, and honour, and peace, to every one who is working the good, both to Jew first, and to Greek.

    Of course that word (unbelieving) is that which I am referring. Then you are attempting to apply this unbelieving to Cornelius, as you offered this, “Our world is blessed by countless Cornelius’s- those who by the nature of the God whose image they are created in help the poor and the hurting and the least of these in our society. For all of them their good works ascend as a memorial for them before God.”
    You direct us to, ” Acts 10:4 we find that the prayers and alms of Cornelius ascended as a memorial for him before God.” as support. But this verse explains that Cornelius was a devout believer in God! He was not a non-believer! He, just as all Gentiles had not been allowed to obey and accept Jesus yet, and as soon as this was made available he followed Jesus.
    My conclusion concerning this concept, God does not account any good performed by an unbeliever (either because of a lack of knowledge or a rejection of a knowledge of him) as a credit against the debt of the sins of any one man or mankind. Man without Jesus has no avenue to work good works towards a relationship with God.

  11. Jay Guin says:

    Gary asked,

    It seems like a potentially dangerous distinction to make to elevate helping those of one group over another.

    Uh, Jesus was sent to the Jews.

    (Mat 10:5-7 ESV) ¶ These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’

    The gospel was to the Jews first, and also to the Greeks. But to the Jews first because they were the chosen people of God. In fact, they were, in a sense, the kingdom as it existed before it was more fully revealed in Jesus. God was their king per the Torah.

    Hence, Cornelius wasn’t doing good in a generic sense. He was doing good for the chosen people of the God of Israel — he was doing the closest thing to kingdom works that could have been done by a Gentile at that time — and God favored him over all the other Gentiles and centurions in Rome, although he was surely not the only good Roman soldier in the Empire.

    Is it a “dangerous” distinction? I don’t see why. If God can elect a people: Israel then, the church now, then distinctions are holy.

    PS — It seems very likely that the man robbed and beaten in the Parable of the Good Samaritan was a Jew. Two reasons, at least:

    1. He was headed to Jericho from Jerusalem. Jerusalem was a Jewish town. Just as we’d naturally assume a man from Athens is Greek (absent other evidence), the implication seems clear.

    2. Jesus makes a point as to how the priest and Levite (Jews both) ignore the man, while a Samaritan does not. If the man were a Samaritan, then parable wouldn’t teach much of a lesson. If the man is a Jew, then the willingness of Samaritan to serve while the honored Jews do not becomes extremely poignant. The story insists that he be a Jew.

    And then there’s —

    3. The story is built on the tale told in 2 Chron 28:8-15, as noted many commentators. And the parallel requires that the robbed man be a Jew.

    I’m not sure it’s that relevant, except that Jesus was sent initially to the Jews and he speaks to the Jewish context. To make a point about how Jews ought to treat each other (equally applicable to the church today, of course), he alludes to the treatment of Jews by the hated Samaritans, in a parable with clear echoes in Jewish history — to remove all doubt regarding the realism in the parable.

  12. Jay Guin says:

    Gary,

    John 3:3 and 5 speak of entrance into the “kingdom.” The terms aren’t “wait until Jesus returns” or “observe any good done anywhere” but “receive the Spirit.” Jesus was speaking of the church — not a utopian kingdom not to come for millennia, and yet he spoke of the “kingdom.”

  13. Jay Guin says:

    Gary,

    Regarding the definitions of words translated kingdom, McKnight simply disagrees and in the book offers many examples where the word is plainly used of a territory or people ruled by a king as opposed to “reign.” He agrees that that words can also mean “reign” but denies that this is the only meaning.

    It’s really easy to find examples of both and both have to be given fair scope.

    BDAG gives both meanings for basileia.

    Take Daniel 2 — which is the source of much NT kingdom language —

    (Dan 2:37 ESV) You, O king, the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, and the might, and the glory,

    BGT Daniel 2:37 σύ βασιλεῦ βασιλεὺς βασιλέων καὶ σοὶ ὁ κύριος τοῦ οὐρανοῦ τὴν ἀρχὴν καὶ τὴν βασιλείαν καὶ τὴν ἰσχὺν καὶ τὴν τιμὴν καὶ τὴν δόξαν ἔδωκεν

    THe passage begins with “kingdom” used of a nation-state ruled by a king with a defined territory.

    (Dan 2:39 ESV) Another kingdom inferior to you shall arise after you, and yet a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth.

    The kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia, and the Greeks — with kings, subjects, laws, and territories.

    (Dan 2:40 ESV) And there shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron, because iron breaks to pieces and shatters all things. And like iron that crushes, it shall break and crush all these.

    Rome. Again — very much about a king (emperor), rule, laws, territories, subjects.

    (Dan 2:44 ESV) And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever,

    This kingdom — same word — is generally thought of as the church. This the “kingdom of heaven” Jesus preached. And it’s parallel with these other kingdoms. It’s obviously superior, but the vocabulary suggests that it’s also a kingdom with it’s own people.

    Given that Jesus takes “kingdom of heaven” or “kingdom of God” from “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom” in this very passage, and “kingdom” is repeatedly used of empires with kings and territories and laws and subjects and boundaries, that’s the sense of “kingdom” we should begin with.

    Many, many other examples could be given.

  14. Jay Guin says:

    Gary asked,

    But I don’t see the necessity or scriptural basis for denigrating or even classifying separately good works others do who are acting on the basis of their creation in God’s image. Where in Scripture is such a distinction made?

    I don’t think you’ll find me or McKnight “denigrating” good works. We’ve just said that not all good works are kingdom works. “Kingdom” means much more than “good.”

    Just so, not all good works further God’s mission. There were good works being done before the kingdom came. There are good works being done quite independent of the kingdom today. And they are, of course, good.

    The question is not whether they are good or laudatory but whether they further God’s mission. And God’s mission is much more particular than that “good be done.” Jesus came to do very particular, very special good things. We as his subjects and family are called to do very particular, very special good things.

    If we define as “kingdom works” all good things, then the pagans and atheists and Muslims are somehow furthering the kingdom, and it’s just not true.

    And here comes a very key distinction. The mission of God isn’t to make the world better. The mission of the God is to bring the world into the church, so that all worship Jesus and all receive the Spirit and all are saved. This will make the world better, but in a very particular way.

    To say that any good of any kind is kingdom work, then we secularize the gospel. The goals of good government and Christianity become the same. In fact, when the government issues a welfare check or builds a school, that becomes “kingdom work.” And, yes, the world is a better place — but the damned remain damned, spiritual poverty and spiritual ignorance are not relieved, and the world continues to become further degraded as prophesied in Rom 1. Only Jesus and the Spirit can cure spiritual poverty. Relieving physical poverty — while a very good, holy, and righteous thing — is just not nearly enough.

    That does not “denigrate” such good works. They are GOOD WORKS. But they are not what the church is especially called to do. If so, we should sell our buildings and join a political party and work for government relief of poverty and forget about evangelism and love in the name of Jesus. After all, the government can build so many more schools and dig so many more wells.

    And so it’s NOT that the church should not engage in these good works as well. But that the church must never forget to do what it was particularly called to do — and that is preach the gospel and to live in communities of Christ-like world in which the kingdom comes far closer to being realized in fact today than anywhere else.

    After all, a part of the kingdom is the presence of God himself among his people, and that happens especially in the Temples of the Holy Spirit, his churches — as they live together in Christian community.

    And, yes, the churches sometimes do a just terrible job at time of being the church. Corinth would be a good example. So would countless churches existing today. But the solution isn’t to denigrate the church by treating even pagans as just as much a part of the kingdom. Rather, it’s to call the church to be what it was designed to be.

  15. Gary says:

    Jay, the Jews certainly had priority in being presented with the gospel. But it seems to be a huge stretch to imply, if I understand you correctly, that Cornelius’s good works were noticed by God in his favor only because those he helped were Jewish. Really? Do you really believe that the prayers and alms of Cornelius would not have ascended to God as a memorial for him if those he helped had been Gentiles? If so we just disagree on that point because I can’t see it.

  16. Gary says:

    Regarding the Parable of the Good Samaritan ditto from my comments about Cornelius. You are putting a lot of weight on a distinction that is not even noted in Luke 10.

  17. Gary says:

    Jay, the words spoken by Jesus in John 3:3,5 were spoken quite some time before the establishment of the church on Pentecost. Therefore Jesus could not have been referring to the church unless one accepts that Jesus would have told Nicodemus something that would have made absolutely no sense to him. Again I just can’t see it.

  18. Gary says:

    Jay, “Kingdom works” is a category of works that McKnight is putting forth. I’m still at a loss as to what the scriptural basis for it is. I’m not saying there is no scriptural basis for it but, if there is, it is not apparent to me. My point has been that even those who do not yet know Christ (like Cornelius and the Good Samaritan) can do works that are both good and, in addition, further God’s Kingdom purposes in this world even if they know nothing about the Kingdom. Surely it now makes no difference if those who are helped happen to be Jew or Gentile. (For what it’s worth I actually took a Jew to lunch today and paid for her meal! Talk about coincidences!)

    As to McKnight and Ladd disagreeing about the primary meaning of basileia/kingdom Ladd was one of the most influential Evangelical theologians of the 20th century. I had never heard of McKnight before this series. But there is a much simpler way to test what the meaning of basileia/kingdom is in the New Testament and especially when Jesus uses the word in the Gospels. Anyone can do it. Just try substituting church for kingdom in the passages where basileia is used. It does not fit in the large majority of such passages.

  19. Gary says:

    Jay, the starting point in the Gospels for the meaning of Kingdom is found in Matthew 4:17,23 where we find Jesus preaching that the Kingdom of Heaven was near and preaching the gospel of the Kingdom. Did Jesus begin his ministry preaching the church? How could that have made any sense to those who heard his preaching? The church comes up in the Gospels in some of Jesus’ private teaching with his disciples but never in his public preaching and teaching that I can recall. The church did not exist before Pentecost. Trying to read it back into every time Jesus used the word basileia is an anachronism.

  20. Gary says:

    Larry, I believe that even an atheist can unintentionally bring glory to God and advance God’s Kingdom purposes in this world by doing good works. (Salvation of course is another matter. No atheist will be saved as an atheist but then I believe that all atheists will eventually come to faith in God.) All that is good originates ultimately with God. When even atheists do good works they are reflecting their creation in God’s image. Good is good no matter who does it and God is the author of all that is good.

  21. Gary says:

    Larry, I actually agree with you in your conclusion. No good works are a credit against sin for anyone, Christian or non-Christian. All who are saved are saved “by grace, through faith and not because of works lest any man should boast.”

  22. Larry Cheek says:

    Gary,
    What i had seen in your communications was that when a non-believer performed a good work that was bring glory to God even if they had no concept of God. You said, “Larry, I believe that even an atheist can unintentionally bring glory to God and advance God’s Kingdom purposes in this world by doing good works”.. But, good works can be performed by anyone atheist or follower of God and claim the glory for themselves, totally of a selfish attitude and rob any glory from God. If you cannot see that without an example, notice the purpose and what God thought about it in this action by Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-14. Any good that was done with the portion that they gave was not credited to them. I have and I know that you have seen many individuals who received gifts and help for their needs who would never given God credit for the provision. Would you really believe that an atheist would even accept a helping hand if it were told to him that God was supplying the need.
    In your comment, “No atheist will be saved as an atheist but then I believe that all atheists will eventually come to faith in God.” All men on earth are somewhere on the timeline or grid between being a believer (follower) and a non-believer, a non-believer and an atheist are so near to the same how would you differentiate between them. Therefore, as you believe that all atheists will come to a faith in God, there would be no soul that God ever punish. I need to interject another thought, are you indicating those who have died denying God exists will have an opportunity to correct their denial and accept God? Or, were you just thinking of the living? If an atheist died and was allowed to repent and reestablish a relationship with God, why not anyone or all men regardless of the life they lived on earth? Would there be any advantage for anyone to live according to any rules that God has ever given mankind? Are all of the messages in scripture about needing a savior to save us of any value if there is nothing to save us from? I believe that you will consider some of the message as stupid or crazy, but if no atheist dead or alive will be lost and punished because they have (seen the light) then who is left who would not have the same opportunity?

  23. Gary says:

    Larry, we know that God is not willing for any to perish. We also know that God is sovereign. I believe that in the end God’s will will be done and all who have been created in God’s image will be reconciled to him. Exactly what happens between now and then I of course do not know. It does seem to me that many conservative Christians are overly invested in people being lost. It almost comes across at times that some conservative Christians would feel cheated if no one is ultimately lost.

  24. Gary says:

    Jay, based on your contention that the good works of Cornelius and the Good Samaritan mattered to God only because those they helped were Jews, it would follow that the good works mentioned in Matthew 25 also have significance with God only if those helped are Jews. Is that also your contention?

  25. Jay Guin says:

    Gary,

    You mischaracterize me. I did not say that “the good works of Cornelius and the Good Samaritan mattered to God only because those they helped were Jews.” I said that God has a special love for his chosen people and special relationship.

    Matthew 25 speaks to God’s special love and relationship with the disciples of Jesus.

    You can’t read Deuteronomy or the rest of the OT, for that matter, and not realize that God has a special concern, love, and relationship with the Jews.

    In Jesus, Israel was limited to a remnant of Jews with faith in Jesus, and Gentiles with faith in Jesus were grafted into Israel.

    Therefore, the church/kingdom now enjoys the special love and relationship as God’s elect people (as spelled out in Eph 1, for example).

    God loves the world (John 3:16), but he has a special relationship with Israel/disciples of Jesus/church/kingdom. And so he is concerned that others treat his chosen people well.

    Again, it’s not either-or, and it’s not both-and. It’s both but especially God’s chosen people.

    As a universalist, I expect you to disagree. But the text is clear.

    (Eph 1:4-6 ESV) In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

    (2Th 2:13 ESV) But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.

    God loves his chosen people especially. This is why the church is referred to as the “bride” of Jesus, and why the OT refers to Israel as the bride of the LORD. Obviously, I can love people other than my bride, but my bride has a very special place in my heart.

  26. Gary says:

    Jay, thank you for that clarification. I agree of course that Christians have a special obligation to help other Christians. The original issue was, if I’m understanding you correctly, whether works done by Christians to honor God (Kingdom works) are more significant to God than good works done by others. If I’m not catching the distinction McKnight is making then please clarify for me. I still think that the example of Cornelius puts all good works on an equal footing with God. The text does not support Cornelius having helped God’s covenant people (Jews in his case) as being a significant factor. On the contrary Peter tells Cornelius and us today in Acts 10:35 that all in every place who fear God and work righteousness are accepted by God. God does take into account good works done by those who do not know Christ. Rather than Cornelius being a special or unique case regarding good works Acts 10:35 establishes clearly that he was representative of all people everywhere who seek to do good.

  27. Larry Cheek says:

    Gary,
    You either did not read d the account of Cornelius carefully or you are deliberately only quoting the portion of the story that fits your concept. You have not referenced over half of the story. Your summation is flawed because you are choosing to ignore the relationship that Cornelius had with God. Notice. ” Acts 10:35 that all in every place who fear God and work righteousness are accepted by God. God does take into account good works done by those who do not know Christ. Rather than Cornelius being a special or unique case regarding good works Acts 10:35 establishes clearly that he was representative of all people everywhere who seek to do good.”
    You have quoted 10:35 correctly, but your next sentence is your conclusion which is not supported in any portion of this story. “God does take into account good works done by those who do not know Christ.” In fact it is foreign from all instructions in scripture. The scriptures always tie his fearing God and praying to God to the alms he gave. But, you are disconnecting that portion of his acceptance as you comment, “Rather than Cornelius being a special or unique case regarding good works Acts 10:35 establishes clearly that he was representative of all people everywhere who seek to do good.” You have ignored his relationship with God and his praying to God. When that information in part of the story it destroys your implied conclusion, for those who do not know Christ/God. You may attempt to imply that you were not taking God’s position out of the equation only Christ, because Cornelius was not a believer in Christ at the time while he was worshiping God. If that is you conclusion you need to reread who it was that orchestrated this whole teaching session about Christ.
    You will also find that each time the alms were mentioned they were only half of the mentioned attributes.
    In your conclusion, you mention that, “God does take into account good works done by those who do not know Christ.” An individual can gain nothing by attempting to do good works without knowing Christ, even if they were directing their prayers and servitude to God, attempting to arrive into a relationship with God while ignoring Christ. Jesus promised, “(John 14:6 KJV) Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. 7 If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.
    All good works that any man does will be useless he is a follower of Christ.

  28. Gary says:

    Jay, I have to disagree strongly with you regarding the context for Matthew 25. You and McKnight portray the primary context for the good works of Matthew 25:31ff as those done to help God’s covenant people. (If that is not an accurate representation of your understanding please clarify for me.) Matthew 25:32, however, specifies that the context is the Judgement in which “all nations” are present. I think it’s a big stretch to try to make who was helped (Jew or Gentile, Christian or non-Christian) an important factor in Matthew 25. Jesus calls all who are among the least of our world’s societies his brethren. Besides McKnight, are you aware of any scholars who take your and McKnight’s position?

  29. Gary says:

    Larry, the good works of Cornelius prompted a special apostolic mission to him to share the Gospel of Christ with him. I would say his prayers and alms provided him with a very great blessing. In addition, what Peter says in Acts 10:35 is true as a stand alone statement- apart from any other considerations regarding Cornelius. All those in every place who fear God and work righteousness are accepted by God. That sounds very clear to me.

  30. Dwight says:

    According to Jesus himself, Jesus himself was the access point to God, not doing good. Cornelius was regarded by God as worthy, because Cornelius sought God and in this seeking Cornelius and his household were brought into Christ. Christ said, “No man can come to the Father but through me.” Jesus is the mediator and High priest giving us access to God. Good is good and all are supposed to do good, but those seeking God will do more than good, they will bow down before God and accept Jesus. The apostles often told the saints to do good to all, and “to not do good is a sin to that one”, because that is one of the Christian characteristics, but not the only one. Good doesn’t define the saint, but Godly love, which includes good. Unfortunately what has happened is that people become saints and then focus on themselves or in taking on the business of correcting others, instead of doing good, which is good for others. Good helps and is done out of love.

  31. Gary says:

    Dwight I agree with you that no one comes to the Father except through Jesus. I also think Peter was right in Acts 10:35 when he told Cornelius that all in every place who fear God and work righteousness are accepted by God. I believe it is important to accept both statements as true in such a way that the truth of neither is denied.

  32. Gary says:

    Larry, I agree with you that Cornelius had a relationship with God even before he knew the Gospel of Christ. That did not mean that he did not need the Gospel but it does show that people may have a relationship with God before they have responded to Christ.

  33. Dwight says:

    I think sometimes we are dismissive of those people that had a relationship with God in the scriptures before Jesus, but on the other hand after Jesus came, the relationship and path to God was to be through Jesus. Woe unto those who are presented with Jesus only to refuse Him for God the Father who placed Jesus in the role of the saviour of mankind, which is what the Jewish leaders did. They had the Son of God and didn’t accept him as the saviour. Jesus made the point that to reject Him was to reject God, since He was God in the flesh and the very word of the Father. Cornelius accepted God and accepted Jesus as the Son of God and God in the Flesh. They didn’t see God on their terms, but saw God on God’s terms.

  34. Larry Cheek says:

    Gary,
    It seems to me that you think that doing good works equals righteousness. Maybe I have misunderstood your intent in some of your statements, but as I read your statement about men performing good works who did not know Jesus receiving a credit from God for those works, a credit would be of no value unless it was to be applied against the debt that they owe because they have not been forgiven by Christ’s sacrifice.

  35. Gary says:

    Larry, doing good works is the same as “worketh righteousness” in Acts 10:35. Of course doing good works does not earn salvation. That’s not to say, however, that there is no reward for good works. Check out Romans 2:10 and, again, Acts 10:35.

  36. Larry Cheek says:

    Gary,
    Are you then saying that the rewards from good works are just a valuable to you as salvation? There can be no salvation unless Jesus is involved, and you have indicated that good works is the same as “worketh righteousness”. This righteousness then could not earn salvation but, you seem to believe that God will give his free gift of salvation to those who are doing good works, without Jesus being involved.

  37. Gary says:

    Larry, in Romans 2:10 we find that all who do good works will receive glory, honor and peace from God. What is your understanding of this verse? Do you think that someone can be lost and also receive glory, honor and peace from God? It seems to me that those two outcomes are mutually exclusive.

  38. Dwight says:

    Rom 2:7,8 “eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—” In this case doing good is seeking for glory, honor and immortality in the truth as opposed to those who look for it in themselves. The good here is seeking the truth of God and not just doing good in general as most other text allude to. We would probably say that this seeking, as cornelius sought, will lead to Christ, who is “the way, the truth and the light.” The good appears to be linked to obeying the truth here and gaining eternal life.

  39. Larry Cheek says:

    Gary,
    I see the need to provide this very fundamental Bible observation. There is nothing that is written in Romans which is applicable to someone who has not become a member of the body of Christ. Look who Paul was addressing in the letter. There is no mutual association between the lost and those who have become members of the body. I have stated many times on this blog that all instructions in scriptures beginning in Acts and continuing through Revelation are given to the church (Christ’s body of believers) and not applicable to any of the lost. There are some messages directed to enlighten the now saved into a greater understanding of what they were before accepting Christ and what their lives looked like to God before they obeyed. I do not remember a single individual who has produced evidence otherwise.
    The lack of this understanding has created many misconceptions in what men believe the Bible teaches to both the lost and the saved.

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