A commenter writes with a question that reveals how kingdom theology is often abused in the church:
A friend “F” wrote that he was questioning God why “S” died from cancer. F said God told him that the question was not why God let S die, but why did F/the church let S die. The church failed in their job to exercise their full authority, spiritual gifts, prayer, etc. F continued, made in God’s image, given Jesus’ authority, God wants us to use his authority in dependence on him and bring his church to maturity. In other words, God wanted to heal S, but could not/did not/allowed his hands to be tied because the church didn’t step up with the authority God had given them (his means to heal, and when that means failed, he didn’t give/release healing)…… That was F’s argument. I’m a little uncomfortable with that. It seems to give us too much power. I have trouble reconciling it with some of the prophet’s statements on God’s sovereignty (Isaiah knowing end from beginning, Amos bringing trouble as well as good, Isa. 46:10 his purpose will stand, etc.) Thoughts? Is this giving too much power to imaging? Or is that part of what it means to be an imager? I hope I made sense.
This is very interesting, because I think it illustrates how one can go quite far astray quite quickly with kingdom theology. In my experience, a lot of the enthusiasm I’ve seen for ideas around the divine council has actually been motivated by humanism rather than a deep, thoughtful, careful appreciation of the Scriptures. Many of the “naked Bible” guys are, ironically, incorporating it into a highly Americanized cultural Christianity, complete with Arminian accretions, and the trappings of secular self-autonomy.
I’d want to put no small amount of pressure on the implicit assumption that, because God delegates authority, he is therefore not meticulously arranging all events of human history. I think that assumption is not only unwarranted, but demonstrably false and unbiblical.
To answer the question more directly, I think the position articulated here by “F” is a half-truth. There is obviously merit in the idea that we have genuine authority as representatives of God, provided we are genuinely representing him. And it is certainly true that the church has, in many respects, forgotten this and shrunken the gospel down to a message about how to go to heaven when you die. But in my experience, both sides suffer a lack of balance:
- On the one hand, there are Christians who really do appreciate the kingdom angle of the gospel, and want to take hold of that authority. But most of them are so eager to wield the power that they devote little study to our instructions for wielding it—namely, Scripture and theology. They are driven too much by experience and emotion, and not enough by careful consideration of God’s word and systematic theology. So although they are quick to take up the role of representing God, they don’t know how to do it accurately.
- On the other hand, there are Christians who really appreciate Scripture and systematic theology, but have little to no appreciation for representing God in power, rather than mere knowledge. They are, perhaps, so nerdy, or so put off by the excesses of the first group, that despite knowing how to represent God accurately, they lack any enthusiasm for actually doing it.
It seems “F” is in the first camp. The danger with that camp is that, despite what it wants to say, it very quickly collapses into experientially-based humanism. Its members tend to take any experience as normative, and become very incautious about declaring what God will and will not do—rather than letting God speak for himself. Indeed, “F” declares that God told him the position he articulates. While I certainly believe in the prophetic gifts, there is something fishy about short-circuiting careful exegesis of God’s word with convenient messages that cannot be substantiated.
I am more familiar with the second camp, which tends toward the opposite error of rejecting all experience and human exaltation whatsoever, lest it appear we are overriding the word of God. That is an extreme which must also be rejected.
I believe there is a moderate path which will show that “F” is partly right and partly wrong. Partly right in the sense that God does delight to bless more abundantly than we sometimes dare ask for, but—as the saying goes—“those who don’t ask don’t get.” Partly wrong in the sense that God does not guarantee us healing in any particular case, but rather instructs us to ask for healing with genuine trust (James 5:14–15; cf. James 1:6), and to earnestly desire the spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1). Indeed, it strikes me that the problem with the position I’m responding to is that it’s a kind of “boasting in tomorrow” (James 4:13–17)—putting the Lord to the test.
In other words, there is a difference between receiving God’s promises through submissively representing his rule in the world, and presuming on his promises by trying to skip straight to the end of redemptive history when we are actually still in the middle.