The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. (Mark 1:15)
To his credit, N.T. Wright is rightly restoring the ‘sociopolitical’ dimension of the Gospel to the Christian consciousness, even if his soteriology is ultimately incoherent and heretical. For, the first manner by which Christ proclaimed the Gospel (Matthew 4:23, Mark 1:15) is as the Gospel of the Kingdom. It is near about Christ’s last (Matthew 24:14). Indeed, the nature of the Kingdom was constant theme of Christ’s teachings.
It is by means of exploiting the atomistic impoverishment of the Americanized Gospel that NT. Wright establishes a greater credibility over the existing orthodoxy, which he thereupon extends into his perspective on the nature and meaning of Justification. For, to the American Evangelicals…
The gospel is the great news of what God has graciously done in Jesus Christ, especially in his atoning death and vindicating resurrection, his ascension, session, and high priestly ministry, to reconcile sinful human beings to himself, justifying them by the penal substitute of his Son, and regenerating and sanctifying them by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit, who is given to them as the down payment of their ultimate inheritance. God will save them if they repent and trust in Jesus.1
…the Gospel merely becomes a matter of “how to get saved”. And in the industrial strength commoditization of Christian conversion through such methodisms as the Altar Call and The Four Laws, salvation becomes a formalistic ritual equivalent of baptismal regeneration. “Take a little walk; say a little prayer; sign a little card; get saved tonight;” (to a modified chorus from K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s “Get Down Tonight” (1975)).
But the Gospel, as according to Piper, D.A. Carson and company, merely amounts to the Kingdom’s recruitment, immigration, citizenship and naturalization policy!
To N.T. Wright, the Gospel is merely about the Kingdom of God being at hand, with “the crucified and risen Jesus”, being “enthroned as the true Lord of the world”.2 But as has been rightly pointed out; this becomes hardly Good News to one, who despises the Sovereign, resents His right to govern, repudiates the ethos of this Kingdom, or is unable to acquire legal citizenship into this Kingdom. And Justification is all about acquiring legal citizenship into this Kingdom
Likewise, it hardly becomes Good News if one can obtain legal citizenship into this Kingdom; but the Kingdom turns out to be dystopic; its Sovereign, a capricious tyrant. Salvation has meaning and value only if what one is being saved towards exists and is worthy. The Kingdom, and access into that Kingdom must be integrally linked in the presentation of the Gospel.
Detailing the procedures on how to legally enter North America during the Great Migrations of the 19th and 20th Century, (a Justification, so to speak), would hardly suffice to woo individuals from their deep familial and cultural connections and attractions. A vision was proffered, which promised a superior manner of life to that experienced at home; given some confirmation of its veracity by those who had earlier preceded. Only with both in place, will some be willing to surrender all for that hope.
Where there is no vision, the people perish. (Proverbs 29:18)
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The first year after my conversion was spent in fervent and intense study of the Gospel texts, quite apart from the magisterial “assistance” of the ecclesiastical Traditions. A vision of that Kingdom slowly emerged into my mind’s eye. It inspired my life-long interest in political theory and the pursuit of the “Good Society”. It inspired my sojourn to Kibbutz Dan in Israel, which served as my “pin factory” microcosm.3 That experience and the ensuing life-long layman’s study of world history confirmed that seminal Biblical theme, implied in the history of the ancient Hebrew state, and explicitly expressed in the Epistle to the Hebrews and elsewhere.
For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect). (Hebrews 7:18-19a)
For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by [intrinsic human nature].4 (Romans 8:3)
Contrary to Enlightenment thought, no amount of external regulations, political constructs and machinations can ultimately constrain the evil impulses within humanity. The evil genius of human beings will always eventually find a way to break through and/or circumvent pre-existing static “Maginot Lines” of social, political and legal defenses. And therefore, after God has demonstrated the folly and futility of sociopolitical assertions to permanently improve the lot of humanity, through the history of the ancient Hebrews, and confirmed in the histories of the nations; He has provided, through the legal sanctions provided by Christ’s Justification at the Atonement, that permanent solution.
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26)
I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts. (Jeremiah 31:33, Hebrews 8:10)
However, if the solution to human evil is regeneration and sanctification, those instruments of virtue and wisdom were intended to produce a real experiential benefit, not only in the individual lives of those regenerated; but for the commonweal or common good; the Kingdom of God, of which Christ is its King of Kings. Contrary to a Stoic version of Christian virtue as being an end in itself, individual virtue was divinely intended as the necessary instrument to produce the Good Society.
© Copyright Johnny Hutchinson 2015
1. D. A. Carson, “A Hole in the Gospel”, Themelios, Volume 38, Issue 3, November 2013, p 354. 2. N.T. Wright, “The Justification Debate: A Primer”, Christianity Today, June 26, 2009. 3. A pin factory became a comprehensible microcosm, through which Adam Smith developed his theories on capitalism in “The Wealth of Nations” (1776). 4. Actual word deployed is “flesh”.