The emerging church talks a lot about the kingdom of God on earth, but in language and philosophy much different from the Bible. One emergent writer hopes the emerging church will handle the problems of this world in a manner that is “smarter” and “more effective” than those who have gone before. With “integrative means of participating in the healing of our world,” he believes:
The Spirit of God that hovered over creation is still present in our world, inviting us to collaborate with our Maker in the fulfillment of God’s reign on earth.1
The same writer, Mark Scandrette, expresses his communal vision for a utopian world:
The kingdom of God is a generative people who believe that a more beautiful and sustainable way of life is possible.2
Doug Pagitt explains that the emerging church is looking for this perfect kingdom on earth that will:
… really be good news for the people of the world and not just the promise of a world to come. Many find good news in the call of Jesus to join the kingdom of God. And let me tell you “Kingdom of God” language is really big in the emerging church.3
When we think of the poor in Africa, or the homeless in America, or a child dying of AIDS, we want a world that has no suffering like this. But is the message of the kingdom of God that Jesus preached one that promises global healing and a world without pain and suffering? No, it isn’t. Not now anyway. In our human thinking, we can’t imagine that God would really want or allow all this suffering, so we decide that the goal for humanity should be unity, peace, no pain, or sorrow. And in an effort to accomplish this, the most important thing is forgotten. Jesus came to save lost sinners and give them utopia, so to speak, within their hearts. So, while we as Christians should do what we can to help the needy, our greatest responsibility is getting the Gospel to them.
Mark Scandrette goes so far as to say that the “interest in theologies of the kingdom of God is related” to a “sense of interconnection.”4 Leonard Sweet calls this interconnection the TOE theory (theories of everything), in which all creation is connected together through a spiritual force he calls New Light. Sweet states:
If the church is to dance, however, it must first get its flabby self back into shape. A good place to begin is the stretching exercise of touching its TOEs [which he also refers to as Grand Unified Theory]…. Then, and only then, will a New Light movement of “world-making” faith have helped to create the world that is to, and may yet, be. Then, and only then, will earthlings have uncovered the meaning of these words, some of the last words … Thomas Merton uttered: “We are already one. But we imagine that we are not.”5
The Kingdom Now theology and the emerging church’s utopian kingdom are all about what the natural, carnal man views as significant. Jesus came to give peace and rest to the suffering, to the poor and those in need. It’s a peace that passes all earthly understanding, and it’s a kingdom, as Jesus said, not of this world. In our earthly minds we cannot understand this, especially when we think about the often horrific suffering all around us.
If Rick Warren or Brian McLaren were to take their message of the kingdom of God here and now (and don’t think about that eternal home too much) to a poor man in a hut in Africa, what will it do for him? Supposing he can never leave that hut, how will their message help him? But with Jesus Christ’s message, that man can be born again and by faith, through God’s grace, have Jesus living inside him every day of his remaining life. Jesus promised that if anyone invited Him in, He would come in and sup with him (Revelation 3:20).
Jesus told His disciples the world would always have suffering and there would always be poor people. He didn’t say this to give allowance to ignore or avoid the poor and suffering. But He wanted His followers to know that this earth is not the final destination for those whose names are found in the Book of Life (those who belong to Christ). That is why in the Book of Revelation, the apostle John said:
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea…. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. (Revelation 21:1,4)
The true kingdom of God makes no sense to the unbelieving, unsaved person. The very idea of it is foolishness to him. Thus, human schemes and theologies are created to fit his way of thinking. But the Bible says what is wisdom to man is foolishness to God:
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. (I Corinthians 1:18-21) (from chapter 9, Faith Undone)
1. Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones, An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, Mark Scandrette section, “Growing Pains,” p. 30.
2. Doug Pagitt, “Unraveling Emergent,” op. cit.
4. Mark Scandrette, An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, p. 27.
5. Leonard Sweet, Quantum Spirituality, p. 13.