[notice]A monthly column that reflects on living in the Kingdom of God.[/notice]
Recently a friend of mine and fellow pastor asked this question: I preach the Gospel, but I hear other preachers talk a lot about the Kingdom. Which should we do: preach the Gospel or preach about the Kingdom? To be sure, even among Bible believing evangelicals, the definition of the Kingdom is not limited to one thing. But even then, the deeper question I heard with this question was the following: ‘should we just preach the Gospel of salvation, or should we also talk about the extending the rule of Christ on the earth and in society, aka the Kingdom?’ First of all, without going into a major theological defence of a particular position, allow me to make two statements: 1. Preaching the Gospel of the salvation has the effect (provided they repent and put their faith in Christ) of bringing someone into the Kingdom of God; and 2; That ‘the Gospel’ that is spoken about frequently is not merely the good news of our salvation, but the good news of our salvation into the Kingdom of God (see Colossians 1:13). Having said all that, the question remains: where do we focus our energies?
Culture wars or Gospel?
If all this is still a bit too abstract, this factual example may help. Earlier this year, a pastor in the US that I greatly respect, made an interesting proposal that drew much attention. The well known pastor introduced a plan for churches to “take a break” from the culture wars for a year and change the nation through internal example, saying: “If all the Christians for just one year … would quit looking at porn … would quit smoking weed, would quit having premarital sex, would quit committing adultery, would pay their taxes and every church just foster one kid; in one year our nation would feel different.” I totally agree with the second part and the importance of being a godly example, and that flows directly from preaching the Gospel. But two questions immediately come to mind: Can we not both engage society in the ‘culture wars’ AND be a good example? Secondly, what would the effect be of not engaging the culture (both on the culture AND on the message of the Gospel)? Do you see the issue?
Returning to the Bible, it appears that Jesus did not do either/or but both/and. To be sure, unless the Gospel of salvation is preached, the other aspects of the Kingdom cannot bear fruit in one’s life, and people will be lost for eternity. But without the message of the Kingdom, we would be (and in many ways are) in danger of downsizing Jesus as being less than God over all of life. Furthermore, as commentator Dr Michael Brown noted, for Christians to “take a break” for one year from the culture wars,…“would this include our fighting for the lives of the unborn? Or combating human trafficking? Our seeking to improve the education system?…Take a year off? Perhaps the same counsel could have been given to Christians fighting against other social ills in the past, including slavery and segregation?”
No, I don’t believe we should push ourselves into an either/or position. An overemphasis on engaging the culture wars can and has led to hard-nosed bigotry, and a reluctance to engage in them can and has led to ineffectiveness that retains the salt and hides the light that our world so desperately needs. Hard-nosed bigotry or societal ineffectiveness are not the only options. On a missions trip in Germany in 2008, I was reminded of the both/and by an unsaved seeker in a park in Berlin. As I engaged him with the Gospel of salvation, he asked me this question (which I believed to be motivated by honest inquiry and not trying to sidestep the issue): “But what are you Christians doing about the environment?” For him, it was logical (and Biblical) that Christians are to preach good news and steward the earth, but he was struggling with whether to receive my message because he could see little evidence of our societal involvement. To be sure, this cannot be an excuse. But the issue remained: if we are truly Christians, our pursuit should be both the saving of souls and the restoration of society. Far from these issues being either/or to my German friend, it was a both/and. The societal involvement could provide an apologetic and a platform for seekers to be more open to the salvation message. Extrapolated over society at large, we dare not succumb to an either/or, as both causes will suffer.