Without claiming a completely scientific detachment, one forms a hypothesis and then proceeds to verify it. This verification is both by the objective historical and literary evidence and by the "reasons of the heart" which form so large a part of human existence and of Christian faith and experience in particular. This is the type of procedure we shall now attempt to follow. Of course, it has its dangers. We noted that one of the criticisms directed against Schweitzer was that he formulated his position at the beginning of his studies and then regarded as authentic only the biblical passages which supported it.
But this is not limited to Schweitzer.
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To a degree, all scholars do this because complete objectivity in any judgment is impossible. Such a composite understanding of the kingdom of God needs to be viewed on two levels. First, there are elements in it which are commonly recognized, though perhaps too seldom made specific, and on which there is little disagreement. Thus far we have dealt mainly with differences of opinion in order to make clear the dilemmas about its nature and forestall an oversimplification.
Yet this should not obscure the fact that there are things to say about the kingdom which Christians who have given it any serious thought would seldom dispute. To be sure, these shade off quickly into differences of interpretation and application. Yet it is important and basic that there are some points of general agreement, for they form the foundation on which the other more diversified structures of opinion are erected.
In stating the composite view that this author regards as the most tenable, I will begin with convictions rooted in these general agreements. From that point it will be necessary to deal with the more disputed matters, and I shall then attempt to state where I stand on them and the reasons why. First, the kingdom means the sovereign, righteous rule of God. It is a rule in which power and goodness, judgment and mercy are combined.
Though the term arose when the nations were monarchies, and it had a more realistic symbolism then than now, it connotes power exercised, not in arbitrary dictatorial authority, but in loving concern. Second, this sovereign rule of God must be accepted by us in faithful, grateful obedience. There is no real kingdom without subjects. Yet the summons to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness certainly entails human obedience. Without it, apathy breeds anarchy as the will of God is flouted.
Third, the goal of the kingdom is directed toward a redeemed society of persons. A redeemed society is one in which salvation is sought and found, not as one individual alone, but in an over-expanding community of individuals. This is basic to the relation of the kingdom to the church, but the goal extends far beyond the boundaries of the visible church. Fourth, the kingdom meets opposition at every point, and this opposition is latent even in our most meritorious actions.
In short, no consideration of the kingdom should minimize the power of evil. God is never conquered by these forces, but what we believe to be his purposes are delayed or frustrated by them. Whether this future is conceived as eternal life for the individual, or a new heaven and a new earth for mankind, or as the conquest of evil in or beyond human history, the trajectory is toward the future, the eschaton.
A view of the kingdom of God need not be apocalyptic, but it is always in some sense eschatological.
HISTORICAL FOUNDATIONS OF CHRISTIANITY
To sum up, the kingdom of God is our ultimate challenge and our ultimate hope. Thus, it is not surprising that Jesus found in it his central message. It remains for us to discover, to declare, and to live by all that is good and true in what the term implies. Further convictions, more controversial, which I have arrived at in my own thinking may now be stated. I do not write as an advanced biblical scholar, but as one who has wrestled with the theological aspects of the question over a considerable span of years, and these are my conclusions. In the thought of Jesus, there was a blend of the prophetic and apocalyptic elements inherited from his Jewish culture.
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He stood at the juncture of traditions from a long past, and as a thoughtful and concerned man of his times he could hardly fail to be familiar with and influenced by them. This is not to deny his uniqueness, of which I shall say more later. But we shall not get anywhere in trying to understand Jesus unless we are willing to see him as a man who stood within the course of history.
This is the more crucial because any adequate understanding of the incarnation, which is basic to Christian faith, regards Jesus as both divine and human. Docetism, the denial of the humanity of Jesus on the claim that he only appeared to be human, was the first heresy with which the early church had to grapple, and it persistently lifts its head even today. Yet if Jesus were God and not man at all, there was no ground for the author of the fourth Gospel to say, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth" John , or for the church to build its faith upon this foundation throughout the centuries.
What we believe about the Jesus of history -- about whom the Gospels tell much, though we wish we knew even more -- will give the setting not only for the Christ of faith, but for a judgment about his central message of the kingdom. I believe that the prophetic and apocalyptic influences from the Hebrew scriptures and his inherited and surrounding culture were never fully amalgamated in the thought of Jesus.
He probably felt no need, as our scholarly studies must, to sort out each strain and neatly balance them against each other. He did not try to keep them in separate categories or, on the other hand, to blend them with no rough places showing. There was wisdom from his fathers in all of the sacred writings!
In short, Jesus did not feel it to be his vocation to engage in textual criticism or to be a systematic theologian, however important these enterprises may be as we study him. Both the prophetic and the apocalyptic elements were absorbed into the mind and heart of Jesus.
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He also had a deep respect for the law which had had such a central place in the thought of his Jewish fathers. It was no casual word when he said, "Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them", Matt. What he desired with all his being was that all these inherited notes should be put on a deep, personal, God-centered basis.
This message Jesus put in the familiar framework of the kingdom of God. He did not try to define the nature of the kingdom. What he did was to declare the urgency and hope of the kingdom, and set forth vividly in memorable affirmations and parables the conditions of entrance into it and the obligations of obedience within it. With such deep convictions gripping his soul, so all-important to him that he was ready to die for them, it is unlikely that he ever thought much about logical consistency. To demand this of him is to try to make of him something that he never felt to be his calling.
The more fantastic embellishments and harrowing threats connected with the last days can be attributed to imperfect reporting, not so much on the basis of textual criticism in which consensus is still lacking, but because they do not sound like Jesus. I do not go so far as to say with Frederick Grant that no sane man could have said them, 2 but I believe Jesus lived too close to God and knew too well the love of the Father for all his human children to have said them.
Yet we do not need to reject all the apocalyptic passages, or deny that Jesus expected a speedy end of the world which did not occur. What Jesus thought of his own relation to the long-expected Messiah is a question to which there is no clear and unambiguous answer. But from the frequency with which he calls himself the Son of man, he may have used this term, not solely as referring to his own humanity, as at some points seems its natural interpretation, but with the apocalyptic connotation it has in Daniel and in the intertestamental Book of Enoch.
Why should it? Doubtless those scholars are on safe ground who tell us that some of these passages were probably originally spoken by Jesus as predictions of his own death and resurrection. Personhood is expressed individually and in community. One without the other is a disabled personhood. Biblical teaching is clear that the fall has fundamentally damaged human personhood. Our moral agency, the ability to make moral choices freely is disabled, our capability to act in love of God and neighbor is reversed to act selfishly and our capacity to find and follow faith is distorted.
Paul writes in 2 Cor 4. That the God of this world has blinded human minds. We do not appreciate the consequences of creational disorder. Truth is not self -evident. Fallen humanity assumes that even truth about persons and communities is self — evident. Declarations of Independence and Rights assume that truth about persons is self-evident.
It is not. Falleness produces incapacity. Paul writes I have the desire to do good but cannot do it Romans 7: It is incapacity to act for good for the rest and myself though I am convinced of the good. The Bible teaches that all persons are called to love God and love their neighbor as oneself. This calling reflects the transcendental aspect of human personhood, and addresses human relationship to God.
Modernity closes humanity to transcendence.
Transcendence even if it exists is not allowed to invade history. But in prayer we find and express our love of God, we affirm his rule in our time and context and find access to his presence. In prayer we move beyond our selfhood and autonomy to dependence and accountability. Love of neighbor is not just recognition of the other or an abstract love of mankind.
It focuses on our identity as neighbors, and neighbors who act in love to those in need. It means counting the neighbor as a person — worthy of equal respect, dignity, and affirmation. In establishing neighborly relationships we affirm and nourish the neighbors personhood.
Secular views of human personhood that shape developmental thinking are based on naturalistic views of personhood.
THE LIFE AND TEACHINGS OF JESUS CHRIST
Science is confident that it can explain everything a human does, thinks, or says including religious activity. Such scientism has no room for personhood, consciousness, freedom, human agency and human will. Humans are de-personalized by such scientism. Humans according to naturalistic thinking are very smart animals who have developed capability as agents. Agency is real, but free will is an illusion.
Humans are driven to make sense of things and find meaning to actions. Humans orient themselves in and toward the world — to live well and meaningfully by the means of the good, the true and the beautiful. Charles Darwin suggested that natural selection created moral instincts of sympathy, compassion, fidelity, and courage; so moral dispositions are the product of our evolved human nature. The wisdom traditions of China and India also have a naturalistic view of persons. Both assume humans are innately good and human nature has qualities of compassion, loyalty, virtue, and pleasure as components of good life and also express qualities of egoism, greed, hatred and delusion.
As naturalistic view of persons sees humans as only material and physical. Qualities that are attributed to the soul of humans are simply considered as manifestations of the physical. A Christian vision of persons drawn from the Bible whose source and authority is supernatural is very different from a naturalistic view. Much of the universal claims of rights, of virtues like wisdom, courage, justice, and humanity are made from a naturalistic view of persons. Naturalism believes that moral sensibilities and drives for moral improvement evolved as part of human nature as it adapted to social environments.
Naturalistic explanations however, struggle to explain moral failure, conflict, and violence. They struggle to explain why when good is clearly identified persons choose the non-good, despite knowing its possible horrendous consequences. Naturalism also struggles to justify norms such a norms that include moral judgments. It has few resources for transformation so major in managing agency, behavior and change. It is here the Christian has a unique contribution to make in witnessing to the reality of transformation. They long to touch transcendence and be embraced by it. They make space for spiritual activities and seek unselfish love for others.
That reflects the image of God in persons. Christian engagement can give hope and content to that human longing for fulfilled personhood. Our engagement of transformational mission must result in the enabling of moral personhood. The understanding of Basic Human Need has expanded significantly in the past 60 years of developmental thinking.
To the physical needs, several non- physical needs have been added as basic. Security includes freedom from fear, and to livelihood activities. Cultural needs are increasingly considered as basic. The Millennium Development Goals are focused on physical needs. No development activist today believes that interventions in meeting such physical needs can be separated from the broader outcomes of wellbeing and transformation.
Our focus here is on the key challenges to the transformation process. Biblical teaching makes truth central to moral formation. Jesus said that truth liberates from ignorance and blindness generated by sin. Truth quickens the will to seek and find truth. Truth empowers, as God centered knowledge truth empowers for transformation. Transformation engagement develops capacity to recognize truth and to appropriate it. All truth is public truth. Christian truth as public truth will be recognized by the people and so must be considered not as a particular community truth but as public truth.
Christian truth about personhood, wellbeing and transformation is public truth and can resonate with the people in the public sphere. The struggle for basic needs can preoccupy a poor community with consumption concerns. Satisfying basic personal and family needs dominates life. But poor communities need their identity as citizens developed and nurtured if they are to be subjects of transformation. Citizenship is orientated to the community and the nation and requires a commitment to being a neighbor and a commitment to covenants.
It is here that the Christian faith has unique resources for the nurturing of citizenship. A Christian bias toward the vulnerable, the alien and the voiceless is essential for developing citizenship in complex and challenging contexts where poverty and powerlessness affect large numbers of communities. Resources from other religions need to be identified to promote citizenship. The idea of Dharma in South India is largely seen as personal but it can have social dimensions and could be used to develop citizenship.
And so too the Islamic Sharia. Citizenship development must begin with children. Public policy and social order are generally produced and legitimized by social and political elites. The empowerment of a citizens and the creation of space for the poor to exercise their citizenship is critical to their participation in transformational development. An empowered citizenship of the poor can contribute to public policies that will bring sustainable development. Transformational Development seeks to build moral communities to sustain transformational mission.
Our task of building moral communities is in the context of forces today that break and fragment the moral solidarity of communities. The bible identifies the forces that promote moral breakdown. In Rom 1: 21 Paul identifies forms of knowledge that lead to darkness and bondage instead of emancipation. Such knowledge leads to depravity, decay and breakdown. It leads to willfulness that refuses to change. In Rom 2, Paul identifies the law that leads to bondage and death rather than freedom and life. It is reversal of the purpose of the law.
In Luke , Jesus speaks of the violence that devours the vulnerable. It is the failure of the community to deal with violence. In Exodus 20, we find reference to powers that enslave highlighting the failures of political systems. Reconciliation is the Christian response to community failure and breakdown. Reconciliation is to connect that which got disconnected it is to restore to original order and purpose.
The disorder, breakdown and alienation brought about by the fall are reconciled by God in Christ 2Cor 5: As ambassadors of reconciliation Christian mission communities witness to its reality and work in our community. Reconciliation deals with exclusion. The poor are excluded from resources and opportunities. It often creates in them an identity rooted in exclusion and continually fed by that sense of alienation and exclusion.
The work of reconciliation includes connecting people to resources and opportunities. It also goes deeper to deal with stigmatized identities and excluded identities. The inclusion and embrace that Christ offers through this death and resurrection is extended through the life and work of Christian communities.
It is here partnership with Churches is of critical significance. Partnership with churches is essential for building moral communities. The church must be encouraged and equipped to be a moral community nurturing citizenship among its members, engaging in sharing Christian truth and public truth, challenging and influencing public policy and discourse.
Reconciliation addresses issues of stigma and violence in communities. Forgiveness and repentance are part of reconciliation processes and necessary for moral ordering. It is in the environment of reconciliation human passions and desires are disciplined and transformed. Again partnership with churches ensures that churches can be facilitated to create and sustain environments of reconciliation to address issues of stigma and violence. Peace and wellbeing are characteristics of moral community.
Shalom is a space, an environment and activities. It is a space for building relationships that build wellbeing. It is a space for conversation not dialogues with political agenda.
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Contemporary societies crowd out such spaces. State created spaces have no moral communities that sustain them. Partnership with churches can create such spaces and maintain them. Wellbeing is about quality of life and includes physical health, mental health, social connectedness, environmental factors and spiritual and moral sense Robert Cummings. Again Churches can be effective partners as role models of communities of wellbeing. Transformational understanding of wellbeing sees it as a product of moral communities.
Wellbeing is birthed and sustained in moral communities. Moral Communities are characterized by hope. Christians are driven by the hope that God is acting in history. It is hope that motivates engagement with powers that dominate social reality Eph 2: Reality is multi-layered; powers are economic, political, cultural, and spiritual.
Christians recognize powers also as elemental spirits that are beyond human governance. They must be addressed with spiritual weapons of resistance. Powers expect obedience; ethical spiritual resistance and disobedience make them flee. A grace shaped and spirit filled community of worshippers believers in Christ can be effective partners addressing powers in all their complexity.
It is ontological in character. It draws its identity as a people and community not just from shared concerns and commitments, but also from reflecting the presence and image of the Trinitarian God. It is here that Christian communities have a unique witness. They are more than a gathering of believers. They are Being in Communion.
In religiously plural contexts on of the most powerful demonstrations of the transforming power of the Gospel is the quality of community, communion and people hood that Christians experience and share. Moral communities address plurality in society by the spaces they create in the environment of reconciliation.
Plurality tends to produce insecurity and conflict. Moral communities make plurality an asset rather than a liability and produce moral flourishing. Christianity: The relation of the early church to the career and intentions of Jesus. The words and acts of Jesus were believed to be the inauguration of a process that was to culminate in a final triumph of God. His disciples recognized him as the Messiah, the…. The Lord himself would serve…. History at your fingertips. Sign up here to see what happened On This Day , every day in your inbox! By signing up, you agree to our Privacy Notice.
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