Rev Dr Dean Drayton explores why “Kingdom of God” still has a place in Christian understanding and worship.
My own personal discovery 40 years ago of the importance of Jesus’ announcement of the good news of the Kingdom of God, and his teaching about the importance of “entering the kingdom” has had me emphasising this term as vital for the description of the gospel ever since.
But gradually I saw how the history of the term impacts on its present use. The millennia tell a terrible story of the way kings in building their kingdoms have so often been dictators and tyrants. In the Old Testament the kings were usually authoritarian, hierarchical and patriarchal.
Why in heaven’s name would one use the “Kingdom of God” with all those awful associations? I began to use substitute terms like “Kindom of God” or the “Family of God” for the “Kingdom of God” emphasising reconciling relationships and round table decision-making.
As another decade rolled by I began to sense that these substitutes were limited as well. It led to a time of re-assessment, weighing up the importance of the pros and cons in using it.
I concluded that instead of allowing human history to define the term, it is far richer to stay with Jesus’ use of the term as the totality of God’s living, future reality breaking into the present.
Jesus’ core message, his teaching and his prayer are explicitly about the Kingdom of God and how to enter the Kingdom. Any lesser term lessens the scope of the good news.
Jesus was aware of history’s distortion of kingship and warns his followers of Gentile kings and kingdoms where “they recognise as their rulers, those who lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.” (Mark 10:42,43)
Terms like “Kindom of God” and “Family of God” actually restrict our understanding of the kingdom of God to “a human and relational perspective”.
And as important as this is, the Kingdom of God is far greater than that: it is God’s reality, so amazingly and devastatingly shown in the life, death and resurrection of the Son. The Kingdom of God is given as a “foretaste of that coming reconciliation and renewal for the whole creation.” (Paragraph 3, Basis of Union).
The Kingdom of God is where we find a healing, redeeming and restoring perspective for God’s creation, with God’s people and God’s purposes as the ultimate framework of life.
Rev Dr Dean Drayton was president of the Uniting Church in Australia from July 2003 to July 2006.