I really want to recommend Russell Moore’s book, The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective. Moore is the Dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and he uses a scholarly hammer to drive home the key messages that we’ve been sharing this month about making sure we are proclaiming the kingdom of God, just as it is proclaimed in the Scriptures and by the early church fathers and by the Reformers and wherever and whenever the church has been faithful. He’s the guy who said that the goal is the kingdom and the bodily resurrection, not heaven and the immortality of the soul.
He’d be a great guy to explain why the best way to proclaim the gospel is not to say, “If you died tonight, do you know where you’d spend eternity?”
Moore explains that “personal salvation cannot be understood apart from the unique role of humanity in the Kingdom purposes of God” (Moore, 99). God created humans not simply to have a personal relationship with them. He created them to reign over creation by mirroring his life and goodness into it. So when Jesus achieves his victory, he does not cry out, “Now we can have a personal relationship!” There is that, of course. But he comes to reclaim humanity’s role and responsibility to reign over God’s creation as “viceregents” (Moore, 99). Here’s how Moore puts it:
Salvation is seen, holistically, in terms of a bodily resurrection, the reversal of the Edenic curse, and the restoration of humanity as viceregents of the created order. The work of the Spirit in regenerating the heart is not therefore seen as a purely “spiritual” matter. Instead, it is the uniting of the individual to the pioneer of salvation (Heb. 2:10), the One who is “justified” by God, has merited resurrection from the dead, and who therefore can claim the cosmos as His inheritance (Ps. 2:1-12; 45:6-17; Acts 2:22-36; 1 Cor. 15:21-28; Heb. 1:2; Rev. 1:4-6). Resurrection is seen as central to God’s redemptive purposes because it is central to God’s Kingdom purposes. Salvation is pictured, not in terms of escape from the world, but as restoring the human person’s right to rule over the world (Matt. 19:28; Rev. 3:21) (Moore, 111).
So when we are saved, we get to have a personal relationship with God…but not a private one. We are joint heirs being trained to reign with him over all creation. That’s big—bigger than going to heaven when you die—and we need to proclaim it as such.
When we do, it helps people to quickly see that they are going to need a lot of help in this process—something muuuuuuuch greater than “a free gift at the book table in the back to help you get started in your Christian life.” As Moore notes, “The New Testament never severs personal regeneration from membership in the church” (Moore, 148).
And just in case we missed it, Moore adds, “The New Testament does not present the sacrificial, substitutionary atonement as directed toward isolated individuals. Instead, the atonement is directed in the New Testament toward the gathering of a church” (Acts 20:28; Eph. 5:22-23) (Moore, 153).
If we proclaim the Gospel and say that the outcome is that we go to heaven when we die, wow, have we missed the mark of Scripture! The message of Scripture is that through faith—which brings along with it repentance and confession and, yep, even good works, none of which saves and all of which are means of grace by which we come to know God more deeply—God places us in a new family that points to a new creation that will be fully revealed soon.
Craig Blaising at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Darrell Bock at Dallas Theological Seminary describe the church as a “workshop of Kingdom righteousness” (Moore, 142). I like that. When we’re saved, we’re saved into the church and into the kingdom, not out of the world and on to heaven. And we live this life of daily confession and repentance and practicing the Works of Mercy and the Works of Piety—all grace, all gifts that he gives to those he loves to grow us into the fullness of Christ, the greatest gift of all.
Bock says that as we live this new creation life, if we’re faithful and we’re letting God pour his life and power and grace through us, we ought to be able to say to others, “If you want to see God and the promise of his powerful, transforming rule, look at what he is doing among us” (Moore, 142).
That may be the most natural—and supernatural–proclamation of all.