Since we’re focused on the Work of Mercy of reigning this month, I have my Google-o-meter set to send me all mentions of the word “reign” that come up in blog posts and the news. I’ve observed the following three things so far:
- Most contemporary references to the word “reign” occur in the sports section.
- “Reign” is a hard word to drop into everyday conversation and, thus, one rarely finds it there. It has devolved into a comic book term in contemporary culture.
- Theologically, the term has been completely ceded to the fringe. Responsible writers don’t touch it.
Each of these three realities is grievous, given the centrality of reigning (and preparing us for co-regency) in the New Testament. And nowhere has that grief been more acute for me this month than in today’s “Look What The RSS Dragged In” excerpt from Joseph Prince’s new book, Destined to Reign: The Secret to Effortless Success, Wholeness and Victorious Living:
You are destined to reign in life. You are called by the Lord to be a success, to enjoy wealth, to enjoy health and to enjoy a life of victory. It is not the Lord’s desire that you live a life of defeat, poverty and failure. He has called you to be the head and not the tail. If you are a businessman, God wants you to have a prosperous business. If you are are a homemaker, you are anointed to bring up wonderful children in the Lord. If you are a student, God wants you to excel in all your examinations. And if you are trusting the Lord for a new career, He doesn’t just want you to have a job, He wants you to have a position of influence, so that you can be a blessing and an asset to your organization!
To his credit, Grant Norman examines the book at length, graciously and thoughtfully refuting Prince’s arguments systematically while refraining from belittling or personal attacks–truly a model of how we ought to do this sort of thing. It’s worth reading just to see how he does it, and to be encouraged to do likewise.
My own two comments are in a more reflective, homework-y vein:
1. Most of us Christians will vehemently object to Prince’s theology of reigning when stated in book form like this–as well we should. But break down Prince’s excerpt above sentence by sentence, and most of us Christians implicitly live and pray–and hope–as if what Prince is saying is true. Try it yourself: Read each of Prince’s sentences individually, and ask yourself, “Against my better theological judgment, do I act as if this is true? Do I pray prayers that assume this? Do I expect this from God and react with disappointment when he does not comply?” I confess that I certainly do, with alarming frequency. Praying through the why and undertaking appropriate repentance to correct our notions of reigning are what this month-long focus is all about.
2. Prince’s logic is seductive because it postulates two states: Being a success or being a failure; passing your exam or flunking it miserably; having wonderful and obedient children or spawning the offspring of Satan. But Christ’s reign–and all of the New Testament, for that matter–are about the repudiation of those two options and the revealing of and invitation to embrace a third (which, it turns out, is the only defensible method of reigning): Mirroring the grace and character of God into the world in every aspect of our lives. Do that, and the unanimous witness of the apostles, prophets, and (ahem) martyrs is that the world will tear you down, not submit to you. And in the midst of that opposition, it is your willingness to serve God, by suffering for your enemies as a means of his grace to them, that marks you out as his co-regent. Not only Prince misses that. We all do.
David Qaoud puts it nicely when he says, “Jesus suffered not so that we wouldn’t have to, but so that when we do, our suffering would be meaningful — namely, for his glory.”
It simply isn’t true that God doesn’t want us to suffer. True, God does not want us to suffer pointlessly or needlessly. But the world remains in open rebellion against God. Those who reign in his kingdom are by definition enemies of the kingdoms of this world. Suffering and service are the marks we willingly bear that point to the coming kingdom, to the one true reign. We bear these marks of suffering and service joyfully–and meaningfully–because suffering for and with the one you love always beats success on any other terms.