Sunday, January 24, 2010

Christ, Kingdom, and Culture, Part 2: Baugh

The second lecture at Westminster Seminary California's conference on "Christ, Kingdom, and Culture" was by Dr. Steve Baugh; the title was "The Kingdom in the New Testament." For those who don't know Steve, he is an amazing exegete (in fact, I just incorporated some of his rich insights into this evening's sermon on the binding of the strong man from Luke 11). In typical fashion, Baugh stood at the lectern with an open Bible in his hand and, structure and decorum be damned, shot from the hip and offered his thoughts on what the New Testament has to say about the kingdom. Here's the description he gave of it:

"The kingdom of God proper is the fully consummated new heavens and new earth inhabited by the redeemed, resurrected saints in glory and incorruptibility where the triune God—including the incarnate Son—triumphantly rules supreme."
He brought out four elements that are necessary for the kingdom to be present in its eschatological fullness: Christ's rule, the people ruled, the king to rule them, and the territory in which this rule takes place. I hate to try to improve on Baugh's description of the kingdom, but I do think there is a catchier and easier-to-remember way of putting it (and in my defense, I am PCA): "The kingdom of God is fully present when God holy people are ruled in Gods holy land by God's holy king." (I preached a series of sermons on this topic a few years ago at Exile Presbyterian Church.)

Looking at the entire scope of God's revelation, it seems to me to be perfectly reasonable to say that the theme of the Bible is the kingdom of God, and the way in which that kingdom is administered is by means of historical covenants that God makes with his people. The most vivid picture of the kingdom in the Old Testament is seen in I Kings 8:14-15, 20-21:

Then the king turned around and blessed all the assembly of Israel, while all the assembly of Israel stood. And he said, "Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who with his hand has fulfilled what he promised with his mouth to David my father.... Now the LORD has fulfilled his promise that he made. For I have risen in the place of David my father, and sit on the throne of Israel, as the LORD promised, and I have built the house for the name of the LORD, the God of Israel. And there I have provided a place for the ark, in which is the covenant of the LORD that he made with our fathers, when he brought them out of the land of Egypt."
Note that all the kingdom-elements are present: God's holy people are being ruled in God's holy land by God's holy king. Now this picture of the kingdom is typological, of course, foreshadowing the Day when the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ. Then (and not before) the Lord's promise will be fulfilled and we will experience as God's holy people the reign of our holy King of kings in the true holy land, the new heavens and new earth. Our role in the here and now is not to try to create such a kingdom in this fallen age, but in the words of Peter, to "wait for and hasten the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!" (II Pet. 3:12).

For my part, it seems that if Christians would understand the nature of the kingdom, and particularly that it reveals itself in this age by means of the obscurity, shame, and foolishness of the cross, it would really revolutionize the way we think of the Christian life, as well as challenge the triumphalistic (and, I would argue, postmillennial) expectations we place upon the church and her influence over the culture.

Three cheers, then, for Steve. May his house be blessed, and his tattered Nestle Aland be continually filled with treasure.