The Gospel and the Kingdom by Rick McKinley
Sometimes it seems as though we find two gospels in the New Testament—the gospel of Jesus and the gospel about Jesus. The gospel of Jesus is usually taken to mean His announcement of the kingdom and the life He embodied in His loving actions toward the world. The gospel about Jesus refers to His atoning work on the cross and His resurrection, through which we can receive the forgiveness of sin through our faith and repentance. The “two gospels” even correlate to a schism in the church, with more liberal churches living the gospel of Jesus and doing the good deeds of the kingdom, while more conservative churches preach the gospel about Jesus, focusing on the personal salvation He offers to those who put their faith in Him.
I believe, however, that the two are actually one gospel and that when we lose the tension that comes from holding both together, we experience an unhealthy and unbiblical pendulum swing in our faith. If all we value is the salvation gospel, we tend to miss the rest of Christ’s message. Taken out of context of the kingdom, the call to faith in Christ gets reduced to something less than the New Testament teaches.
The reverse is also true: If we value a kingdom gospel at the expense of the liberating message of the Cross and the empty tomb and a call to repentance, we miss a central tenet of kingdom life. Without faith in Jesus, there is no transferring of our lives into the new world of the kingdom.
This dichotomy, however, doesn’t fully describe how we may or may not participate in what God is doing on earth. People don’t stand outside the doorway of the kingdom waiting to get through the salvation gate in order to go in and experience kingdom realities. Rather people are tasting, touching, and embracing pieces of the kingdom all the time. The love of creation, for example, is experienced by those who follow Christ and those who do not. The invitation to embrace the kingdom then becomes an opportunity for us to get side by side with those who don’t know Jesus but are attracted to His creation and point out to them that what they love is compelling evidence that they were made for another world and that that world is accessible through faith in Christ.
In this way, their participation in the kingdom becomes a point where the gospel can be more fully articulated. If we’re participating with them, followers of Christ get to explain to them both the worldview of the kingdom and the salvation our King offers. And they get to encounter Christ without having to find a way through the sterile walls of religion in search of Him. Therefore participation in the kingdom life by those who follow Jesus becomes an opportunity to serve the great commission in a much fuller way. Our joyful announcing of the reign of the God through His in-breaking kingdom becomes a beginning point of gospel proclamation.
To the degree that the conservative church abandons the tactile expression of God’s reign to the least in our communities, they compromise their ability to proclaim a viable Savior to a suffering world. At least the culture around us listens less because what is being said about Jesus is not being lived out in the mess of their lives. Christians are simply saying that Jesus is King without also living out His reign in the streets.
On the more liberal side, churches may champion the good deeds done as kingdom expressions but leave out the unique and exclusive claims of Christ as the only way to God. One result of this scenario is that Christ followers demonstrate convincing redemptive work in a community that, unfortunately, rarely leads to the personal redemption Jesus promised. Of course, both scenarios present an incomplete gospel. When we personally and holistically embody both gospels under Christ’s kingdom reign, we are able to proclaim the Good News of Jesus in a profound way. The cross of Christ and the empty tomb bring forth the power to give new life to individuals and restore creation. It is not one or the other. The New Testament shows us a God who is restoring humanity as a part of His restoring of the world.
At Imago Dei, we see many people putting their faith in Jesus in the context of the kingdom. But the temptation to reduce the message of Jesus is never far away. We are sometimes tempted to let go of the tension and either just practice a religion of good deeds or just preach personal salvation in Christ. Better to hold on to the tension and to view it as God’s invitation to collaborate together with the Spirit in putting forth a whole gospel to our city and world. We see the great beauty of people knowing that they are forgiven of their sins and accepted as God’s children through the grace of Jesus. More often than not, through, we see it happen after they have felt and experienced the goodness of the kingdom break into their lives through the good deeds of kingdom people who care enough to serve them and who care enough to tell them about Jesus’ sacrificial love.
It’s through this kind of kingdom living that both the gospel and the kingdom are united to bring another world to bear upon our society and our souls, thus creating the new humanity that god has predestined us to be and become.