A different Kingdom

August 1st, 2014
by Chris

I’ve just read “May (the end of) your Kingdom come”, a blogpost from early 2012 from Bo Sanders at Homebrewed.

Interesting (and there are some interesting comments as well).

Now, I’m very keen on the Kingdom as a motif. I think it represents the absolute centre of Jesus’ message – it’s probably the individual most-used term in Jesus’ teachings in the Synoptic Gospels. I’ve written before about my own mystical take on part of what Jesus might have been getting at. I don’t remotely think that post deals with the whole ramifications of what can be gleaned from the Kingdom statements; one major aspect which is missed there, for instance, is the countercultural, subversive aspect, setting up the Kingdom of God (or Heaven) in opposition to the Empire of Caesar, an aspect which melds very well with the Girardian concept of atonement as breaking with the pattern of redemptive violence, which I think is a very valuable addition to the historical list of atonement theories.

But I worry about Bo’s thinking. It isn’t at all what “kingdom” has historically conjured up for me, and I really don’t like the concept that it might bring in thinking of God’s reign as being imperial and oppressive, as he suggests. This would be doing what his partner at Homebrewed, Tripp Fuller once described in a podcast (mid 2012) as “Caesar’s editors got hold of the Jesus story and they rendered unto God the things which were Caesar’s, namely omnipotence, empire by coercion, cross building and totalitarian ideologies”. This is not the picture I have at all, even though I’ve come across people wanting to translate “Kingdom of God” as “God’s Imperial Rule”, at which I shudder.

Thinking about it, though, it seems to me that a particular view of kings and kingdoms is part of the American myth of origins: the revolution occurred “in order to get away from the tyrannical reign of the Kings of England”, in particular George III. This part of the myth is particularly mythic, as by this point in English history it was no longer possible for a king to rule tyrannically (that had been settled by the English Civil war and the later “Glorious Revolution”); the actions complained of were very much those of parliament and the prime ministers of the day, but the picture of “the King” does seem to stick, and there are plenty of examples of absolute monarchs in history to draw upon. Parliament was, of course, elected – but not by a franchise which included the colonists, thus the cry of “no taxation without representation”.

I, however, grew up in the United Kingdom (note the word “Kingdom” here) and have lived my whole life in a kingdom in which the monarch is symbolic rather than having any real power, let alone any absolute power; Queen Elizabeth II models a monarch as servant representative of the people, and such influence as she exerts is persuasive rather than coercive. This is very much the model on which the surviving European monarchies are based as well, so it isn’t particularly unrepresentative. That said, monarchies outside Europe (and I’m thinking mostly of the Middle East) still tend to the repressive and coercive. Britain isn’t a perfect example of what a Christ-like kingdom should be (we’d have to do something radical about parliament and the bureaucracy to achieve that), but it’s queen is to my mind a good example of what a Christ-like ruler should be.

So I’m fairly comfortable with “kingdom” terminology, particularly as (as is mentioned in the comments to Bo’s post) virtually every English translation uses the term. I find problems with pretty much every possible alternative as well, so I’ll stick with the word. But I may take a little time to explain for my US readers that what I mean is nothing like the picture they have of the kingdom of George III!

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