Kingdom of God and the Stories We Tell

In my last post I raised the question of what the kingdom of God looks like in our world and how people can participate in it. To be quite honest, I am not sure that there is a prescribed formula for how God’s kingdom exists and how we are supposed to participate in it. The biblical narrative provides many glimpses into aspects of the kingdom (i.e. Israel’s mission to be a light to all nations) and Jesus’ ministry as the declaration of the reign of God’s kingdom here on earth (Jesus whole ministry – incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension – is the confirmation of God’s kingdom). In a sense it is God’s redemption plan to bring shalom to all of creation. Not mere peace or harmony, but the unity of all things in living out their full potential of what they were created to be. Not exactly clear, when it comes to practically explaining it…

And then there is the admonition for Christians to participate in God’s kingdom, another vague concept practically speaking… We do have glimpses into this from the biblical narrative such as the Old Testament call for Israel to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). In the New Testament Jesus summarizes kingdom participation as loving God and loving your neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40). But what does this look like? Would it not be easier to just give me the list of practical actions that I can sign up for that ensure my name is on the “kingdom list” (along with a snazzy t-shirt and promotional material, of course! J)? Well, I am sorry (not really…) to admit that participation in the kingdom of God is not a prescribed entrance into a cool club.

So we are back to the question, “What does the Kingdom of God look like?” This is where I am becoming increasingly convinced that we need to be telling more stories in the area of Christian theology. And I do not just mean as a footnote to the scriptural principles we explicate ad nauseum. Stories are not just an after-thought of theology; but rather they form the very context in which theology lives and breaths. In the words of my man Stanley Hauerwas, “We know who we are only when we place our selves – locate our stories, within God’s story.” As we place our stories in the midst of God’s story (presence of the kingdom bringing redemption to the whole of creation) we are drawn into a life that automatically presumes a certain degree of participation. The unique function of stories, and I think the great challenge for churches in our day, is that stories assume a certain organic character to them. Each one has a unique flavor that contributes to the larger picture. No formula here…

So when I consider this question of kingdom participation I give a hardy recommendation for a book I read this spring titled Treasure in Clay JarsThis book gives the account of six Christian communities in North America that are living stories of what kingdom participation looks like. The structure of these communities ranges from your typical mid-size church, to an inner-city ministry, to a house church and cover a broad denominational spectrum. What is especially important is that there is no formula to be gleaned to fill our ethical appetite. No, there are just stories. Stories of love. Stories of justice. Stories of mercy. Stories of loving God and loving neighbors in a manner that goes beyond any sole theological explication on the kingdom could ever go. In a way, stories can be the tie that binds theology and practice together…

So what does the kingdom of God look like? I guess I really don’t know… But if we start telling and listening to stories of how others have engaged with the kingdom we begin to see the awesome complexity of God’s work in this world. In a way, I have not answered the question of what the kingdom of God looks like in the practical sense that people may prefer. But considering the diversity of the world we live in, and the variety in the Christian faith when it comes to participating with God’s kingdom, I am okay with that…


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