Question from a Site Viewer
Hi Tim, I have been coming up against an idea in certain Christian circles lately that says Christians are going to grow in influence in culture throughout the world and eventually transform society. I have heard that some call it Kingdom Now theology, and I’ve also heard other terms describing this. In some ways there are good things attached to what I’ve heard, such as a focus on social justice and on grace and love. But it also seems different from what I understand Scripture to teach about how the world will become worse in the last days, not better. Do you have any understanding of this teaching that could shed some more light on it for me? Is it biblical? And if it’s not, is it just a minor difference in understanding, or is it a major heresy or problem that could lead people astray?
Thanks for the question on Kingdom Now theology. I was not familiar with this theological system, though I had heard strands of it from different sources. From doing a little research, Kingdom Now theology appears to be a form of Dominion theology, which holds that it is the duty of the church to gain dominion over the world and restore it to a righteous environment and then hand it over to Christ when He returns. The Kingdom Now branch of Dominion theology exists within Pentecostalism whereas the Reconstructionists branch of Dominion Theology exists within Reformed Theology. They both are post-millennial in their eschatology; that is, Christ will return after the earth is made righteous by the church.
There is a great deal of information on the Internet about Kingdom Now theology, but most of it seems to be by those who oppose the theology. I always am cautious about taking the words of one’s critics as accurately explaining one’s theological system. The best I have found is that unlike Reconstructionists, Kingdom Now theology tends to be ill-defined and not well-expressed or defended.
I am not prepared to say that those who follow the loosely defined Kingdom Now theology are heretical. Being post-millennial does not equate with heresy in my view. I am firmly pre-millennial because I think such is the best reading of the various texts of Scripture. I also find compelling the fact that the earliest church was firmly pre-millennial. Papias, who knew the apostles of Christ personally, Justin Martyr, and Ireneus (who was a disciple of Polycarp, sent out by the great church at Smyrna) all wrote within the first hundred years after the apostles and all were firmly pre-millennial. They tell us that Jesus and the apostles and those who personally heard Jesus taught that Jesus would return and set up a kingdom of 1,000 years on this earth. Their statements, coupled with the fact that there were no other voices that early in the church who held any other millennial view, provides compelling evidence to me that the pre-millennial viewpoint is what the apostles handed down to the churches. But while I think post-millenialism lacks both Scriptural support and historical pedigree, it does not mean that those who follow this system are heretics. (I define heretics as those who reject the core teachings of Christ and the apostles as held by the church and memorialized in the Apostles Creed. In my view, one can be wrong without being heretical. If this were not true, then we all would be in trouble because I suspect that all of us somewhere have our theology not quite right.) Thus, those who think that the church will bring about a period of righteousness on this earth are not necessarily heretical, even though they have an upward hill to climb in dealing with passages such as Matthew 7:14 (few will enter the narrow gate); Luke 18:3 (when the Son of Man comes will He find faith on the earth); 2 Timothy 3:1-9 (in the last days perilous times will come); 2 Timothy 3:13 (evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse).
However, I am not ready to accept Kingdom Now theology. To the extent that Kingdom Now theology takes away our citizenship in heaven and places us as citizens of this world, then I think there is a problem. Jesus tells us that His kingdom was not of this world; and if it was, His disciples would have fought (John 18:36). This idea of being citizens of another kingdom was dominant in the early church. Justin Martyr (110-165 A.D.) writes to Roman authorities and says:
And when you hear that we look for a kingdom, you suppose, without making any inquiry, that we speak of a human kingdom; whereas we speak of that which is with God, as appears also from the confession of their faith made by those who are charged with being Christians, though they know that death is the punishment awarded to him who so confesses. For if we looked for a human kingdom, we should also deny our Christ, that we might not be slain; and we should strive to escape detection, that we might obtain what we expect. But since our thoughts are not fixed on the present, we are not concerned when men cut us off; since also death is a debt which must at all events be paid.First Apology of Justin, Ch. 11
Paul, late in his life, tells Timothy that “no one” (meaning that he is not thinking only of Timothy or of church leaders, but of all Christians) who is engaged in the kingdom warfare “entangles himself in the affairs of this life, that he may please Him who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Timothy 2:4). The saints of old were pleasing to God precisely because they did not seek a kingdom here, but sought a heavenly kingdom (Hebrews 11:14-16). Jesus urges us, even commands us, to set our treasures in heaven so that our hearts will be there (Matthew 6:19-21). Paul tells the Colossians to set their minds on things above, and not on things of this earth (Colossians 3:2). In contrast, those who set their mind on this earth are cause for weeping (Philippians 3:19). Our hope and treasures are in heaven (Hebrews 10:34; 1 Peter 1:4). In fact, Peter tells us that precisely because everything in this world will be burned up, we should live holy lives looking for the new heavens and the new earth (2 Peter 3:11-13).
Thus, any theology that teaches that the goal of believers is to transform this world into righteousness and restore the kingdom now is at odds with the consistent teachings of Christ and the apostles. The goal, rather, is to live as sojourners and pilgrims (1 Peter 2:11), holding on to our heavenly citizenship (Philippians 3:20).
This theology does not leave us detached from this world. To the contrary, we are called to minister to this world. We are called to do good to all people. We who represent Christ should do so as good ambassadors. We should have compassion on people as He had compassion on people. We should love as He loved. We should be kind to strangers and aliens. But we do so, not as those trying to establish a kingdom here, but as those representing a kingdom from there, that is, from heaven. We are calling people to join that other kingdom.
Nor does this theology mean that we should trash this world, as some so state. Our mandate continues to be the mandate of Christ Himself. We should learn to do good, living modestly and obediently to the values of the heavenly kingdom. We should loosen our grip on the goods of this world and tighten our grip on the treasures of heaven. We should live wisely.
I hope this is helpful. As always, whatever one teaches, it is the duty of believers to take the teaching to Scripture and see if the teaching aligns with Scripture. There will be differences of opinion, but we endeavor always to point people to Jesus and keep the focus on Him, His message,and His mission. Social justice is not unimportant to Christ, but the salvation of individuals is the reason He died. We must never lose sight of the focus of His life in our pursuit of Him.
May the Lord Jesus guide you, bless you, and keep you.