The Theology & Practice of the Kingdom of God
By Berten A Waggoner, National Director, Vineyard USA
Commitment to the theology and practice of the kingdom of God is the first, the most fundamental, the most crucial core value of the Vineyard. The kingdom of God is our "pearl of great price" (Matthew 13:45, 46). Regardless of the location, size, ethnicity, or cultural context, the one thing that characterizes the message, mission, and experience of a Vineyard church is commitment to the experience and theology of the kingdom of God.
There have been any number of views set forth concerning the nature of the kingdom of God. Some have seen the kingdom as a system of moral principles, some as identical with the church, some as an ideal pattern of life for human society. One of the most recent ideas regarding the nature of the kingdom is that it relates primarily to Israel and has to do with the rule of God on the earth in the millennium.
When the Vineyard talks about the kingdom, we are talking about the kingdom of God as a dynamic reality that is now present in the world, but that will not come to the fullness of expression on the earth until the second coming of Christ at the end of this age. This is the view set forth by Evangelical theologians G. E. Ladd, Oscar Cullman, Herman Ridderbos, and many others. This understanding of the kingdom of God is the central motif that gives both structure and definition to all of our theology.
We are not alone in this belief. Baptist theologian Russell D. Moore in The Kingdom of Christ sets forth a strong argument for making the kingdom of God the central motif for evangelical theology. His thesis is that even such divergent movements as dispensational theology and covenant (Reformed, etc.) theology are beginning to move toward a consensus that the already/not yet theology of the kingdom should be the central motif in all theologies. He places the beginning of this development toward kingdom theology with Carl F. H. Henry in a book that he wrote in 1948, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism.
Moore says that several implications have emerged out of this theological development:
1. Dispensationalists have softened their position on the two people of God and the idea that the church is a heavenly people, whereas National Israel and the Jews are the earthly people.
2. Traditional conservative evangelicalism as seen in Gordon Lewis, Bruce Demarest, and Carl Henry has taken on the eschatological framework of the already/not yet of the kingdom. This is not to say that all conservative evangelicals have bought into this central motif. Theologians such as Wayne Grudem and Millard Erickson are examples of those who "betray very little influence of this kind of kingdom-oriented inaugurated eschatology."
3. All camps that are being drawn into the consensus are expanding their mission to include both personal transformation and social justice. All see that the gospel of personal transformation as advocated by fundamentalists in the 20th century is an incomplete gospel. The full gospel of the kingdom includes all of the promises given in the prophecies of the Old Testament prophets.
4. There is a renewed focus on the person and work of the Holy Spirit, and thus, much more openness to the ongoing work of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit.
The Kingdom of Christ is a good read for anyone interested in the Vineyard core values. I take exception with a few things in the book and there are some things left unsaid that I would like to add. Perhaps the most important difference I would have with the author is that, in my judgment, he puts too much focus on the theology of the kingdom and not enough on the experience of the kingdom. The focus of the Vineyard has always been on the manifest presence of the kingdom in the Spirit revealing Christ and empowering believers to heal the sick, cast out demons, feed the poor and be instruments of God in social justice. Vineyard is informed by its theology of the kingdom, but it is much more than theology. It is the manifest presence of the kingdom in the person of the Holy Spirit who exalts Jesus among us by signs and wonders.
We are thrilled for the theological convergence that is taking place around the kingdom of God. May this convergence result in a fresh outpouring of God's Spirit so that the good news is preached to the poor, prisoners of addictions are set free, the blind receive their sight, and the oppressed are released (Luke 4:18).
In this issue of our website we will begin to flesh out what we mean by the kingdom of God. This is only the beginning. There is much that we will need to say and do in the future to both clarify Jesus' central message and our core value of the practice and presence of the kingdom. I hope that you find these articles helpful.