The elusive kingdom: some of modern scholarship’s problem

I have a problem getting into books by Robert Funk, John Spong, John Dominic Crossan. Now I understand why.  A part of the reason is their eschatology and their understanding of the “kingdom of God”.  Jesus did not call his disciples to find their inner, mystical selves, or to form an egalitarian community.  They were called to proclaim a message of repentance of sins and seek the kingdom of God that would transform the world.

The Jesus Seminar of Robert Funk has misunderstood both eschatology and Jesus’ proclamation of the “kingdom of God”, and so it rejects eschatology and misinterprets what Jesus meant by “kingdom of God”.  “When the Jesus Seminar interprets Jesus in a non-eschatological way, the Seminar is rejecting the idea that in proclaiming the kingdom of God, Jesus was proclaiming the end of the world”, says Craig Evans.   If the Jesus Seminar’s rejection of the eschatological kingdom was a reaction to an “end of the world” type of imminent apocalyptic theology, then their reaction is wrong-headed.  However, Jesus’ eschatology involved God’s rule breaking into the present world.

The bible does express a sense of urgency in the words of Jesus; he did say that the time was ripe for spiritual discernment and for God’s righteousness and judgment to come into our world.  Modern liberal scholarship did not like this the imminent end-of-the-world type of eschatology, and as a result, they totally eliminated an eschatological Jesus for a non-eschatological Jesus.  This is like “throwing the baby out with the bath water”.  Bruce Chilton describes Jesus’ Seminar’s elusive problem of Jesus being eschatological:  “Unhappiness with eschatology as the primary reference of the kingdom is easily converted into an equation of the kingdom with whatever the going orthodoxy is: the kingdom is the Church (so Carmignac), the kingdom of the Christ (so Dodd), the kingdom is the mystical experience of the sage Jesus (so Borg), or his philosophy in a Hellenistic key (so Mack)”.

Proponents of a non-eschatological kingdom bear the burden of proof.  There are many references of a definitive future in Jesus’ sayings, and of final judgment in Jewish writings (Aramaic, Greek, and Hebrew).  Jesus scholars have been stuck in endless debate between the eschatological kingdom vs a non-eschatology kingdom.  Modern liberal scholars need to see the meanings beyond eschatology in Jesus’ proclamation.

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Author: Kevin S.

A follower of Jesus, a husband and a father. Hobbies include biking, keeping fish if they don't die on me, blogging when I can, theologizing and ministry, and pondering about world affairs.

3 thoughts on “The elusive kingdom: some of modern scholarship’s problem”

  1. I really don’t understand this tendency within liberalism. I thought Schweitzer a century ago had exploded this idea that Jesus taught a comfortable modern liberal utopia. He was a man of his time, not of the 19th century, and taught about the end of the world as his contemporaries did. I can understand people rejecting this teaching, saying Jesus got it wrong. I can understand people who take the Bible as authoritative trying to reinterpret it to make it more acceptable to them. But I can’t understand people who reject biblical authority also trying to bend its teaching to meet their presuppositions.

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  2. I agree Kevin, for the most part.

    Their translation of Gospel passages, about the Kingdom being among us, which they translate as being “within” you as individuals is questionable, and I never bought into it. It’s a possibility because of the Greek, but in the passages’ context, I think they are wrong.

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  3. Peter, ditto. Modern scholarship’s rejection of the bible’s authority is what is wrong with the church today. Hope for a turnaround in theology seems lost. We need to get back to basics in theology and biblical studies in many of our non-evangelical seminaries. Due to spiritual revival, I think there will be a big swing back to orthodoxy in the future.

    Rod, yes. This theology seems to be a result of a movement toward psychology and self-awareness. I have nothing against these things at all but it’s concerning when it over rules scriptural authority.

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