Posted by: rogermitchell | February 17, 2010

so how to find a contemporary designation for the subversive kingdom of God

As Stephen Rusk comments the phrase kingdom of God can perhaps no longer refer to the radically subversive theopolitics that Jesus had in mind.  “In fact, it has almost certainly lost all of the radical irony and subversive intent that Jesus knowingly gave it when referring to the kingdom of God. The UK and the sense of ‘kingdomness’ *is* a quaint anachronism both to most of the global world and to amassing Britons. I personally find it contemporarily clumsy and diluted for description of either the positive or negative side in the epic clash of cultures that Jesus illuminates. I am intrigued as to what might convey the Jesus manifesto more clearly today.”

If this is true then we need to find new modes of expression for the way of God. Any ideas? Let’s attempt some please and then dialogue as creatively as we can.



  1. Well done Stephen! Equally I would raise that on the ‘dark side’ perhaps ‘democracy’ has taken the idolatrous place of the earlier ’empire’ reference. Democratic process now carries the moral justification of all kinds of colonial intervention… And ‘Kingdom’ carries a similar connotation even if only in a quaintly anachronistic Britishness! No wonder the early church spoke in tongues to create a new language for a new future… I think we may have to reach for something like unto ‘kenotic community’ as subversive to ‘democratic dominance’, though I’m sure there is something much more pithy 🙂 Now here’s a situation (Northern Irish cultural reference)!

    • Yes indeed. (derdelerdelerdelerdeler situation.)

      Actually, I’m currently quite taken by the idea of ‘democracy of God’. Like ‘kingdom of God’, it takes the hegemonic political/philosophical reality of the day and inverts it into the kenotic impossibility that comes from divine fulfilment. I think it’s utterly affronting and sufficiently controversial to beg big questions and activism.

      The main drawback to my mind is that, while the ‘democratic’ consensus now involves most cultures in the world (regardless of whether in fact they are in the slightest democratic), the notable exceptions (those that don’t purport to be democracies) are mainly islamic nations. In those cultures, ‘democracy of God’ is simply more western imperialism and ‘kingdom of God’ may be what they believe themselves to have. Given the need for gospel to be culturally engaged, I expect there to be different terms for different contexts though…

      • I think your point about inverting the hegemonic political/ philosophical reality of the day is the key one. For this reason I quite like the idea of the nation state of God, the united nations of God and so on. I think it has to be something we feel awkward about, which is why in the end I still keep coming back to the kingdom of God…

  2. James Moffat uses the term ‘realm of heaven’ instead of ‘kingdom of God’ in his NT translation. Personally, I love it (it speaks to me of other dimensions) but some may not. I’m using it more and more.
    I agree about the term ‘democracy’!

  3. Continuing down here because it’s the only place wordpress will let me.

    I think ‘kingdom of God’ still has usefulness, but mainly insofar as ‘kingdom’ provides a relatively straightforward idea through which to engage with such issues as sovereignty.

    But, if awkwardness is a test, then ‘kingdom of God’ surely fails it – precisely because there are hundreds of millions of Christians who are involved in kingdoms of God and who really are promoting the idea of Jesus for king/president in the monarchical sense whether in the present or the eschatological future. We live in a context in which there are kingdoms of God among us… in a bad way. This is not awkward for most Christians nor, given that political kingdoms have failed, to most of the rest of the world for whom this represents an anachronistic thing we have allegedly outgrown.

    So, while I think that ‘kingdom of God’ contains enough theo-political fuel to be of continued theoretical usefulness, it has become exceptionally diluted by historical experience and by the proliferation of theology and religious practice in which Jesus is co-opted into an actual kingdom system.

    One answer is simply to keep qualifying its meaning. But, in an opportunity for radical change such as we have, I can’t help but think that new language might, as Sue suggests, enable us to hear the radical gospel in our own tongue.

  4. I agree with all of this. So if you are someone out there with creative ideas let’s keep the suggestions coming in for a new language version of the radical Jesus kingdom of God.

  5. Sue…agree on the democracy comment…the “d” word has been elevated to a point where one can simply hang one’s plans on the “d” word and all justification is taken care of.

    In point of fact, it seems that we’re ALL (inside and outside of the ecclesia) searching for shorthand (“democracy”, “kingdom”, “church”, “revival”, “etc.”) to make our communication easier/more efficient, and yet wholesale acceptance of any given “pregnant-with-meaning” term is certain to doom it to dilution and twisting.

    My wife appreciates succinct communication, but I submit that precise and accurate communication carries more weight…all that to say that our quest for good language to express what we feel that our infinite God is trying to squeeze into the finite space between our ears might just continue for a good while! Yes Sue, perhaps a good dose of tongues every hour or so to clean things out and keep things in perspective! 😉

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