Acts 17 When the authorities could not find disciples, they dragged Jason and some believers into the city shouting, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has entertained them as guests. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.”
N.T (Tom) Wright, one of the most respected Jesus scholars alive today, has a most interesting perspective on the early church and their theology of mission. Wright is revered by conservatives and deeply respect by liberals in the church. He often pokes at what he calls the biases that liberals bring to their scripture studies and the political blinders that conservative (particularly those in the United Sates!) Christian bring to their theological discernment. What is unique and fresh about Wright is his view that the early church believed that when Jesus came to the world he ushered in the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom was not the “sweet by and by” or something far down the road that Christians should work for but rather it was already embodied in Jesus, in the church, in our time. We as believers are living the Kingdom and the world is watching.
I read more of Wright’s analysis of this challenge in a recent essay:
The Gospels tell the story of how God became king in and through Jesus and invite their readers to the imaginative leap of saying, ‘Suppose this is how God has done it? Suppose the world’s way of empire is all wrong? Suppose there’s a different way, and suppose that Jesus, in his life, death and resurrection, has brought it about?’ And the gospels themselves, of course, contain stories at a second level, stories purportedly told by Jesus himself, which were themselves, in their day, designed to break open the worldview of their hearers and to initiate a massive imaginative leap to which Jesus gave the name ‘faith’. The gospels invite their readers, in other words, to a multiple exercise, both of imagining what it might have been like to make that leap in the first century (both for Jesus’ hearers and then, at a second stage, for their own readers) and, as a further stage again, of imagining what it might be like to do so today. This imagination, like all good right-brain activity, must then be firmly and thoroughly worked through the left brain, disciplined by the rigorous historical and textual analysis for which the discipline of biblical studies has rightly become famous. But, by itself, the left brain will produce, and has often produced, a discipline full of facts but without meaning, high on analysis and low on reconstruction, good at categories and weak on the kingdom. It is just as difficult today as it was in the first century to imagine what the kingdom of God might look like. Rigorous historical study of the gospels and the other early Christian writings has a proper role to play in fuelling, sustaining and directing that imagination, and in helping to translate it into reality.
What I particularly like about Wright’s approach is immediacy of the Kingdom, how it is present now and how this places the responsibility on the church and gatherings of believers to make “thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven” real. Amen to that!