The romantic conception of the kingdom of God involved no discontinuities, no crises, no tragedies or sacrifices, no loss of all things, no cross, and resurrection. In ethics it reconciled the interests of the individual with those of society by means of faith in a natural identity of interests or in the benevolent, altruistic character of man. In politics and economics it slurred over national and class divisions, seeing only the growth of unity and ignoring the increase of self-assertion and exploitation. In religion it reconciled God and man by deifying the latter and humanizing the former . . .
Christ the Redeemer became Jesus the teacher or the spiritual genius in whom the religious capacities of mankind were fully developed. . . .
Evolution, growth, development, the culture of the religious life, the nurture of the kindly sentiments, the extension of humanitarian ideals, and the progress of civilization took the place of the Christian revolution.
A God with-out wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgement through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.
(H. Richard Niebuhr The Kingdom of God in America)
The quote from Richard Niebuhr has been often used, or at least the last sentence shown here. Niebuhr was making the statement on those who wanted to reduce the demands of the Gospel.
It is sometimes seen as the appropriate epitaph for Liberal Protestantism, which it seems expects little and gives even less.
Interestingly it has been used by a by those by those at the strong end of both Catholic and Protestant theology, where they have no time for the perceived no demand sloppiness of liberal theology, and offer in its place either the Tradition and Teachings of the Church, or the Plain literal word of truth found in scripture.
Sadly I feel these both fail to deliver much beyond the requirement to ‘not think hard about it’. The last thing it would seem the extremes want to allow is the capacity to understand the revelation of God, and the received understanding of that revelation, in its social context. It would seem to me that if you do not allow the social context, the ‘good news’ can only be an historic record.
I was a touch disconcerted to read a blog from the Rector of the Anglican Parish of Gosford (Fr Rod Bower) under the heading ‘Jesus came to show us the “Kingdom” not to die for our sins!’. My immediate reaction was to recall the Richard Niebuhr quote mentioned above.
There is a sense in the first half of the Gospels (pre transfiguration) where I think that Jesus understanding of his mission, that he called us to share, was to reveal something of the Kingdom of God, and yes it involves a call the repentance.
(Repentance: the recognition and acknowledgement that you are going the wrong way and the determination to turn around and go the right way)
And perhaps I am a little unfair, for in reality I concur with much that Fr Rod has to say in the passage, however there seems little imperative in the gospel described here, and little reason why God would bother putting up with a broken church to carry forward the lamp of grace for a broken people.
The Kingdom does call us to repentance. Repentance does not require us to adopt a Calvinist theory of double predestination, it does not mandate that we must ascribe to a notion of substitutionary atonement, yet it does call us to respond.
Having called us to respond, we are called to lift up our eyes and perceive the glory of God, to recognise something of that glory already within us, and to know that we are being changed from one degree of glory to another.