Jesus did not come to start a new religion, but to inaugurate the Kingdom of God. The K of G transcends all religions, denominations, and churches. It is the Empire of God that will eventually cover the earth. Whether you are a Jew, Muslim, or Christian, you are invited to enter it.
When sharing the Gospel of the Kingdom we are not trying to convert a person to Christianity, but to Christ, i.e. King Jesus. The kingdom stands above Christianity. Many people are church members and part of the Christian religion who are not part of the Kingdom of God. When witnessing we should be inviting people into the kingdom. The encounter would look something like this:
KINGDOM OF GOD
Judiasm Islam Christianity
The three bottom labels represent the group to which the lost person belongs. We are inviting them to pledge their allegiance (loyalty/fidelity) to King Jesus through baptism, having counted the cost of their decision.
Notice how this approach disarms those in all three categories. We are not asking the Jew or Muslim to join the Christian religion. Nor are we allowing the "Christian" to base his/her salvation on church membership or initial profession of faith. The nature of the Gospel of the Kingdom allows us to approach each group in an authentic way that catches each off guard.
In our presentation we do not equate salvation with heaven, but with a transference of allegiance from one earthly kingdom (to which all three "religions" belong) to God's kingdom. Once the transition takes place, the convert become an ambassador for God's kingdom, representing His kingdom to the world. Converts are funneled into newly planted voluntary associations (ekklesiai) where they eat and worship together and experience God's kingdom presence in their midst.
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
"If the proclamation of the Kingdom of God was Jesus’ central message
(and it was) then shouldn’t Christians today be concerned to understand
and teach it? In Heaven on Earth Alan Streett explains in an
understandable way, without being either shallow or needlessly
technical, the meaning of “God’s Kingdom” in its original context, i.e.,
how Jesus, Paul, and other early Christians—and their
adversaries—understood talk about God’s Kingdom.
"But that is
not all. Streett also declares the significance of God’s Kingdom for
Christians today. Jesus’ vision of God’s kingdom was of world-changing
significance in the first-century—and it still is in the twenty-first
century. Whether you agree with Streett or not, you need to read this
Robert B. Stewart
Professor of Philosophy and Theology
Greer-Heard Professor of Faith and Culture
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
Thursday, July 18, 2013
In my last post I stated that baptism must be viewed as an eschatological event. Now I want to look at it as a POLITICAL event.
The Apostle Paul compares baptism to the crossing of the Red Sea, when Jews escaped the political tyranny under Pharaoh and began afresh as a free people ( 1 Cor 10:1-2). The crossing of the Jordan River into the Promised Land is picture of baptism and connotes entering a new kingdom, one that operates under the rule of God.
Likewise, baptism has political significance. It speaks of the believer being delivered out from under an evil empire and into a new political reality, the kingdom of God.
In his Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus commands his followers “make disciples of all nations,” i.e. members of nations subject to Rome. He prefaces his statement with the claim “all authority has been given to me in heaven and earth,” which implies his power surpasses Caesar’s. Few statements can be more subversive than this. For the Apostles to carry out their mission and call upon multi-national subjects of Rome to transfer their allegiance from Caesar to Christ as Lord was a traitorous and seditious activity. It resulted in some being arrested, tried, and put to death as adversaries of the established government. Remember, Rome did not execute Peter and Paul for preaching about heaven or exile John to Patmos for preaching about forgiveness of individual sins.
“Baptizing them” and “teaching them to obey” Christ’s commandments was the means of making disciples.
If baptism is our pledge of allegiance to Jesus and not to a Caesar or a collaborating Jewish High Priest, the entire project is politically-focused. With his concluding words, “I am with you always even to the end of the world” Jesus additionally implies that his kingdom will outlive all others, including the Roman Empire.
For believers to be baptized and declare Jesus as Lord in the very waters that Caesar, as “Master of the Sea,” owns and controls was an audacious and politically seditious act. It was the vehicle of renunciation of Caesar as Lord. The believer’s submersion in water vividly depicted death to the old life, effectively ending lifelong loyalty to Caesar. Rising from the watery grave represented a new life with new commitments to a different Lord and King.
When Paul writes, “There is . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:5) he is of necessity denying that Caesar has any claims to a believer’s loyalty. The believer’s allegiance is now pledged to a new Lord through baptism.
Baptism, therefore, is the act of conversion through which the candidate for citizenship publically renounces all other allegiances (repentance) and pledges his future allegiance (faith) to a new kingdom, i.e. the empire of God.
Unfortunately, we have stripped baptism of its eschatological and political significance by turning it into a church ordinance only rather than a kingdom mandate.
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
In Bible times Baptism was viewed differently than it is today. First, it was viewed as an eschatological act. Second, it was seen as a political act. In the next few posts, we will look at these two dimensions of baptism.
Baptism as an Eschatological Event
In the NT baptism is associated with the kingdom of God before it is associated with the church. John the Baptist is the first to declare, “Repent and be baptized for the kingdom of God is at hand.” Nothing could be more eschatological that this command. Jesus himself submits to John’s baptism, at which time God anoints Jesus as king and inaugurates or launches his kingdom agenda. When Jesus’ first post Easter followers repent and submit to baptism, they not only acknowledge him as “savior,” but as exalted king of the universe to whom they pledge their loyalty even to the point of death.
In baptism the new believer participates in a graphic representation of the resurrection which will occur at the end of the age when all God’s enemies are destroyed, his faithful people are raised from the dead and his ultimate kingdom arrives on earth. Lutheran theologian and Professor of NT, Ernst Käsemann identifies baptism as “the seal of membership in the eschatological people of God”
The Apostle Peter likens baptism to the flood of Noah’s day “eight souls, were saved through water” (1 Peter 3:20). He adds: “There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer [pledge] of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him” (vv. 21-22).
Three things make Peter’s reference to the flood important for our discussion. First, Noah and his family “were saved” (v 20).This speaks of being delivered from an evil world which God is destroying and coming under the rule of God in a renewed world.
Second, in like fashion, believers are delivered by “baptism” which Peter calls “an antitype” (v 21a) to the flood. Saved from what? In this context from the “authorities and powers” who rule the present evil world. What saves us? It is not the liquid H2O, per se; rather, we are delivered “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ [Messiah], who has gone into heaven and sits at the right hand of God” (v 22). The one executed by Rome has emerged from the tomb victorious over his enemies and has received his lawful seat of authority. In baptism we re-enact that event and claim it as our own. At the end of the age we too will be raised to reign with Jesus.
Third, this passage is important because Peter tells us that baptism is “not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God” (v 21b). The word “answer,” translated from the Greek word eperōtēma, comes from the business community of first-century Rome. It referred to a verbal promise at the end of a contract. It was in essence a pledge to fulfill the agreement and was legally binding. The same word was used to describe the oath unto death a Roman soldier took when he entered Caesar’s service. The early church borrowed eperōtēma and applied it to baptism. Thus the text: “Baptism . . . is the pledge . . . toward God.” So often we think of baptism as a profession of faith toward others. But Peter says that by baptism the candidate pledges his or her loyalty to King Jesus and his kingdom.
New Testament scholar, Günter Bornkamm says in baptism the candidate portrays graphically “the turning away from the old godless past and the turning towards God and his coming reign.” Oscar Brooks calls it, “the drama of decision.” As such, baptism is the decisive act of repentance and faith.
Peter adds that this pledge is offered in “good conscience” without coercion or mental reserve. In baptism we pledge to live and die for Christ, knowing that whatever the cost, we will be raised at the eschaton to reign with Christ.
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Saturday, July 13, 2013
Are you interested in working on a UK research PhD without moving to Great Britain? The openings are limited and you need to know the options and the application process. The program is rigorous and usually takes approximately 6-7 years part-time. These are not “seminary” PhDs, but “university” degrees that prepare you for a career as an academic.
SCHOOLS THAT WELCOME AMERICAN STUDENTS
Here are seven universities in the UK that work with American students. One may be a match for you.
Nazarene Theological College validated by University of Manchester
Cliff College validated by University of Manchester
Spurgeon’s College validated by the University of Manchester
St Johns Nottingham validated by University of Chester
Wales Evangelical School of Theology validated by the University of Chester
Highland Theological College validate by University of Aberdeen
London School of Theology validated by University of Middlesex
Trinity College validated by the University of Bristol
THE VALIDATION SYSTEM
You work with the first school, but receive your degree from the latter school. This is known as the validation system in the UK. So your first step is to get on the first school's website. Second, go to the "postgraduate" link. Read about the PhD application process, etc. Third, contact via email the professor in your desired field. Fourth, tell him/her of your research interests. It is best to be specific. Unlike American dissertations that are often topic-driven, most UK dissertations are "thesis-driven." That means you state a proposition or thesis and then seek to prove it. For example, my thesis was: “The Lord’s Supper during the first century CE was an anti-imperial practice.” Fifth, ask the professor if s/he would be interested in supervising such a project. Sixth, make formal application to the validating school and the degree awarding university. The academic year in the UK usually begins in October.
Some UK schools such as University of Durham and the University of Wales work directly with the PhD student instead of using a validating institution. This allows them to control the quality of the research.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT SUPERVISOR
Since you will be working with the same supervisor for a half dozen years, it is important to find one with whom you can work. This means finding a supervisor who 1) likes Americans, 2) is available to answer your questions, 3) has patience working with someone unfamiliar with the British system, 4) is as concerned with your success as much as s/he is with their own publication schedule, and 5) is an encourager, 6) recommends resources, 7) reads your chapters and offers a critical evaluation, and 8) guides you through each step of the PhD process.
RESEARCH IS THE NAME OF THE GAME
These are not distance education degrees, but research degrees. You receive the same degree as those who decide to reside on campus. You work with the same supervisors, write the same quality thesis (dissertation), and orally defend your thesis (a process known as a viva voca). But instead of being on campus, you meet regularly with your supervisor through Skype, email, etc. Some schools require you to visit campus once a year or once every two years, but others do not. Many meetings between students and supervisors take place at the annual Society of Biblical Literature conference, which convenes in different American cities each year.
Be forewarned, a UK research degree is not for the faint of heart. As one Oxford scholar said, “American PhD programs are a mile wide and an inch deep. UK programs are an inch wide and a mile deep.” This means American PhD graduates are more generalists and UK PhD graduates are more specialists. American PhD programs are more structured and require a student to take classes in a variety of subjects (usually 48 credits hours), plus write a dissertation. UK PhD programs require a student to spend the equivalent amount of time conducting narrowly focused research toward the thesis. There are no classroom requirements, even for full-time students who live on campus.
THE FINANCIAL COSTS
Typically, UK programs offer no financial assistance to Americans. So expect to pay the full tuition, which can run as high as 6,000 British pounds per year. Additional costs might include travelling expenses to SBL cities and/or to Great Britain: airfare, lodging, meals, and land transportation, etc.
You should only submit your thesis after your supervisor believes your research is PhD worthy. The degree-granting university will then select two scholars to critically read your thesis and examine you on its content. One will be an internal reader from the university. The other will be an external reader from another UK university. One will likely be an expert in your area of research and both will be scholars in your particular discipline (NT, theology, church history, etc.). A date will be set and you will meet for the viva voca, which will involve a 2-3 hour period of intense questioning to determine if you can defend your thesis and elaborate on your research. At the end of the viva voca, you will step outside the room while the examiners discuss the thesis and your responses. You will be called back into the room and given the verdict. Your thesis will be assigned one of the following grades: 1) Pass “as is” without need for revisions or further clarifications; 2) Pass with minor revisions which must be completed and submitted within three months; 3) Pass with significant revisions, which must be completed and submitted within one year; 4) Major rewrite, which must be completed and submitted within two years along with taking another viva voca; 5) Not acceptable or the possible award of MPhil instead of PhD. Your goal is to attain one of the first three evaluations.
IS A UK PHD PROGRAM FOR YOU?
Over the past few years, I have recommended four American students for UK PhD programs who were accepted and matriculated into the program. However, only one earned a degree. The others dropped out. All were smart enough to complete the program, but they lacked either self-confidence and/or self-discipline, or else, faced time constraints. So, count the cost before you apply.
If you are a self-starter, inquisitive, thick skinned, academically able to do original research, have a history of meeting deadlines, work well with a supervisor, and do not get discouraged easily, you may be the ideal candidate.
An American or UK PhD program—which is best for you? That depends on your goals, aptitude, interest, personality, work schedule, finances, etc. The Lord will guide you in your selection of the right doctoral program.
If you have any further questions, feel free to write me.
Friday, July 12, 2013
A Review by Ken Barnes
Heaven on Earth (Harvest House), 304 pp. Alan Streett
If you are interested in an exposition of the kingdom of God, read this book. I liken the author to a skilled artist painting a mural. He uses his literary expertise to paint biblical illustrations that we all know, but places them in their historical context and connects them in such a way that they bring into focus the big picture of God’s purposes on this planet. Streett is scholarly but writes in an engaging style. He may challenge some of your beliefs and make you rethink your theology, which for Christians is always good. He takes you on a journey that leads to the kingdom of God now and not just in the sweet by and by. I highly recommend this book.