Moore: What was the motivation behind writing this book?
Streett: About a dozen years ago I came across Professor William Abraham’s book The Logic of Evangelism in which he asserted the kingdom of God was the theme of NT evangelism. I also read George Eldon Ladd’s article in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement on Matthew 24:14
in which he explains how preaching the “gospel of the kingdom” to the
nations might hasten Christ’s return to earth. These ideas captured my
imagination and got me started on my kingdom journey. Since then, I have
read hundreds of books on the subject, ranging from classics to the
As I shifted through a mountain of materials and analyzed the various
theories, I began to formulate my own understanding of the kingdom.
First, I discerned that the kingdom of God is the grand narrative of the
entire Bible. Second, I recognized the need for local churches to
Quite frankly, most pastors and lay people have no idea what the
kingdom of God is about or where the local church fits into God’s
kingdom agenda. I wrote HEAVEN ON EARTH to help believers fill this
Moore: Why do many pastors talk more about theological systems and less about the kingdom of God?
Streett: Most pastors have attended a Bible college
or seminary that aligns itself with a particular theology:
dispensational, covenant, Wesleyan, Anabaptist, etc. Much time is spent
indoctrinating students in these theological systems. Little attention
is given to the kingdom of God, except as a subtopic in an eschatology
section of a systematics course. Therefore, pastors are unfamiliar with
the wealth of material available from such writers as Schweitzer,
Perrin, and Wright.
As I see it, the kingdom of God is the overarching theme of the Bible
from start to finish. It is an umbrella under which all theology is
subsumed. Hence, it is the most important theological concept that
should be taught to all students.
Moore: You write, “I have searched the Gospels
to find a single case of Jesus refusing a person’s request for healing.
I have yet to find one.” What implications, if any, does that have for
Streett: Jesus not only preached the kingdom but demonstrated the power of the kingdom (Acts 10:38).
The “word” about the kingdom and the “work” of the kingdom cannot be
separated. The gospel (good news) of the kingdom is about wholeness,
which means it deals with more than deliverance of the soul. It also
includes healing for the body. Through the OT prophets God speaks of a
day when “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, And the ears of the
deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, And the
tongue of the dumb sing” (Isa 35:5‒6).
When Jesus began his ministry, these verses became a reality. Healing was part of his kingdom agenda (Luke 4:18).
He heard the voice of God clearly and knew when and whom to heal. I
imagine when the disciples saw these manifestations of the kingdom they
expected Jesus to overthrow the Roman Empire and set up God’s reign on
earth. But it didn’t happen that way. Instead he established his church
to carry out an “interim” kingdom agenda until the arrival of the
ultimate kingdom at his second coming.
We live in this “already, not yet” period. After his ascension to
heaven, Jesus sent the Spirit to empower the church to fulfill its
mission. Healing is one of the eschatological gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:9). Therefore, we should expect to see people healed.
God’s presence is now located in the body of Christ (the church) as
it was in the physical body of Jesus when he walked the earth. The
church’s ministry of healing will reflect Jesus’ ministry in two ways.
First, healings are temporal in nature, i.e. those healed will
eventually succumb to death. Second, healings are a sign that points to
God’s ultimate kingdom when all are resurrected an experience perfect
There is a significant difference between healing now and then.
Because we are influenced by the world and affected by sin, we do not
discern God’s voice and will as clearly as Jesus. He knew whom and when
to touch for healing. He was a perfect channel through whom healing
flowed. We are not. Therefore, we pray for everyone, asking God’s will
be done in each case.
Moore: How has your view of miracles changed over the past thirty years?
Streett: I have always believed in miracles. But
until recently I did not understand the relationship between miracles
and the kingdom of God.
The Old Testament contains many miracle accounts, but something new
happened when God poured out the eschatological Spirit upon Jesus at his
baptism and then upon the church at Pentecost. History shifted gears.
Lesslie Newbigin, the respected missionary and NT scholar, called the
Christ event, “the hinge of history.” Hence, the present evil age
entered the stage of history known as the last days and headed toward
its demise. The kingdom of God, on the other hand, began to dawn.
Like healing, miracles are a demonstration of the Spirit’s power and a
foretaste of things to come, which point to the day when the world is
restored and God is all in all. Paul speaks of a “gift of miracles” (1 Cor 12:10). If the reigning Lord has provided the church with a gift of miracles, shouldn’t we expect to see an occasional miracle?
Moore: How does the individualism which is found in many American churches unwittingly undermine what it means to be a church?
Streett: God’s goal is to rescue creation from the
powers of darkness and to establish his universal kingdom on earth. The
process leading to this end is called salvation history. On the cross,
Jesus broke the strangle hold Satan had over the world and began his
God then established the church as a corporate entity to advance his
kingdom agenda during the already/not yet period of history (Matt 16:18‒19).
Like a foreign embassy in Washington, DC, that represents its
government back home, so the church is a new body politic that
represents the government of God on earth. As followers of King Jesus,
we are individual citizens of God’s kingdom.
Most people believe salvation is all about the individual. We often
hear an evangelist proclaim, “If you were the only person on earth
Christ would have died for you.” While I sympathize with that sentiment,
salvation is much bigger than the individual. It is about rescuing and
reclaiming the entirety of creation. And we are invited to get in on it
and become part of the new creation (2 Cor 5:17).
American individualism is more aligned with democracy than kingdom
theology. Once we embrace an individualistic mindset, we become
self-focused rather than kingdom-focused.
Moore: You have some important things to say
about the Lord’s Table. Do you think Protestant churches have
overreacted to the sacramentalism of other traditions? Also, what would
a more intentional focus on the communion look like?
Streett: First, let me say I have written a book devoted exclusively to this subject, entitled SUBVERSIVE MEALS (Pickwick, 2013, 340 pp). The first-century church came together to eat (1 Cor 11:18, 33).
This 3-4 hour worship event was a combined meal and ministry. The
experience in its totality was called the Lord’s Supper. In this
setting, believers had an encounter with the manifest presence of the
living Christ. They believed the Lord hosted their meal and moved among
them. Therefore, each experience was alive with expectation.
It is doubtful the apostolic church observed anything like a
modern-day Eucharist, repeating the words of institution (“This is my
body…. my blood…. do this in memory of me”). The actual meal was the Lord’s Supper.
It was not until the late first or early second century that a
symbolic Eucharist (as we understand it) became part of the church’s
weekly observance. During the Medieval Age, debates raged over the
nature of the Eucharist (consubstantiation, transubstantiation, etc.),
and still rage today. Such disputes were unknown to the primitive
Where does that leave us? I would like to see churches adopt a
worship model that incorporates a weekly or monthly meal and includes
time for eating, conversation and ministry. Such an endeavor will take
some imagination and logistical maneuvering, depending on the size of
Ideally, I would like to see congregations move away from the church
as “a lecture hall” model and adopt more of a “supper club” model.
Moore: Towards the end of the book you say,
“Like all kingdom undertakings, church discipline is political.” Unpack
what you mean by that.
Streett: The church is a “holy nation” set in the
midst of other nations, whose citizens are called to be obedient to
their King. As a political entity, the church operates according to
laws and regulations. When a believer rebels and violates kingdom
ethics, s/he must be brought before the church and disciplined. In this
sense, the government of God differs little from any worldly
government, with one major exception. The goal of church discipline is
not to judge and punish the offender, but to lead him or her to
repentance, so they can receive forgiveness of sins, be restored to the
kingdom community, and motivated to make restitution to offended
When the local church practices church discipline, it demonstrates
what it is like to live under the gracious reign of God now and points
to the purity that will exist in God’s future kingdom. Church discipline
is an alternative to secular courts.
Church discipline is redemptive. A church that attempts to maintain
purity within its ranks yet extends grace and forgiveness to all is
attractive. When outsiders witness church discipline being done
correctly, they often sit up and take notice. Possibly it’s worth
joining this kingdom and serving its King.
Moore: What are some of the biggest misconceptions Christians have about the New Heaven and New Earth?
Streett: Two of the more obvious misconceptions
result from the way Christians approach the Scriptures. Most Christians
don’t interpret a text, they unwittingly read into the text. They come
to the text with their own peculiar theological presuppositions. For
example, if one reads Revelation 21‒22
from a dispensational perspective, s/he will place the New Heaven and
New Earth along a rigid timeline that includes the rapture, seven year
tribulation, second coming, a millennium in which people die, and
destruction of the earth by fire, final judgment in Hell, and eternity.
Those in the covenant camp face the same kinds of problems. Only their
conclusions will be different.
Therefore, we must set aside our theological systems and make a
heroic effort to approach the text with fresh eyes. Through careful
exegesis we must allow the text to speak for itself. When we succeed at
the task, our theology will begin falling in line with the Scriptures.
The second interpretive problem we face, leading to misunderstanding
the New Heaven and New Earth is a failure to understand the nature of
apocalyptic literature. Revelation is an apocalyptic book filled with
monsters, numeric formulas, and coded language that have hidden and
symbolic meanings. Many believers read Revelation as if it was written
in straight prose. This leads to a literalistic and stilted
Different rules of interpretation apply to different kinds of
literature. Therefore, whenever we approach a text, our first question
must be, “What kind of genre is it?” For example, one would not
interpret a parable the same as a genealogy. Misconceptions about the
New Heaven and New Earth are the result of not understanding the various
types of genres.
As I understand things, the Scriptures indicate that God created the
original universe that consisted of heavenly and earthly realms. A
rebellion occurred in each. The scope of Scripture is a narrative of how
God is reclaiming and restoring creation. The end result is a New
Heaven and a New Earth. Its exact nature and when and how it will come
about is not so clear. But we can all affirm that paradise lost will be
Saturday, November 16, 2013
Friday, November 01, 2013
Were you influenced by some dear saint who is now with the Lord? For me it was Dr. James H. Pyke, a former missionary in China and my favorite seminary professor and mentor. I rarely made a major decision without seeking his advice. I think of him often and miss him. He is gone, but not forgotten.
November 1 is All Saints Day, when the western church acknowledges that a bond exists between all believers—those presently on earth and those in glory. The Apostles’ Creed declares, “I believe in . . . the communion of saints.” Rev 5:8 speaks of a connection between “twenty-four elders” in heaven who worship “the Lamb” and the praying saints on earth. Samuel John Stone conveys this sentiment in Stanza 6 of his hymn “The Church’s One Foundation” —
Yet she on earth hath union
With God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won,
With all her sons and daughters
Who, by the Master’s Hand
Led through the deathly waters,
Repose in Eden land.
All Saints Day is a good time for us to remember those who are no longer with us, yet are somehow united with us “in Christ.”