Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Found in Translation: "Kingdom of God" Is So Last-Century. Are There New Ways to Talk about Jesus' Good News?

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Found in Translation: "Kingdom of God" Is So Last-Century. Are There New Ways to Talk about Jesus' Good News?

Article excerpt

WHEN JESUS SPOKE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD, his language was charged with urgent political, religious, and cultural electricity. But if we speak of the kingdom of God today, the original electricity is largely gone, and in its place we often find a kind of tired familiarity that inspires not hope and excitement, but anxiety or boredom.

Why is kingdom language not as dynamic today? First, in our world, kingdoms have given way to republics, democracies, and democratic republics. Where kings exist, they are by and large anachronisms, playing a limited ceremonial role in relation to parliaments and prime ministers, evoking nothing of the power and authority they did in Jesus' day.

In addition, for many today, kingdom language evokes patriarchy chauvinism, imperialism, domination, and a regime without freedom--the opposite of the liberating, barrier-breaking, domination-shattering, reconciling movement the kingdom of God was intended to be! If Jesus were here today, I'm quite certain he wouldn't use the language of kingdom at all, which leaves us wondering how he would articulate his message.

It's a very practical question for people like me who believe that the secret message of Jesus has radical transformational potential today--and who feel called to try to communicate it. Of course, we'll always need to go back to Jesus' original words and story, seeking to understand how kingdom language worked in his own day. But then we must discover fresh ways of translating his message into the thought forms and cultures of our contemporary world, if we are to "teach what Jesus taught in the manner he taught it."

The search for the best translation is an artistic pursuit as well as a theological one. It involves not just a deep understanding of Jesus' message, but also a substantial understanding of our contemporary culture and its many currents and crosscurrents. Whatever metaphors we choose will likely have a limited shelf life, and each will be open to various misunderstandings--just as Jesus' own metaphors were.

I've been playing with a number of metaphors for the last few years; six strike me as having special promise.

THE DREAM OF GOD. I frequently try to put the prayer of the kingdom (what we often call "The Lord's Prayer") into my own words so that I don't just retire it on autopilot. But I often struggle with how to paraphrase the clause "your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Since the language of "will" can take us down a trail of control, domination, and coercion, and since I don't believe those ideas are in Jesus' mind, I have looked for other words.

The Greek word that lies beneath our English word "will" can also be translated "'wish." But to say, "May your wish come true" sounds fairy tale-ish and creates other problems. But I have found the idea of "the dream of God for creation" does the job nicely. "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven" could thus be rendered, "May all your dreams for your creation come true." This language suggests a more personal, less mechanistic relationship between God and our world. It would resonate, for example, with a mother who has great dreams for her child, of an artist who has great dreams for a novel or symphony he is creating.

The call to faith is the call to trust God and God's dreams enough to realign our dreams with God's, to dream our little dreams within God's big dream. The call to receptivity is the call to continually receive God's dreams--a process that seems to be a lifelong one. The can to baptism is the call to publicly identify with God's dream and to disassociate with all competing isms or ideologies that claim to provide the ultimate dream (including nationalism, consumerism, hedonism, conservatism, liberalism, and so on). And the call to practice is the call to learn to live the way God dreams for us to live.

THE REVOLUTION OF GOD. For people like Martin Luther King Jr. …

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