May (the End of) Your Kingdom Come

I think that I might be done with the kingdom – not the dynamic of God’s power or God’s interaction with the world – just the word ‘kingdom’ and its imperial implications. It comes with too much baggage, it is so antiquated, and it is masculine in the way that is unhelpful.*

Here are three reasons that I think we have permission to move on if we were so inclined:

  • Jesus didn’t use the word.

It might seem simplistic but Jesus didn’t speak english and there is nothing magical about the english word ‘kingdom’. The New Testament uses the phrase Basileia Theou. Maybe we should just go back to that. We keep words like ‘koinonia’ and ‘selah’ in their original form so maybe we could just say when Jesus did and let it go untranslated. Then people would have to reconstruct what the concept means without importing all of their preconceived impressions.

  • The age of Kings is over. 

I can not believe the hysteria that occurred around the ‘Royal Wedding’ of William to Kate Middleton – especially by Americans. Just the name the House of Commons make me wince. I am so glad that Age of Kings is over. Divine Right would be just laughable to me … if I didn’t know how much sway it held for so long. Regardless, those days are over and maybe it is time to update our language about God’s ways as well.

  • The power of pronouns. 

Even those who acknowledge that the nature of language is symbolic and metaphorical – even those who recognize that God language is not univocal – can get caught up if one refers to God as ‘She’.  Even those who know that it is only a pronoun that functions as a place holder want to be careful about the antecedent to the pronoun.  That is why I am not sure that it would work to move to a counter Queendom, a more inclusive Kin-dom or a non-authoritarian Commonwealth.

Now I know that there will be some obstacle to overcome.
Number one among them will that ‘it is in the Bible’. Let me say two things
A) I love that it is in the Bible. It was powerful imagery for its day and it says something really important about God.
B) The authors of scripture conceptualized of God’s work in a way that was relevant to their time. Maybe we should as well.

Another problem I see is Christmas pageants. What will be do when we quote passages like Isaiah 9:7 which get translated into english as “His kingdom will have no end”. But I think it would be fine to have passages like this along side the shepherds and the manger (both are virtual artifacts of an agrarian society)  - as long as it was not our primary (or only) way of articulating and conceptualizing the work of God in the world.

One last thing to suggest: Jesus was in a context that was dominated by Empire. He positioned his vision and language in contrast/opposition to it. But is that our predominant contemporary element? I would suggest that in a venue of Global Capitalism  it may be more appropriate and powerful to speak of the Economy of God. 

 

 

 

* I always have to clarify that as a man, I am not anti-masculine. I really like being a man – it’s just that only using masculine terms may have been helpful for clarity when Genesis 1-3 was written, it has become unclear and unhelpful. The hegemonic patriarchy of religious language is pitiful to hold onto and especially when it is done in a univocal way. 

 

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30 comments
Mark Farmer
Mark Farmer

Thanks for raising the question, Bo. The best replacement I have found comes from (of all places) the film The Last Temptation of Christ, where Jesus speaks of "the world of God." (One term for "world' in Greek, of course, is "oikoumene": economy.) The "world of God" is God's will being done on the entire earth as it is in heaven. The term opens up whole vistas to imagine what Jesus meant....

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

NICE! way to bring the heat! Droppin' the knowledge. This is GOOD stuff! I'm pretty excited about this new wrinkle. Thanks again. -Bo

Rafael Reyes III
Rafael Reyes III

@Joshua, I read it from Cobb, so forgive me if I am mistaken. I do associate with him since I have read it in his texts. Thanks for the learning point.

Joshua Brockway
Joshua Brockway

@ Tripp, I think you are right that the type of text is part of this conversation. Plus, I would say that theological texts need to explore other images and vocabulary. Liturgical texts should also incorporate these same varying images- of course with the proviso that the language itself is part of the community's culture. Importing words without doing the pastoral work of building a foundation is a problem. The more reflect the problem for me is not the setting aside of Kingdom, but the forceful use of Kin-dom. Like I said the erasure is quaint and clever, but bringing it into use without having the conversation in the community is a bit too forceful (thinking of course congregationally, not so much about academic theology). @Rafael, I think Economy of God is a good starting point- yet I would be a little less quick to attribute it to Cobb.

Rafael Reyes III
Rafael Reyes III

I love the term economy of God, coined by John Cobb, because it hits at the heart of the current agenda in this generation, and who knows home much more to come. Economy, Oikonomia, the household of God. It strikes against any empire, any economy that that doesn't look to the needs of the other, that does not give full pay even to the last hour (parable of the vineyard and workers) so that the worker may have sustenance for themselves and their family. But I also believe that we should be in a process of rethinking the term Basileia Theou. Economy may hold well now, but in the future another term will need to take its place. It shouldn't hold. The question of traditions and traditioning will always have to be at the center of the conversation. Great post.

Adam M.
Adam M.

The gift and beauty of being a teacher is getting to unpack scripture even down to the iota. Because of that great activity I don't see the point in (other than engaging a theological conversation on a theological blog) saying you're done with the term. You've said what it means -the dynamic of God’s power or God’s interaction with the world- why get caught up on what people have made it or are making it? Perhaps, just spend you time teaching an practicing what you see and know to be a more true understanding. But this seems to be where I fall on most unessential theological conversations. Excuse my simplicity...

Jordan
Jordan

While I don't know how practical it is, the idea of leaving it untranslated, as Basileia Theou, seems to have potential to me. In the way that, you have to really struggle with it to figure out what the word means, what it does and calls us to do. As a sort of radicalizing of the term, going back to the roots of it, gets rid of the baggage that Kingdom has. It could be a way of uncovering the event. Well, with repetition, continually uncovering it. Any resonance with that?

Tripp Fuller
Tripp Fuller

@joshua does where the language is being used matter? i say that because I don't like editing stuff in liturgies, especially the scripture texts, but don't mind using a variety of translations\renderings when preaching or writing.

Joshua Brockway
Joshua Brockway

The problem isn't with the critique, it is with the response/reaction, especially with Kin-dom. Those of us familiar with deconstruction might appreciate the kind of erasure the new term makes plain. Yet, I am not convinced the problem is with the word Kingdom itself. The problem is with connotations connected to it from fallen human history. If we were to leave aside every word that has problems based on connotations there really would not be much left. So I find using a neo-logism like Kin-dom to be too overtly cleaver to mean anything and for that matter a kind of liberal knee-jerk reaction that ends up alienating persons who have not encountered the problem connotations. So for example, replacing Kingdom with Kin-dom each time it surfaces within liturgical texts imposes a singular will of erasure on a diverse people. The aim, as I see it, is to expand the vocabulary and imagery we employ in our theological and liturgical texts. Retiring a word does not help that goal. Limiting a terms strangle hold on our imaginaries is good, but shelving it completely is just as problematic. So I am arguing a two-fold action- 1) Exploring new terms and images and 2) Rehabilitating scriptural terms out of their sediment from centuries of history.

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

Joshua - thanks for responding. I am glad that I asked you to clarify. I now understand your position better. Having said that ... Are you saying that there are people who have not encountered what we are attempting to counter (the bad stuff) or just that they have not thought about it? It seems to me in either case that switching to Kin-dom is a perfect initiation. It introduces both historic problems of patriarchy and hierarchy in a way the points to an INTERconnected and RELATIONAL reality of God's rule-government-economy! Tripp is always saying "when you take out the 'G' you get rid of the cock and the crown". Sorry if you think that is being vulgar but I think that Kingdom language has become vulgar with it's insentience on only ONE conceptualization of Basileia -Bo @ Ron I look forward to reading your post

Joshua Brockway
Joshua Brockway

Honestly, this one kind of drives me nuts. One of the vogue things to do right now in my circle is to say "Kin-dom". I see that in print, or hear it and my eyes instantly roll back into my head. I get the feminist critique, honestly I do. And I am all in favor of expanding the vocabulary to encompass a fuller description of God's reign (on heaven as it is on earth). I tend to go Dionysian on that by saying our language must be both affirmed and negated- God's reign is a kingdom and also not a kingdom. Just like we should be able to say God is both Father and not Father, Mother and not Mother. Here is where I think we end up- in a meeting not long ago someone objected to using the Great Commission scripture because of the "Colonialist Baggage." Really! What the hell- we can get to a point where the language of scripture becomes so defined by other things that it is set aside all together?! I agree, I totally do, that language is fluid and picks up meaning hear and there. It also has the ability to be redefined. So what can we do (and say) that redefines Kingdom away from the phallus and sword connotations, and even feudal (not to mention Anselmian atonement theory) connotations? I still argue, in this light, that Kingdom of God is the one image we can use to counter Empire. Maybe it is too rhetorical- but to say that God's Kingdom is counter to the Empires of this World holds seems to hold up the distinctions we all are making here. But maybe I rant.....

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

Joshua - why does it drive you nuts? If you think that it is worth attempting to redeem then you are free to spend large amounts of time attempting to rehab and explain the term and it's counter-imperical connotation ;) but if someone wants to go a different direction and attempt to reframe the initial intention in a different verbal construction ... if you see the point (you said that you did) then give them your blessing! I think that there are points to be made on every side and I get why some folks will want to hang onto it and why some will want to distance themselves from colonial and medieval (not to mention antiquated) conceptions that have been ruined, tainted, corrupted, and co-opted. There are many motivations for multiple approaches. if a community wants to forge a new path that embodies the old intent - I am am OK with that. -Bo

Greg Bakker
Greg Bakker

Thanks Bo for a thought provoking blog. I've been thinking about it for the past day. I agree that the term 'kingdom' is now outdated and that Christians have the responsibility for developing conceptional language which helps us to speak of God's activity. I'm not particularly taken with the word 'economy'. In my mind, 'economy' is impersonal and speaks of a system. With the biblical term 'kingdom', there is the sense of God's active involvement or reigning. Perhaps we could adopt terms used often in the corporate sector, words like 'leadership' and 'directorship', to speak of God's activity? What ever word we choose to use, we will still have to do the subversive work of redefining the meaning of leadership / directorship.

Ryan
Ryan

I get the point here, but I would argue that the use of "government" and "economy" will inevitably end up having the same downfall as kingdom in the fact that it is interpreted as something temporal, rather than something fully other, easily allowing it to be confused with the literal governments and economies of this world. Rather, though the kingdom is something that we are able to see glimpses of and "foretaste" it is still ultimately other from our own experience and probable won't be actually known until the eschaton. While I appreciate the desire to articulate it in common language (American English at least), we still end up with different manifestations of the same problem. I would also push back a little bit on your statement about kingdom not working because "the age of kings is over" by suggesting that this is true in name only. The President of the United States has, ironically, and despite being elected, presided over some of the most brutal and authoritarian activities in human history. Perhaps the president (and the rest of the US government) doesn't explicitly claim some sort of divine Not to mention the fact that the American system of democracy is seen as the divinely inspired form of human organization. I think we lose a bit of clarity about our own situation when we do this. Which gets me to the subversive intention of speech like this. The NT, especially, makes use of the terms of the empire in order to subvert those terms--i.e. the real "good news" and "peace" do not come from Rome, but comes in the form Jesus Christ. I think this desire to find the "friendliest" term (i.e. the movement towards commonwealth and "kin-dom") somewhat misses the point--which is to take the term and offer a completely different, subversive redefinition. To call Christ "king" is to provide the redefinition of true kingship. Shane Claiborne might come close in updating this by saying "Christ for President," but then we still have the problem of seeing the kingdom as temporal, rather than cosmic. Anyhow, long story short--it isn't that easy :)

Isaac Lagarda
Isaac Lagarda

Bo. Yeah there aren't kingdoms anymore, so yes the term kingdom is outdated. Maybe the term kingdom has more meaning in christian circles that it has in non christian ones, for that a term like economy could work better. So the question is, can we find a word that describes "what is it like when God is working with us" that is relevant to the moment we are living? I like government, I don't mind kingdom. I guess for me the interesting part would be living in that God's ways of life. What's the exact word that defines it... doesn't excite me that much, but it's a good start point. :)

Corey
Corey

Great discussion guys. While many concepts in the Scriptures (including this one) do have a tendency to be thought of as literal, in the case of the Kingdom of God, Luke 17:21 has strong words to the contrary. Such a great verse for the contemplatives when translated as 'within you'.

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

You are right - the 'within you' kinda takes on a different light in this conversation. That is a good good point. I am still ready to update-adapt for previously stated reasons. but for those I encounter who LIKE the kingdom language, this will be an invaluable starting point.

Steve Horwatt
Steve Horwatt

One other issue with the use of the word "kingdom" is that I think a lot of people get mixed up and think Jesus is talking about a place, whereas it's my understanding that what Jesus means by the phrase that is translated "kingdom of God" is more like "what it will be like when we're doing things God's way"...something more like "kingship" than "kingdom." So Crossan's language of the "reign of God" or "rule of God" captures the intent better than "kingdom." For these reasons, economy or government could be good choices, but of course those terms are also loaded up with all kinds of baggage. What about something like community? Just out of curiosity, how were the components of the original phrase, Basileia Theou, used at the time?

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

Steve, you are RIGHT! People do think of place. That is so true! Darn, wish I had thought of that and added to the list... oh well - I will give ya credit if this comes up on the TNT next week ;)

Adam Rao
Adam Rao

Bo, I, too, struggle with the word "kingdom." I (sort-of) hold on to it for two reasons. (1) It's used by every English translation of the Bible I've ever seen. (I think this is a bit different than "it's in the Bible," which you mentioned.) Even as a progressive Christian pastor, I still want people to read the scriptures and to be able to do so on their own. I agree that we need to teach and re-teach what "kingdom" actually means, but we have to use the word, at least to start with, if only because it occurs in the English translations we use. (2) I think "kingdom" was not just "relevant [for] their time," but was also ironic and subversive for their time. To talk about God's "kingdom" was, in a way, a direct assault on Caesar's "kingdom." Could we find another way of saying "kingdom" that is ironic and subversive? Probably. But, again, given #1, I wonder if we might better spend our time reclaiming and re-teaching the word rather than ditching it entirely. In some ways, perhaps such an approach holds its own ironic potential for our day.

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

Adam - your first point about English translation is VERY strong. That actually carries a lot of weight with me. But I am going to say, in regard to your second point, that it is tough to be ironic about something that nobody uses commonly. IF we did want to be ironic (like Jesus was to kingdom) then I think we have to go with Economy or Government .... but I do like 'rule' and 'community'. I do REALLY like that you pointed out the irony thing. you have me thinking -Bo

Jesse Tanner
Jesse Tanner

Good stuff, Bo. I've dispensed with monarchical or king-ish language also. I really appreciate some of the replacement terminology you alluded to, such as a Jesus-centered "Commonwealth" or Kin-dom. These prophetically denounce the hierarchical, hegemonic, and top-down socio-economic structures which Jesus critiqued in thought and action, and advocates a more egalitarian and just system. I'm inspired especially by using the phrase the Economy of God in our context of Global Capitalism because it embraces and continues Jesus' pedagogical genius of employing the symbols, metaphors, and lived context of the time to better understand situations and forward the way transformation into the new life. Also, concerning the Greek term "basileia tou theou," sure it's been translated "kingdom of God," but, taking the historical-literary context into consideration, it could also just as accurately and perhaps more meaningfully be rendered "rule of God" or "reign of God" in the hearts, minds, relationships, and communities of human beings. This is a cue I found in Crossan's work. How do you feel about this translation and application? Peace and blessings, Jesse

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

Jesse - I am impressed that you have already dispensed with it! I also like how you frame it as "hierarchical, hegemonic, and top-down socio-economic structures". SO I also am on board for either A) basileia tou theou - just as it is. "Amen" style B) Economy of God C) Government of God I'm excited about going this direction -Bo

Isaac Lagarda
Isaac Lagarda

Hi, Bo. I personally don't see a problem with the use of the word kingdom, I don't see many oppressive kingdoms around today's world. I would be more careful using the word economy, I can see many oppressive economies around us. I think at the end we need to explain a little better what was Jesus talking about when we see the word kingdom in our Bibles.

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

Isaac - I hear your heart here, but let me propose an alternative way to view it. There are not many oppressive kingdoms around these day because there are just not many kingdoms period. Going with the Economy of God gives us the opportunity to juxtapose God's Economy - Values - Actions with something that is immanently apparent to our audience. That is very relevant - versus an outdated mode of conceptualization.

Joseph Morgan-Smith
Joseph Morgan-Smith

Great post, Bo! You mentioned Christmas pageants. I also wonder what you think about The Lord's Prayer or liturgical settings that use kingdom language—is there value in retaining the language for sake of common Christian formation?

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

Joseph - I think that you have asked the big question. Unity would be the big drawback to the update-adaptation. BUT there might be hope in bringing out a deeper meaning and exposing what is going on in the language of the prayer! but that probably would not be how it was received or viewed by those sisters & brothers who were not aboard the update train.