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The Divine Conspiracy - Pg 2

Willard does not perceive the kingdom as a political one. This is his definition: “God’s own ‘kingdom,’ or ‘rule,’ is the range of his effective will, where what he wants done is done.”[8] However, he then says: “Thus, contrary to a popular idea, the kingdom of God is not primarily something that is ‘in the heart of men.’ That kingdom may be there, and it may govern human beings through their faith and allegiance to Christ. At the present time it governs them only through their hearts, if at all. But his kingdom is not something confined to their hearts or to the ‘inner’ world of human consciousness. It is not some matter of inner attitude or faith that might be totally disconnected from the public, behavioral, visible world. It always pervades and governs the whole of the physical universe—parts of planet earth occupied by humans and other personal beings, the satanic, slightly excepted for a while.”[9] This I find bewildering.

My delight at seeing that this author actually acknowledged Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom was dampened when I read that “thy kingdom come” in Willard’s thinking means “to take over at all points in the personal, social, and political order where it is now excluded.”[10] My own test of whether the kingdom was here or not would be to ask: 1) Has Jesus returned? 2) Have we been “changed” into immortal beings? 3) Have the enemies of God been destroyed and Satan bound? 4) Is the earth filled with the knowledge of God? 4) Are the saints administrating the world under Jesus? 5) Is Jesus ruling the entire earth from Jerusalem? I was happy to see that Willard does speak of a “not yet” element to the rule of God but I did not find this future aspect clear.

Prof. Allen of Oxford, writing on the subject of the kingdom, sees unequivocally the centrality of the kingdom and also its inauguration: “The Kingdom the central subject of Christ’s doctrine. With this he began his ministry (4:17) and wherever he went he taught it as Good News [Gospel] (4:23). The Kingdom he taught was coming, but not in his lifetime… And the disciples were to preach the Good News [Gospel] of the coming Kingdom (10:7, 24:14)… At the end of the age, the Son of Man will come to inaugurate His Kingdom…There is nothing here nor elsewhere in this Gospel to suggest that the scene of the Kingdom is other than the present world renewed, restored and purified.”[11]

Prof. Willard’s most brilliant insight as I see it, is that we have been led to believe that the atonement is the whole story. “If you ask anyone from that 74 % of Americans who say they have made a commitment to Jesus Christ what the Christian gospel is, you will probably be told that Jesus died to pay for our sins, and that if we only believe he did this, we will go to heaven when we die... In this way what is only one theory of the “atonement” is made out to be the whole of the essential message of Jesus…this issue – what the faith that saves is – is a flash point of current controversy.”[12] There is the crunch, the nub, the jugular – what is the faith that saves us? I note that in Mark 10:17, 25, 26 - being saved is equated with believing in the kingdom, a radical concept to be sure. But if the gospel saves, and we have not understood it – what advantage do we have over the unsaved? This equation is also made in Mat. 19:16-25. Willard cautions that one cannot have a saving faith without obedience to the teachings of Jesus.[13]

The following observation bears directly on his prior “not the whole gospel” finding: “…those who profess Christian commitment consistently show little or no behavioral and psychological difference from those who do not.”[14] He has just given us two absolutely astounding findings: a partial gospel, and lives that do not bear witness to genuine Christianity. Note Willard’s summation: “When all is said and done, ‘the gospel’ for Ryrie, MacArthur, and others on the theological right is that Christ made ‘the arrangement’ that can get us into heaven. In the Gospels, by contrast, ‘the gospel’ is the good news of the presence and availability of life in the kingdom, now and forever…”[14]

Willard further notes that we have substituted for religious belief, many other practices, social ethics and some morally upright ideas such as freedom for all, using religious language and inclusivism. “This is the gospel of the current Christian left: Love comes out on top.”[15] The American Dream fits right in here. And Willard dramatically describes the message which the Christian left have given us as a “gospel of sin management.”

It is for insights such as these that Prof. Willard has become so famous. In fact, this book has been called “A masterpiece and a wonder…the book I have been searching for all my life.”[15] Another brilliant point: Willard refers to “the case of the Missing Teacher”, meaning, of course, the One who should be our rabbi, our Master Teacher. Rather, we have substituted “faith in Christ” but as a separate entity from the “faith of Christ.” “We settle back into de facto alienation of our religion from Jesus…Right at the heart of this alienation lies the absence of Jesus the teacher from our lives.”[16]

“At the 1974 Lausanne Conference on World Evangelization, Michael Green asked rhetorically, ‘How much have you heard here about the Kingdom of God?’ His answer was, ‘Not much. It is not our language. But it was Jesus’ prime concern.”[17]
“During the past sixteen years I can recollect only two occasions on which I have heard sermons specifically devoted to the theme of the Kingdom of God…I find this silence rather surprising because it is universally agreed by New Testament scholars that the central theme of the teaching of Jesus was the Kingdom of God.”[18]

Again, upon reflection on the kingdom: “I cannot help wondering out loud why I haven’t heard more about it in the thirty years I have been a Christian. I certainly read about it enough in the Bible…But I honestly cannot remember any pastor whose ministry I have been under actually preaching a sermon on the Kingdom of God. As I rummage through my own sermon barrel, I now realize that I myself have never preached a sermon on it. Where has the Kingdom been?”[19]

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[8] Ibid., p. 25
[9] Ibid., p. 26
[10] Ibid., p. 26
[11] W.C. Allen, MA, Prof. of OT at Oxford, on the Kingdom of God
[12] Ibid., pp. 42, 43
[13] This view quoted from John MacArthur
[14] The Divine Conspiracy,  p. 43
[15] Ibid., p. 49, emphasis mine.
[16] Ibid., p. 52
[17] From the Foreword by Richard Foster
[18] The Divine Conspiracy, p. 55
[19] The Coming Kingdom of the Messiah, Anthony Buzzard, pp. 14-16
[20] Ibid., p. 16n as quoted from The Expository Times
[21] The Coming Kingdom of the Messiah,  pp. 14, 15

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