Gospel as Cruciform Kingdom

When Jesus was proclaiming the advent of the reign of God, he was proclaiming the good news (the gospel).

The introduction to Mark tells us that his whole story demarcates the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ—and that story culminates in Jesus’ crucifixion and report of his resurrection.

As I prepare for a week of discussions about gospel, kingdom, and cross, I keep circling back around to this:

We repeatedly end up with truncated gospels because we have not yet learned to hold together Jesus’ authoritative proclamation and inauguration of the reign of God (Mark 1-8) with Jesus’ road to Jerusalem and death on the cross as king (Mark 8-16).

Some of us struggle to place much significance in the death of Jesus, given all the powers and signs and wonders and teaching and authority and identity he put on display in his life.

Others of us struggle to place much central significance in the life of Jesus, given our understanding of the all-sufficiency of his death on our behalf.

To the one I would say that any conceptual framework of what Jesus was doing in his life that does not require Jesus to die on the cross is an inadequate and finally mistaken view of Jesus and the gospel.

And to the other I would say that any conceptual framework of what Jesus did for us on the cross that does not require Jesus to live a life of proclaiming and demonstrating the advent of the reign of God is an inadequate and finally mistaken view of Jesus and the gospel.

That’s my story for now, anyway: we need to continue working on the articulation of a cruciform kingdom.

What do you think?

Do the gospel stories as such demand that we read them as mutually-interpreting wholes, to where cross and kingdom each inform the other?

And if so, where does this leave us when we come to Paul, whose gospel-story timeline begins with the cross?

I have some thoughts on the latter. I’ll come back to that in a couple of days.

12 thoughts on “Gospel as Cruciform Kingdom”

  1. “And to the other I would say that any conceptual framework of what Jesus did for us on the cross that does not require Jesus to live a life of proclaiming and demonstrating the advent of the reign of God is an inadequate and finally mistaken view of Jesus and the gospel.”

    I’ve not come across anybody who ever justifies this. But maybe I’m impossible to satisfy! I think Christ could have lived and died unknown, and still saved. The rest is all about God helping us by letting us know a thing or two about what he was up to. As for God not being ‘known in the abstract’ but only through his concrete dealings with Israel and in Jesus’ missional life etc, I tend to think what has the story of the bearer of a message got to do with the message and the implementation of what the message was about.

    1. N.T. Wright’s book How God Became King and Scot McKnight’s book, The King Jesus Gospel both flesh out and justify Daniel’s statement, imo.

      To say all the gospels are doing is “God helping us by letting us know a thing or two about what he was up to” is to reduce them to pretty much trivial books it seems to me. Not really necessary.

      Each gospel says so much more and paints a different picture that informs disciples about Jesus. Matthew has Jesus as the consummate Israelite, fleshing out what all the Hebrew prophets had written; Luke has Jesus come to enact the ultimate Jubilee for Israel, with all the accompanying social inversion; In John He the Greek logos embodied in human form, the incarnation, come to show humanity the Father. And each of these have meaning for us as disciples.

      By the way, every instance of Jesus’ proclamation of the gospel in Matthew (I think I got this from Daniel – can’t recall as I’ve been reading so many books of late on the gospels) includes healing. The gospel is more than just Jesus death to get our sins forgiven and get us up to heaven. Jesus had a mission that was more encompassing.

      Paul calls us to wear the “gospel of peace” (Eph. 6) and here he draws on Isa. 52:7 where the “good news” is more than just Jesus’ death on the cross to save us from sin and get us to heaven. The “good news” in Isa. 52:7 is a proclamation of four things: 1) Salvation; 2) Happiness or “good” (the same word used in Gen. 1 – of God’s creation – this gospel will bring about a kind of renewal of creation to it’s original intended goodness); 3) “Peace” – which is Shalom (wholeness, well-being – this includes more than just spiritual healing of sins- but a real renewal of the whole of one’s life; a restoration); 4) Your “God is King” – that God, in Jesus, is becoming king. Yet he did so through service to humanity (Peter says, “he went about doing good” – this is the shalom of the gospel and must be included in any proclamation) and crucifixion.

      When Peter gave Paul the right hand of fellowship in the gospel, they both had in their minds to “remember the poor” (Gal. 2:14) as they went about proclaiming the gospel. So, where did they get this inclusiveness of the poor as a fundamental part of the proclamation of the gospel? Perhaps from Jesus (Lk. 4:18-19; 6:20; 7:22; 14:12-14; cf. James 2:5)?

      I think that fleshes out that what Jesus did was live out this proclamation through offering shalom wholeness to the world around him.

      1. Jeff, I reckon you make too much of the present world. It is not a nice place, and Jesus’ and Jews’ and Christians’ contributions to making it better are less than negligible. Since life will only be better in the coming Kingdom, the only point to anything besides the cross, for those in this world’s history, is explicit knowledge that things will eventually be better, but, I stress, only better in the coming kingdom. Thus, apart from knowledge, life would have been exactly as it has always been for sentient creatures whether or not Jesus had openly or secretly saved us. Of course, the explicit knowledge that things will be better is a very valuable thing to have! But, our knowledge through the Bible is not necessarily to be taken at face value, but needs interpretation. Wright and others (including Daniel!) seem to me very close to fundamentalism in how they read things, which is a mistake. I’ll give you an example where Wright goes wrong. In fact, right at the beginning. He reckons this world is good. It is not good and never has been (unless you are very lucky!). God said the world is good, meaning that is the intention for it, when it is all worked out.

        1. I don’t think I make too much of this world unless we want to include Isaiah as doing the same (Isa 52 is and what is fleshed out there) – or any more than what Jesus does with the Samaritan story in Luke 10 and Jesus said, “go and do likewise” – it was all of this sort. What I’m focusing on is the same thing Keller brings out in Ministries of Mercy as well as Gospel In Life and the “shalom” (“Gospel of Peace”). There is an “inseparable interdependence” between the word proclamation and mercy deeds. But, there is a sense in which God wants us to implement shalom – human wholeness – today (a whole restoration of self – to become a new creation today – 2 Cor. 5;17; Gal. 6:14 (& 3:28) – in Christ); that we would be conformed to the image of Jesus (which includes the whole of his conduct, holiness, mercy-love, inclusiveness, social and racial renewal). Jesus himself advanced in wisdom (mental), stature (physical), favor with God (spiritual) and with men (social). What I often note is that what Jesus did with people is what we do with our children. Parents who are Christ-followers, don’t just teach there children spiritual things, they try to make them complete people (mentally, physically & socially as well).

          John Stott put it this way: “Our evangelical neglect of social concern until recent years, and the whole argument about evangelism and social action, has been as unseemly as it has been unnecessary. Of course Christians have quite rightly rejected the so-called ‘social gospel’ (which replaces the good news of salvation with a message of social amelioration), but it is incredible that we should ever have set evangelistic and social work over against each other as alternatives. Both should be authentic expressions of neighbor-love. …For who is my neighbor, whom I am to love? He is neither a bodyless soul, nor a soulless body, nor a private individual divorced from a social environment. God made man a physical, spiritual and social being. My neighbor is a body-soul-in-community. I cannot claim to love my neighbor if I’m really concerned for only one aspect of him, whether his soul or his body or his community.”

          1. Jeff, I don’t deny that God does good works in the present world, and Christians endowed with the Holy Spirit do good works (or should!), but that would be a result of the cross even if nothing was known about Jesus’ life and death or anything else in the Bible. Of course, the Christians would not know themselves as Christians! It wouldn’t stop them knowing real things about Godliness, both intellectually and heart-felt.

  2. I’m glad you’re taking this on, Daniel. Since coming on staff at a church in a teaching role, I’ve often been alarmed at our scant gospels. And I say that believing that this particular congregation has a bit more well-rounded view of the gospel than most.

    The anecdotal evidence in my context supports the claims of Wright & McKnight: our gospels our thin and do not fully reflect the gospel of the Bible.

    I don’t know how to articulate it, exactly, but your introductory incursion into the subject here has me thinking Romans 4, which wraps the gospel into God’s long standing pattern of activity on earth – faith, death, resurrection, establishment of a people/kingdom.

  3. I’m working on Matt Chandler’s “The Explicit Gospel” and it has caused me to ask these very same questions. I can’t help but think Kingdom and Cross are two sides of the same coin. This thing we call “gospel” is big. The Kingdom coming is good news. Jesus’ resurrection is good news.

    But what I wonder about is the comment “where does this leave us when we come to Paul, whose gospel-story timeline begins with the cross?” I’m not sure that’s the case. Stephen Patterson’s 1991 article “Paul and the Jesus Tradition: It’s Time for Another Look” (Harvard Theological Review) makes some interesting points on Paul and Jesus’ teaching. I wrote a paper on Paul, Jesus and Rabbinic Judaism a few years back, which helped me frame Paul’s understanding of the gospel.

  4. I’m unclear and perhaps you could say more about what you mean by “where does this leave us when we come to Paul, whose gospel-story timeline begins with the cross?” For one thing it leaves Paul with us on the other side of the resurrection. Might it also matter that Paul did not write gospels but letters?

  5. I believe this is how the Gospels should be read, but I am not sure if we can honestly get there from the Gospels themselves.

    Maybe this is too simplistic, but I think my belief (or all of our beliefs) that we should read the Gospels like this is because we’re Chalcedonians. Believing in Jesus as fully God and fully man (as mutually interpreting wholes?) seems to have something to do with taking Kingdom and Cross together as mutually interpreting wholes (I’m tempted to equate Kingdom with ‘man’ and Cross with ‘divine’ but I think that might be going too far; perhaps it’s more the general principle of the thing).

    I am all on board with Chalcedonianism (is that a word?) but I’m not sure that it *really* is obvious only from the Gospels. much of Eastern Christianity would say it isn’t. So we’d be reading the Gospels like this out of a respect for our church history, which is OK by me.

    1. No time to go into this now, Rosemary, but I’d say kingdom and cross has nothing whatsoever to do with Chalcedonian Christology. At least, they are foundational to all the Gospel stories in a way that the dual natures isn’t.

      1. Mm, thank you. I pretty much have no idea what I’m doing and also have read too much Chesterton, so I tend to get REALLY OVERLY EXCITED about all the different paradoxes/contrasts in Christianity, and then inappropriately conflate them. Thanks! :-)

  6. I would still rephrase: “any conceptual framework of what Jesus was doing in his life that does not require Jesus’ WILLINGNESS to die on the cross.”

    It’s easy to say after the fact that the martyr’s blood was necessary. But there’s nothing in the preceding narrative that requires Jesus’ death. And there’s no reason that Jesus’ death cannot be used for good by God after the fact. But it’s Jesus’ willingness to lay down his life for others that matches the cruciform to the rest of his life.

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