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The Divine Conspiracy Continued: Fulfilling God’s Kingdom on Earth

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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The chapters that follow coalesce around three areas of interest that Dallas spent nearly forty years developing and honing. The first area conjoins his thoughts on moral knowledge and leadership. These are topics Dallas has already engaged in his more academic writings, but here we broadened his more philosophical and theoretical approach to include the way the nature of moral knowledge demonstrated in the gospel must move into the arenas of Christian leadership, discipleship, and spiritual transformation if there is to be a positive effect for the kingdom in both our communities and the broader culture at large. Dallas was devoted to helping Christians—from every walk of life, in every workplace, and in every social organization, business, or institution—to realize their full potential as leaders and ambassadors of light for the kingdom of God. Therefore, he attempted to cast an encouraging vision that bridges the gap separating Christian leaders ministering in the local church from Christian leaders in the broader secular workforce who minister in the institutions of government, education, business, service industries, commerce, and other professions. Closing the sacred-secular divide was the primary way he believed the local church could become the essential beachhead of the kingdom of God within contemporary society. Only then could the kingdoms of our world begin to experience the benefits and blessings of the kingdom of our God and of his Christ.

The second area centers on how the revealed knowledge of God, applied through moral leaders with integrity and courage, would positively impact the individual vocations that are central to the establishment and maintenance of flourishing societies. This includes, but is not exclusive to, the key institutions of government, business, commerce, education, and ministry. The final area dovetails with the first two. Dallas was devoted to the work of the church and its leaders. He never stopped seeking new and better ways of equipping and training disciples of Jesus to inhabit each of these key positions of societal governance and bear their responsibility for administering the manifestations of light, life, and hope to the world as a gift of a good and loving God. In one of our final conversations, Dallas made it clear that his great hope was to help Christians better understand what it is that Jesus is doing today. He said:

Gary, we must help the church understand that Jesus is leading a subversion of all human governance. And that [subversion] will happen by the transformation of individuals, through the power of the gospel. And the community that emerges as a result is the divine conspiracy. They will not be overcome by evil but will overcome evil with good. That’s the whole deal. And of course Christian leaders in every area of society are at the very heart of that mission.

Much of the material covered here grew from lectures and notes Dallas compiled for the very popular course he taught at USC on professional leadership and ethics. Many of our initial conversations also surrounded an article he had written and spoken about at Trinity International University in 2008.

A third resource we often discussed and expounded on was a two-day lecture series given at a Kern Family Foundation conference in January 2013. Dallas’s thinking, writing, and research compiled from the class and those two proceedings were our springboard to dive deeper into what he believed were the essential core issues for Christian leaders and professionals to reconsider. His overarching desire was to provide persons of influence in every arena of society with a vision for what our collective lives might accomplish if given over to the ethics, power, wisdom, and grace found under the shepherding care of God’s kingdom. What you now hold is the culmination of those ideas.

Dallas was devoted to the idea that our societies need well-placed, well-informed, thoughtful, gifted, effective, and supremely devoted persons of moral integrity to lead us through the opportunities and trials of contemporary life. He worked long and hard at helping the future leaders of our world, represented by his USC undergrad students, to develop the vision and means through which their leadership could actively pursue and attain common flourishing, prosperity, and general welfare. Likewise, the primary motive and intent of this work is to catalyze conversation, imagination, cooperation, and reconsideration of the ways and means we as Christian leaders participate in the “coming” of God’s kingdom to the realms touched by our own spheres of influence.

Dallas’s greatest hopes, and mine, would be for men and women from every walk of life and every profession and vocation that serves our societies—teachers, attorneys, physicians, pastors, accountants, tradespeople, and businesspeople alike—to read and discuss this book together. The book and the discussion questions are designed to instigate and facilitate these conversations, in coffeehouses, living rooms, elder board meetings, conferences, and retreats—wherever leaders gather to discuss their vision and hopes for God’s mission to our world. The church, though not only the church, should be a perfect place for such a transformative discussion.

Yet this is not explicitly a “how-to” book. We would not presume to tell professionals how to apply these ideas to fields and endeavors outside our areas of expertise. Instead, as outside observers we engage a few professional disciplines as case studies in order to better highlight situations where Christlike leadership is essential and offer a few suggestions, viewpoints, and insights that we hope will prove profitable in assisting Christian leaders as they reconsider or reengage the crucial issues that affect our lives.

Christian leaders must engage in deep reflection and then robust dialog before we can begin to transform our world. God has invited us to help him revolutionize the world so that his good will is accomplished throughout all of creation, just as it is in heaven. For this reason disciples of Jesus need to be knowledgeable of good so they can be effective in achieving it. In the end, we are attempting to assist leaders who are already seeking to faithfully discern the good way, the right path, and the beneficial news of the kingdom in the workaday world right where they are. We believe these ideas will not only assist discussion, but that they will also encourage a growing sense of unity, a broadening vision, and the development of mutual respect, encouragement, and support that must remain the trademark characteristics of those who live and lead as followers of Jesus in our world.

I praise God for what he accomplished in and through Dallas’s life and ministry. I am thankful for the gift of that first meeting. Finishing this project alone has forced me to face the stark reality of Dallas’s absence. His smile, his loving laughter, his personal guidance, and his active engagement in our lives are gone. His soul will never die, but his body is no longer living. What remains for us to engage is his extensive body of work, his wisdom, his words, his ideas, his faith, and our use of these invaluable gifts. This book is part of the attempt to carry on that heritage. For his family and countless others, perhaps millions, just like me, we can choose to dwell on what is only in our memories, or we can expand and expound upon his impact for the greater glory of God and the advancement of his kingdom. At Dallas’s funeral a prayer was offered that we would all be allowed to dream once again of a new vision that continues and builds upon the legacy of our friend, mentor, and guide. My prayer is that this work is one step in that very direction.

Gary Black Jr.

July 2013

CHAPTER 1 (#ulink_6ea19704-2238-5dab-af9e-40b67e6d8c39)

God’s Call to Leaders (#ulink_6ea19704-2238-5dab-af9e-40b67e6d8c39)

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose which he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confidence of access through our faith in him. So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.

EPHESIANS 3:7–21

LET US START by clarifying the major point of this work as straightforwardly as possible. God’s “divine conspiracy” is to overcome the human kingdoms of this world with love, justice, and truth. This includes the whole world and all of human society—at the individual, corporate, and governmental levels. “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15). This is what Handel proclaims again and again in his famous “Hallelujah Chorus.” This is reality. We could even say an eternal reality. The kingdom of God has indeed come; it has a past, it is with us now, and it has an unending future. The scriptures describe this future as the “day of the Lord,” when God will have his turn at bat. The primary question this book pursues is this: How can we best participate in this reality?

In these pages we will suggest to followers of Jesus who are leaders, spokespersons, and professionals that they must responsibly and explicitly address the public issues, proposals, and processes of society within their spheres of influence through teaching, proclaiming, modeling, and manifesting the reality of the benevolent rule of God, which includes working together as the body of Christ by God’s empowering grace. This influence encompasses every sphere of human action, not just those we think of as religious in nature. Such ambassadorial representation need not be overt or delivered in “Christianese” in order to be effective. No flag-waving and banner carrying are required. Such is the nature of a conspiracy, even a divine one. This is a tactic Jesus employed on many occasions with great aplomb.

Spokespersons for Christ are under the overarching imperative to love God and to love their neighbors as themselves. Their responsibility for what honors God and what is good for the public as well as for their closer “neighbors” dictates that they deal with economic, political, professional, and social issues that seriously impact life and well-being. It is not a religious conspiracy we are to pursue, but God’s conspiracy, founded, led, and empowered by Jesus the Christ.

It is the task of Christ-following spokespersons, leaders, and professionals to keep before their own minds as well as those of the public they engage—through whatever vocation they maintain—an understanding of what is good and what is not and what conditions are required for human beings to experience well-being. No one person need have exclusive responsibility in this regard, nor does there need to be some sort of continual media event to make a significant fuss about every issue or decision. At times some leaders and spokespersons may be required to take on a special, higher-profile responsibility because of their position in society or because of the sources of knowledge and power that come with a certain activity or expertise. Even in such cases, we are seeking things that benefit the common good and the flourishing of all peoples. We are not advocating for a special-interest group or that people use public positions or notoriety as a platform to promote a certain ideology or theology. We are not necessarily endeavoring to stack political power on one issue against that of another or to privilege one candidacy over another. Instead, we seek to present the wisdom of divine love in order to be a light shining in the darkness that cannot be missed, whatever the issue.

THE KINGDOM HERE AND NOW

A significant part of our Western Christian heritage over the past few hundred years and much of the explicit practical teaching that we hear from our pulpits, which becomes routinely modeled in our Christian communities, argue that the kingdom of God is something that is not readily available or accessible in the here and now. Thankfully, this view has shown signs of changing, in fits and starts, and to very good effect. But overall there remains a sense, sometimes overt, sometimes more covert, that one fine day, far in the future, all the earthly kingdoms of our current world will eventually come under the reign, or rule, of Jesus Christ. But until then we are left to hold on by our fingernails, if we can, to our piety and faith, doing our utmost to ride out the many storms of life that threaten our sense of well-being. This has remained a very familiar strain of thought and practice for many of our Christian preachers, teachers, and spokespersons today, as it has been over the past several centuries. Such ideas and images are difficult to reform and thus tend to leave Christians with only the fading hope that in the “great by and by” Jesus will return to finish his largely failed previous attempt to jump-start his reign as king over both heaven and earth.

What is less well known, let alone appreciated, is that such a perspective is not how the early church traditionally understood the rule or reign of Jesus. Nor is it what Jesus taught. Jesus’s kingdom has not been deferred until his return or until after he is able to “clean house” at the final judgment. He will return, and there will be a settling of accounts, we can be sure of this. But until then, he is not biding his time, having been limited to changing a few minds here and there, saving individual souls at various religious services, and making a few mystical appearances now and again, until some unknown period in the future when he can get his original intentions back on track. In contrast to such a passive theology, the teachings of the church through much of its history demonstrate a consistent testimony, even if ignored at times, that Jesus’s rule began when he said it began, at the proclamation of his “Great Commission,” which, as you recall, occurred just before his ascension—after his death and resurrection, but just before he went to be with his Father in heaven, where he now is actively positioned in the seat of authority “at the right hand of the Father.” As noted biblical scholars N. T. Wright and Scot McKnight, among many others, have clearly argued, Jesus was crowned king, is now ruling, and currently maintains all authority or dominion “in heaven and on earth.” Theologian Amos Yong has also helped us better understand how the Spirit of God, as the “chief empowerer,” is now “poured out upon all flesh” (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17) and directs, leads, encourages, supports, and advocates for the reign of Jesus in and through the wills, minds, bodies, and even human institutions that serve his overarching purposes of holistic redemption.

What is important to understand here is that there is no “then” or “when” to the kingdom of God. This reign is a current, progressing, maturing reality, which means Jesus rules today. Jesus is the one who sits on the throne of the cosmos, and all authority, over all things, has been given to him (Matt. 25:31; 28:18). God is the God of all humanity (Jer. 32:27). God rules today through his Son, Jesus, the king, and he rules over everyone and everything—not just Christians or religious organizations. He is the King of Kings, the ruler of rulers (Rev. 1:5), and the dominion of his Spirit extends to every corner and crevice of the universe at this very moment—a fact even the demons appear to understand perfectly well (Mark 1:24; 5:7; James 2:19). The kingdom has come, and there is more to come. Thanks be to God.

Let’s take a moment and contemplate the implications of what all this means. A loving and omnipotent God is now ruling. Therefore, he has a holistic vision for human life that necessarily includes all the political, economic, and social realms—not just religious realms—along with the innumerable personal kingdoms that compose all human activity.

As previously stated, this is not a new vision, but one present throughout the Hebrew scriptures, revealed through the prophets, partially demonstrated in the people of Israel, made abundantly clear in the teachings of Jesus, carried forward in the first century by the apostles, and propelled through the ages until landing on the doorstep of the contemporary church. Through Christ all things, everything, everyone, is in the process of coming under the sovereign benevolence (Latin: bene, “good”; volens, “willing”) of God’s agape ethic and ethos (1 Cor. 15:28). Through Christ all things are being, and will be, made new (Rev. 21:5; 2 Cor. 5:17). Eventually, every knee will bow and every tongue will acknowledge this current reality (Phil. 2:10–11). Both believers and nonbelievers alike will be confessing an appropriate degree of both wonder and ignorance regarding the magnitude of Christ’s lordship and glorious representation of God, his Father.

BECOMING KINGDOM BUILDERS

It may be difficult to conceive of the effects that recognizing the full scope of Christ’s lordship today could have on both the world collectively and each person individually. In the rough and tumble realities of our contemporary world, the glorious rule and reign of God can, and often does, become far too distant and foggy for us to even imagine, much less manifest within our personal and social situations and circumstances. Yet that is exactly what Jesus wants us and has empowered us to do. We can see, hear, experience, and realize, with confident assurance, that God is most definitely with us in our work as we seek to do his good will. And if God is for us, with us, guiding and empowering our efforts, we can be appropriately confident that good will result. But losing our vision for this reality has largely cost us the hope that it could ever occur. Therefore, in this increasingly foggy mire of futile doubt about the grandeur and glory of God’s intentions for us and his creation, it is increasingly important that we endeavor to describe, as clearly as we can, what such a reality can mean for everyday life.

We face a significant problem today in our lack of awareness, interest, and critical thinking and teaching within our Christian congregations and institutions of higher learning regarding how God, through his Spirit, is to guide us personally, communally, socially, politically, and economically into direct conformity with the blessing that is within his kingdom. We simply have not thought very long or hard about how the kingdom of God could, would, or does manifest itself within ideas and images that drive the current contexts of our church, work, school, play, family, business, health, and economic activities.

This is our primary task here: to reinvigorate the conversation about the ways and means of the kingdom of God, which will cascade over the walls of our Christian institutions to inform both Christians and non-Christians alike as to the beneficial effects and wonder-working power of God’s love and goodness in every area of human existence. Yes, the kingdom of God is to be formed “within you,” but it should never be understood as limited to or confined by the human heart. The kingdom of God is as big as the range of God’s omnipotent will. Nothing can stop it. Nothing will. Not even the very gates of hell itself.

What we must begin to reconsider, given our immediate circumstances, is how to best focus our efforts and think deeply about this present and coming reality that Christ has made readily available to us. God’s reign or rule is literally within arm’s reach, at hand, near, close, right before us, in the midst of us, right where we live (e.g., Matt. 3:2; Mark 1:15; Luke 17:21). And this is exactly what people from all walks of life—our political leaders, educators, business professionals, and stay-at-home parents—are called to apply right where they live and work. We must reach out and grab this “kingdom of heaven” (Matthew’s term for the “kingdom of God”) by the throat, with gusto and vigor, and be willing to violate the established norms in order to accomplish with God his divine conspiracy to overcome evil with good (Matt. 11:12).

We so often find these kinds of violations of norms in the most unlikely of places. A few years ago the entire world was shocked by the love and forgiveness offered by a small group of disciples living in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, to a lone, troubled man who shot ten young children, killing five, before turning the gun on himself. There was no media circus, no political debate about constitutional rights versus public safety. These citizens of the kingdom didn’t follow that well-worn path. Instead, trusting and modeling their confidence in their Savior’s ways, they chose to forgive. While still mourning and comforting each other, they offered their love, grace, and even financial support to the killer’s widow and parents. As a result the world looked on in awe as a shining ray of pure goodness illuminated a very dark hour. Such goodness cannot be hidden. People have to stop and look, in wonder. Forgiving those who persecute us and loving our enemies are ideas that still deeply violate our established norms.

Another simple example of such violation of norms and extension of grace is now routinely demonstrated in the innovative arena of microfinance. These are financial services for poor and low-income clients, including loans to unsalaried borrowers who have little or no collateral. The brainchild of Nobel Peace Prize–winner Muhammad Yunus, microfinance development has been utilized for over three decades by dozens of organizations, such as Opportunity International and World Vision. It has become so popular that both religious and secular organizations now offer small loans (the average loan is less than $400) to the world’s poorest populations. When lenders focus on both “nurturing the profitability of borrowers’ businesses—and, in turn, their clients’ overarching economic and social well-being,” the practice is so effective, it has now become the darling of poverty-fighting relief agencies all across the globe. In an age when institutional lenders seem to expect borrowers to demonstrate their lack of financial need before a loan is even considered, the concept of lending money to those with little to no resources but with an abundance of character has shown the potential for increasing not only income but also health care, housing, nutrition, and education. Client-centered microfinance is yet another idea that rattles the economic norms of our societies.

We need to learn some very important lessons from our brothers and sisters in Nickel Mines and those creative innovators in microfinance. The people of God are to be ambassadors of good in our world, demonstrating, personally and through its systems and institutions, the ways of God for the benefit of all people. Just as John, writing Revelation, saw a vision of reality that needed to be revealed and understood by the struggling early churches scattered around the ancient world, we also must endeavor to recapture God’s vision of our current world under the rule of King Jesus.

Part of our difficulty comes from a view that the world is on a countdown timer, which we sense is coming close to ringing. For so many believers, such an impending sense of doom creates a slow-burning fear that drains energy, optimism, and expectations of God’s blessings in our lives and the lives of others. We can be assured God is worried about neither the present nor the future, and thus we need not worry about, or be distracted by, any doomsday scenarios that tend to cycle through our religious institutions. Yet just saying we shouldn’t worry is very different from actually not worrying. Much of our preaching and teaching today that centers on fear of an imminent apocalypse and the unstoppable moral decay of our societies actually leads people to surmise that in fact Jesus is not in control at all. John’s message was just the opposite. The risen Christ is very much in control, despite what we read and see on the evening news. All is well in his church.

TRUE BLESSINGS

A second difficulty is found in the rise of what has been termed the “prosperity gospel,” which has created a sense that God is ready, willing, and able to provide for every consumerist desire or creature comfort vaguely connected to the American dream. Some have even argued that such God-ordained prosperity has become some sort of right or privilege we are entitled to, and believers are therefore righteously justified in demanding God’s favor. Again, this appears to be a historically recurring twisting of the teachings of scripture. The Sadducees maintained a similar theology, to ill effect.

Today the same tendency is seen in the fact that our fascination with and confidence in materialism are working their way back into our interpretations of scripture.

Still, as is often the case, such “twisting” comes from a core truth of the gospel. The castle built on the rock is an undeniable blessing; it is strong, well developed, and withstands the storm. All kinds of people living in a state of confident assurance of God’s love and care are blessed—not because of their condition, but despite any condition. The conditions we face are temporary. The blessings remain eternal. The people of Nickel Mines were richly blessed despite their situation by their willingness to let go of the bitter feelings of hatred and revenge. Those living in the most marginalized and impoverished cultures in our world who are learning to sustain their families with an incredibly small investment in a new business are also blessed through the intentional service and sharing of those with the gifts of education, planning, wisdom, leadership, and discipline. As he did with the boy’s small lunch of fish and bread, Jesus is able to multiply our seemingly insignificant efforts in phenomenal ways. Such is the nature of the kingdom of God.

These applications of both the spiritual and material gifts of grace, service, and stewardship are just a few living testimonies that demonstrate that nothing can separate anyone from the love of God (Rom. 8:39) and that Jesus is with us, ruling in all things, even through our worst fears and largest problems, through the end of this age (Matt. 28:20). This king suffers violators, and the violators are forging dramatic new paths into the world. With this king, nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37).

The chapters that follow sketch out some new paths to consider as we follow God’s calling to reflect his kingdom light in our world. We will explore a variety of social structures God wants us to change. We do not presume to offer a complete plan. Such a grand unfolding of God’s intentions will require engagement with and contribution from the entire body of Christ. Here we simply seek to add to and further what is already occurring. This requires very explicit thinking in order to cast a vision or paint a portrait as grand as we can imagine in order to merely highlight some of the qualities and features of abundant living that mark the essence and beauty of the kingdom of God.

CHAPTER 2 (#ulink_e6d404d0-7196-58e7-84f7-cb5cf8f9bb16)

Following the Good Shepherd (#ulink_e6d404d0-7196-58e7-84f7-cb5cf8f9bb16)

There was never a nation great until it came to the knowledge that it had nowhere in the world to go for help.

CHARLES DUDLEY WARNER

PERHAPS THE BEST place to begin our consideration of the central tenets, ethos, and ethics of the kingdom of God for contemporary life lies in the words David recorded in Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;

he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.

He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,

I fear no evil; for you are with me;

your rod and your staff—they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

Many people can recite Psalm 23. It is routinely treated as great literature and likened to words of Homer, Shakespeare, or Cervantes. But there is much more to be gained here. Psalm 23 is not merely beautiful poetry. What many people miss is that this psalm spells out clearly what life with God is like.

THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD
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