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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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There was no parade, no medal, and no reward, just an ordinary citizen doing his job with extraordinary courage.

The growing complexities of contemporary life make it increasingly difficult for us as both individuals and societies to know all that is occurring around us, so that we can discern both our needs and what is best. This was evident in the Deepwater Horizon disaster; there was no way for the fishermen, hoteliers, beachfront homeowners, or restaurateurs to protect themselves from the events that caused the massive oil spill. But the complexity of modern life also played a key role in the nationwide mortgage crisis and accompanying economic recession. Few people understood or were privileged to have the information about the nature and effect of the underlying investments that would threaten to demolish the world economy. In both instances, what was required, more than we realized, were leaders, professionals, and experts with the integrity and courage of Barney Jones to discern and pursue with all diligence what has for centuries been understood as the “general welfare.” How, where, and by whom is the kind of personal character forged that is sacrificially devoted to the public good?

GOD’S DIVINE CONSPIRACY

Even though this book is coauthored, we see this present work as progressing naturally from and building upon Dallas’s previous volumes. The Divine Conspiracy came as the third book in the series. The first installment, In Search of Guidance (later retitled Hearing God), describes how life in God’s kingdom promises an intimate, conversational relationship with God. The king of this kingdom of goodness wants to be in conversation with us about our lives. The book explains how we can experience this reality.

The second, The Spirit of the Disciplines, seeks to explain another aspect of this intimate relationship with God. As we develop a conversational relationship with God through the Holy Spirit, we become apprenticed to Jesus—novices learning from the guidance of a master craftsman. And what this craftsman is teaching us is how to have a character like his and so embody God’s goodness. The book explains many of the practices and tools that facilitate spiritual transformation.

The Divine Conspiracy then shows how this intimate relationship of being apprenticed to Jesus has a direction and goal, using the Sermon of the Mount as a means of articulating a vision of the good news as the good life available in the kingdom of God—that is, available now. Next, how God works through the nitty-gritty details of our lives, work, relationships, bodies, thoughts, feelings, and desires to teach us how to live our life as Jesus would live it if he were in our specific context is covered in Renovation of the Heart. The Great Omission, a collection of essays, discusses the great opportunity that lies before our churches today as they attempt the task of creating disciples, of bringing people into the life-giving reality of Jesus and his kingdom ways—and the great tragedy that occurs when this opportunity is not fulfilled.

These previous works provided a vision for personal transformation, the how and why for what we are to be working on in the Christian life. This work hopes to expand our vision so that we begin to glimpse God’s kingdom goals over and above the work he is doing in our own lives and better see his overarching objectives for the world. In God’s kingdom we are not solely concerned with our personal transformation (which by itself would be spiritual narcissism), but also with how we are part of a larger work of transformation: the reconciliation of all things. We are concerned with how God wants to accomplish this work both in and through us.

In the New Covenant Jesus has purchased, we are introduced to the true reality of all things. Through the Spirit of Christ we can draw from this reality so that we may know, in all of the areas that touch our lives—in our work, ministry, family, society, culture, government, institutions, art, play, research, religion—the goodness and provision of an all-sufficing, want-erasing, fear-eradicating, peace-loving Shepherd. Such a precious gift is not for sale, nor is it a chip with which to bargain in our society.

No doubt many will vehemently disagree with the notion that God is calling all leaders to extend the kingdom of God to whatever areas they are involved with. Some will insist that the church, or Christians in general, lack the expertise, competency, and responsibility for such a task. Many who hold this position argue from history’s numerous examples of the ill effects that resulted when individuals, groups, or societies claimed Christian sovereignty over all areas. Horrific examples of cult practices, fundamentalist separatism, religious elitism, and doctrinal exclusivism are available for all to see. The so-called New Atheists have made a small fortune elaborating the ghastly tragedies that tarnish the history of the Christian religion. On the other side are those who argue that political power games that readily employ arm-twisting influence, backroom deals, and billion-dollar political action committees are the weapons and tactics that must be used by Christians on the battlefields of modern cultural warfare.

With regard to both these viewpoints, we simply note that making the claim that some activity or ideology is Christlike or is being engaged from a Christian perspective may not in fact be the case; it may be altogether unchristian and non-Christlike. What is advertised is often very different from what is delivered. Certainly issues of interpretation are involved, but interpretation is not the end of the matter. Many activities and motives ascribed to Jesus or the Christian worldview are verifiable misrepresentations of Christlikeness, despite claims to the contrary. Part of the means of discerning this difference is given by Jesus himself. When asked by John the Baptist if in fact he was who he said he was, Jesus gave a specific answer in reply: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Matt. 11:5). Here again, contrary to popular “prosperity” gospel, Jesus is suggesting that the kind and type of life he offers is better in essence and quality, both spiritually and physically, than the alternatives. This is a question we, like John the Baptist, do well to consider during periods of great difficulty.

But the base question underneath John’s inquiry remains crucial for us today: Is the vision of life Jesus offers a better one, or should we pursue another? If, during the first century, one were to ask a Roman soldier, a Jewish religious leader, and perhaps a dishonest money changer if becoming a Christian would better their lives, such persons might honestly reply, “Absolutely not!” Likewise, today there is vehement opposition to Jesus’s understanding and revelation of what is good for us and how to discern it in our individual and social circumstances. Still, no other ethical philosophy has yet been found or created that either matches or exceeds the moral knowledge representative of Christ’s life and teaching. Jesus’s teachings remain the solitary beacon of hope for eliminating the elusive, cyclical crises of human existence and thus represents the crucial first step that will lead humanity toward achieving the life without fear and want that fulfills our desperate search for human flourishing.

CITIES OF OUR GOD

Lest anyone consider this work advocacy for a new form of the “social gospel,” a fuller articulation of the “prosperity gospel,” or even an argument on which to base a new, better, or reformed platform for virtue ethics that seeks the “general welfare” or “holistic prosperity,” let us put these claims to rest. We are simply recalling, reminding people of, and pursuing what both the Hebrew scriptures and New Testament seek, articulate, and instruct in the very old and elusive reality called shalom. It is the enduring and encompassing experience and expectation of restful, secure, holistic well-being, which every individual and culture has struggled to find or create and maintain throughout human history. Shalom is what Yahweh promised Abraham would be his, a blessing of God that would flow through him to all the other nations (Gen. 12:2; 15:15).

Likewise it is crucial that God’s sufficiency and plentitude be manifested and experienced in the lives of those called by his name. Christians must eat their own cooking, follow their own teaching, and understand their own ideas. Judgment must begin with the house of God (1 Pet. 4:17). This encompasses the final hope of this work: to bless, equip, inspire, and encourage those leaders dedicated to working with Jesus in furthering the cause of the kingdom of God within the key institutions and structures of our society. It is crucial that a gospel powerful enough to save is also powerful enough to deliver us from evil. The local church must be moved from simply advocatingunderstanding of or professing belief in the availability of life in the kingdom to demonstrating and manifesting a broader expression of what the gospel can accomplish when brought directly to bear on the weighty matters of our social realities. These matters are crucial and eternal, for they deal with the eternal souls of those individuals within our families, our neighbors, our society, and finally the world at large.

A very small percentage of those in the church stand behind a pulpit or sport certain kinds of identifiable clothing. The actual leadership roster of the church includes disciples ministering in every arena of life, in business, law, medicine, education, the arts, sciences, government, and religion. The objective of Jesus’s church-growth strategy was not to build a single, behemoth social institution with a limited set of ordained authorities. Instead, his Spirit was to be poured out on all flesh to effect a widening, deepening base of influence within every nation, worldview, and social institution.

Today, we as disciples of Christ have the same opportunity and responsibility to abide in, and then manifest, shalom as a blessing for others as well as for ourselves. This is a significant aspect of what being a “light” to the world entails (Matt. 5:14). In everything we do and say, in word and deed, in worship and work, in politics and play, truly in all things—not just religious things—we are blessed to be a blessing to others around us, leading them toward shalom. And until this occurs, our world surely groans as it waits for just such a reality to be revealed (Rom. 8:18–23). It is these leaders, representing and maintaining the wonderfully rich and robust example of integrity of character in fulfilling honorable duties, who exemplify and testify to the truth and goodness of God in a way that promotes, establishes, and maintains shalom for the benefit of all. If there is to be a next stage to the so-called spiritual formation movement, this must be it.

In 2 Chronicles, God says:

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (7:14)

The Chronicler reveals a significant result when God’s people seek righteousness—the land is healed. The entire land. From sea to shining sea, one could say. Not just believers, not just God’s faithful, but everyone in the land reaps the benefits of God’s faithfulness to his people.

The scope of this blessing is what separates this work from the earlier books in this series. They necessarily focused on the individual realities of life with God, depicted primarily in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. This work focuses on the responsibilities and opportunities inherent in the communal life that will come to the fore once the Sermon on the Mount has been applied. This new life is intrinsically tied to our relationship to our neighbors, our communities, and by extension our global community. It is the public “other,” the ethnos or nations, those in all ethnic groups and from all walks of life, who can and must taste and see the eternal quality and quantity of life that is available in the manner and means God provides. The tasting and seeing of God’s goodness in tangible, discernible ways is intended to lovingly woo people into willing obedience. Jesus wishes to bless all, everyone, at all times and in every condition. Such is the nature of the Good Shepherd.

Reaping the benefits and dividends from the applied ethos of the kingdom of God requires neither profession of faith nor understanding of how or why such blessings exist. God loves the world regardless of whether he is known or appreciated. Yet Christian leaders throughout society can never move forward into the areas of responsibility for manifesting the good life Jesus provides until there is a settled resolve regarding who we as disciples are called to be and must become. This is the arena of personal character formation from which all other activities of the good life are intended to proceed, first individually, then into and through our communities.

DISCOVERING MEANING AND VISION

Our world faces an overwhelming and unswerving epidemic of existential impotence, which can only be caused by an equally sweeping malignancy. The problem—our problem—lies in the shadows of the human heart. Unless and until the human heart absorbs and employs the sovereign goodness of God, the flourishing our societies seek will remain elusive, and the very means used to attain prosperity will end up only hastening our demise. As the writer of Proverbs predicts, we will return, again and again, to our regurgitated schemes (Prov. 26:11; 2 Pet. 2:22). Someone, somewhere, somehow, must break the cycle of moral relativism that creates substitute plans for human salvation and instead attempt to apply the answers in the vision God has provided. That this is widely assumed to have already taken place is a primary indicator of the depth of the problem Christian leaders must develop the courage to face.

This work endeavors to sketch a framework from which those who are ready and willing to take up the cause of the general welfare and flourishing of the public at large can proceed. To accomplish this, we have organized this work around the areas of society to which Christian leaders must turn their attention and influence in order to manifest the kind of flourishing God desires for all people. These areas can be defined as the institutions of government, education, business or commerce, the professions, and ethics. When these areas and their leaders come under the influence and direction of God, we can and will experience the kind of healing and flourishing human beings have searched for, longed to experience, and died trying to build. When leaders, spokespersons, and professionals (often synonymous terms, yet sometimes delineated for specific purposes to be defined and discussed later) become organized within the critical institutions of our society to most positively influence contemporary life for the common good, blessing, goodness, and grace will flow over the land as the waters fill the seas (Hab. 2:14).

What we hope to present here is the all-important sense of vision and perspective that will focus all our many efforts to seek and attain a life worth living for ourselves and our loved ones. What follows in these pages is not an attempt to outline a new gospel, but to reveal the radical implications for all of society of the original good news Jesus brought to earth. We want to provide a perspective to leaders and citizens of the way the gospel Jesus proclaimed can affect and transform our societies and lead them to shalom. This is not a Faustian effort. It’s a revolution that happens one heart, one leader, one family, one neighborhood, one organization at a time.

An ancient parable tells of a traveler journeying through a medieval village one morning on his way to visit a relative in a distant town. As he enters the village through the far gate, he quickly encounters a stone carver struggling to load a very large, recently honed boulder onto his cart. The traveler asks the laborer, “What are you doing?” Frustrated under the weight of his task, the stone carver grunts to the stranger, “I am working for my bread.” As the traveler continues through the village, he comes upon another laborer shaping a large stone with chisel and hammer. He asks the second stone carver, “What are you doing?” The laborer answers, “I am an apprentice perfecting my trade of carving stone.” Finally, on the far edge of the village the traveler comes to another laborer sanding and smoothing his recently fashioned stone. He asks the third stone carver, “What are you doing?” Sweat dripping from his face, the laborer replies with pride, “I’m building a cathedral.” We are building more than cathedrals. We are building the very kingdom of God.

The Divine Conspiracy dealt directly with why we might want to repent of our past understanding of life and living. But we can’t stop with why. We have to get into what Jesus is doing and will do about his project of overcoming evil with good while simultaneously transforming the kingdoms of our contemporary world, individually and collectively, into the kingdom of our God and of his Christ, who will reign forever and ever. The what of the kingdom life comes into greater focus and ceases being such an overwhelming burden when we discover that it is found within the easy and light yoke directed by the hand of an expert guide and friend. We can know how to live, move, and have our being in the shalom of the Good Shepherd. Jesus introduces us to that reality and proves that we can know where our hope and power to thrive lie—both individually and communally. He frees us to actually find what we are looking for, right now, where we are, if we want to.

It is time we focus on what we must do to build the foundations for life and living that Jesus articulates and then helps to manifest among us. For those ready to engage the topic of our collective life with God that will eventually consume our lives for the rest of eternity, let’s take a step into forever, now.

GOD’S KINGDOM AND THE CALL OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD

Discussion Questions for Chapters 1–3 (#ulink_db89a2eb-5db1-5393-b020-6990828fa56e)

At the end of some chapters are discussion questions designed to encourage both individual reflection and group dialog. The authors’ hope is that reflecting on these questions will allow readers to better unpack and integrate the insights and ideas within each section of the book.

In these introductory chapters, Willard and Black seek to make the case that all followers of Jesus Christ have the responsibility in their sphere of influence to teach, proclaim, model, and intentionally live out the reality of God’s “divine conspiracy.” Since we live at the “mercy of our ideas,” the following questions will help you to examine your thoughts about the kingdom of God, the kingdoms of this world, and our vocations in light of God’s calling upon our lives.

1. What life experiences led you into your present vocation? As a leader who influences others, you often reflect those who have influenced you. Who were the role models who worked to form you in your current role? How did they influence your vision, mission, values, conduct, character, and communication?

2. When was the first time you heard a teaching about the “kingdom of God”? Did that teaching include the idea that God’s kingdom is presently available and accessible, or was it assumed that the kingdom of God is only a future reality? Share with one another how these dissimilar teachings on the kingdom of God affect our thinking, behaviors, and vocational responsibilities. Discuss what you believe is God’s overarching mission or goal for our world.

3. Willard and Black suggest that there are significant problems (i.e., inaccurate views of the end times and of the purposes of the gospel) in many of our churches and Christian institutions of higher learning that have hindered us from experiencing God’s rule through his Son, Jesus, the king. Do you agree or disagree with the authors’ viewpoints? What is the “good news” according to Jesus Christ? What other problems may be created, although unintended, in our Christian doctrines and beliefs that have hindered both individuals and organizations from more fully living in the reality of God’s kingdom? Give support for your views.

4. The authors suggest that one of the best places for us to begin developing a better understanding of the kingdom of God in our contemporary contexts is found in the concept of shalom, or peace, defined in Psalm 23. Do you believe a Psalm 23 kind of life is preferable or even possible? If so, how is it possible?

5. Fear is the absence of shalom. Proverbs 29:25 states: “The fear of others lays a snare, but one who trusts in the Lord is secure.” How does fear separate us from the peace of God? How does our fear separate us from others? How does fear make us compare ourselves with others or seek dominance over them? In what ways does fear distort what is true? Give examples.

6. Exercise: Seek to memorize Psalm 23. Read it daily for the next thirty days slowly, focusing on both the images and ideas it conveys.

CHAPTER 4 (#ulink_ccaff588-4fc0-562a-a2a9-2a60ed4e9d2e)

Servant Leadership (#ulink_ccaff588-4fc0-562a-a2a9-2a60ed4e9d2e)

A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”

LUKE 22:24-27

IF THE KINGDOMS of our contemporary world are to be transformed into a kingdom that manifests the grace, truth, justice, and mercy of Christ the king, there must be leaders who are willing and able to demonstrate Christlike qualities and courage and then use them to influence the power structures of contemporary society. Today, the roles and responsibilities of our leaders cannot be underestimated. In a world overtaken by an instantaneous, global media culture, leaders do not need to be of international renown for the consequences of their words and actions to have immediate, international effects. Thus, in many ways a leader’s ability to influence, guide, and direct has never been more powerful.

However, the degree of impotent, misguided, and ineffectual leadership also appears to be on the rise. Evidence of it is seen not only in our elected officials and the political quagmires and deadlock they produce, but also in leaders responsible for our educational systems, our financial and medical institutions, our legal proceedings, and our religious organizations. Therefore it is imperative that we reimagine the overarching call or vocation of a leader in order to create the most beneficial environments possible for shalom and well-being to flourish.

Primarily, leaders are those who are followed or emulated because they possess the ability, experience, or knowledge necessary for achieving an objective that is pursued, valued, or required by others. Thus a leader is in the position of serving others by providing the direction and guidance necessary for a particular outcome or result. Leaders influence or persuade followers to work toward certain ends. But how do leaders accomplish these tasks, what ends do they seek, and why?

History helps us track the different ways God has attempted to develop and use leaders to guide the world toward his loving ways. The vision of life in the kingdom of God that has come to us in the example of Jesus the Christ is a very beautiful, dynamic story—one in which God is moving in and through human history. At the beginning of this story is God, the maker and creator of all things. We also discover in this story God’s personal agency working to make righteousness and joy cover the earth like water fills the seas; his moral features are seen and experienced in his Logos, the cosmic Christ, Jesus the Nazarene, the reconciler of humanity to God.

The aim of God’s story is the establishment of an all-inclusive community of loving persons, of which God is more than a participant; he is the prime sustainer, the prime minister if you will, and most glorious inhabitant.

Human history demonstrates that the crux of this story has remained a catalyst for worldwide revolution; indeed, that is its aim. In every civilization, religious and cultural leaders have attempted, each in unique ways, to offer a parallel story that directs people toward answering the questions of why and how life should proceed. Even a cursory reflection on world religions demonstrates this point. Each society or cultural group has leaders who recommend precise sacrifices, ceremonies, propitiations, and other practices that play a significant role in directing their constituents toward a means of satisfying an enduring hunger for meaning, existential purpose, and universal well-being. Ultimately, the leaders and practices of these countless religious and political movements have left untold billions unsatisfied, to a greater or lesser degree, with regard to their ultimate pursuit. This is not an attempt to be overly critical of socioreligious movements or their leadership. It is simply a perspective gained from reflecting on the wide-ranging effects various worldviews have had on the course of human history.

The religious path is not the only means leaders have used in the quest for meaning, purpose, and well-being. Ancient philosophers also wrestled with four very basic questions they surmised formed the basis of all human problems. If these questions were resolved, classic philosophers believed flourishing could be attained and maintained. These four questions match four basic human problems and deal, respectively, with reality, well-being, virtue, and the development of personal character.

In the common parlance these questions can be posed in very straightforward terms:

What is real?

What is the good life?

Who is a good person?

How does one become an authentically good person?

The four questions are often framed in different ways, but each retains a singular core. This explains why the answers to the first three questions provide a predictable lead-in to the final question. Together the answers to these questions form a fairly sturdy framework on which many worldviews are built. From the creators of the Upanishads, to the ancient Israelites, to Karl Marx, political and religious leaders and thinkers throughout history have offered varying answers to these central questions. Societies have taken them, interpreted them, reinterpreted them, and sought further answers, a process that in turn has shaped and directed the evolution of those societies.

Still today our world is alternately blessed or hindered by the theories, strategies, philosophies, religions, and worldviews that have resulted from grappling with these four elusive inquiries. Each attempt left a wake, sometimes wide, sometimes narrow, of different effects and consequences. Thankfully, a great blessing of history is the guidance and wisdom available to inform current and future responses to these questions.

Part of what this history reveals is that one of humanity’s great evils lurks in the recurring temptation for leaders to demonstrate their power and control over others. When this tendency rises to a fever pitch, we tend to build, out of sheer might, human will, and wisdom (such as it is), structures that highlight and glorify human achievement. The Hebrew scriptures describe some of these building projects. There are towers, temples, cities, and even nations, some of which Yahweh was involved in and some he was not. We can acknowledge there are traces of good in the desire to build. Leaders are intended to act in concert with God and his grace in doing good. Yet there is a significant absence of both imagination and effectiveness in human leadership, just as there are limits to what can be accomplished on natural ability alone. Still, humanity’s recurring problem is that it does not possess the answers to its own problems. The failure to recognize and understand this simple truth is the genesis of the all-encompassing search by social, political, and religious structures and institutions to forge paradise on earth.

When cultural leaders seek to accomplish the goal of creating a utopian society apart from God, they simultaneously choose to leave grace, love, and truth out of their campaign. Such virtues are quickly discovered to be both inefficient and inconvenient when constructing human societies. Whatever variety of human rule or governance is imposed, inherited, or chosen, it seems to devolve into some form of rebellion followed by chaos. Social structures and their relational dynamics found in projects as grand as the Ming dynasty, Egyptian engineering, Roman military might, and Athenian democracy or as ordinary as a kindergarten classroom clearly demonstrate how social engineering projects devised by human beings routinely leave God and his creative, redemptive story out of the picture. At times we have come closer than others. Yet still we end up far from the idyllic pastures and still waters we long for. Certainly some leaders, societies, and eras of social development have reflected the shepherding goodness of God more than others, and when we learn of them, we instinctively feel hope rise in our hearts. This is evidence of the yearning God desires and intends to fulfill for our lives both now and forevermore. However, our past demonstrates the degree to which the whole world, now as desperately as ever, needs a shepherd, a Good Shepherd, to lead us into peace and security. Godly servant leadership sets out to manifest the shalom we seek.

ISRAELITE LEADERS STRUGGLING WITH GOD

The biblical depiction of the state and people of Israel is a dramatic illustration of the shepherding leadership God sought to provide to the world. To demonstrate his glory, God saw fit to elect a once impoverished and enslaved flock to manifest what a people could become when their hearts were transformed toward the Shepherd’s ways. In God’s plan, the sons and daughters of Abraham (the Jewish ethnos, or “nation”) were commissioned to be his people, to be the community to which God would reveal himself and through which he would lead every people group on earth toward existential meaning, freedom from fear, and flourishing (Matt. 28:19).
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