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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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Sadly, the stiff-necked Israelites struggled, contended, resisted, and fought with God in God’s attempt to accomplish this objective.

Their first and ultimate failure stemmed from their refusal to be consistently led by God alone. Instead, they wanted mediators, followed by human kings, and then rituals (Exod. 20:18–26; 1 Sam. 8:5–22). The prophetic response to these adaptations can be seen in Isaiah 1:11–17 and Jeremiah 6:20. God’s desire is not for sacrifices, priests, or kings. Instead, God’s pleasure was to be found in dwelling with humanity and abiding together as he led them into the experiential knowledge of his covenantal love. The inability to consistently be faithful to the covenantal relationship eventually led to Israel’s destruction.

Yet the great success of Israel, despite its difficulties, was the creation of a social basis that would provide the springboard for the gospel of Jesus in the first century. This is what biblical authors describe as “the fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4), the moment in history when an adequate reception of God’s revelation was possible and an advancement of the kingdom of God could proceed.

It is when the Messiah is announced and presented to the world that the stark differences between the kingdom of God and human kingdoms begin to rise from the ashes of the shattered nation of Israel.

During the last stages of Second Temple Judaism, God mercifully reintroduced the earth to the sweeping principle, the ideal, of an agape form of peace on earth. Such a proposition shook the foundations of human philosophy, psychology, religion, government, and law in ways and to degrees that have never been matched or reversed. First revealed to the ritually unclean shepherds, who were social outcasts living under the open stars, God’s heavenly messengers proclaimed the arrival of a new reality that had fallen upon the entire cosmos (Luke 2:10–14).

From the beginning of his life, Jesus faced significant obstacles to God’s pursuit of peace and goodwill. Today, many of these barriers remain and over the ages have only grown in breadth and depth. Primarily these hurdles center on the universal presence and experience of pride and fear, both of which are complicated and accentuated by individuals’ relation to their particular group, culture, and context. It is important to realize that, even for the first hearers of the gospel, the pronouncement created great fear. The shining of the “glory of the Lord” terrorized the “Christmas” shepherds tending their flocks by night, just as it threatened King Herod’s domination. This terror was, and is, well founded. Simeon the prophet predicted that the child Jesus was “destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed” (Luke 2:34–35). Hearts being exposed, true motives revealed, kingdoms falling, rising, and resisting change—these predictions are indicators of world revolution. Fear and terror are often the preamble to changes in leadership, even benevolent change.

Just as Simeon predicted, the new wine of Jesus’s new leadership paradigm caused the old wineskin of Judaism to burst, and fear has been a part of the journey of the gospel through human agencies ever since (Luke 5:37). Conversely, the kingdom of God, led by his Christ, does not abide in the pride and fear that have so often characterized and fueled the structures and institutions of human societies. There is endless irony in God’s plan to lead the world back toward flourishing in his kingdom through the birth and death of a perfect human being, who was executed by God’s own chosen people, in concert with the power of the greatest civilization then known, using the highest form of moral law to condemn him to the worst form of human execution, all of which occurred in Jerusalem, the “city of peace.” Such hypocrisy exposes how fear wreaks havoc and eventually destroys even the best of human intentions and abilities. Fear must be done away with, especially in those endeavoring to lead as good shepherds.

The resurrection of Jesus marks the end of self-righteous, law-fixated religiosity advocated by much of the first-century Jewish leadership.

In its place, the church became the new spiritual community, birthed from within Judaism as a continuing fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. Acts of the Apostles records the activities of two main leaders of this new movement, Peter and Paul. Both were Jews who were instrumental in the unfolding of God’s new universal community tasked with the identical overarching objective previously reserved exclusively for Israel. No longer would the kingdom of God be accessed exclusively through the Jewish faith. This wondrous new way of being and living was now available to all people. Whosoever will may come.

Unfortunately this lesson of open access to a new creation is still to be learned (Gal. 6:14–15). We now know that the early Christian community did not fully escape its cultural and intellectual captivity to Judaism. But in time the captor changed from Judaism to Roman and then Christian sociopolitical systems. The Jews eventually became as despised as their gentile neighbors, and the early leadership of the church struggled with cross-cultural and cross-religious integration.

WHERE IS AMERICAN CHRISTENDOM LEADING US?

Although much progress and some regress have been made over the past two millennia, this summary roughly brings us to the central question for leaders in our day: What role are Christianity and its leaders to play in our contemporary society?

The Divine Conspiracy discussed the hurdles American or Western forms of Christianity struggle to overcome. Together these adaptations fall under the umbrella of a single, daunting obstacle—the calcification of the message of Jesus into a form of nominal or civil religion. This has been a recurring phenomenon in the Western world from our earliest beginnings. In the contemporary context of the United States the resistance to the growing tide of nominalism sparked attempts by Christian leaders Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and John Wesley, among others, to bring back to life (revive) the religion they saw dying around them. This resulted in what we now call the Great Awakenings. In the centuries before and since, Western civilization has labored to unshackle itself from a lukewarm brand of Christian religion that values profession of belief or outward acts of piety over transformed hearts, lives, and communities.

It is here, in the gaps and shadows of these key issues, where the gospel of Jesus must be understood, interjected into the discussion, and eventually manifested in the lives of our servant leaders, professionals, spokespersons, and pastors today. This is precisely why this work follows on the heels of The Divine Conspiracy, which addresses the problems of how and why our Christian culture may have allowed the inertia of previous generations to marginalize or obfuscate the central message and objective of Jesus. This is the key proposal that lay behind the ideas of the gospels of the left (concern primarily for the elimination of social and structural evils) and the right (concern primarily for the forgiveness of the individual’s sins).

Since the publishing of The Divine Conspiracy, another gospel has arisen that is similar in effect, but different in cause. This third gospel can be termed the gospel of the church or “churchmanship.”

Here the local church—or more specifically those with church membership, affiliation, or commitment to religious structures and priorities—is understood as the means through which the good life, or salvation, is attained. Although there are many wonderful and beneficial aspects to local church membership and commitment in their own right, Jesus’s gospel and the testimony of the entire New Testament oppose blind devotion to any religious tradition as a substitute for unbridled confidence in God as the way of achieving the truth for life and living (John 14:6).

The church is a marvelous and beautiful living reality that Jesus can be trusted to build and bring to perfection. Yet the gospel is not the same as the church, nor is the church identical to the kingdom of God. As has been previously stated, the local church is for discipleship, and disciples are for the world.

Thus, here we want to focus on precisely why leaders, spokespersons, and professionals who are disciples of Jesus Christ can and must enter the world, fully empowered by the Holy Spirit, to take on the responsibilities and duties of representing and pursuing the public good by holding fiduciary relationships with all they encounter. Such representatives will intentionally act as worthy ambassadors in a kingdom characterized by a just, benevolent, empowering, and endlessly loving king, with whom their allegiance ultimately lies. Therefore, such persons will be able to consistently testify and demonstrate, to all concerned, precisely how and why the best way, the clearest truth, and the fullest life are achieved by applying a Christlike model to both private and public issues.

The critical point to grasp in this discussion of servant leadership, as seen in the historical role of Israel and the ambassadorial role of Christlike disciples manifesting God’s kingdom ethos, is the duty of modeling that our leaders are to accept and perpetuate in and through all of our societal structures. Leaders serve us best when they model the knowledge and beneficial effects that proceed from the life they first experience and then uniformly profess as worthy and honorable through word and deed to others. Israel and later the first disciples of Christ were intended to act as examples, lights, and beacons of the good news and the way of life with God. When this is done well, when individuals work together in dedicated, loving, and sacrificial service to God and his kingdom, their efforts will shine in such a way that all will see their benefits; it will be impossible to hide the effects. When leaders exemplify the reality of God’s ways, everyone in society is well served. This is the sacred calling of servant leadership in the scriptures.

THE DIVISION OF LABOR AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF LEADERSHIP

The history of God’s use, direction, and purpose for leaders throughout the scriptures has brought us to a point where we can now consider, more precisely, the leadership function and why leaders are so integral and have such potential for either good or ill. Neither the Judeo-Christian perspective nor the theistic viewpoint, in either contemporary or historical terms, is alone in the pursuit of leading others to the good, peaceful, and just life. One example is found in Plato’s Republic. There he records a genuine search for a reasonable cause for pursuing justice rather than injustice. What may now seem strange to the postmodern ear is Plato’s presumption that injustice is the soul’s greatest evil and justice the soul’s greatest good.

For Plato the greater good is defined as justice. This is not a theoretical statement. He holds that justice should be shown and understood simply by the consequences of its presence. In order to illuminate the reality of the goodness inherent in justice, Plato creates an illustration of the kind of social justice required of the city in order to better see the smaller reality of justice playing out in the lives of individuals.

At the beginning of this argument, Plato highlights Socrates’s crucial statement regarding the division of labor that is necessary for life in a city. A city begins because individual life is not self-sufficient. The rural farmer or herdsman must become a jack-of-all-trades and fulfill every need individually, which is time-consuming and requires multiple skills. Conversely, in urban life a natural division of labor and services developed that provided a means by which individuals could act together to share and trade their talents for the common welfare. Socrates suggests that a flourishing life is not possible if one is forced to focus entirely on individual needs. Instead, specialization of effort allows for greater effectiveness and efficiency, since, as individuals are “freed from other work to do the one thing [they are] naturally fit for at the right time, more work gets done easier and better.”

Once cities are formed, city-states follow. We can say that the “public” is composed of the communal group of individuals who are affected by the consequences of certain actions and events to the degree that it becomes necessary and good for the potential results of those actions and events to be tended, watched over, and cared for. Since it is often the case that those who are directly impacted by these actions and events are not those in close proximity to their origin, it becomes necessary for certain individuals to be designated or elected as representatives. These persons are specifically tasked to ensure, to the best of their ability, that the “public’s” interests are preserved and protected. Here the position of a “leading official” is a natural outcome of the division of labor, and one is specifically tasked to oversee the functions that concern the general prosperity and well-being of those they represent.

Philosophers who probed the nature of the four basic human problems mentioned earlier, who contemplated their various twists and turns, also knew that the impact of these questions is not limited to individual lives. Nearly every potential answer also carries significant implications for societies as well. Our social arrangements—how individuals relate to one another in their spheres of life—need to be taken into account when discerning human well-being and acquiring the knowledge to act appropriately. This is especially true in what is termed an “open” society, which includes our modern versions of a liberal democracy. In “open” societies, people are allowed to choose and cherish choice in these matters. In “closed” societies the ability to discern the common good and to gain access to knowledge itself are often severely limited. Therefore, in an “open” system the important questions become: Who chooses and how are choices made?

The origin of public leadership, in all its various forms, is simply a historical development resulting from the recognition of the need to divide our labors in the pursuit of good and beneficial ways of attaining flourishing communities. Officials in government, law, medicine, business, education, clergy, and so on are leaders, spokespersons, and guides whose job is to preserve and protect the public’s best interest in their specific arena of community life. These leaders serve within a wide range of occupational fields that necessitate expertise, specific knowledge, and skill, also known as recondite knowledge.

Our contemporary societies, cultures, and economies are as complicated and broad-scoped as our individual lives, because, in fact, we live in and either thrive or suffer through living social systems. As a result, a particularly vital issue that arises for modern democratic societies becomes who has knowledge, who has the expertise, who has the character, who can teach succeeding generations, who can protect, who can guide, and who can lead our public organizations in ways that position our society to achieve success? Where do we find these kinds of people?

WHO WILL LEAD US?

Some of the following questions are related: Do Christian leaders, professionals, and spokespersons have a responsibility (or even a right) to address social, economic, and political issues that concern the larger societal whole? Or is that none of their “business”? Are our institutions of higher learning, including Christian education in general, specifically undertaking to prepare those who administer in various ways—not just in those serving in pulpits, but those in classrooms, cubicles, boardrooms, courtrooms, at the front counter or the bedside, or on the congressional floor—that benefit the public welfare? Are our universities consistently or inconsistently producing men and women who are capable of speaking, writing, and leading with incisive depth, character, and wisdom in our society at large? Whom do we follow? Whom do we trust to lead and guide us, and why?

But these questions involve yet deeper and more difficult issues. In general, do spokespersons or leaders for Christ possess and bring unique and indispensable knowledge to the human world at large? Or are they merely advocates of certain traditional opinions or beliefs—dare we say dogmas and doctrines—in an attempt to motivate people to adopt a certain religious perspective? In particular, do Christian leaders bring moral knowledge and truth to bear on human life, and are such moral positions and attitudes (whether they amount to knowledge or not) even relevant to social, political, and economic understanding and the adoption of social practices?

Fortunately, the gospel, or the “good message” of Jesus the Nazarene, was specifically tailored to discuss and illuminate these very subjects. He not only focused on pursuing good; he also engaged the essential philosophical questions of his day, which centered on these quandaries.

In summary, we will argue here that the ethics and ethos found in the living reality of the kingdom of God are precisely what most, but not all, human beings want in the depths of their souls. Of course many may not be fully aware of their true desires. Individuals can in fact know something without being aware of their knowledge. They can know they desire to be loved and full of joy and not know that these very realities are indistinguishable from the character of God. They can want love and simultaneously not realize that God is love. Thus, the solution to Bono’s lament is to discover what we are looking for in the everlasting and beautiful reality of God and his kingdom. God’s original plan for Israel was to provide an example of what humanity was looking for. This is what Jesus’s teachings pointed to and manifested as well. This is what the entirety of the scriptures encourages and bears witness to. This is what the church in its more focused and intentional eras has pursued and produced, and thus it remains the primary challenge we engage here. Christlike leaders must continually recast the vision of what God’s kingdom is and can do in our lives and societies today, now, right where we are. We can leave the issue of perfection for later.

Many Christians today claim they have found, and are finding, what they are looking for. It should then be a natural consequence that those in close proximity to these individuals would be receiving the benefits and blessings of love, truth, and beauty that flow from the abundant life these Christians experience and share. Such a life is what Jesus described as an artesian well that spills over and nourishes anyone close enough to feel its spray (John 7:38). Such blessed people would gather, share, grow, invest, build, create, support, and enrich one another’s lives in every aspect. As a result there would be flourishing, common goodness, and peace for all concerned.

Through time and eternity this has always been the mission of God for humanity. This remains the overarching goal of any people called by his name. What we must promote are discussions of what such a reality must look like for leaders and shepherds pursuing it in every aspect of contemporary life. We must consider in fairly concrete terms what the kingdom of God looks like in our families, communities, neighborhoods, corporations, and institutions, which together form the kingdoms of our world. Discussions on these matters are now taking place with greater regularity and to good effect. The Missional Church movement and its various branches are but one shining example of a renewed interest in focusing on concrete manifestations of God’s kingdom among us. Yet part of the discussion must also include a rigorous analysis of the moral character of our leaders.

An interesting article in Christianity Today asked if there was an inordinate amount of arrogance and impatience evidenced in the lives of pastors planting new churches.

This is exactly the type of difficult and probing question we must ask not only of pastors seeking to build new congregations, but of all our leaders in every area of society. Any leader—banker, politician, engineer, pastor, teacher, tradesperson, or merchant (butcher, baker, or candlestick maker)—stands in the often precarious position of balancing power and privilege. There is no denying or escaping this reality. Therefore we require leaders who understand what is good and right, but who also have the means, both the courage of character and the actual facilities of positional authority, to achieve the common flourishing we all so desperately seek. It is to the subject of moral leadership that we next turn our attention.

SERVANT LEADERSHIP

Discussion Questions for Chapter 4 (#ulink_c336832a-f8cc-50b9-b4fc-abf1f1653dcf)

Robert Greenleaf was the first to coin the term “servant leadership” for our contemporary culture. Both parts of the term are significant for our theology and practice. Servant carries equal weight with leadership and fits the seminal description presented by Greenleaf: “The servant leader is one who is a servant first. . . . It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.”

Such a perspective is in line with the statement from Jesus: “But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43–45).

1. What are some of the challenges you face in leading others while at the same time seeking ways to best serve them? The authors ask several questions on pages 51 and 52. Which of these questions are most intriguing to you and why?

2. In what ways have you experienced the abuse of positional power in your vocation and/or organization? What were the specific behaviors and how did they affect you and those around you?

3. Servant leadership always begins with self-leadership, learning to govern and regulate one’s thoughts, words, and deeds. The authors believe it crucial for leaders to assume the role of and responsibility for modeling life in the kingdom of God. What are the primary areas of your life that need attention with regard to self-regulation?

4. Willard and Black believe that all followers of Jesus have both the opportunity and the responsibility to appropriately address the social, economic, and political issues in our society. Do you agree or disagree? Which particular issues in society do you believe need more attention or have been a personal burden for you? What active steps have you taken to address these concerns?

5. The authors suggest that Jesus Christ has influenced the thinking, behavior, and development of people around the world more than any other human being. Do you agree with that viewpoint? Why do you think most leaders overlook Jesus as a role model for change?

6. Exercise: Leading others to a good, peaceful, and just life is a mark of a servant leader. Think about those around you who are less powerful, advantaged, or capable than you. What two or three tangible acts of service could you engage in to better their lives emotionally, physically, or spiritually?

CHAPTER 5 (#ulink_02ed20e7-0501-59c1-9fa2-0d8b6e580b16)

Moral Leadership (#ulink_02ed20e7-0501-59c1-9fa2-0d8b6e580b16)

The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.

MAX DEPREE

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN

IN ORDER TO transform our social systems, society’s leaders must take the initiative and assume responsibility for ensuring their own personal honesty as well as the integrity of their particular field of expertise. In an age when more and more of our social and political lives require a level of knowledge and skill that few of us possess and even fewer can attain, trusting leaders and experts has become an increasingly perilous necessity.

Because our vulnerability grows as our dependency on others to make good decisions increases, it is important to make sure that our leaders are more committed to pursuing common flourishing than personal power and privilege. Therefore a vigorous investigation of the qualities and characteristics of moral leadership must accompany our debates about the status and qualifications of our leaders.

Here we discuss some of the key attributes of moral leadership, the unique and necessarily exalted position of a leader in contemporary society, and the conjoining of responsibility with accountability. We will then consider some of the unique opportunities of Christlike leaders in a democratic form of government, the prominent role of heroes, and the importance heroism plays in reshaping our imagination for exemplary moral character.

THE FAITHFUL LEADER

There is much value in the idea of equality, especially when considering the value and worth intrinsic to every human being. Yet few of us are actually equal when it comes to our responsibilities, and this fact is exposed most prominently in relation to the leaders, spokespersons, and professionals overseeing those institutions and organizations dedicated to business, law, medicine, government, religion, education, and so on. The allure of celebrity that surrounds many of our leaders, both Christian and secular, increases this perceived inequality and has often led to great harm for individuals and institutions alike. The decline in competency and reputation of leading professionals as a whole has even threatened the egalitarian ideals that form our American democratic way of life. Therefore, a renewed philosophy of society, one robust enough for our contemporary life, requires an equally renewed understanding of how the leadership substructures in our society operate, so that leaders can best protect the common interest their positions were created to serve.

And when we talk about leadership here, we are going beyond the limits of just a few fields. Included are any and all persons and groups engaged in a “fiduciary,” or faith-filled, relationship. In fact, it does not take long to discover the innumerable arenas of contemporary life today where a fiduciary relationship occurs and is expected, yet is rarely overtly recognized. A fiduciary relationship only requires the consent of one. A fiduciary arrangement can begin when one individual makes the concerted decision and commitment to do what is in the best interests of the other, regardless of the consequences and circumstances.

To better define moral leadership and fiduciary responsibility, we must also admit that not every occupation is a profession, not every role is a leadership role, and not every job is a vocation. To say that every job is a vocation or that every person is a leader is to misunderstand the special and irreplaceable function of leaders and professionals in our society. What may be most difficult for many in thinking about differentiating professions from nonprofessions is the assumption that a professional is in general “better” than the nonprofessional, or a leader is “better” than a follower. This is absolutely not the case.

In this regard, a corporate attorney and a volunteer after-school soccer coach are both engaged in fiduciary (faith-filled) duties. One agreement is made officially between corporate officers and the court. The other is made every afternoon when a parent drops off a child for practice. Are both professionals? No. Are both leaders? Yes. Are the actions of both valuable? Certainly. Do both require a level of moral character to match the range of their responsibilities? Absolutely.
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