Rebuilding Tomorrowland

"How great are his signs, 
how mighty his wonders! 
His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; 
his dominion endures from generation to generation." ~ Daniel 4:3

For John Wimber and the budding Vineyard Churches in the early 80's, George Eldon Ladd's theology was crucial. It became a source of theological vindication for the inbreaking of the Holy Spirit for healing and other "signs and wonders" in the new Vineyard churches, which became the definition of the "now" of the Kingdom.

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Unfortunately, this emphasis led to the excesses of pentecostalism through affiliation with the Kansas City Prophets, the Toronto blessing, etc. Breaking-off with these groups in the mid-90's seemed to accompany a noticeable decline in such "sign and wonders," and a growing distrust of pentecostalism (along with a growing parallel nostalgia for it).

But what is the "now" of the Kingdom, if not charismatic "signs and wonders?"

Enter NT Wright. Like Ladd, Wright lent immense academic credibility to Evangelical theology, and much of it has built upon the "inaugurated eschatology" Kingdom motif. This has had a significant impact on Vineyard leaders, who have taken Wright's work and applied it. Where Ladd understood the Kingdom to be the powerful presence of God, Wright emphasizes the redemption of the cosmos according to God's powerful rule. Hence, the "now" of the Kingdom means "putting the world to rights." This re-imagines the "now" in considerably less ethereal terms, often placing it squarely in the realm of political activism.

There is currently a great deal of energy for participating in this kind of "now," and I'm grateful. It is a noble and Godly work to fight for the abolition of modern day slavery, bring racial reconciliation, etc. However, I can't help but wonder, what excesses will this lead to? What will be the "Toronto Blessing" of the social justice movements? Does it bother anyone that a shift away from the transcendent immanence of God seems to have resulted in a widespread loss of the apocalyptic intensity that so pervasively characterized Jesus' own ministry?

But what is the "now" of the kingdom if not political reform and social justice?

I think a crucial theological task remaining before the Vineyard is defining what exactly is "now" and exactly what remains "not yet." The fact of that tension has been identified - and we use it to explain our successes and failures - but to my knowledge nobody has worked out an eschatologically-oriented theology of the Kingdom as a reliable guide for discerning the concreteness of the "now" and "not yet" that retains Christ's apocalyptic intensity.

The answer to this question will guide our engagement with culture and significantly affect the formulation of an ecclesiology, because, as a sign and foretaste of the eschatological hope, the Church is essentially the Tomorrowland of the real "Magical Kingdom." So, what is the future? Is it really just ecstatic charismatic genuflections, or organically-grown fair-wage products? Or is it more? What does the Kingdom have to do withmission and culture, soteriology and judgment?

Accordingly, I think the Vineyard will have to re-embrace the study of "not yet" of eschatology in order to better understand the "now." We've never been very interested in eschatology, ever since breaking with the Calvary Chapel and leaving all that Hal Lindsay-rapture-novel-premillenialist-date-setting behind. But I think we can pick that subject back up again without falling into those traps.

For example: Daniel, is about the people of God living in an in-between time of "now" and "not yet." They are strangers and exiles, following God under the rule of hostile foreigners. What can this text teach us about the nature of the Kingdom? Here are 5 basic observations about the Kingdom of God in Daniel:

  1. The Kingdom of God breaks-in: With Daniel and his friends, God intervenes powerfully and conspicuously to vindicate his people. It would be difficult to imagine a Daniel conception of the Kingdom that didn't involve acts of power by God in history. This is consistent with Jesus' Kingdom posture as well.
  2. The Kingdom of God is individual AND political: Interestingly, though, Kingdom power in Daniel is not often wielded by people, but rather by God on their behalf. I think there's a caveat here. The pursuit of pentecostalism and the pursuit of politics has this in common: both seek to wield a form of power. I tend to think Christ demonstrates a conspicuous form of weakness, through which God "shows up" to vindicate and I think the same dynamic can be observed of Daniel and his friends. I think the Vineyard might do well the re-approach both "signs and wonders" and political activism from that perspective of weakness (but here I'm letting my Anabaptist leanings poke out).
  3. The Kingdom is related to faithfulness: The unmistakable motif in Daniel is that God acts partly in response to the faithfulness of Daniel and his friends.
  4. The Kingdom of God is cosmic, transcending all other kingdoms: No matter what happens, Babylon's Kings and powers come and go in Daniel, yet God's power remains sovereign and constant. Whatever else you think the visions in the latter half of Daniel may mean, this is clearly the fundamental meaning, (especially since they were written as prophecies-after-the-fact).
  5. The Kingdom is Christocentric: This is a more tentative point, but I tend to agree with a Chiastic reading of the latter chapters that places the coming of the messiah of 9:25-26 as the pinnacle of the visions.

How do these points critique our current theology and practice of the Kingdom? Obviously these are just very broad and basic points, and don't get us anywhere near the kind of detail I'm calling for above, but I hope it shows how we might take an "eschatological" narrative and use it faithfully to explore the Kingdom of God while avoiding the pitfalls of sensational "end-times" speculation that tend to accompany this book.

So, what are your thoughts? Is there room for eschatology in the Vineyard again? Is it necessary? Is my reading of Daniel above a fair way to re-appropriate apocalyptic literature as Kingdom-literature for beginning to discern the finer details of the "now" and "not yet?"