Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Thoughts on Kingdom Come by Phil Ryken

Kingdom Come was a book I was excited to read because this is a topic that has become more and more prevalent in my thinking and comforting in my doubts, fears, and struggles over the past few months and years.  The thought of the Kingdom of God consumated on this earth propels me foward every day.  "Come Lord Jesus" has become my constant  and persistent prayer.

Ryken takes aim in the beginning of the book at the Harold Campings of our world, recounting his latest failed rapture prediction and using his false prophecies to springboard into a discussion of  the particularly damaging nature of these doomsday profits(yep, I did that). Ryken points out that these false prophecies of the coming Kingdom cause unbelievers to be skeptical(2000 years of "any day now") and believers to be apathetic about His return.  One of the issues Ryken takes with these claims that I hadn't thought about is that they are simply not optimistic enough.

The problem with saying that Jesus will come again next October is not that he probably won’t come that month after all, but that we should expect his return much sooner! The Bible’s last prayer ought to be our daily expectation: “Come, Lord Jesus!” So we pray the way Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10)

Ryken wants the reader to be in a constant anticipation and yearning and expectation for the Kingdom of God to come...today. Not next October,  not next week, but now!  But many of us do not.  Why?
One reason is a failure to recognize that the Kingdom, in a sense, is already here.  Jesus began His public ministry by announcing that the Kingdom of God was at hand.  This makes sense when you realize that the Kingdom is all about the King, and where the King is there is the Kingdom as well.  So after Christ lived a perfect life and died a sacrificial death for all who would believe,  He rose from the dead and then ascended into heaven to sit on His throne. So this would seem to indicate that His Kingdom is in heaven because that is where the King is.  Except for thr fact that Christ sent His Holy Spirit to take residence in all believers, thus ensuring His presence, and His Kingdom, remained on earth.  So we live in a time of  Kingdom conflict, a now and not yet, a period where the Kingdom is established but not yet consumated.  Believers must live in the experience of the Kingdom has come while at the same time in the expectation of the Kingdom will come.

But do we even want the Kingdom.  Ryken thinks that this might be a greater issue than we would normally acknowledge.  "So as we consider the kingship of Christ, the issue for us is not so much when his kingdom will come, but whether we want it to come at all."  Ryken's point is striking, many of us would rather see the Kingdom of stuff, success,  sex, and self flourish as opposed to the Kingdom of God.  We do not anticipate how we should, or pray how we ought, or prepare how we need to because we do not really even desire God's Kingdom.  We have turned to lesser goods, snubbing thr creator for His creation.  The idolatry of our heart has drowned out our proper yearning for what is greater.

Ryken confronts the idea that believers are responsible for establishing and growing God's Kingdom.  Ryken points out that "we are tempted to think of the kingdom of Jesus Christ as something that we accomplish. If we build it, he will come." But in actuality "establishing the kingdom is primarily something God does."  The verbs associated with the believer and the Kingdom are almoet exclusively passive.  This truth is shown best in how our Lord taught us to pray.  We pray, "Your Kingdom come."  Our prayer is that God would accomplish, God would build, God would send.

There are a couple of issues I had with the book.  They are essentially isues I struggle with in greater Evangelicalism: decisional regeneration and individualism.  Both of these permeate the book but only show up boldly on a few occasions.  Their subtle presence throughout does flavor alot of the book negatively for me.

As does a sense of spiritual prosperity.  Ryken by no means teaches a prosperity gospel, but there is the prevailing feel that being a believer fixes everything, even temporal hardships.  "People who seek the kingdom of God—and who therefore pray in faith for its coming—are set free from anxiety to live with generosity."  This is a rather bold claim to make. Contextually it is clear the point that Ryken is making but I felt the language used here, and a few other places,  could have been more carefully chosen to avoid the improper expecations amd uneccesary burdens that statements like this could cause.

The way he uses terms at times was also troubling.  At times he appears  quite clear on what the Kingdom is, the reign and rule of Jesus Christ over all of creation, something we cannot manufacture or manipulate.  But then there are times where he makes statements like, "The kingdom of God is not primarily an action we perform but a message we proclaim." It is neither actually. 

The same can be said about the Gospel.  The Gospel seems to be exclusively equated with "how to be saved."  It is the cross and resurection only, even ignoring the role of the  life of Christ in the  believer's salvation.  I would hope in a book about the Kingdom of God to get a more robust treatment of the Gospel than simply as the key to enter the Kingdom.  The Gospel is the message of the Kingdom.  It is not less than the personal salvation of a sinner, but it is definitely much more. Ryken states, " No gospel will be preached in hell. By then it will be too late to repent, too late to believe, and too late to enter the kingdom of God."  This is definitely the case if the Gospel is simply thekey to heaven but I would argue that the Gospel is much more and that  Philippians 2 contradicts the idea of no Gospel proclamation in hell.  The Gospel is the message of the King reclaiming His Kingdom and this will be proclaimed in all creation, for all time.  Those who reject God are not exempt from worshipping Him or bringing Him glory, even from a place of eternal torment. 

Ryken's chapter on Kingdom consumation towards the end is a great chapter and what I was wanting to read the entire time.

As a citizen of God’s kingdom, I long to see our royal Prince on his great day! I sigh to be renewed. I also hope fervently to see an end to all our earthly trials. John writes about this as well. The book of Revelation does more than simply tell us what will be in the kingdom, when all God’s promises are fulfilled; it also tells us what will be kept out of the kingdom. When the kingdom comes—when the old order of things passes away and God makes all things new—there will be no more death and no more pain.

Ryken's style makes this an easy book to read.  I do have concerns about aspects of this work but definitely think that overall it is a pretty good read!

I received a copy of this book from the good people at Crossway for review purposes through Netgalley.com