The Kingdom of God as a Culture
There is a culture of the “Kingdom of God.” This divine Christian culture is in the world but not of the world. What I am asking you to do in this blog post discussion of God’s culture is to see, to conceptualize the Kingdom of God in this world as a single unified cultural form. This cultural unity is not typical of the perspectives held by individuals even in the churches of the Christian world. We tend to see our differences. Individualism and self-affirmation, self-differentiation, narcissistic vanity is the cultural objective of modern western civilization. Even as we long to be with and within a community, we long to affirm self. Christians who seek fellowship usually pursue a form of religious unity through their native society, native culture perhaps mitigated by some consideration of theology and intellectual approaches to interpreting scripture. We tend to identify with and within a denomination or sect, variously defined by worldly culture, ethnic or racial identity, regional association and further defined by some construct of theology and political organization. In this way we divide ourselves against the larger Christian world and against the world at large. The Kingdom of God as a cultural mode is truly unified. The kingdom of God is one. The Kingdom of God culture is an entirely and fully sufficient cultural form. Churches of all sorts are deficient in their ability to convey Kingdom of God cultural unity due to human frailties, politicization of church organization and the pressures of diverse worldly cultural thought forms encroaching upon the social and cultural formation of individual Christians. Clergy tend to try to work with and accommodate popular culture to attract the public rather than promoting the Kingdom of God culture. Seeing the Kingdom of God as a cultural form is profitable because it allows the Christian individual, upon self-examination to perceive their own soul’s innermost affiliations. Most of our religious Christian church affiliation is wrought of worldly cultural parameters rather than Kingdom of God cultural parameters. So our cultural formation as Christians tends to be both in the world and of the world. Jesus was both in the world and of the world but His cultural formation was entirely wrought in the Kingdom of God culture. That is why the world put Him to death. So our objective in life is to die to self and recalibrate our minds to the mind of Christ. Perceiving the Kingdom of God as a culture can perhaps help with this very personal and demanding inner exercise of the mendicant Christian soul. God Himself can convey His Kingdom’s culture incrementally to human individuals through a process of spiritual education and transformation. At the time of this writing in the early 21st century, western civilization has mutated culturally to such an extent that the variability of cultural forms approaches the level of individual formation. The culture of western civilization has become so diverse, mutating so quickly that there is no culture, only individuals gasping to keep pace with a rapidly changing, highly variable society. The phrase, “Liquid Modernity” coined in intellectual speak, labels this cultural situation in which individuals cannot find conventional cultural points of reference due to the intense speed of cultural and or technological change. There is an overwhelming emphasis upon individual rights, plurality, choices of sexual identity, overcoming of racial, ethnic and sexual bigotry, a latent demand for a socialist economic paradigm to emerge in the capitalist west that can somehow be both prosperous and egalitarian fueling a will to change, exacerbated by philosophically, theologically and spiritually destabilizing secularization of thought. So the culture of contemporary western civilization is a roiling mass of individual strivings to secure wealth and define their identity and place in the world. All traditional modes of thought, modes of cultural being and traditional notions of morality are under siege by a ubiquitous anarchic emphasis on individual self-defining run amok. The greatest good, it is thought in this morass of alternatives and autonomy is a concept of personal freedom divorced from and yet somehow socially integrated in a nebulous morphing cultural frameworks. Liquid modernity renders contemporary culture a train moving at such speed no one has the intellectual or psychological speed to get aboard. Frankly, I am not prepared to write an analytical description of the substance and the alternatives which comprise the contemporary cultural morass. If I had a God like perspective on western civilization today I could perhaps categorize, describe and explain the fabric of western societies. If I could write such an essay you would not be able to understand it and the reality would be that it would only be a momentary description requiring a God like capacity to keep up with ongoing necessary revisions. Human beings need the stability of conventional cultural points of reference and the chaos fomented by liquid modernity has stolen away that opportunity. There are alternatives to this situation. An individual can struggle to identify a rooted culture and strive to join. It may be a Jim Jones society or a Branch Davidians society or a biker gang or the Elks or the Moose lodge or narcotics distribution gang. There are many species of human collectives. There are a multitude of worldly cultural alternatives but they all possess disagreeable attributes. Let me suggest, the Kingdom of God culture as culture is both life’s eternal life’s first best alternative. As is recorded in the gospel of John, chapter 3, Nicodemus came to Jesus one night to investigate this humble Son of Man who could perform extraordinary miracles. To appreciate the story it needs to be understood that these two men occupied very different stations within the Judean Hebrew world. Jesus was a common laborer, construction worker, a man making His living with his hands. Nicodemus was the equivalent of a United States Senator. He was also a Pharisee, the most intellectually respected category in Hebrew society. Nicodemus was both intellectually and politically elite. So the interview with Jesus was like a U S Senator who also possesses a Th.D. from Harvard goes to the poorest neighborhood in metropolitan Washington DC in the middle of the night to find and meet and talk to a construction day laborer. The discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus is reproduced below for your convenience from the New American Standard Bible. John 3:1-21 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; 2 this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these [a]signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born [b]again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus *said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born [c]again.’8 The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. 12 If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. 14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up;15 so that whoever [d]believes will in Him have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His [e]only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the [f]only begotten Son of God. 19 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” John 3:1-21 Most Christians, when they read this extraordinary passage fixate upon the idea of being born again. Being born again is merely a means to an end. The end is the ability to see the Kingdom of God. That is why I allude to a culture of the Kingdom of God. Jesus explains that one cannot see the Kingdom of God unless one is born of the Spirit. Once we are empowered to see the Kingdom of God, what we see is a divine cultural form. It is not a system of rules. It is not even really about law or morality although spiritual life is supremely moral. The Kingdom of God is a divine culture in which we are blessed to be able to participate in the divine nature through a process of transformation in which we die to ourselves and recalibrate ourselves to the mind of Christ. The hand of God, the Spirit of god accomplishes this change, this growth, this transformation within us. Jesus chided Nicodemus asking, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understanding these things?” The Spirit of God was available in the world before Christ entered the world in the flesh. It has always been since Adam and Eve. Yet the spiritual light did not shine in the hearts and minds of most people because most people do not seek the light and invite it in. That same spiritual light is now still available to us, to all of mankind. It is the will of God that we would seek Him, enter into God’s spiritual agenda of this, our lives in the flesh, that our heart and mind, soul and spirit would gestate toward godliness while we live out our lives in this laboratory of struggle and striving. God disciplines and reproves those whom He loves and this is a great and largely unappreciated blessing. This exquisite existential spiritual opportunity is that which would respond to and satisfy the hunger in mankind’s souls. Another excerpt reproduced below for your convenience from the New American Standard Bible.
Matthew 9:35-38 35 Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.
36 Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then He *said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.38 Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” Matthew 9:35-38
Notice what Jesus was proclaiming in Matthew 9:35, “the gospel of the kingdom.” Notice Jesus’ take on the people He observed. They were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Why were the people distressed and dispirited? They lived in the theocracy of Israel. They were the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob the chosen people of God. They were steeped in religious leadership. They had the Hebrew theocratic governing body, the Sanhedrin. They had the intellectually elite Pharisees, hardcore students of the Hebrew scripture to teach them. They had another category of elites called the Sadducees who held a more administrative role in the religious life of the people. They abounded in Rabbis, religious teachers of the Hebrew faith. They had scribes who faithfully reproduced copies of scripture according to a strict discipline. The people Jesus observed were very much like the people of western civilization today. We are steeped in the religion of the Judeo Christian legacy and there are churches and synagogues throughout western society proclaiming some version of the truth. Yet the people, struggling with liquid modernity, adrift in a turbulent sea of competing thought forms are distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Who is to blame for this situation? In part, western civilization is reaping what it has sown in secularizing the culture. To secularize is to throw off God. It is a choice and much of western civilization is seduced by a demythologizing secularizing inclination to repudiate God, scripture and traditional morality and values. Yes, it is a choice we have made. Also, the churches are often staffed by clergy who, relying upon intellectual discernment and methods of interpreting scripture, lacking spiritual discernment conform and cater to their denominational and sectarian subculture by which they are employed rather than pursuing a personal odyssey to seek God and truth and thereby promote the culture of the kingdom of God, that is the gospel of the kingdom as Jesus did. This is a thing to be understood. It is easy to write these words, to be a critic but this post comes to you as part of a larger effort to redirect the thought of western civilization back to the God of the bible, back to the culture of the Kingdom of God.
The following YouTube loop is a dramatization of Jesus and Nicodemus’ conversation from the gospel of John chapter 3.