Christ / Church / Culture / February 26, 2007

The Gospel of the Kingdom

The Gospel of the KingdomHow should we view the Kingdom of God? How should our view of the Kingdom of God impact the way that we live now? The Gospel of the Kingdom by George Eldon Ladd provides a concise scriptural analysis of the Bible’s teaching on the Kingdom of God, which is intended to change the way we live by reshaping our understanding of this central concept. Ladd helpfully defines the Kingdom of God in this way:

“The Kingdom of God is basically the rule of God. It is God’s reign, the divine sovereignty in action. God’s reign, however, is manifested in several realms and the Gospels speak of entering into the Kingdom of God both today and tomorrow. God’s reign manifests itself both in the future and in the present and thereby creates both a future realm and a present realm in which man may experience the blessings of His reign” (24).

Ladd spends the duration of the book unpacking this definition and unfolding its implications. When it was written in 1959, Ladd’s work was a groundbreaking accomplishment because it provided clarity to the Kingdom debate in a way that was credible to scholars and accessible to lay people.

Ladd begins the book in chapter 1 by presenting the need for Kingdom comprehension and defining the terms for Kingdom understanding. One of the prominent features of the book is his effort to establish the already/not yet tension of inaugurated eschatology.

Ladd depicts the function of chapter 2 as describing “the future aspect of His reign; but throughout the rest of the book we shall devote ourselves to the present aspect of God’s Kingdom as it has to do with present experience” (25). This devotion to the present aspect of the Kingdom begins in chapter 3 and permeates the duration of the monograph.

The next section of the book discusses various components of this present aspect including the mystery, the life, the righteousness, and the demand of the Kingdom. In chapter 4, Ladd describes the mystery of the Kingdom as a “divine purpose, hidden in the counsels of God for long ages but finally disclosed in a new revelation of God’s redemptive work” (52). What, then, is the mystery of the Kingdom? Ladd responds, “that the Kingdom of God has come among men and yet men can reject it” (56).

For those who embrace the Kingdom, Ladd contends for living in light of this reality in chapter 5. According to Ladd, the life of the Kingdom should be guided by questions such as, “Has the realization gripped you that the very life of heaven itself dwells within you here and now? (78). Inaugurated eschatology is intended to impact all of life.

Ladd considers the righteous nature of this Kingdom lifestyle in chapter 6. He marvels at God’s role in every aspect of Kingdom life, “The righteousness which God requires is the righteousness of God’s Kingdom which God imparts as He comes to rule within our lives” (79).

In chapter 7, Ladd connects the life of the Kingdom to the demand of the Kingdom—denial of self. He makes an important nuance, “Self-denial is self-centered; denial of self is Christ-centered. Denial of self means death, nothing less” (104). This distinction is crucial.

In the final two chapters, Ladd grapples with holistic issues related to the Kingdom of God. Ladd uses chapter 8 to tackle the intricate relationship of the Kingdom to both Israel and the Church. As he notes, “The most difficult aspect of the Biblical teaching of the Kingdom of God is its relationship to Israel and the Church” (107). Ladd not only balances the distinction between Israel and the Church but also clarifies their roles in the unified program of God’s Kingdom.

Ladd saves the portion of eschatology that most people are primarily interested (specific details about end time events) for the final chapter of the book. Ladd’s response to the answer of when the Kingdom will come is, “But I do not need to know. I know only one thing: Christ has not yet returned; therefore the task is not yet done. When it is done, Christ will come” (137). Throughout his scriptural treatment, Ladd argues for a comprehensive understanding of the Kingdom that impacts all of life and all of the cosmos.

There are a number of strengths to this exceptional book. The forte of the book that undergirds all its other strong points is its clarity. The shape of Ladd’s lucidity on the Kingdom ranges from the comprehensive definition mentioned above to this concise explanation, “The Kingdom of God is God’s redemptive reign” (95).

His ability to coherently supply an understanding of the definition of the Kingdom is rivaled only by his capacity to analyze the relevant biblical data. Ladd is well justified in subtitling the book “scriptural studies in the Kingdom of God.”

Another contributor to the book’s clarity is Ladd’s use of diagrams to visually reinforce his teachings on the Kingdom, which occur primarily in chapters 2-3. The scriptural support and relevant diagrams come together to provide penetrating insight into the Bible’s teaching on the Kingdom of God.

Ladd’s clarity on the Kingdom is crucial in his effort to convey scripture’s big picture of the Kingdom. This big picture comes together through Ladd’s excellent treatment of the now/not yet tension of inaugurated eschatology. As Ladd summarizes, “Such sayings lead to the conclusion that there is not only a future overlapping of the ages in the millennial period but also a present overlapping of The Age to Come and This Age, and that we are now living ‘between the times’” (42).George Eldon Ladd

Ladd reiterates that the focal point of the Kingdom’s big picture is Christ—the reigning King. He declares, “Furthermore, the Kingdom of God will never be fully realized apart from the personal, glorious, victorious Coming of Christ” (39). Ladd’s focus on Christ as the centerpiece to the big scheme of the Kingdom allows him to successfully navigate the treacherous terrain of describing the relation of the Kingdom to Israel and the Church.

Ladd explains the Church in this way, “The Church therefore is not the Kingdom of God; God’s Kingdom creates the Church and works in the world through the Church” (117). Ladd releases the tension between both now/not yet and Israel/Church through His focus on the King Himself. In Christ, the big picture of the Kingdom is brought into focus.

A final strength of the book is Ladd’s relentless pursuit of a resolute purpose. His lofty goal through this brief book is to convince his audience of the centrality of the Kingdom in a way that is so clear that it impacts the way they live. Ladd unwaveringly calls his readers to advance this Kingdom.

In the final chapter, Ladd concludes with a call to action, “We are realists, Biblical realists, who recognize the terrible power of evil and yet who go forth in a mission of world-wide evangelization to win victories for God’s Kingdom until Christ returns in glory to accomplish the last and greatest victory” (139). The point of the book which Ladd so adequately conveys is that understanding the Kingdom overflows in battling for the Kingdom.

Alongside the many strengths of the book are several weaknesses. Many of these resulted from the brevity of the book itself. To Ladd’s credit, it is impossible to exhaust the central teaching of the Bible in merely 140 pages.

Limitations on the scope of the book were evident on several occasions. For instance, in reference to a dispute about the Olivet Discourse, Ladd briefly addresses the issue and then concludes, “This, however, involves critical problems which cannot here be discussed.” (124). Similar encounters happen at other points in the book, which leave the reader desiring more understanding than Ladd provides.

The limitations of space also prohibit Ladd from engaging with alternative perspectives of Kingdom theology. Despite offering a short survey of the various positions on pp. 15-16, Ladd rarely interacts with these views throughout the book.

This is especially evident in chapter 5 when he comments on ‘The Life of the Kingdom’. Though he establishes a comprehensive view of what Kingdom life looks like from his perspective of inaugurated eschatology, there is no commentary on how this is different from or superior to the Kingdom life that flows from other views.

Space limitations cause the amount of relevant application to be limited as well. This is most sorely missed in Ladd’s chapter involving the Church. Dealing with more of the practical implications of inaugurated eschatology may have added to the length of the book, but it would have certainly contributed to the depth of its impact.

A final weakness of the book is Ladd’s treatment of the relationship of the Kingdom to Israel. In chapter 8, Ladd’s argument for a future redemption of ethnic Israel lacks clear development. Ladd is cautioning against a Dispensational view of Israel and the church as having “two separate and unrelated purposes” (120). However, he fails to clearly articulate his view on this essential kingdom question. Instead, he renders it “impossible in this study to enter into the question” (120).

In contrast to the plethora of NT scriptural support for his observations on the Kingdom, Ladd’s work struggles to produce OT scriptural support for his claims about ethnic Israel and its expected Messiah. Instead of detracting from the quality of the book, Ladd’s weaknesses simply leave the reader longing for more of his sharp insight on these issues.

This book leaves many unanswered questions for two main reasons. First, it is so thought-provoking that it causes the reader to process trough an abundance of new issues. Second, it is so brief that it cannot adequately address all of the ramifications of its analysis. With those two facts in mind, here are some of the questions that remain after a thorough reading of the book:

  • What are the shortcomings of alternative positions on the Kingdom of God?
  • How do Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount fit into your Kingdom theology?
  • How does our western understanding of Kingdom differ from the perspective of those who were contemporaries of Jesus?
  • How do you explain your view of future redemption for ethnic Israel with biblical support?
  • What impact should the connection between the Kingdom and the church have on ecclesiology in general and local church practice in particular?
  • What does it look like to ‘surrender to the rule’ of the Kingdom (106)? How does this fit into the setting of the local church and progressive sanctification?

How should we view the Kingdom of God? How should our view of the Kingdom of God impact the way that we live now? The Gospel of the Kingdom by George Eldon Ladd does an excellent job of dealing with both questions.

The way that Ladd incorporates a biblically saturated explanation of his unique ideas provides a brief yet powerful resource that is commendable to anyone who desires a more lucid understanding of both the foundation and the ramifications of inaugurated eschatology.

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