Friday, April 20, 2018

Book Review: "The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross" by Patrick Schreiner

The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the CrossThe Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross by Patrick Schreiner

Not long ago, I was teaching a Bible class in our church on the parables, and I asked the class, “What was Jesus’ favorite subject to teach on?”

The answers came back hesitantly:

“The love of God?”
“The gospel?”
“The cross?”

All good but partial answers, and yet nobody offered the one I was looking for–the kingdom of God.

Patrick Schreiner opens his little book with a similar question that stumped him in his early days of serving in a campus ministry. A student simply asked him, “What is the kingdom of God?”

“I paused, fumbled around, then tossed out some words, but I ended my little incoherent bluster by saying that we would find out as we continued to study Matthew...Although my life up to this moment had been filled with good Bible teaching, I felt misplaced in a foreign land when I came to the language of kingdom. I knew the basics of the gospel message, but I could not figure out how the kingdom of God related to it or why Jesus spoke so often of it. My view of the good news had been abstracted, and I had overlooked the narrative that stood beside and underneath the glorious doctrines of Christianity” (pg. 13).

So the purpose of this new book in Crossway’s “Short Studies in Biblical Theology” series is to fix that common problem–to highlight, focus, and clarify the kingdom narrative that stands beside and underneath the glorious doctrines of Christianity.

In the first chapter, Schreiner offers a clear definition with three intertwined and irreducible threads, “The kingdom is the King’s power over the King’s people in the King’s place” (pg. 18). Schreiner insists that these three elements can be distinguished but should never separated and there are unhealthy consequences for theology, ministry, and the Christian life if we ignore any of the three parts, especially place. And then in the rest of the book, he traces out these three elements as the underlying thematic framework of the whole Bible successively through the major sections of Scripture in an unfolding fashion, using the order of the Hebrew Scriptures for the Old Testament (Law, Prophet, Writings). It’s very persuasive, and I agree with him that “Once you see it, it is hard to unsee” (pg. 24).

One of the things I appreciated the most was that Schreiner gave equal time to parts of the Bible that often get overlooked when talking about the kingdom. For example, the wisdom literature in the Old Testament gives what he calls, “a poetic picture of life in the kingdom” (pg. 67), and the epistles in the New Testament are “kingdom dispatches...working out the implications of the kingship of Christ” (pg. 108). I have already started using his helpful categories and rich terminology in my own mind and teaching when thinking about the underlying structure of the Bible storyline. I knew most of the data points already, but he connects the dots in a coordinated and compelling way–especially drawing upon the imagery of trees in the Bible.

I really appreciated how he emphasized the concept of place. For Schreiner, the kingdom is earthy, physical, concrete, shaped, tangible, substantial. He recognizes that this aspect of the kingdom teaching often gets overlooked (when it’s not being over-emphasized!), and I was pleased to see him tease it out of the various nooks and crannies of each section and genre of Scripture.

I was surprised and disappointed, therefore, when Schreiner skipped Revelation 20 altogether. He has an entire chapter on the kingdom in Revelation, highlighting its teaching on the power of God and the Lamb, the people of God, and even the place of God–“People regularly overlook the location of the kingdom in the biblical text, but is always present–Revelation included’ (pg. 128). But in his summaries, he jumps from chapters 17-19 to chapters 21-22.

This may be a strength, not a weakness, because the interpretation of Revelation 20 is so hotly debated among Bible students. Schreiner could prove his main points without referencing such a contested piece of the puzzle. But I was interested in knowing how he thought Revelation 20 fit into the framework he was developing. From my perspective as a convinced premillennialist, Revelation 20 is a instance in human history where the King is physically present ruling and reigning in power with His people in His earthly place. The millennium is not the final, full, and ultimate instance of these three coming together but a penultimate one that invites some theological reflection.

But this is a minor quibble over a lacuna in a book that is intentionally brief. Schreiner had to pick and choose his texts carefully, and I think the rest of his selections are wise and judicious.

But I haven’t said anything yet about the cross.

At first I thought that Schreiner had forgotten his subtitle. The cross is hardly mentioned in the introduction and isn’t mentioned by name in the first chapter. But it’s always there, just being progressively revealed. I think Schreiner was intentionally building towards the cross to mirror the way the Bible itself reveals it. So in the first chapter, he shows in the Law how “sacrifice is at the center of the kingdom plan,” in the second chapter in the Prophets he talks about the suffering servant, in the third chapter on the Writings, he talks about righteous suffering. And then in the New Testament section, the cross comes more clearly into focus.

The book concludes with a reflective chapter bringing the twin foci of kingdom and cross together. “The kingdom is not a higher or more important theme than the cross. These two realities are forever joined; separating them is an act of violence. If the kingdom is the goal, then the cross is the means. But this does not mean that the cross simply falls between the ages. Rather, it is the wheel that shifts one age into another; it is the great transition place, the turn of the ages for the people of God seeking their place” (pg.136-137).

Amen. I highly recommend this introduction to the oft unnoticed doctrine of the kingdom of God. I am currently preaching through the Gospel of Matthew, and Schreiner’s little volume is helping me to see and articulate more clearly what is going on as the King arrives on the scene, announces and demonstrates that His kingdom is near, embodies and teaches the new values and surprising norms and nature of His kingdom, and secures His kingdom of power, people, and place with His own blood.

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