It’s quite interesting watching yeast at work. It is everywhere, ostensibly – on the peel of pears and grapes, in the air, etc. Medieval bakers did not quite know what it was, but they knew what it did. They would set a bowl of flour and water out in the field or under an apple tree. Over time, slowly gaining strength and multiplying, the yeast in the air would turn a lifeless lump of starch, fiber, water and so forth into a foaming, bubbling mass.
I enjoy capturing wild yeast as leaven. You keep some apple peel, maybe raisins, sugar and water in a jar and let the yeast multiply awhile. Then you add flour to make a sponge. With plenty of patience thrown in, you could make some airy, crusty loaves of freshly baked bread. More patience than usual is necessary, but otherwise the process is surprisingly intuitive.
So is the Kingdom, really.
He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Matthew 13:33)
The Kingdom must be at work. It is alive. Perhaps it escapes the naked eye, but the transformation it effects makes its presence known.
I have been thinking about the Kingdom of God in 2022. Meditating on the “parable of baking” inspired some thoughts that I thought to discuss here today. We invite you to share your thoughts in the form of comments or even an article. The traps that came to my mind are: “historicism” of a certain kind (for lack of a better word), dogmatism, and omphaloskepsis.
Firstly, perhaps we are in danger of being solely focused on with what God’s Kingdom looked like in the past. While we must surely learn from those who have come before, we can’t stop there and call it day. Jesus mocked the idea of those who built memorials and tombs to the prophets but who would have assuredly stoned them to death. The question is not what did God’s people used to do, but whether we are of the same Kingdom doing the same work. The Kingdom is built by labourers and not merely archaeologists, researchers and reporters.
Secondly, and this stems from the first, we are in danger of dogmatism. Perhaps by focusing only on what the Kingdom was in the past we develop fixed ideas of what the Kingdom must be now. The Kingdom of God leavens the world, and the world today that it is leavening is the one that is before us, not behind us.
The Kingdom of God should be thus be thought of not as dogma, but as “methodology”, that is an approach and a framework for practical transformation. We should not be fixed on what we consider its limits and bounds. It is a Kingdom BREAKING IN, and immanent, and thus what it means becomes more real to us as it does so. It is alive. It takes incarnational form in human communities. It steps outside the pages of the New Testament into reality and it certainly steps beyond any historical narratives about what is “of Christ and Belial” such as concerning hatred of enemies and the power of the sword. Dogmatism can make us blind to the suffering people face in the world today and the way God is presently working among them.
What is the peace, mercy, justice and righteousness of Christ, and who today needs these the most? What are the things in the world today that are of darkness and Satan, and how do we overcome them? How do we participate in Jesus’s work of setting the captives free?
This is an example: we have come to define Kingdom nonviolence as things in which we do not participate: killing, judgment, coercion, etc.. We are perhaps strong on what we do not do, but perhaps these are things that we already take for granted and are not immediate and pressing to us. By nominally adhering to a fixed checklist of “nonviolent” practices, perhaps we are tempted to be complacent. If we are not presently being compelled to stone our neighbours or take up arms against enemies, how do we live the Kingdom? What does nonviolence mean in communities where shootings are taking place? What about racialised violence – are we aware of when and how it happens, or is it far removed from our lived experiences even if it’s very present and real to our neighbours? How do we respond to rampant and grotesque sexual abuse in the “church” and in the secular world? Are we as strong in opposing evil when it manifests itself in ways we do not typically expect?
The amazing thing about leaven is that it can survive for thousands of years. Samples of yeast from ancient Egypt have recently been revived to make bread. In the same way, is the leaven of the Kingdom a historical museum exhibit from the first, second and third centuries or we are we taking that same leaven and putting it to use today?
Dogmatism is frustrating and counterproductive. It happens when we try to have the auspices of the Kingdom as lived out by past Christians without the life and vitality in which they were imbibed. A Kingdom vision should be for us, as it was for them, one forecasting the age to come in very real ways, sometimes imperfectly and sometimes incredibly and sometimes both at once.
Dogmatism is an attempt to square the circle, to borrow an expression. It is an attempt to make into a rigid system what is in a navigation of paradox. There will always, in fact, be some conflicts and contradictions of existence that are not necessarily easy to iron out in practice, that is, being “in the world but not of the world”.
Christ made these two kingdoms at variance with each other and separated. There will therefore be no peace between them. In the end, however, Christ will crush and destroy all the other kingdoms with his power and eternal kingdom. But his will remain eternally.Hans Schnell (Source)
Dogmatism destroys. For example, in “rejecting violence”, churches can fall into the error of perpetuating violence by denying justice and protection to victims of abuse while blindly emphasizing shallow forgiveness. This often results in further victimization. Dogmatism leads to the very thing that one purposes not to be. It perhaps stems from languishing in a closed loop, an echo chamber.
The Kingdom of God is literally a seed, one with a promise of life and growth. If we don’t see “kingdom theology” as brimming with potential, then we’re looking at it wrong.
Thirdly, we are in danger of omphaloskepsis, that is, naval-gazing and focusing only on ourselves. There is a entire world out there and God hears the cries of the oppressed day and night. There are people who have never heard the name of Jesus. There are children starving. What does the Kingdom mean in reality, other than as a good idea we repeat and discuss ad nauseum?
The interesting thing about leaven is that you have to keep giving it something new to “eat” so that it stays alive. If I do not refresh a sourdough starter with new flour when it is at its peak, it will consume all the starch present and then go flat, stale, and useless. I am not saying that every aspect of theology is comparable to bread-making, but this is certainly a worthwhile consideration – in the book of Acts, new souls were added to their number daily. The Jerusalem church was one with constant additions, constant “refreshings” of new material for the leaven to work through. The Antiochan church was one where people from different cultures came together. The Kingdom of God is to keep expanding until it reaches the world over.
Within the Christian world, there is an incredible hunger for the Kingdom, for the real thing as opposed to the broken, harmful mishmash of Christianity and the world that has been pedaled for centuries.The events of the past few years have moved many to embracing a Kingdom worldview as a vision and mission. Thus, the conversations we will be having about the Kingdom all over the world and all over the internet are becoming more and more relevant. It is not really about this website, platform, author or podcast becoming massively influential, but it is about the conversations we have and the people we encounter. It is not necessary to encompass everything and everyone under our umbrella or platform, but simply shine as a light where we are.
For example, biblical scholar Roger Olson recently shared about his summation of Christian ethics and his struggle with historical failures.
…when I looked back at my research and writing to discover why I was tempted to give up on the project, I realized the reason. There was general agreement about Christian ethics up to the time of Emperor Constantine and then it all fell apart. Yes, there were still great Christian voices in Christian ethics after Constantine (e.g., John Chrysostom), but my heart was sickened by the so-called Christian ethics of Augustine and others of the early age of Christendom and afterwards. Yes, again, there were points of light here and there (especially the Anabaptists during and after the Reformation), but throughout so much of Christendom, up to and including some of the most influential Christian ethicists in the 20th century, the deviations from the teachings of Jesus, the accommodations to secular (sometimes pretending to be Christian) political and economic powers, overwhelmed me with grief. It became a story I didn’t want to dwell on or tell.
For me, anyway, Constantinianism (entanglements of church and state) and Augustinianism (justifications of violence against heretics) took true, Jesus-centered, New Testament ethics off the rails and far away from the pre-Constantinian emphases on humility, peace, love of enemies, rejection of entanglements with political power and luxurious wealth, etc...
I find the condition of Christian ethics absolutely appalling and sickening. It lacks any center, anything like doctrinal orthodoxy. Highly respected, allegedly devout Christian ethicists disagree radically with each other over questions such as war, capital punishment, poverty, abortion, biomedical ethics, and just about everything where there should be some kind of at least rough consensus.Source
On Religion Dispatches, Dr. Chrissy Stroop wrote the following concerning the January 6 riots in 2020:
…where journalists and commentators are failing us, particularly in the legacy media, is in their refusal to push past their Christian supremacist biases enough to take these political actions seriously as Christianity. Not as a perversion of Christianity, but as one very real and powerful broad expression of the faith with deep historical roots that’s been present in one form or another at least since the fourth century, when Christianity became deeply entangled with Roman imperial power.
This is the Christianity of divine authority and violent apocalyptic “justice”; of Christ as ruler; of European colonialism and American white supremacy. And this Christianity is not a less authentic form of the faith than turn-the-other-cheek Christianity just because we may find it less congenial.
As I’ve argued many times, the dismissal of authoritarian Christianity as “fake” Christianity only serves to reinforce Christian hegemony by perpetuating the equation of “Christian” with “good” in the common imaginary, an equation we don’t make for members of any other religious or non-religious demographic
There are so many questions raised today that call for a Kingdom perspective. The game is afoot! Perhaps we will face challenges that the Sunday School books we studied in 1999 did not address. But Jesus calls us to the highways and byways, to beneath the hedges where the outcasts dwell, to the thornbushes and ravines where the last of lost sheep are hidden from view.
We at the Kingdom Outpost invite thoughts and comments from readers and recommendations for resources. Thank you for your support throughout 2021. Maybe continue to partner together in 2022 – have a blessed year ahead!