In our ongoing discussion of Insider Movements, we turn now to the question of what implications an understanding of the Kingdom of God might have for insider movements. In chapter 20 of Understanding Insider Movements, Anthony Taylor prefers the “Kingdom of God” paradigm over the “conflict of religions” paradigm. He writes:
An alternative to the ‘conflict of religions’ paradigm is the paradigm of the kingdom of God. This paradigm assumes that what is most important is the quality of one’s relationship to Christ and to a community of believers, and that such communities can have different practices and emphases, whether novel or traditional, foreign or indigenous, as long as they are compatible with the Bible. (UIM, kindle loc. 4293)
This is fine as far as it goes but there needs to be further definition. What is meant by ‘compatible with the Bible’? What is meant by ‘the quality of one’s relationship to Christ’? Beliefs about Christ and the nature of biblical revelation are avoided as if they were not important.
As to the ‘conflict of religions’ paradigm, he writes:
In the ‘conflict of religions’ approach, people are persuaded to abandon their own religious traditions and adopt those of another culture. (UIM, kindle loc. 4381)
My concern here is that he talks about traditions and not beliefs or doctrine. Religions are not just about traditions but about beliefs that define the worldview of the religion. It is these worldview beliefs that are in conflict. There are commonalities of practices such as prayer, fasting, alms, etc., but the conflict between religions shows up in the teaching (beliefs) on the nature of God, man, sin, salvation, etc. Evangelical missionaries do not want converts to adopt the missionary’s cultural traditions. Evangelical missionaries want converts to understand biblical beliefs that they can express in their own cultural forms. The conflict with other religions centers on the belief in the person and work of Christ. This is the heart of what needs to change. The quality of one’s relationship to Christ is tied to the matters of first importance in 1 Corinthians 15:3,4 – “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scripture. (ESV)” Taylor avoids any discussion of beliefs, talking about traditions and relationships instead. This fuzziness makes this chapter difficult to evaluate. Is he implying that the Kingdom of God is at work in other religions? He does talk about the Kingdom of God encompassing the various denominations of Christianity and then includes even non-Christian socio-religious communities. Christopher Wright notes that,
…we have to be very careful with the expression commonly heard in missiological and comparative religion debates, that ‘the Kingdom of God is at work in other religions’, for it is a very slippery concept with potentially contradictory inferences drawn from it according to the stance of the speaker or writer. Christopher J. H. Wright, “The Christian and other religions: the biblical evidence”, Themelios, 9.2 (January 1984): 12
Likewise, Paul Hiebert warns:
There are dangers, however. If we speak of missions as missio dei but do not define dei, we are free to equate the Kingdom with our own utopias – with Marxism, capitalism, and socialism. We can also unite with other religions that worship God to work for a heaven on earth and, in the process, deny the uniqueness of Christ and the Gospel. We end up weltering in conflicting relativisms of untethered ecumenism.
There is another danger, namely that we lose sight of the importance of evangelism and of the church. The focus is on the Kingdom on earth, rather than on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is captured in the phrase widely used after the New Delhi conference, ‘The world sets the agenda.’ …
We must define dei in terms of the triune God of the Bible. -Paul G. Hiebert, “Evangelism, Church, and Kingdom” in The Good News of the Kingdom, 158,159.
The church seems to be seen as just one expression of the Kingdom of God. Certainly God rules overall, but the church is the unique expression of the Kingdom of God in this age. Christopher Little (quoting Bavinck and Marshall) writes:
Moreover, although the church is derivative of the kingdom, the church is prerequisite to the kingdom in human experience. This thought comes directly from Jesus: “unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). As such, one cannot have kingdom without church since “the coming of the kingdom realizes itself in the conversion of sinners” [quoting Bavinck]. In other words, the “kingdom consists of those who respond to the message in repentance and faith, and thereby come into the sphere of God’s salvation and life.” [quoting Marshall] -Christopher Little. chapter 16, Missionshift, ed. by Hesselgrave and Stetzer, 208.
The Kingdom of God cannot be separated from the church that confesses that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh who died for our sins on the cross and rose again on the third day. Neither the Kingdom of God nor the church is defined by tradition but by God’s inerrant Word. Conversion is not about culture or tradition but about renewing our mind (Romans 12:1,2) and leading every thought captive to obedience to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). The Kingdom of God is manifest where the King’s Word (the Bible) is believed and lived.
So, I do not believe that a thorough understanding of the Kingdom of God supports the idea that genuine believers/Christ followers can continue to hold to all the beliefs of another religion and add belief in Christ. Belief in the biblical teaching of the person and work of Christ conflicts with the core teaching of all other religions. The teachings of the King (the only authoritative source being the Bible) will conflict with the teachings of other religions in many significant ways. Someone who has entered the Kingdom of God will live out his or her allegiance by believing and living according to the King’s Word.