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Bobby Valentine

Wade thank you for reminding us that the imperative always is grounded in the indicative. How true this is. We like, however, to RUSH past the indicative to simply telling folks what to do. Perhaps this is the root of all legalism.

Bobby Valentine

Ben Overby


I agree that our sermons should be grounded in the gospel! However, the gospel Jesus preached was the gospel of the kindom of the heavens, or God. His good news was that the kindom had come near. The quesion on the heart of the disciples in Acts 1 was "when" the kingdom of Israel would be restored. The gospel preached at the other book end in Acts is described by Luke as Paul proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ (28.31). The gospel of the kingdom is grounded in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, but the gospel of the kingdom is more sweeping, more broad than the redemptive work of the cross. And the good news of God's grace, as you described it, certainly isn't limited to a past event, namely the cross. The victory over the cross, the resurrection of Jesus is the ground of our salvation, the foundation of our faith, and the historical event that allows us to trust in God's promises for today and eternity. Paul's concept of grace was rooted in the past, lived in the present, and very much in anticipation of the "still to come." He said, He who did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also graciously give us all things? That's the most powerful statement about grace in all of scripture, in my opinion. Jesus was "given." Freely, of cours! Because God was willing to do that we can be sure that He will do as He's promised with us by graciously giving us all things. And it is those promises that will move us, that will give us victory, which explains why Paul's gospel was so thoroughly escatological. And Peter's argument is that we've been given great and precious promises through Christ that through them (the promises) we share in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world. The promises are a gift, grace grounded in grace so that we can live by grace (grace, grace, grace!) So, my caution is that we not allow ourselves to be blinded by the cross. As brilliant as it is, it is the ground upon which we can trust in the promises and it's trust in the promises that will fuel our ethic, not mere gratitude for a past historical, no matter how glorious, event. Yes, it's the cross, and yes it's grace, but the gospel of the kingdom is a gospel of nearly unbelievable promises regarding today and eternity, and the only way I'm going to believe them is by the grace of Jesus' death and His resurrection as the proof that God can indeed create something out of nothing and give life to the dead and all the rest (ro. 4). Our tendency is to focus backward on the cross, and to some extent forward to a handful of promises. It seems to me that the gospel grounds itself in the finished work on the cross so that we can be fully focused on the covenant promises of God which allows us to live in the tension of this present age (past, future, present grace).

Does that make any sense or does my thinking need some adjustment?

Ben Overby

Wade Tannehill


I think what you wrote makes a lot of sense and I appreciate your taking the time to comment. Thank you for reading this blog and thank you for your humility.

What you said reminded me of Brian McLaren’s paper, “The Strategy We Pursue.” A shortened version appears under the title, “A Radical Rethinking of our Evangelistic Strategy” in the Fall 2004 issue of Theology News & Notes.”

McLaren states that “Perhaps the gospel has something to do with the kingdom of God” and that “atonement theology may be a kind of prelude to the gospel, or groundwork that prepares the way for the gospel of the kingdom of God.”

I think you were saying something to that effect and I agree with it. That is why I did not stop with the cross (atonement theology), but also mentioned the resurrection and ascension. In Acts 2, Jesus is declared “Messiah” by virtue of his resurrection and “Lord” by virtue of his ascension. If he is both Messiah and Lord (in addition to suffering servant) it stands to reason that he has a kingdom.

McLaren continued, “Evangelicals have historically considered battle lines to be drawn between justification by works versus justification by faith, but…the new battle line is rather between salvation beyond history from hell by grace versus salvation within history from sin by grace—with sin including both personal and social dimensions.”

In other words, I think McLaren is saying that the gospel is not just atonement theology, but it’s about life in the kingdom of God, involving God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. So, yes, I did intend to imply this.

But my polemic was not primarily aimed at evangelicals who stop short of the kingdom due to a preoccupation with atonement theology, but toward those of the Stone-Campbell tradition (of which I’m a part) who, in some cases, have yet to even grasp atonement theology. My polemic was also aimed at any Christian triumphalism that tends to miss that part about the crucified life.

Moreover, we have all heard sermons on marriage or positive thinking that could have been lectures by Dr. Phil or Dale Carnegie, for they were devoid of any grounding in the gospel.

But as I said, Paul's teaching on marriage is always based on Christ's sacrificial example OR “on his lordship,” which was my way of bringing in the kingdom dimension, although not as clearly as you did. Thank you for your contribution.

So I am not of the understanding that our ethics are merely from a soteriological motive (although they are that), but there is also a Christological and eschatological motive. What does it mean to live in the kingdom under the lordship of Jesus the Messiah?

If I rewrote the post, I would have said more about the kingdom, but perhaps this blog should first offer some definition since I don’t want anyone to think that by “kingdom” I mean “ecclesiastical institution.” To leave that impression defeats my argument that preaching should be theologically grounded.

You brought up some good points on which I would like to see some elaboration. I’m struggling to articulate some of these concepts and I started this blog not only to teach, but to learn from others.

How would you say that God’s promises are for today as well as for eternity and so in what sense is Paul’s gospel “thoroughly eschatological”? How, specifically, does trust in God’s promises fuel our ethic? While you say that our ethic is fueled by these promises and not “mere gratitude for a past event” I would be careful to add that the gratitude for this past event nevertheless comes into play (as I’m sure you would agree).

Would you have any bibliography to offer in which your understanding of the kingdom is developed by yourself or others?

Now I hope that my comment makes sense.

ben overby

Let me begin with your caution, one that can't be overstated. ". . . gratitude for this past event nevertheless comes into play." Indeed, and without that past event, we wouldn't even be having this conversation. Life wouldn't be worth living! What I perceive around me, however, is something of a normative mood that makes gratitude for the atonement everything. There's a real danger of developing vampire Christians, as Dallas Willard puts it. I'm from the south, so I think of it as tick or leach Christians, those who say "thank you, Jesus, for the blood," and leave it at that. They're like spiritual parasites, sucking the blood out of Christ, feeling good because their sins have been forgiven, but whose life never transforms by grace in the kingdom of God. We're fat on forgiveness, but failing to live in a way that glorifies God.

How would you say that God’s promises are for today as well as for eternity and so in what sense is Paul’s gospel “thoroughly eschatological”?

Jn 17.3 indicates that we've stepped into eternity already. This is eternal life, that they know You the the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. We know Him now. 2 Co. 4-5 show the extent to which Paul was living in the present by the power of grace in the form of future promises. Everything had changed for him. Everything was new. Judgment is coming. He was going to get a new and improved body. He was looking to the future in order to find meaning in present suffering and the energy to endure. Ro. 8.18 unravels much of the mystery behind pain and suffering. When we sinned, creation was cursed, thorns started to grow, lions and lambs became enemies, tsunamis and cancer--it's all tied to our sin. When we are glorified in the resurrection, creation will be liberated. Paul keeps all that in mind and describes the whole of the cosmos as being in labor pains. We are in the maternity ward. The maternity ward is a strange place. The room is full of pain and promise. The pain is endured for the sake of the new creation, the new life that's being birthed. Again, that's us in Christ. Our imagination is fueled by the promise of what's coming so that we can robustly approach the present situation.

1 Co. 3 indicates that our character will follow us into eternity; therefore, Paul saw continuity between this life and the next phase. Wasted work will be burned off of us. We probably won't need our golf game. But we will take the measure of love and patience and humility and all the rest with us. We'll need those qualities as God positions us, once again, as kings of the earth (Re. 5; Re. 22 & reigning); we were created to exercise dominion over all creation, and it is toward that end that the project is moving; that is, it is a restoration of the brokenness, it is redemption in history to reverse the curse so that we can once again live in paradise. 1 Co. 11 centers the Lord's supper in both the past and the future (until He comes). Paul probably got a bit carried away with his eschatology in 1 Thes, and had to write the second letter to adjust the thinking of his readers, some of which were quiting work in anticipation of an immediate second coming. 1 Co. 15 grounds our ethic in the resurrection. The last verse in the chapter reminds us that our labor is not in vain. Why not? Because we are going to get a glorified body just like the one Jesus has! And in his language, we are going to be fully Spiritualized rather than soulized--we will live off of divine energy, not just a little down payment of the Spirit as is the case now. But given that's where it's headed, we are to work in His grace to image it for the world now so that others can see God's glory and join His communion. Peter adds that God will purify the cosmos, recreating heaven and earth and notes that sense that's the case, we ought to be a particular kind of people. Promises about the future that can be believed because of the cross and resurrection. Our faith in Jesus' past work is the ground for our trust in His glorious future. The cross and resurrection get us going; they project us into kingdom living as we clutch the promises close to our breast every moment of ever day.

Bibliography? Dallas Willard's Divine Conspiracy and Renovation of the Heart; N. T. Wright's Resurrection of the Son of God, Thomas Merton's A New Man, and I would soak my head in two works from Jonathan Edwards--An Unpublished Treatise on the Trinity and Concerning the End for Which God Created the World.

If I were a bible professor at any of our schools (Stone-Cambell) I would never let a student graduate who couldn't demonstrate a full comprehension of Edward's arguments regarding both the Trinity and God's glory. His stuff on the trinity is speculative, but he's obviously dealing with mystery; however, it is plausible and whether it's right or wrong, as a hypothesis it meets the criteria for a good hypothesis (it gets in all the material, its simple, its elegant, and it answers questions that might not seem immediately relevant). But it's value is in how it makes the heart leap for joy and delight at the thought of God! Merton's work is dense, but he was a monk and be excused for writing with so much abstraction. But A New Man is worth paying close attention to. Willard and Wright are much easier reads and both are giants who've helped me get a great deal of light on my map. I'm sure you're familiar with them, I'm just indicating something of their influence in my thinking.

Ben Overby

Wade Tannehill


Very well said.

I hope my last response made it clear that I'm not advocating "vampire Christianity." I really beleive that we are in agreement, but what I left unexpressed in the initial post is because in our respective ministries we are probably doing task theology in respone to differing normative moods.

Thanks for the bibliography. I have read Willard, but will put Wright and Edwards on my must read list.

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