Progressive Christian ‘Kin-dom of God’ Is a Fist Raised In Rebellion Against the True God
It sounds so warm and lovely, but is in fact a usurping mob come to cast off God's kingship and enthrone themselves in His place.
The Tempter told Eve she could rise up and become like God. Maybe no one falls for that anymore. Instead they believe him when he says God needs to be taken down and become like us. One sure sign of it is in the oh-so-sweet rebellion called the “kin-dom of God.” No more kingdom of God. That’s just bad, corrupted with hierarchy and domineering patriarchy. We just need solidarity, they say. We’re family, and our “kin-dom” is way better than His kingdom could ever be.
Inanity in the Theology
Stephen Cherry, Dean of King’s College, Cambridge is one of them. He complains at Church Times about unhelpful “baggage” attached to the word “kingdom”:
Rather than pray for the coming of God’s kingdom, we should pray for the coming of God’s kin-dom. Removing the “g” doesn’t make a huge difference to the way the word sounds, but it has a huge impact on how we understand it. Whereas the word “kingdom” suggests a vertical hierarchy, kin-dom suggests a horizontal solidarity.
I want to be respectful here. I am having trouble, because what Cherry said is a load of rubbish. You don’t need to know the Lord’s Prayer to see it. You don’t need to know how Cherry is staging himself as superior to Jesus, schooling Him on a better way to pray. Obviously things won’t turn out well for him if he stays on that track.
The inanity isn’t only in his theology, though. It’s a terribly Anglo-centric move, for starters. I don’t know, but I’ll bet you can’t make anything like it in Spanish, even though it was coined in support of liberal “Latina theology.” I’ll absolutely guarantee the New Testament Basileia won’t deliver up a word trick half so appallingly cute as “kin-dom.”
Hey, Everyone, Look What I Learned Today!
Worse yet is the great pleasure Cherry takes at the “huge impact” removing the “g” has on the “how we understand it,” where “it” refers to “kingdom.” This is downright silly. I can do the same thing to words I don’t like. Consider that nasty, insect-encrusted word “swarm.” All you have to do is take the “s” away. Wow! Do you see what a huge impact that has on how we understand it?
What this Cambridge academic seems to have landed upon is the astonishing fact that different words have different meanings. He even published it! Not in a scholarly journal, but so what? I’d be embarrassed to say it anywhere.
It’s an utterly sophomoric move. He’d fail a student at college who tried nonsense like that on an essay. But he’s Dean at a college at Cambridge, so he can publish whatever he wants. He has the position, so he has the power. If he really wanted to practice “horizontal solidarity,” he would have let someone with less status publish in his place. That person might not come off sounding so impressive, but he’d have trouble saying anything less sensible.
Easy Thinking, Lazy Thinking
Julianne Snape explains further at Ministry Matters, writing, “Some find the word kindom [sic] utterly compelling in its ability to catalyze an alternative worldview. It re-orders notions of power plays, social rank, and men ruling towards vulnerability, belonging, and reciprocity of care.” She agrees: It’s all about hierarchy. Further:
The word “kingdom” carries a dominating autocratic and patriarchical [sic] tone. Now, I get that God’s kingdom is not like any kingdom a human could reign. It is GOD’S kingdom, where perfect love orders the world with restorative justice, ever-flowing mercy, and remarkable grace. And though I can do mental gymnastics to hold a vision for God’s kingdom, I have found the word kin-dom to be far more generative.
She doesn’t know any good examples of “kingdom” on earth. The word itself reminds her of bad examples, and she doesn’t care to do the “mental gymnastics” of thinking about how God’s kingdom could be better. So she abandons it altogether as something “dominating autocratic and patriarchal,” and goes dancing off to find something more congenial.
But no, that’s being dismissive. Especially when her way is “far more generative,” implying it helps her develop whole new ways of thinking. It sounds great. I just don’t believe it. I’ve been looking, and I have yet to see this “kin-dom” word generating anything more thoughtful than what I heard in Pete Seeger’s fairy tale dream of people everywhere deciding they just want to get along.
Snape’s image of “GOD’S kingdom” demonstrates again how she needs to get her mind over to the gym. She calls it a place where “perfect love” can do the work of ordering justice, mercy and grace. That just wrong — obviously wrong, and not just “theologically” so. Everyone knows love doesn’t “order” anything. Persons do.
You Can’t Chop Jesus in Half
They do it by making decisions. Changing things. You can’t change the order of things without taking charge. Ideally they do it in love. That’s rare on earth, to say the least, but that doesn’t mean it’s rare in Heaven. When God does His final work of ordering the world, He will do it by taking charge, and He will bring His justice, mercy, and love in alongside His absolute kingship over His creation. If you don’t like His “dominating” us that way, too bad. You are wrong. You are in rebellion.
Maybe Snape finds this mix of love and sovereignty, grace and kingship difficult to take in. She should do the work of thinking it through. Instead she gives up the half she doesn’t like. It makes it easier, sure, but you simply can’t chop Jesus in half and keep the part you like.
I spent years trying to sort out the realities of Jesus’ character, with some of the result of that going into the book Too Good to Be False. I keep learning — as you do, too, I’m sure — that Jesus can’t be simplified. He is both Lion and Lamb, Suffering Servant and Conquering King. He came once as a baby in a manger, and He will return as the Judge and Ruler. That study was very generative for me, if I may say so. It’s what happens to any of us when we put in the effort to try to understand.
Taking the Words of Jesus Seriously … Seriously Out of Context
Then there’s the highly acclaimed, best-selling author Diana Butler Bass, writing at Red Letter Christians, where the tagline reads, “Taking the Words of Jesus Seriously,” The “metaphor” of kingdom is “corrupted,” she says. Maybe she would consider helping correct the confusion? No, she, too wants to toss the whole thing overboard. “The liberating family of God working together for love and justice,” she says, “is a metaphor closer to what Jesus intended.”
Yes, you can find a Jesus like that in the gospels. Here’s how: Decide what kind of Jesus you want. Highlight the parts that agree. Take a razor and remove the rest. See how easy rebellion is?
She shows in this article that if Jesus is kind then He is also kin, because the two words are the same in Middle English. Convinced? Not by that, I hope! You will find it, however in the Incarnation. Interestingly, though, the greatest single passage on Jesus’ coming to share our condition on earth is Philippians 2:5-11, which starts there and then takes us straight to “every knee shall bow” before Him, confessing “Jesus Christ is Lord.” If He is kin He is also King.
Usurpers of God’s Throne
Finally, Craig Baron, professor and Chair of the Humanities Department at St. John’s University in New York, says, “The change from ‘king’ to ‘kin’ denotes the end of hierarchy and the calculating mind and the rise of the reign of companionship/community and the contemplative mind.” Stephen Cherry spoke likewise: “Whereas the word ‘kingdom’ suggests a vertical hierarchy, kin-dom suggests a horizontal solidarity.”
It sounds so … companion-like. So contemplative. So lovely. But what it really describes is a usurping mob come to cast off God’s kingship and enthrone themselves in His place. It is the very definition of a coup raised against God, all fuzzy and warm and friendly on the surface, but in reality a fist raised against God.
Satan wants us thinking we can do it all better than God, the only Source of truth and love and goodness. It is a damnable lie, in every sobering sense of that word.
True goodness and holiness will one day reign on earth. God’s kingdom cannot fail. This false and futile rebellion called “kin-dom” cannot fail to disappoint, to distort, to destroy, and finally be destroyed.
Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the highly acclaimed Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.