Why People and Place Matter in the Kingdom of God

The mission of the church is to bring people in union with a real King and into a real kingdom.

Christians sometimes disparage the material world. Although alterations to this view are making progress, at times physicality is still belittled. Yet the kingdom is never presented as an immaterial entity in the Scriptures. Recognizing the importance of people and place brings a groundedness to kingdom language.

 

What Is a Kingdom?

Why is it imperative to define the kingdom as “power, people, and place”? Is this just a precision issue that scholars can argue about? At least three consequences arise if we neglect people and place and focus only on power.

First, without people and place, the kingdom becomes intangible. Christians sometimes disparage the material world. Although alterations to this view are making progress, at times physicality is still belittled. Yet the kingdom is never presented as an immaterial entity in the Scriptures. Recognizing the importance of people and place brings a groundedness to kingdom language. The incarnation and resurrection of Jesus are the key theological doctrines that affirm this rootedness. As N. D. Wilson said, “If [God] wanted a spiritual kingdom, He could have saved Himself a huge amount of trouble by just skipping Christmas.”1

The Church’s Role

The second consequence that befalls us if we neglect place and people is that we might truncate our understanding of the mission of the church. If the kingdom is merely God’s sovereignty, then what role do his people play? Do they exist only to tell others about the King’s power? The mission of the church is to bring people in union with a real King and into a real kingdom, not just to assent to some immaterial theocracy. Disciples are people who go out and give shape to every space. Jesus brings people into place, and he gives them a law that structures their interactions. If the mission of the church is reduced to an intellectual assent of a sovereign God but does not mold how we use our hands and feet, then the church and the kingdom become a monastery rather than a world-forming force. The kingdom of God is the mission of God, and we must not limit this mission.

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