Why is Heaven such a Lonely Place?
Oh, I have been to heaven and I have walked the streets
But I couldn’t find a hand to hold to keep me on my feet8
Evangelical theology has an almost exclusive focus on the individual that blinds us to so many of the larger implications of Jesus life and work. This is clearly revealed by looking at the language we choose to use to describe life with God. It is the language of ‘God and I,’ we think almost completely in terms of God’s dealing with individuals with regards to salvation, holiness, and sin. Proponents of Kingdom theology do not necessarily do better.
Within the Vineyard historically our Kingdom focus has largely been described in terms of prophetic gifting, physical healing, demonic exorcisms, and perhaps less so in terms of intimacy with God, and acts of mercy. Rarely (and perhaps only recently) has the Kingdom been described in terms of manifesting community, upending systems of injustice, or reconciling class and ethnic differences. This description of the Kingdom in conflict with other Kingdoms certainly opens the door to a wider and more comprehensive understanding of God’s sphere of influence, however, it remains relegated to God’s activity within the lives of individuals.
Other proponents of ‘Kingdom theology’ describe life in the Kingdom in terms of submitting all of the various aspects of human activity to the Lordship of Jesus. Our thoughts and emotions, our bodies and actions, our desires and choices, and our relationships are to be placed under Jesus’ tutelage through spiritual disciplines for the purpose of becoming like Jesus. This too, however, while expanding the evangelical understanding of God’s work in the world, continues to describe the Kingdom almost solely in individual terms.
Our theological framework makes the individual the location for the whole of theology to be worked out whereas Scripture places the individual within the larger structures of humanity, within our physical universe, within the sphere of influence of the ‘powers and principalities,’ and makes this the location for theology to be discovered. Within this theological framework the ‘Kingdom’ metaphor makes much more sense. The ordering of larger structures of power, provision, and even protection from other powers; the governing of people-groups and their interaction with each other and their world; these are the concerns of a Kingdom, within which the individual finds her place.
The N. T. Wright quote below addresses this exact concern:
You get the atonement theology — boy do you ever — but you get it inside that political theology. And I’ve sometimes said that, and people have said, “Surely this is all about Christ dying for me.” Absolutely, right on, but you get that inside; again, it’s like a Russian doll. You get this Kingdom of God theology, which is a redefinition of what power is all about; inside that you get the meaning of the cross, the full atonement theology; and inside that there is room for every man, woman, and child in the world to find that Christ died for their sins according to the Scriptures. Let’s have the holistic biblical theology.9
- N. T. Wright