The relation between the “Christ in us” and the world is not merely a matter of opening the sluices and allowing the ready water to stream over the thirsty land. Immediately to hand we have all these combinations – “social-Christian,” “social-evangelical,” “social-religious” and the like – but it is highly questionable whether the hyphens we draw with such intellectual courage do not really make dangerous short circuits. Clever enough is the paradox that the service of God is or must become the service of man; but that is not the same as saying that our precipitate service of man, even when it is undertaken in the name of the purest love, becomes by that happy fact the service of God.
Christian is an excellent noun and a lousy adjective. The old adage still has legs. We might not call ourselves social-evangelicals anymore but without the labels, very often within churches today we proclaim what amounts to the same thing. As Scot McKnight has been blogging, the idea of “Kingdom-work” is now deployed with a plasticity that renders the term deeply problematic if not utterly useless. If Scot McKnight, the most articulate defender of a broad Gospel whose name is not Tim Keller, has a problem with the use of the world “Kingdom”, then we should too.
The Kingdom of God is the revelation of the truth – that God is King of the whole world. As God reveals this to us, justice and mercy and social change will follow. But to mistake the signs with the destination is to “short-circuit” our pilgrimage. Sure, our journey will be fast. But it will also come to a smoking halt.
Barth takes us further than that though. Even if God’s Kingdom will ultimately reveal justice and social harmony in a way that we can’t eve envisage yet, that in no way suggests that what you are called to do will lead to work that will be widely regarded as “service of man”. I might be called to undertake something “in the name of purest love” that makes no real contribution social justice. You might spend a lifetime translating an unwritten language into text and the New Testament into that text. You might spend a lifetime caring for your dad with a serious brain injury. You might be the pastor of a struggling little church in a provincial town. But following God is what we’re called to do.
Or as C.S. Lewis puts it:
Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in.
Aim at earth and you get neither.
Your Correspondent, If he wins, you’ll have to teach him how to play this game