One of the things I’m learning in my NT Theology class is that you don’t have to agree with everything a person writes in order to benefit from their work. Take for example Gunter Klein. He is a Bultmannian, being influenced by existentialism and the enlightenment and denying the historicity of the Bible. Yet he makes some very helpful comments on Jesus’ view of the kingdom of God:
“(Jesus) projected no socio-political programs, he did not demonize the structure of society . . . and he did not call for revolution. This is not to say that he was for a moment blind to the repressiveness of his day.”
He warned of the dangers of riches and power, but he did not call for an attack on the structures. Instead, he called for the payment of taxes, even to Caeasar. This is certainly not what the Zealots would’ve said.
“(In the command to pay taxes to Caesar,) Jesus sovereignly declares as irrelevant what apparently was the most explosive political question of his day; he even goes so far as to downgrade it to a trifle by referring to God’s proprietary rights. But it is precisely God’s claim which makes us aware that his rule will not prevail by man changing any kind of structures but only by man changing himself and by preparing him for God’s coming.”
To think that Christ’s “kingdom of God” was focused on social structures primarily would be to miss Jesus’ point.
Klein’s Lutheran heritage also helped him see evil as being in the heart of man.
Locating evil in social structures “conflicts with Jesus’ proclamation which so uncompromisingly located evil in man’s heart.”
It is not the transformation of social structures but the message of the gospel “which puts an end to man’s self-idolatry and frees him for a new obedience.”
Klein talks about how we can see transformation in individuals, but asks “can it ever be said of a structure that in it Satan has been overthrown by Christ”? Individuals are under Christ’s lordship, but to apply this to structures would result in Constantinianism. But Klein strikes a balance:
“This is not to give the false impression that the condition of the world is unimportant. To the contrary ‘the conversion of the individual as such brings about changes within the world.'”
So he’s not a fundamentalist, but sounds very evangelical! Evangelicals see that political involvement is important…yet isn’t the greatest change agent conversion through the gospel? Isn’t the conversion of the heart the only way for the world to really be changed?
“(It does not agree) with the exuberance of some ranting revolutionary to build the kingdom of god. It seeks change because it has perceived God’s mercy, yet it knows full well that changing structures does not bring salvation any closer.”
“(Revolutionary ideology) leads to that fatal misunderstanding which says that Christ is gathering ‘the dispossessed so they together might overthrow the mighty.’ What here is laced with Christian terms and so unashamedly ideologized is the very opposite of love and would only succeed in perpetuating human conflict.”
I think this is very insightful and right. Thoughts like this will become more and more relevant in the coming future. Be aware of overly naive, simplistic, utopian appropriations of Christ’s teachings on the kingdom of God.