Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Syllabus for the Kingdom of God

I recently received this from a fellow campus minister:

We're kicking off a long a wholesome gander at Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, which is what folks calls Matthew chapters 5-7. Here's my thesis: Matthew 5:1-17 is like Jesus' syllabus for the rest of his teaching. So join us at Starbucks tomorrow (Friday) at noon, and let's figure out the syllabus for the Kingdom of God.

It is not uncommon to find this sort of thing, so we often think nothing of it.  What could be better than studying the Sermon on the Mount?  There is, of course, nothing at all wrong with studying the Sermon on the Mount.  It is, after all, part of the corpus of scripture which is the God-revealed content of that “faith once for all delivered to the saints.”

And yet, I fear that something like this might reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of scripture.  A syllabus should contain the main points of a course of study.  If this is the case, the Sermon on the Mount cannot be a syllabus of the Kingdom of God.  It is important ethical teaching for the Kingdom of God.  But it cannot be a syllabus for the Kingdom of God because it is limited and incomplete.

If the topics found in the Sermon on the Mount were the extent of the gospel, think of how very different the Kingdom of God would be.  The Sermon on the Mount does not mention sacrifice for sin.  It does not mention the Holy Spirit.  It does not mention many things that make the Kingdom of God the very distinctive kingdom that it is.  A kingdom of God limited to the topics introduced in the Sermon on the Mount would be a moralistic kingdom in which redemption went unexplained and even unmentioned.

And that is not the Kingdom of God.  In fact, it sounds a lot like the kingdom of 20th century Liberal Christendom.

I would never claim on my own that the teaching of Jesus found in the gospels is incomplete.  But I don’t have to be all that bold to make the claim, because Jesus said it was so.  Jesus made it very clear that during His very limited time among us, He did not tell us everything He wanted us to know about the Kingdom of God, as He made clear in John 16:12-13. He had much more to say, and He would say it through the Apostles.

If there is a syllabus for the kingdom of God in scripture, it is more likely something like the Book of Romans (though it is perhaps more of a textbook for the kingdom that a syllabus), where the Apostle restates much of what is found in the Sermon on the Mount, but adds some of the very important “much more to say to you” that Jesus promises in John 16.

Perhaps the note I received was just a bit of an attempt at hip marketing for a Bible study.  But if it was meant seriously, it was seriously wrong.

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