Kingdom Living vs. Good Theology: A False Choice

I keep having a recurring conversation—a troubling one. It ends with the statement that it would appear most churches leave us with the choice of prioritizing good theology or good Kingdom living, that it appears we have to choose between orthodox doctrine and this-earth Christ-like engagement. I find this dichotomy to be tragic and frankly un-Christian, but for so many I’ve been talking with lately it is a very real felt choice as they consider which church community to commit themselves to. Let me explain.

These friends hold fast to the traditional beliefs of the Christian faith. They uphold the profound destructive nature of sin, which severs our right relationship with God, and the exclusivity and sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ to atone for that sin and mend that relationship. They value the work of the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts and enliven our lives to become more Christlike. They love the Scriptures and believe them to be accurate and true, working as our lifeline for instruction and knowledge of God. They see the message of the Gospel to be our only hope in this world and for the one to come. This is the good theology and orthodox doctrine piece, and it’s typically emphasized by conservative Protestant circles. 

These friends also believe that we are not saved only in an otherworldly, future, spiritual sense. Jesus also teaches us the best way to live in this life because this world and our work in it are important. They see that Christ’s work in announcing and bringing the Kingdom of God was not only in saving people’s souls (though this was certainly key!) but also in healing their bodies, feeding their hunger, and mending their relationships. They see our work as Christians as Kingdom-bringers. Our pursuit of justice matters. The way we care for people’s physical needs matter. Compassion matters. The Kingdom of God is working to restore what was lost in the Fall—to mend not only our spiritual alienation but the brokenness in creation, in our own bodies and minds, in our relationships. Christ came to win back what was lost and pay the price for it to be reborn, remade, restored to its original intent. This is the Kingdom living, this-earth engagement piece, and this cultural, physical, justice oriented teaching is typically emphasized by more liberal-leaning churches.

And these friends, who care about both of these pieces, feel they don’t fully belong with either group. They refuse to throw away the basic non-negotiable tenets of the Christian faith, but they hold a deep passion for the here and now of our Christian life. It is a tragedy when an individual is left feeling they must choose between the lost, hurting, and broken or affiliation with Christ’s church-and when this sense of decision is not fabricated but sensibly come to through many events and conversations.

When I consider the ministry and life of Christ, I see no choice between Truth and Love. I see right belief and right practice which go hand-in-hand. I see a message which says that as our hearts are made new, our lives pour out in welcoming the re-bought, restored Kingdom of God to our little part of the world. The undeserved, unmerited salvation and spiritual rebirth we have through Christ frees us to live this life well and to live out who He is to the world. We have the awesome responsibility and privilege of not only praying for His “Kingdom to come on earth as it is in Heaven,” but in our own little, limited ways to be the God-ordained answer to that prayer. We pour out love and justice, grace and truth, forgiveness and compassion. We extend a hand of mercy to both the self-righteous, self-assured religious person and the woman whose blatant sin has been thrust into the open (cf John 8:2-11). 

Our spiritual healing, an absolute necessity because of the permeating effects of sin, frees us to live into what it truly means to be human, what it truly means to live in this Kingdom. Part of this is sharing the Gospel and the work of Christ with others, as it is only through this transforming relationship with Jesus Christ that the Kingdom can fully come. But it continues and expands into this transformation into the whole of life and creation. Entering this Kingdom is not an end—it is a beginning into the journey of living into abundant life, which starts now, here, on this earth and will continue for eternity in the New Heavens and New Earth.

Do you find yourself leaning toward one extreme or the other (the spiritual-future or the physical-social-cultural-present) realities of the Gospel? Or have you been able to find a good balance? What do you think an appropriate balance between them looks like?