I suggested in part 1 of this review that conventional evangelical or Reformed constructions of the gospel, such as Dan Phillips’ The World-Tilting Gospel, take no account of the Old Testament story of the people of God from Abraham to Antiochus Epiphanes. It is not enough to treat the Old Testament as a compendium of allegories, typologies and prophecies pointing to the fulfilment of God’s plan of salvation in Jesus. The good news that is proclaimed in slightly divergent ways by Jesus, the early disciples and Paul presupposes, and should not be disconnected from, an ongoing historical narrative. Perhaps more surprisingly the same point needs to be made with respect to the “kingdom of God”.
And what happened to the kingdom of God?
There is remarkably little in The World-Tilting Gospel about the “kingdom of God”. We are told that we must repent and believe because the kingdom of God is at hand; and Nicodemus is told that he cannot see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. But Phillips’ gospel appears to encompass only the repent and believe part or the being born again part. In only one passage, as far as I can tell, does he indicate what he understands by the kingdom of God, which for Jesus was at hand and which Nicodemus could expect to see if he were born again:
Far from scrapping the concept of perfect human rule over creation, Jesus is the Agent of its realization. Jesus’ first recorded sermon in Matthew is short and to the point: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). This planet still would come under the rule of God, with a man at the helm—but that man would not be Adam the first, but Adam the last (1 Cor. 15:45).
Where our father Adam failed miserably in every respect, Jesus would succeed. Jesus would subdue the earth and rule it. He would eventually people the earth with His “staff,” as it were. He would fill the earth with His spiritual seed, those alive because of Christ (Isa. 53:10), people the earth with His “staff,” as it were. He would fill the earth with His spiritual seed, those alive because of Christ (Isa. 53:10). (114)
The “kingdom of heaven” here appears to refer to the eventual perfect rule of God over his creation. I think this is a misunderstanding of the kingdom language in the Gospels, but even if we allow it to stand, there is a gaping hole in Phillips’ argument. The good news that Jesus calls Israel to believe is precisely that the kingdom of God is at hand (Mk. 1:15). There is no separation of the repent and believe part—as a matter of personal salvation—from the expectation that the kingdom is imminent.
It is another example of how the gospel of personal salvation gets isolated from its narrative context. When Jesus says that the kingdom of God is at hand, he means that YHWH is about to act on behalf of his covenant people in relation to the nations that menace them. The notion is to be filled out by reference to such Old Testament texts as Psalm 2, Isaiah 52:7-10 and Daniel 7. We cannot talk about good news in the Gospels without relating it to the underlying but inescapable national story.
Phillips’ gospel has very little to do with the kingdom, and certainly not with a kingdom that was at hand, which means it has very little to say about the communal and political dimensions of the existence of the people of God—and one wonders, therefore, in what sense it can honestly be described as world-tilting.