A Kingdom of God Hermeneutic? Prospects and Cautions

Within evangelical circles, the kingdom of God has become a popular hermeneutical lens for reading individual passages and speaking of how the entire Bible hangs together. This paper considers the prospects and cautions regarding the kingdom of God as a hermeneutical lens in a way that clarifies and nuances how the kingdom of God fits in an interpretive framework.

The paper begins by making a positive case for a kingdom of God hermeneutic by drawing on two realms of argument. First, three works—Graeme Goldsworthy, Stephen Wellum and Peter Gentry, and Scot McKnight—illustrate the explanatory power of the kingdom of God regarding how the Bible holds together. Second, I trace the recurrence of God’s kingdom in individual books of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. After making a positive case for a kingdom of God hermeneutic, I offer three cautions: (1) there is need to clarify what the aim of a “kingdom hermeneutic is”—Is the aim that every passage must be read through a kingdom lens? Or, could the aim be to observe that “kingdom” is one possible thread at a canonical level that an individual passage might resonate with?; (2) it is uncertain that a “kingdom of God” framework is the all-encompassing whole of the Bible or the only way to tell the story of God; (3) the early church (using Irenaeus and Augustine as examples) teaches us to be see the Triune God as the all-encompassing center and model for us how to retell the Bible’s story in view of a central theme in ways that are not constrictive.

In the conclusion, four theses are set forth that offer a vision for where the kingdom of God fits within an interpretive approach.

Thesis 1: The kingdom of God should be a hermeneutical lens, not the only hermeneutical lens.

Thesis 2: The kingdom of God as a hermeneutical lens should be utilized with awareness to the different strata of discourse in the Bible.

Thesis 3: The kingdom of God as a hermeneutical lens should not prevent us from telling the story of the Bible at a canonical level through different lenses.

Thesis 4: Our use of “the kingdom of God” as a hermeneutical lens must find its home within the spacious, life-giving boundaries of the Triune God as expressed in the Rule of Faith.

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