The Right-Side-Up Kingdom: Challenging a Common Christian Idiom

This is a co-authored proposal.
Joanne Jung
Eric Oldenburg

In a wide array of Christian contexts, it is common to describe the Kingdom of God as an upside-down Kingdom, or to summarize the aim of the church as turning the world upside down. This descriptor originates from the English rendering of ἀναστατόω in Acts 17:6, as “to turn the world upside down,” which is common to many modern translations. A lexical study will show that such a translation is misguided.

A contextual study will show that using the phrase “upside down” to describe the Kingdom, or employing the verb “to turn the world upside down” to capture the task of the church is as problematic as the translation is misguided. In the passage, those using the term are anti-Christian Jews who are attempting to discredit Paul, Silas, and Timothy, and drive them out of town. To the hostile attackers, the work of God’s people appears to be turning the world upside down when, in fact, from God’s perspective, that work turns the world right side up.

Finally, a theological case will be made for prioritizing right-side-up language over upside-down language when referring to the Kingdom of God. In our already-not yet reality, while we cannot achieve and should not expect perfection or fulfillment, the church does have a reconciliatory, redemptive, transformative mandate as she works in the world. When God empowers success in such efforts and the Kingdom of God is actualized in the world, right-side-up is the appropriate way to describe such realities, not upside-down. And the language choice a Christian makes in this matter, we argue, will have a profound impact on how one approaches the world. The antagonistic, disruptive connotations of upside-down language may yield a similar posture toward unbelievers by the one who, in this way, describes the Christian call. It is very likely more fruitful to take a corrective and restorative posture associated with turning the world right side up.

4 thoughts on “The Right-Side-Up Kingdom: Challenging a Common Christian Idiom”

  1. My co-author is a PhD Student
    Please advise regarding where to submit his (Eric Oldenburg) supporting recommendation letter from PhD supervisor, Michael Bräutigam. Thank you.


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