Kingdom Come!Written by Robert S. Paul Reviewed By Samuel Escobar
Robert S. Paul is Professor of Modern Church History at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. His books of reflection and exploration about the church and her ministry benefit from his historical insight. This little book attempts to describe a course for the church as a reconciling community in the turmoil of our days.
In his awareness of the depths of the world crisis (chapters 2, 3 and 4 of his book) Paul’s grasp of the power of evil comes from a biblical conviction about the centrality of the cross and the resurrection. In fact, he recognises his debt to P. T. Forsyth whom he quotes repeatedly. This means that though he is dealing with some of the same problems as some modern fundamentalist authors like Hal Lindsey (war, revolution, hunger, totalitarianism, unbelief), his treatment of the modem situation is more serious and far more biblical: ‘The point I wish to stress is that the ensuing pages are offered not as an alternative eschatology, but as a starting place for the twentieth century proclamation’ (p. 31).
Paul does not offer us a triumphalistic eschatology. He is very aware that some of the worst characteristics of the world today have been preceded by similar traits in the very life of the Christian community: ‘Church history reveals that in hatred and hostility towards each other the churches have often instructed the powers of this world in the finer arts of arrogance and demonic cruelty’ (p. 74). One can easily be reminded here that the cruelties of contemporary political terrorism are described by modern journalism with the words ‘inquisition’, or ‘witch-hunt’, both of them deeply rooted in the past practice of the church.
Especially interesting for the observer of the North American scene is the first chapter, in which Paul describes the mood of the ‘free churches’ in England during the first decade of our century, comparing it with the modern American church scene. Evangelicals especially would do well to hear his warning: ‘We are concerned with the relation of the church to the fate of the race. The clear lesson of our time seems to be that the church is granted no immunity from the judgments of God in this world, because the church itself has been given to this world. But even less can the church expect to ensure its success or guarantee its security by an alliance with any secular culture or national society, no matter how affluent or powerful. God does not play favourites’ (p. 22).
Paul calls us not to desperate activism (which is a form of escapism) nor to despair. He thinks that this is the time for the church to realise that judgment has come again ‘not because the righteous can gloat over it or sadistically revel in the prospect of a holocaust from which they are somehow excluded, but because it is written into what our race is making of itself’ (p. 72). Judgment has to begin with the household of God, says Paul, and he calls us to take it seriously. There is in the church always the possibility of repentance. And in these days that gives a tremendous missionary opportunity: ‘for at this point we are not preaching from some safe position outside the common experience of our fellows. The condemnation of our failure to be reconciled begins with the church: quite literally, like Richard Baxter, we preach “as a dying man to dying men” ’ (p. 73).
One would wish a longer exposition of this author’s understanding of biblical eschatology. In this book he has only outlined it and many questions are left unanswered. But I feel he is far closer to Isaiah, Paul the Apostle and John the Seer than the sensational apocalyptic experts whose name is legion these days. The book ends with a prayer by Rose-Marie Barth: ‘We are not in high spirits today Lord. We are not in the mood for jubilation. Our failure to live in your honour and to give glory to you by our labour is more evident than ever.… We have spread fear not love, oppression, not freedom, death, not life. For we have forgotten to fear you Lord.… We have cheapened your love and toyed with it as if it were play-money. In our plight we remember your sacrifice, Lord Jesus. Was it not accepted? Were you not raised, are you not alive? Do you not dare us to believe that you are our Saviour? We do believe. Help our unbelief. Amen.’
Samuel Escobar, our Latin American International Editor, teaches at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Philadelphia.