Study Guide: The Holistic Kingdom

Sunday January 14, 2007 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

Jesus' ministry did not just focus on one aspect of human existence (ie. the need for forgiveness). It was holistic, ministering also to the physical, social and relational needs of the people he came in contact with. As followers of Christ, we are also called to live a life that reflects this love.

Extended Summary:

In churches all over North America, it is almost certain that the teachings and spiritual direction have a consistent theme: the fact that Christ Jesus died for sinners and that forgiveness of sins is available through Christ. Without doubt, this is a concept in Christianity that cannot be overlooked. It is essential to what we believe that God has done for humanity in Christ. As important as this truth of forgiveness is, however, there is something very peculiar about the beginning of Jesus’ messianic ministry that may change the way we think about the emphasis that we place on that truth.

In Luke 4, when Jesus stood up in the temple, he read a passage from the book of Isaiah that spoke of Jubilee, a time when there would be Good News of freedom and healing brought to everyone. This “freedom and healing” signified a time where the oppressed, captive, and poor would be restored and where people would be able to clearly see the goodness of God. It also symbolized a dramatic reversal of sorts where those thought to be “outside” were brought into God’s blessing…and those thought to be “inside” lock themselves out from God’s blessing. This message was scandalous back in Jesus’ day and, quite honestly, it’s a bit different from the messages that we currently hear that are completely focused upon how the death of Jesus gives us forgiveness of sins.

The core difference between Jesus’ stated ministry goals and what we generally see in our evangelical churches is one of holism. This means that the scope of Jesus’ ministry was holistic and encompassed everything that God cares about…which is everything! Jesus’ ministry did not just focus on one aspect of human existence (ie. the need for forgiveness). It dealt with issues involving physical needs of provision of food and resources, social needs of restoring justice to the public sphere, and relational need of showing people their true humanity as being in God’s image. In contrast, much of what we see today may be considered a “myopic” gospel, meaning a message that is overly focused on certain ideas such that other important ideas are left out. It is possible, unfortunately, for a person to live most of their life as a Christian and never hear anything about the Body of Christ’s call to right-relatedness of all human life, including promoting liberation against oppression and empowerment against poverty. This is interesting, given that 1) one of the major themes in the Bible is about God’s heart for the oppressed and poor and 2) poverty is a critical issue in our nation and world today!

Prominent evangelicals like Rick Warren (author of Purpose-Driven Life) and Bill Hybels (pastor of Willow Creek Church) have caught on to this glaring oversight and have begun to call other evangelicals into the holistic gospel of God. These two very influential American pastors demonstrate that there seems to be a shift in the evangelical sensibility about the importance of the biblical calls to reconciliation and justice. This is not just a national change, however. Even in our Twin Cities area, pastors are coming together in prayer and discussion about these issues. God is definitely stirring up some things within his people!

Something important that we must remember as we seek to reclaim the holistic Kingdom is that we are never to work against injustice, poverty, and sickness in a way that contradicts the Great Commandments of Jesus to live in unconditional love of God, our neighbor, and ourselves. The kingdoms of this world attempt to combat justice issues in a “get mad and get even” type of way, where there is a “win/lose” type of mentality. Not only is this method just plain unhelpful in the long term, but it also goes totally against what Jesus was about! As we walk in humility like Jesus, and unconditionally love and support those who try to “oppose” us, we have the tremendous ability to see the transforming power of God’s love and grace.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What is the difference between a myopic and holistic view of the Gospel?
  2. Reflect on Luke 4:18-22. How does Christ’s proclamation in the Luke passage expand or challenge your view of the central message of the Gospel?
  3. How has individualistic Christianity distorted your understanding of the purpose of the Gospel? How has this personally impacted your own faith?
  4. In what ways is God calling you to have a more holistic view of the Gospel?