A few years ago, New Testament scholar Scot McKnight had grown irritated with the overuse and misapplication of the word “Gospel” by many Christians. He gave a lecture on the matter entitled, “Did Jesus Preach the Gospel” in which he said, “When all words mean the same thing, no words mean anything. When the “Gospel,” which is the favorite word for people to use today, means everything, it loses all meaning.”

McKnight might as well have been talking about the word “kingdom,” which he says is the most misused Bible term today. He’s written a book, “Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church.” In it, McKnight argues that “kingdom” has “taken on meanings that are completely at odds with what the Bible says.” Here we discuss how Christians have misunderstood the term and why he thinks it is important that they get it right.

RNS: Define “kingdom” in a sentence.

SM: The people of God living under God as king, both in his saving and governing relations, by embodying and obeying the king’s will in the place God calls them to live.

RNS: You address two competing visions of the Kingdom today among “skinny jeans” and “pleated pants” Christians. What are they and how do they fall flat? 

SM: The “skinny jeans” view focuses on kingdom as social activism in the causes of justice and peace. The “pleated pants” view focuses on kingdom as redemptive moments with three moments at the top of the list: evangelism, healing or miracles, and influencing various spheres of society.

There are five elements of the term “kingdom” in the Bible: for there to be a kingdom (God’s kingdom), there must be a king (God, Christ), a rule (God rules redemptively and by governing or lordship), a people (Israel and the church), a law (Torah, the teachings of Jesus and life in the Spirit), and a land (holy land expands in the pages of the Bible.).

Both skinny jeans and pleated pants folks reduce kingdom to less than the full five. The skinny jeans crowd focuses on the law – and focuses that on justice and peace. The pleated pants crowd focuses on God as redemptive king, so it focuses on elements of redemption in the Christian life: evangelism, healing, and influencing the public sector. Sadly, neither focuses on the kingdom as a people.

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Written by Jonathan