Culture, according to Webster, is the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes a group of people. Does the Kingdom of God have a distinctive, normative culture? I mean by that, is there a set of attitudes, values, goals, and practices that citizens of the Kingdom of God share? And what is the nature of that sharing? Is it an accident* of citizenship or is it an essential? Do citizen have to share these attitudes, values, goals, and practices, or are they optional—like most elements of human culture?
I submit that the Kingdom of God has a normative, non-optional culture. I further submit that one of the purposes of God’s word is to teach the attitudes, values, goals, and practices that constitute the Kingdom’s culture. If that is so, then one of the chief goals of pastoral teaching is to facilitate the acculturation of new citizens with the Kingdom’s culture.
Imagine being in a new converts’ class where the leader begins the class with, “Welcome to the Kingdom of God. When you placed your faith in Christ, you were not only born into the family of God, but you were transferred out of the Kingdom of Darkness into the Kingdom of God. You are now citizens of God’s Kingdom. One of the top priorities of this class is to introduce you to the ways things operate in the Kingdom of God. A few things won’t be much different than what you are used to. On the other hand, there are many ways in which God’s Kingdom is radically different, even completely opposite from the Kingdom of Darkness. Its nature, its laws, its culture—they’re all quite different. You will probably experience a bit of “culture shock” as you begin to grow in your faith and develop as a new citizen. Please feel free to ask any questions you have as we go along. I’ll be happy to help in any way I can. I hope you are ready to get to down to business learning how to live as a citizen in God’s Kingdom.”
I asked my students that question this week. One of them responded that it almost sounded cultish. Actually that thought went through my mind as I thought about this. However, I’m convinced that the reason this sounds so strange is that we have either dispensationalized the Kingdom so that it relates only to the Eschaton. Or, we simply have never given any serious thought to the Biblical data regarding the Kingdom of God. In my case, it is the latter.
*In philosophy, accident refers to “a nonessential attribute or characteristic of something.”