I’ve been a Christian all my life. Between 2008 and 2012, however, owing to some difficult personal circumstances, I came within a hair’s breadth of giving up on Christian faith and religion altogether. Instead of that, and with nothing left to lose, I swept all my earlier beliefs and assumptions off the table and asked myself if there were any aspect of my former faith system that I felt I could not, in good conscience, abandon. I found there was one: the historicity of Jesus Christ.
I asked myself if there was any record of his life and teaching that I could depend on, at least rudimentarily. I determined there was no intellectual reason to reject the essence of the testimony of the Gospel writers. I made the subjective decision to regard the Gospels as fundamentally trustworthy records of the life of Jesus. I began to look at all of life, including my assumptions about God, through the lens of the life and teaching of Jesus.
That led to a renewal of my belief in the kingdom of God as the theme that unites all of scripture. It further established the instruction and example of Jesus, the king, as the standard by which I would measure my own faithfulness as a citizen of the kingdom. Here is the way my favorite biblical scholar, N. T. Wright, summarizes this perspective in his book, Surprised by Scripture.
The central message of the Bible is not simply that we are sinners who are rescued by God from this sinful world so that we can be with him in heaven. That’s part of it, but it’s not the whole biblical story. The Bible is not about the rescue of humans from the world but about the rescue of humans for the world and indeed God’s rescue of the world by means of those rescued humans. …The message ought never to be simply about ‘me and my salvation.’ It ought to be about God and God’s kingdom. … The full good news is that in Jesus God has become the king of the world. …And the task of biblical scholars in our generation is to alert the church to the theme of the kingdom.
I couldn’t have said it any better. This new way of understanding the heart of the Christian gospel has produced some practical changes in me. Today, as far as it is humanly possible, before I embrace a belief or engage in a behavior—and before I pass judgment on others’ beliefs and behaviors—I ask: “Does this reflect the values of the king and the kingdom?” If the answer is yes, I embrace it. If the answer is no, I avoid it and, if the situation warrants, I repudiate it.
You need to know this about me before you can understand where I stand on issues and how I approach life as a disciple of Jesus the king.