In The Divine Conspiracy, Willard takes some time to share about the idea of Kingdom. The Kingdom of God (Heaven) is a central thought in Jesus’ teachings, mentioned over 100 times in the synoptic gospels. Willard rightly gives space to insist on what he finds Jesus to mean when he uses the category of Kingdom.
We all have kingdoms, Willard says. We all have a sphere where our decisions determine what happens. Willard reminds us of the famous John Calvin quotation, “Everyone flatters himself and carries a kingdom in his breast,” i.e. at some level we all assume that our decisions, ideas, preferences are better than others, we indeed want to “rule” others.
This propensity to rule is embedded in our creational vocation, to “rule” with God. (Gen. 1:26-30; 2:15) “Any being that has say over nothing at all is no person,” Willard says. Dominion is a vital part of personhood.
But, this rule was/is intended to be in union with God. God’s world is fractured when humans exercise rule and dominion apart from union with God and beyond their intended range. Humans dominating and exploiting God’s creation is bad news. “Apart from harmony under God, our nature-imposed objectives go awry,” Willard says. When union with God is shattered, we enter into a dangerous erosion of identity, seeking to evade being dominated, all the while, dominating others to get what we want.
“God nevertheless pursues us redemptively and invites us individually, every last one of us, to be faithful to him in the little we truly ‘have say over.’ There, at every moment, we live in the interface between our lives and God’s kingdom among us. If we are faithful to him here, we learn his cooperative faithfulness to us in turn. We discover the effectiveness of his rule with us precisely in the details of day-to-day existence.” (24)
This “formation-shaped” hearing of the God’s redemptive work in the world (soteriology) is compelling. The message is extends beyond the transactional-conversion message (what Willard will call the “Gospel of Sin Management”). This message is “holistic;” it creates a complete initiation into the Christian life from the opening moment. Instead of “gettin’ dem saved,” and then working on “guilt-trippin'” people into personal spiritual formation later down the road, this gospel call provokes the hearer to weigh the total cost now and consider how God’s reign infuses every facet of life. (not just the after-life)