*Interview questions from Michael Cooper. Michael serves as Assistant to the President at Criswell College.
Dr. Alan Streett, Senior Research professor of Biblical Exegesis at Criswell College, has recently written a book entitled Heaven on Earth: Experiencing the Kingdom of God in the Here and Now. In it he explores the kingdom of God throughout the Biblical narrative and applies the implications of the kingdom to the Christian life. Dr. Streett was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book.
For Christ and Culture: In the beginning of the book you state, “for more than a decade learning about the Kingdom of God has been my all-consuming passion.” What sparked your desire to study the Kingdom of God in the first place?
Dr. Streett: I happened to come across Professor William Abraham’s book “Logic of Evangelism.” Abraham spoke of the kingdom of God as being the focus of evangelism in the NT. I also read George Eldon Ladd’s article on Matthew 24:14 in the massive “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement (Editor, Ralph Winter), which spoke of the possibility of hastening the Lord’s return by means of preaching the “gospel of the kingdom” throughout the world. These two publications captured my attention and got me started on my kingdom journey.
FCC: You believe that followers of Jesus can experience the Kingdom of God here and now. How does this differ from other teachings on the Kingdom of God?
Streett: Most scholarly books approach the kingdom of God from a theological perspective. Heaven on Earth takes a biblical and narrative approach and then asks the question, “So what? How does this relate to the original audience and readers today?”
FCC: You argue that the “gospel of the Kingdom” is not necessarily about “going to heaven.” Why do you think people attempt to equate the two ideas?
Streett: This is a carry-over from Greco-Roman philosophy, which viewed the body to be evil and believed salvation occurred upon death as the soul took flight from the body. By the third century Christianity had adopted many Greco-Roman ideas. Once a belief becomes entrenched, it is hard to expunge. Since life expectancy on earth was short, many people defined “eternal life” as going to heaven and the gospel as the means of getting there. Jesus and the apostles, however, spoke of “the gospel of the kingdom.” They viewed the kingdom of God as an earthly reality that could be experienced now in our mortal bodies and in the future resurrection in our glorified bodies. While they recognized heaven as an intermediate state, they placed little emphasis on it.
FCC: Throughout the book you talk about the Roman Empire quite frequently. Why do you think it is important to see the Kingdom of God against the background of the Roman Empire?
Streett: Because the NT writers lived in the Roman Empire. This was their geo-political context. Therefore, their teachings must be interpreted in light of their time and culture. This is a universal principle of hermeneutics. For example, how could we understand Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” apart from understanding the Civil War of the 1860s or Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech apart from segregation and Civil Rights in the 1960s?
FCC: You make the following statement in the chapter entitled “The Present Reign of the Exalted Christ”: “…we must avoid the mistake of separating his death and resurrection from his exaltation…There can be no crown without a cross and no throne without a resurrection.” (223). Why do you think the exaltation of Christ is absent from many of the popular “gospel presentations” we hear today?
Streett: I believe it is because we fail to understand Christ’s present role as God’s enthroned king. We want a living Savior, but not a ruling Lord. Peter’s sermon on Pentecost focused on Christ being seated on his throne in heaven. Likewise our creeds put emphasis on the exaltation of Christ. The Apostles’ Creed, for example, says of Christ, “He was crucified, dead, and buried. He ascended into heaven.” The Lausanne Covenant speaks of him as “reigning Lord.” So, while we may tip our hats to the doctrine, we are either uncomfortable with it or ignorant of its implications. With this said, many NT scholars do place strong emphasis on Christ’s exaltation, including NT Wright, Craig Evans, Joel Green, Darrell Bock and others.
FCC: In the chapter “The Kingdom-Focused Church,” you propose an intriguing type of “worship service” which is oriented around a full-meal. Could you elaborate on this type of service and do you think it is possible for churches to adopt it today?
Streett: In our day and age, I believe a meal-focused worship service is possible, even desirable. Meals were part of our culture. Most Americans eat out several times a week. We also seek community. Meal-focus worship combines these elements. Actually, Dr. Criswell, founder of Criswell College and Pastor of First Baptist Church Dallas, wanted to build a big dining hall for evening worship. The service would include a meal, followed by preaching, praying, singing, etc. He could not get the deacons to go along with it and finally abandoned the vision. I believe the time is now ripe. For churches without adequate facilities, these meals could be held in homes of members with 20 or so people attending.
FCC: I can think of a few books about/relating to the Kingdom of God (Gospel of the Kingdom, Jesus and the Kingdom of God, According to Plan, The Drama of Scripture). What do you think your book contributes to the study of the Kingdom of God as you compare it to others?
Streett: Well, I do not place my book in the same category as these scholarly works. Heaven on Earth is popularly written for an audience of informed laity, pastors, and ministerial students. Over the past decade, I have read every major academic work on the Kingdom of God and most minor works as well. I have gleaned, refined, rethought, pondered, and have come up with my own understanding of the kingdom. One day I might write a Theology of the Kingdom aimed at scholars. In Heaven on Earth I attempt to take the best scholarship on the kingdom and make it understandable to the average person, showing how they can apply this knowledge to their lives and church.
FCC: What is your desire for those who wish to read Heaven on Earth?
Streett: Heaven on Earth is meant to be a practical, missional, and transformational book. My desire is that those who read it will become kingdom-focused believers and that their churches will become kingdom-driven congregations.