The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross

Dr. Patrick Schreiner, Assistant Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Western Seminary, recently published a volume in Crossway’s Short Studies in Biblical Theology series. Entitled, The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross, Schreiner’s offering provides an accessible means of engaging one of Scripture’s most pervasive themes, the Kingdom of God. Transformed’s interview with Dr. Schreiner about his new book is included below.

Transformed: What motivated you to write a book on the Kingdom of God?

A large part of my own interest comes from my experience of discovering how central the Kingdom of God is to the storyline of the Scriptures. Many times, we can abstract the message of the Bible, forgetting the Scriptures present us with a drama that has actors, a villain, and a hero. The thematic framework on which this drama is set is the Kingdom of God. By thematic framework I mean that it is the theme around which all other themes exist and unite.

Transformed: Who is the target audience?

The target audience for this book is people of the church. I wrote it in a way that anyone who is interested in the Bible could pick it up and read it. It is also short enough that many could sit down in a day and finish it. In addition, I tried to make it simple and engaging enough that even if people don’t usually read books on theology, they could understand it and hopefully be interested in it.

Transformed: What challenges did you face in completing the project?

Two come to mind. First, it was a challenge to summarize what the entire Bible says on the Kingdom in an engaging and faithful way in a short book. There were many parts of Scripture that I painfully passed by because I did not have space. Second, most books on biblical theology (tracing the narrative of Scripture) give less attention to the non-narrative sections of Scripture — especially the wisdom literature and the epistles. My goal from the start was to spend just as much time on these sections. While this was a challenge, it also ended up being my favorite part, because I had to think about how to incorporate these sections in a narrative framework while also respecting their genre.

Transformed: How has the church misunderstood the Kingdom of God? What have been the implications?

When I first started studying this topic, I did a lot of reading on what others had said about the Kingdom. Many of the resources I read basically argued the Kingdom of God is a shorthand way of saying “the sovereignty of God” or the “rule of God.” I always felt quite unsatisfied with this answer. It is not wrong, but it is incomplete. The rule of God is only part of what the Kingdom is. If we focus exclusively on this aspect, we lose the rootedness of the Kingdom — the reality that the Kingdom was an embodied hope for Israel, as it is now for Jesus’ followers.

To give a more comprehensive sense of the Kingdom I have described it, in my book, as the King’s power, over the King’s people, in the King’s place. While this is the description I chose, I also think the Kingdom is what we could call a tensive symbol rather than a steno symbol. A steno-symbol has a one-to-one relationship with its referent, while a tensive symbol has a set of meanings that can neither be exhausted nor adequately expressed by any one referent. Therefore, my definition is merely one of the many someone could choose, but I do think it is more well-rounded than many I have encountered.

Transformed: What do you hope your readers will take away from this book? 

First, I want readers to see that even though the term Kingdom does not occur on every page of the Bible, the concept does. If you read the Scriptures without the Kingdom concept in the back of your mind, you are missing maybe the biggest theme of the Bible. Second, as described above, I want to give a more concrete view of the Kingdom. Third, I want to allow people to see that the Kingdom concept is still present in the non-narrative portions of the Scripture. Fourth, I want to help readers connect the centrality of the Kingdom with the climax of the cross. The cross and the Kingdom cannot be dissociated — it is only by the cross that the Kingdom comes.