Yesterday I introduced this new series toward understanding Vineyard theology (and praxis) because it is increasingly obvious that our movement is facing questions regarding our identity. Truth be told, I think we always have and always will have questions about who we are and what we’re doing and where we’re going because it’s only natural to ask those questions as an ecclesial body. And I do not, as could be falsely assumed, believe the Vineyard movement is monolithic in all of its theology and methodology. One of the things that I enjoy and find extremely healthy about the Vineyard is the diversity! Within the Vineyard you will find advocates of Reformed theology and Arminian theology, Egalitarianism and Complementarianism, home schoolers and public schoolers. You’ll find church planters who are using the “traditional” Vineyard model and others who are pursuing a house church model or other creative expressions for ecclesial pursuit. Our diversity is something many have acknowledged and something I find rather healthy and I have personally benefited from this diversity in my participation in the most excellent Society of Vineyard Scholars. I’m reminded of one of the evening (or was it early morning?) gatherings in a hotel room where Thomas Creedy, Elizabeth Chapin, Frank Emanuel, Mike Raburn, Steven Hamilton and Doug Erickson all sat around talking about Jesus, theology and Scottish beverages. Could you get any more diverse than that crowd? And we all love each other…
All that is to say that I am not advocating that the Vineyard embrace my theological views and praxis, though the epistemologically sensitive side of me acknowledges that this could be what may happen. But that’s not my goal. This series is more about what the Vineyard has historically described as our values, priorities and practices, as my good friend Winn Griffin has suggested. Yesterday I used the word “distinctives” to describe some of our theology and praxis and that word could be interpreted differently than these more appropriate and historically rooted concepts, so I’m going to tip my hat toward Winn and agree that, ultimately, I’m talking about Vineyard values, priorities, and practices. So let’s get started…
We Are _________ Without Our Theology & Practice of the Kingdom
One of our core values is our theology and practice of the kingdom of God. Over the past couple of years I’ve had the pleasure of talking to some of the Vineyard’s “patriarchs” who were friends with John Wimber and who have been in the movement since the early days (late 70’s and early 80’s). They have expressed to me a deep concern that this current and future generation may have some of the “buzz words” of kingdom theology memorized but do not really understand what is unique about this Vineyard value. For me, this means that those of us in the Vineyard now need to invest the time and energy to help develop pastors, leaders, and church members into disciples for whom our kingdom theology is integrated. This is something that my buddy Mike Turrigiano is doing and I’m aware that it’s on the radar for many Vineyard leaders. Amen! May it be so! After all, Derek Morphew, a highly influential Vineyard theologian, notes that:
“During the last ten years I have found myself teaching on the kingdom in conferences linked to the same movements in 16 countries and multiple languages. The perception of the leaders has been the same everywhere. We need to lay this foundation once again. The subject is so fundamental to scripture and to our spiritual genesis that we cannot allow a single generation, church or group of churches to miss it. I generally try to explain how crucial the kingdom is to this emerging tradition…” (Breakthrough, 7, emphasis mine)
Let’s back up. The Vineyard movement was initially led and shaped by John Wimber. Wimber’s understanding of the kingdom of God was shaped by one of the most important New Testament scholars of the 20th century, George Eldon Ladd. As Bill Jackson states:
“Ladd’s understanding of the kingdom of God gave Wimber the theological ground he needed to explain the combination of evangelism and the miraculous that he was hearing from the missionaries at Fuller.” (The Quest for the Radical Middle, 54)
Make no mistake, the Vineyard movement frames its theology and praxis through a unique understanding of the kingdom of God. Our approach to theology and life filters through the kingdom of God, as I’ve argued elsewhere. Our Core Values articulate this as follows:
“Vineyard is a movement distinctively centered in a renewed understanding of the centrality of the kingdom of God in biblical thought. We view the kingdom of God as the overarching and integrating theme of the Bible.”
Are you with me? Do you see that for the Vineyard, the theology and practice of the kingdom of God is essential to who we are, what we do, and how we think and feel? While many of the Vineyard’s brightest theologians, movers and shakers, and influential leaders acknowledge concern about whether pastors, leaders, and church members fully understand Vineyard’s theology of the kingdom, clearly we have articulated well and latched onto the “buzz words.” You can hardly read a Vineyard article, book, or attend a Vineyard conference without hearing the words “kingdom of God” or the “already and not yet.” Sometimes you might even hear people talk about Inaugurated Eschatology too!
Yet the concern of whether our theology and practice of the kingdom of God is foundational and formative in our local churches and communities is very real, and, if I may be so bold, very relevant and legitimate. We’ll trace those concerns as we continue. Some might say that we are nothing without our kingdom theology. Others might say we are in serious trouble without our kingdom theology. I’ll let you fill in the blank. Let’s consider an important question…
What is So Unique About Our Understanding of the Kingdom of God?
Perhaps one of the most popular definitions of the Vineyard understanding of the nature of God’s kingdom comes via Ladd, who wrote:
“The Kingdom is God’s dynamic power, and it must ‘come’ because there are real spiritual enemies which oppose it, both human and super-human. The ‘coming’ of God’s Kingdom means the invasion of the power of Satan and the overthrow of his kingdom.”
Our understanding of the kingdom is through the lens of the now and not yet because we believe that Jesus inaugurated the kingdom at his first coming and consummation will occur during the Second Coming. Therefore we live in the tension of the “already” and the “yet to come.”
This stands over and against those systems of theology, which we’ll go into more detail on in future posts, that either state the kingdom of God is entirely future or is entirely present. There is a tendency, unfortunately, for some theologies to either state that the kingdom is not relevant for us today or is overly relevant (i.e., over realized eschatology). The Vineyard approach seeks to embrace the tension of the now and the to come, as difficult as it may be.
Since I’ve already made my case as to why I think Inaugurated Eschatology is the best understanding of Scripture and I’ve given five reasons why kingdom theology, specifically Vineyard kingdom theology, matters, I’ll refrain from going into too much detail. But I think it’s imperative to understand that the foundational reason as to why you and I and hopefully all Vineyardites pray for the sick to be healed and posture our hearts to hear from God and believe that the demonic realm is subject to the authority of Jesus is because the kingdom of God began breaking into this world when the Son of God announced that the kingdom of God was at hand.
While many of our Pentecostal/Charismatic and Evangelical brothers and sisters may share with us doctrines and practices, our theological framework for understanding those doctrines and practices, such as the charismata and ecclesiology, is often quite different. That’s why you’ll find Vineyard churches focused on praying for the sick and sharing prophetic words with different assumptions, values, and priorities than other traditions under the Charismatic umbrella.
This is to suggest that our understanding of the kingdom is unique in comparison to other options, and I think it’s important to understand our theology and those differences. This has nothing to do with the Vineyard being better or superior to other traditions. It’s simply to situate our theology and practice within a framework that has, historically speaking, been rather important. When Phil Strout or Brenda Gatlin or Rich Nathan or Tri Robinson or Steve Nicholson or any of our other leaders talk about kingdom theology, they have a specific type of kingdom theology in mind. I think we’d be wise to revisit what that theology is.
In the next post I’ll explain how our theology is unique in comparison to other systems and why it matters. We have a lot more to talk about in regards to the kingdom!
- In your mind, why is the kingdom of God so important in the Vineyard?
- What makes the Vineyard approach to the kingdom unique when compared to other constructs?
- Without our unique approach to the Kingdom, what are we or where would we be without it?