“The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Jesus
“Thy kingdom come.”- Everyone Else
It was a decent question.
He had just reviewed 1st century Greek terms like pneuma and theos, then wondered aloud to the class, “if we have theology (study of God), pneumatology (study of the Spirit), and ecclesiology (study of the church), why don’t we have basilea-ology: study of the Kingdom?” It seemed to the seminarian that the kingdom was shortchanged in his textbooks.
There are, in fact, three reasons why we don’t study “Kingdom-ology” proper.
1. Some Christians locate the Kingdom entirely at the end of history.
Authors of systematic textbooks that reflect this school of thought file their basilea-ology underneath the subheading eschatology, or the study of “the last things.” They believe that the Kingdom of Heaven is a millennial kingdom to come, showing up when Jesus returns to kick ass and take down names in his book of life.
2. Talking about the Kingdom is just too controversial. People go to prison for that kind of thing.
Many of us Christians are enamored with the nations that we inhabit and participate regularly in the rituals, consumption, loyalties, and intellectual thought that goes hand-in-hand with patriotism. The Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus proclaimed, however, upsets that applecart a bit too much for many of us to handle.
3. Ecclesiology (church) is the expression of Basilea-ology.
Opposed to the theology which has the Kingdom of Heaven filed away under eschatology is the school of thought that preaches the Kingdom as here already; it broke into the world first with Jesus and continues to expand (and contract? see Matt 11:12) in history. It is the church that models the Kingdom in the here-and-now. Even if there is something of a divine intervention at the end of cosmic history, the believing community is presently tasked with loyalty to the institution of God’s kingdom and its unique set of ethics.
Some theologians call this living in the “already/not yet tension.”
And sometimes the church forgets what it’s doing.