An Excerpt from Dallas Willard and Gary Black’s
The Divine Conspiracy Continued
Let us start by clarifying the major point of this work as straightforwardly as possible. God’s “divine conspiracy” is to overcome the human kingdoms of this world with love, justice, and truth. This includes the whole world and all of human society—at the individual, corporate, and governmental levels. “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15). This is what Handel proclaims again and again in his famous “Hallelujah Chorus.” This is reality. We could even say an eternal reality. The kingdom of God has indeed come; it has a past, it is with us now, and it has an unending future. The scriptures describe this future as the “day of the Lord,” when God will have his turn at bat. The primary question this book pursues is this: How can we best participate in this reality?
In these pages we will suggest to followers of Jesus who are leaders, spokespersons, and professionals that they must responsibly and explicitly address the public issues, proposals, and processes of society within their spheres of influence through teaching, proclaiming, modeling, and manifesting the reality of the benevolent rule of God, which includes working together as the body of Christ by God’s empowering grace. This influence encompasses every sphere of human action, not just those we think of as religious in nature. Such ambassadorial representation need not be overt or delivered in “Christianese” in order to be effective. No flag-waving and banner carrying are required. Such is the nature of a conspiracy, even a divine one. This is a tactic Jesus employed on many occasions with great aplomb.
Spokespersons for Christ are under the overarching imperative to love God and to love their neighbors as themselves. Their responsibility for what honors God and what is good for the public as well as for their closer “neighbors” dictates that they deal with economic, political, professional, and social issues that seriously impact life and well-being. It is not a religious conspiracy we are to pursue, but God’s conspiracy, founded, led, and empowered by Jesus the Christ.
It is the task of Christ-following spokespersons, leaders, and professionals to keep before their own minds as well as those of the public they engage—through whatever vocation they maintain—an understanding of what is good and what is not and what conditions are required for human beings to experience well-being. No one person need have exclusive responsibility in this regard, nor does there need to be some sort of continual media event to make a significant fuss about every issue or decision. At times some leaders and spokespersons may be required to take on a special, higher-profile responsibility because of their position in society or because of the sources of knowledge and power that come with a certain activity or expertise. Even in such cases, we are seeking things that benefit the common good and the flourishing of all peoples. We are not advocating for a special-interest group or that people use public positions or notoriety as a platform to promote a certain ideology or theology. We are not necessarily endeavoring to stack political power on one issue against that of another or to privilege one candidacy over another. Instead, we seek to present the wisdom of divine love in order to be a light shining in the darkness that cannot be missed, whatever the issue.
Becoming Kingdom Builders
It may be difficult to conceive of the effects that recognizing the full scope of Christ’s lordship today could have on both the world collectively and each person individually. In the rough-and-tumble realities of our contemporary world, the glorious rule and reign of God can, and often does, become far too distant and foggy for us to even imagine, much less manifest within our personal and social situations and circumstances. Yet that is exactly what Jesus wants us and has empowered us to do. We can see, hear, experience, and realize, with confident assurance, that God is most definitely with us in our work as we seek to do his good will. And if God is for us, with us, guiding and empowering our efforts, we can be appropriately confident that good will result. But losing our vision for this reality has largely cost us the hope that it could ever occur. Therefore, in this increasingly foggy mire of futile doubt about the grandeur and glory of God’s intentions for us and his creation, it is increasingly important that we endeavor to describe, as clearly as we can, what such a reality can mean for everyday life.
We face a significant problem today in our lack of awareness, interest, and critical thinking and teaching within our Christian congregations and institutions of higher learning regarding how God, through his Spirit, is to guide us personally, communally, socially, politically, and economically into direct conformity with the blessing that is within his kingdom. We simply have not thought very long or hard about how the kingdom of God could, would, or does manifest itself within ideas and images that drive the current contexts of our church, work, school, play, family, business, health, and economic activities.
This is our primary task here: to reinvigorate the conversation about the ways and means of the kingdom of God, which will cascade over the walls of our Christian institutions to inform both Christians and non-Christians alike as to the beneficial effects and wonder-working power of God’s love and goodness in every area of human existence. Yes, the kingdom of God is to be formed “within you,” but it should never be understood as limited to or confined by the human heart. The kingdom of God is as big as the range of God’s omnipotent will. Nothing can stop it. Nothing will. Not even the very gates of hell itself.
What we must begin to reconsider, given our immediate circumstances, is how to best focus our efforts and think deeply about this present and coming reality that Christ has made readily available to us. God’s reign or rule is literally within arm’s reach, at hand, near, close, right before us, in the midst of us, right where we live (e.g., Matt. 3:2; Mark 1:15; Luke 17:21). And this is exactly what people from all walks of life—our political leaders, educators, business professionals, and stay-at-home parents—are called to apply right where they live and work. We must reach out and grab this “kingdom of heaven” (Matthew’s term for the “kingdom of God”) by the throat, with gusto and vigor, and be willing to violate the established norms in order to accomplish with God his divine conspiracy to overcome evil with good (Matt. 11:12).
We so often find these kinds of violations of norms in the most unlikely of places. A few years ago the entire world was shocked by the love and forgiveness offered by a small group of disciples living in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, to a lone, troubled man who shot ten young children, killing five, before turning the gun on himself. There was no media circus, no political debate about constitutional rights versus public safety. These citizens of the kingdom didn’t follow that well-worn path. Instead, trusting and modeling their confidence in their Savior’s ways, they chose to forgive. While still mourning and comforting each other, they offered their love, grace, and even financial support to the killer’s widow and parents. As a result the world looked on in awe as a shining ray of pure goodness illuminated a very dark hour. Such goodness cannot be hidden. People have to stop and look, in wonder. Forgiving those who persecute us and loving our enemies are ideas that still deeply violate our established norms.
Another simple example of such violation of norms and extension of grace is now routinely demonstrated in the innovative arena of microfinance. These are financial services for poor and low-income clients, including loans to unsalaried borrowers who have little or no collateral. The brainchild of Nobel Peace Prize–winner Muhammad Yunus, microfinance development has been utilized for over three decades by dozens of organizations, such as Opportunity International and World Vision. It has become so popular that both religious and secular organizations now offer small loans (the average loan is less than $400) to the world’s poorest populations. When lenders focus on both “nurturing the profitability of borrowers’ businesses—and, in turn, their clients’ overarching economic and social well-being,” the practice is so effective, it has now become the darling of poverty-fighting relief agencies all across the globe. In an age when institutional lenders seem to expect borrowers to demonstrate their lack of financial need before a loan is even considered, the concept of lending money to those with little to no resources but with an abundance of character has shown the potential for increasing not only income but also health care, housing, nutrition, and education. Client-centered microfinance is yet another idea that rattles the economic norms of our societies.
We need to learn some very important lessons from our brothers and sisters in Nickel Mines and those creative innovators in microfinance. The people of God are to be ambassadors of good in our world, demonstrating, personally and through its systems and institutions, the ways of God for the benefit of all people. Just as John, writing Revelation, saw a vision of reality that needed to be revealed and understood by the struggling early churches scattered around the ancient world, we also must endeavor to recapture God’s vision of our current world under the rule of King Jesus.