Kingdom Theology vs. Covenant Theology

I have been thinking a lot lately about the differences between Kingdom Theology and Covenant Theology. I’m not sure what sparked this line of thinking but it has been interesting to ponder nonetheless. 🙂

Kingdom Theology (A Brief Summary)

At its core, Kingdom Theology is an inaugurated eschatology system that seeks to focus on the Kingship of Jesus. Within this framework, the present time in which we live is caught between two ages – the present evil age ruled by sin and death and the Age to Come, which is ruled by Jesus Christ into eternality.

Through the birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension of Jesus (plus Pentecost) the Age to Come has broken into this present evil age, existing together in a tension that will be removed at that last day when all is set right and God dwells among His people face-to-face.

Covenant Theology (A Brief Summary)

By far the largest stream of Protestant theology, Covenant Theology is based upon an understanding of three main overarching theological covenants (redemption, works, grace) that are said to be interwoven into one over-all eternal covenant.  The three covenants are considered ‘theological’ in the sense that they are not explicitly outlined as such within the Bible.

Within the Covenant Theology stream there are many, many variations as different groups seek to focus on certain parts of each covenant. There are also disagreements on how the Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic and New (Jesus) covenants related to each other and/or either they fit within the three larger theological covenant systems.

My Thoughts On The Two

The South African theologian Adrio König once said that Covenant Theology and Kingdom Theology are two sides of the same coin. And why that may be true from a purely theoretical theological viewpoint, I can’t help but think about how each system is applied to one’s life.

With its emphasis on covenant, it is easy for folks living under a Covenant Theology system to lose focus on the covenant Giver. Instead, people can (and have) become experts at knowing that rights and privileges are granted to them under such-and-such covenant.

Kingdom Theology, on the other hand, tends to focus on the dynamic rule and reign of a King and not so much on the covenant ‘document’ itself. This shift in emphasis pushes one to know Jesus on a personal level as scriptures give light to the ongoing mission of God to restore creation to Himself.

I would assume that a lot of folks living under a Covenant Theology viewpoint would look at the Kingdom Theology emphasis on the person of Jesus and get really nervous as it seems subjective (i.e. there is no covenant contract to dissect and follow).

Yet, I would suggest that Jesus Himself pointed towards a more subjective relationship instead of a covenant contract system as He repeatedly told His disciples that His followers know His voice. Knowing a voice means that you have a relationship that is real and personal – it means that are actively communing with Jesus and His Body (i.e. the church, both locally and globally).

This may be too simple of a sketch of these two complex theological systems…but, then again, maybe simple is good. 🙂

What do you think?

12 Comments

  1. I was thinking “simple is good” myself. It is kingdom recognized through a series of covenants, and it is covenant recognized in relationship to the King and His kingdom. I don’t think I can have one without the other. Can I??

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    • In a lot of ways you are correct, it is a both/and approach in which we must remember both the Covenant Giver and the Covenant.

      The issue I have been chewing on is hows does each system effect life on the streets. From what I have seen and read (however small that may be), Covenant folks seems to focus more on the ‘document’ of the covenant (dos, don’ts, rights, curses, etc) than the Giver.

      People who focus on the rule and reign of God (i.e. Kingdom Theology) tend to focus on the overall relational aspect of Jesus who is on mission and is actively inviting us to join with Him.

      While both are needed, I see Kingdom Theology as a (dare I say?) ‘better’ holistic theological view than Covenant Theology.

      {granted, even these statements are overly simple as they don’t really touch on the underlining eschatology foundation on which both systems are build.}

      Reply
  2. Thanks Josh. I am not a trained theologian, but a lawyer who studied much theology at Regent U. Here’s where I come down: I begin with the Garden, with the Creator’s original intent. He created us in His image to have dominion. In other words He made a covenant with man and gave him rights and duties to extend His Kingship over His creation. I call the dominion mandate in the Garden the original “Great Commission” and I see the NT Great Commission (in e.g., Matthew 28) as a restoration of the original image of God and dominion mandate. Except the “second” Great Commission now includes additional powers and responsibilities such as healing the sick, casting out devils, teaching, baptizing, etc. Those powers were not necessary in the Garden, but they are in a fallen world. So, to me, the Great Commission that we hear preached on every Sunday means dominion in both the material and spiritual realms. The claims of Christ and His Kingdom are to be pressed into every nook and cranny of the universe, seen and unseen. So within that restored image Dei (image of God) which is Christ in us, the hope of glory, the Holy Spirit brings the King and His Kingdom to the present, to rule and reign with Him. My thoughts…

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  3. I refuse to have one without the other.

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    • It is not so much as having “one without the other” as it is about which theological system does one use to read and understand the Bible. The themes of Kingdom (defined, btw, as the dynamic rule and reign of God and not as a physical or spiritual place that one can enter and leave) and Covenant are interwoven throughout the Bible.

      The problem is that no matter who we are, as humans we always read and understand the Bible according to some kind of system or worldview. This view then affects how we apply the words of Scriptures to our lives.

      Covenant Theologians tend to look at the Bible through the lenses of various covenants, leading itself to more of legal approach to salvation (as seen in their focus on penal substitution atonement). Kingdom Theologians, on the other hand, take their cue from Jesus’ message of the Kingdom of God – creating a more relational approach to Scriptures (as seen in their focus on joining with God on His Mission).

      Both are in the Bible and both are needed, it is just a question of emphasis and how one reads the Bible. Depending on which viewpoint you start from, you can come up with two (or more) totally different ways of living life.

      It is easy to dismiss inquiries along these lines as we don’t like to think that are reading of the Bible is influenced by anything other than Jesus and the plain words of the Bible. Yet, we are. This is why it is important to understand how you are approaching the Bible and the limitations and strengths of such an approach. Once you know that, you can then understand why you do certain things, why you do church a certain way, etc.

      Granted, it is ALWAYS important to be open and allow Jesus changing that approach as He sees fit. 🙂

      Reply
  4. It can, and should be, both. It seems to me that kingdom theology relegates the kingdom to the redemptive jurisdiction of life, e.g., the church, miracles, etc. [I don’t think I’ve read, for example, anything from kingdom folks about public policy, economics, business. Maybe its out there but I haven’t read it and if I’m in error, I do apologize, but please educate me.] The Bible teaches us that God is BOTH Creator and Redeemer. As Creator He is the giver of the Laws of Nature by which creation continues under his loving, providential rule. Indeed, the Creator was referenced by America’s founders as the “Supreme Judge of the World”, and “Creator” who endowed man with inalienable rights in a civil society. That’s why Romans 13 says the civil magistrate is a “minister of God.” At the same time, God is also Redeemer, who is redeeming the human heart and reconciling His fallen creation to himself. In my view, the Bible has MUCH to say about both creational and redemptive matters, but it all depends on how you approach Scripture. Your thoughts?

    Reply
    • It is interesting that you mention that the Kingdom Theology folks relegates the Kingdom (defined as the dynamic rule and reign of God) to the Spiritual side of life (church, miracles, etc). The roots of Kingdom Theology comes out of the 1800’s Search for the Historical Jesus as shown by the writings of Albert Schweitzer, who dismissed the supernatural side of life in favor of the here-and-now (public policy, economics, business, etc).

      George Ladd built upon Schweitzer’s delayed eschatology writings to show how Jesus came not as a purely human man ‘crushed by the wheel of destiny’ but instead, Jesus came to usher in the beginning of the end. Even still, to Ladd this inaugurated eschatology was less about miracles and signs/wonders as it was about how a Jesus follower lived. John Wimber took this theoretical inaugurated eschatology promoted by Ladd and others and moved it into the streets (granted, it was still in the “redemptive jurisdiction of life” area).

      Currently there is a move among Kingdom Scholars to take the enacted inaugurated eschatology of the Kingdom back to the social side of life while retaining the advances within the spiritual side. Jayakumar Christian (Associate Director of World Vision India) made a huge contribution to this effort through the publication of his book “God of the Empty-Handed: Poverty, Power and The Kingdom of God”. (http://requisite_danger.bluecastle.us/2010/02/13/god-of-the-empty-handed-by-jayakumar-christian/)

      “Doing Reconciliation” by Alexander Venter is an amazing, and very challenging look, at how to follow Jesus’ words to love each other through the pain of the South African apartheid. (http://requisite_danger.bluecastle.us/2011/05/27/%E2%80%9Cdoing-reconciliation%E2%80%9D-by-alexander-venter/)

      Derek Morphew (another South African scholar/pastor) has been looking at how the enacted inaugurated eschatology of the Kingdom applies to all areas of life through his work at the Vineyard Bible Institute. His primary book on the kingdom is called “Breakthrough” but he has also been publishing booklets on Amazon.com. (http://requisite_danger.bluecastle.us/2008/02/22/breakthrough-by-derek-morphew/)

      Least I forget, Jason Clark in the UK is currently working on a Ph.d. paper seeking to “diagnose the relationship of present day Evangelical church movements with modern capitalist market social realities.”

      In other words, hang on because the Kingdom of God is breaking into all areas of life. 😀

      Reply
    • There’s a great book by Mike Breen called “Covenant and Kingdom: The DNA of the Bible” that walks through the overarching story of the Bible through the lenses of Covenant and Kingdom. A great read that helped me see how Covenant and Kingdom are both interwoven throughout the Bible.

      Reply
      • Cool! I will have to look it up. Thanks for the comment. =)

        Reply
  5. Well explained sir,…it rests within my understanding. God bless!

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  6. I believe the Bible teaches 7 dispensations prior to eternity future. (Innocence, Conscience, Government, Promise, Law, Church, Kingdom). I am trying to understand the differences between what I have understood and some other perspectives. I am trying to wrap my head around Kingdom theology, Covenant theology, Replacement theology, Reformed theology, and Calvinism and Arminianism. I don’t think that I (as a Premillennial Dispensationalist) really fit in any of the above 6 theological models. But it would be helpful for me to see what I agree with if I had a chart that compares the core beliefs of each of these theological models. Do you know of such a chart?

    Reply
    • Sadly I don’t know of such a chart though I can see the importance of having such a think outlined. If only I had the time… =P

      Reply

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