A Revolutionary’s Handbook: Interview with J.P. Moreland on Kingdom Triangle

51v1dywoqtl_aa240_.jpgImagine being awarded a major university’s top fellowship for a Ph.D. in nuclear chemistry. Then imagine turning it down to follow God’s call to minister in His kingdom. Professor J. P. Moreland of the Talbot School of Theology did more than imagine – he’s the one you’ve been trying to imagine!

I first encountered Professor Moreland’s impressive intellect indirectly when Professor Gary Habermas visited Bates College under the sponsorship of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. The professors co-authored the book, Beyond Death. Exploring the Evidence for Immortality, a riveting exploration of the scientific, philosophical, anthropological, and theological evidence for life after death. Next I discovered Professor Moreland in Lee Strobel’s The Case for Faith. A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity . The professor took on the toughest of the “toughest” questions: “How Can God Send Children to Hell?” “Why Does Everyone Suffer the Same in Hell?” “Why Are People Punished Infinitely for Finite Crimes?” “Couldn’t God Force Everyone to Go to Heaven?” “Why Doesn’t God Just Snuff People Out?” “How Can Hell Exist Alongside of Heaven?” “Why Didn’t God Create Only Those He Knew Would Follow Him?” “Why Doesn’t God Give People a Second Chance?” and “Isn’t Reincarnation More Rational Than Hell?” By the time Professor Moreland was through, I saw God as even more loving than before!

A month ago Don Williams’ Kingdom Rain website featured Professor Moreland’s latest book, Kingdom Triangle. Recover the Christian Mind. Renovate the Soul. Restore the Spirit’s Power with these strong words: “Readers are served a delectable feast of insight, the sort of mental and affective soul food that enables persons and churches to live their life skillfully and wisely. Longtime Moreland readers will not be disappointed by the careful treatment of ideas, and the ease to which Moreland attentively takes heady distinctions and makes them accessible to the lay reader. First-time readers of Moreland will also find much to be admired. For here, in a single volume, a modeled evangelical mind distills his choicest and wisest ideas. Kingdom Triangle is a robust précis of Moreland’s most important rumination about how best to flourish, individually and corporately, within our local churches.”
(And this from an author whose own recent book Start Here. Kingdom Essentials for Christians was one of the best books of recent years!)

I wanted to order Kingdom Triangle immediately, but hoped it would be the next Kingdom Rain Book Club selection, and it was! I read it non-stop. Then I read it again. Then I read the underlined sections to my wife. Then she took the book to read for herself!

The thesis of Kingdom Triangle is that human beings, naturally hungering for both drama and happiness, must choose among three basic worldviews to satisfy those needs – naturalism, postmodernism, and Christianity. In the first part of the book, Professor Moreland demolishes naturalism and post-modernism as both theories and as practical bases for living.

Beginning with Chapter Five, Professor Moreland presents the Kingdom of God as the only way to satisfy our deepest purposes. As citizens of God’s Kingdom, each of us needs to develop first, our knowledge, “the ability to represent things as they are on an appropriate basis of thought and experience”(114); second, our souls, “to form through repeated practice the daily habit of living each day with a specific attitude and outlook. More specifically, one is to form a passion for the daily practice of giving up on the failed project of making one’s self the center of focus and, alternatively, to live hour by hour for God’s Kingdom. It is to be preoccupied with learning skillfully to find one’s place in his unfolding plan and play one’s role well, to give one’s life away to others for Christ’s sake”(146); and third, to restore the Kingdom’s miraculous power, quoting St. Paul, “the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power (1 Cor. 4:20)

Kingdom Triangle is a passionate and profound call to arms to the citizens of the Kingdom of God. Professor Moreland wants us to “foment a revolution in how we do church and how we conceive of our presence in the world as Jesus’ apprentices and representatives” (200).

Kingdom Triangle stirred me to such an extent that I boldly asked Mr. Moreland to answer some questions his book raised for me. He kindly agreed:

PK: I was particularly taken by your statement “God made you to lead a dramatic life.” Could you elaborate on that a little? The nineteenth century French critic Brunetiere has said that “conflict is the essence of drama.” Do you subscribe to that? If so, what do you see as the nature of that conflict, both pre-fall and post-fall? Or is it the same?

JPM: By “made to lead a dramatic life,” I mean we were made for greatness–greatness in creativity, exploration of the world, passion, moral courage, heroism, living a life that matters. In a fallen world, moral courage and heroism are possible, but even without such a world, we will still live dramatic lives. We will continue to love, explore, create art, and other such things forever.

PK: You describe your experience as a football player against Lees Summitt as an example of our natural craving for drama. When I think of secular drama – whether in sports or on film or theater – I can hear coaches or directors, seeking to motivate their players, saying things like “Don’t just stand there! Make things happen!” Or “Get tough out there! What are you waiting for?” However, later in Kingdom Triangle, you perceptively advise, “First, never try to make something happen….Second, be gentle, humble, and patient with yourself and others as you grow in the miracles.” Does this suggest that dramatic Kingdom living requires counter-cultural techniques? If so, how do we avoid seeking drama in the Kingdom through secular means?

JPM: Christianity is opposed to earning but not to effort. We are to exert all the effort we can to become the people God wants us to be. But that exertion is never to be done alone. So we launch out with a habituated posture of dependence and mutual co-laboring with God. We expect our own efforts to count and we also expect year-by-year to see effects of our lives that are greater than can be explained by ourselves

PK: You suggest that to be an effective member of the Kingdom of God each of us must “recover the Christian mind, renovate the soul, and restore the Spirit’s power.” You note that sometimes a Christian can be addicted to “experiences of the prophetic, the Spirit’s power, and so forth.” Can Christians also get addicted to apologetics – looking to pick a fight at every opportunity – or to heart renovation – looking for yet another spiritual retreat to attend?

JPM: People become addicted to doctrine, theology, religious experience, apologetics, spiritual formation and a host of otherwise wonderful things. Addiction arises when we turn to something to make us feel alive and to deaden pain that we are unwilling to face. The problem with addiction is seldom the good or evil regarding the thing that addicts us (though there are obvious exceptions to this). Usually, the problem arises in the way we use that object to cope, to avoid facing our true selves and to enable the false self to stay safe and hidden.

PK: How to you account for so many Western Christians discovering Spirit power so late in their Christian journey?

JPM: I think we are living through a day when more and more are finding out about the Spirit’s power at a young age. This is because there is now a small but significant number of credible adult witnesses to that power who aren’t weird or out of balance. What people need is sometimes exposure to a credible witness though reading a book such as Kingdom Triangle, going to a conference, or meeting one-on-one. Also, as people get older, they grow tired of powerless Christianity. Youthful dedication and enthusiasm cannot sustain them and they need an authentic encounter with the Kingdom of God.

PK: What you are working on now?

JPM: I am working on a book with Klaus Issler for InterVarsity Press on the nature of faith and how to cultivate it.

As Professor Moreland says: “The crisis of our age requires nothing less than a revolution of those who live in, proclaim, and seek to advance the Kingdom that was not made with hands.” (14) Kingdom Triangle is a Revolutionary’s Handbook for the Kingdom of God.

For more, and to buy the book, click here:  Kingdom Triangle.

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