Book Review: “The Kingdom of God” by Patrick Schreiner

What is the kingdom of God?

I’ve been waiting patiently for a full minute, and you still can’t come up with a coherent answer? Consider the fact that the Gospels summarize the message of Jesus in this way: “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel!” (Mark 1:15; Matt. 4:17; Luke 4:43). Also consider the fact that even after he rose from the dead, Jesus continued to go on and on about the kingdom: “He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).

If you are foggy on the kingdom, that’s reason enough to pick up Patrick Schreiner’s accessible new book The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross. In 143 short pages, Dr. Schreiner unpacks his very concise, memorable definition of the kingdom: “The kingdom is the King’s power over the King’s people in the King’s place” (18, emphasis original).

Quick Overview

Schreiner believes typical definitions for the kingdom suffer not because they are wrong so much as incomplete. They may emphasize one of the three ‘P’s’, but in his estimation, a true kingdom requires all three: power, people, and place. He points out the way that Biblical authors use the tree as a kind of visual motif throughout Scripture to represent this concept of kingdom.

As a work of biblical theology, the author’s purpose is to trace the theme through all 66 books, which is a tall task in such a short space. Schreiner explains, “…the kingdom is the thematic framework for all the Scriptures with all other themes orbiting around it” (23). In order to highlight this framework, he opts to survey the Old Testament according to its Hebrew categories: Law, Prophets, and Writings.

This re-orientation serves Schreiner’s purpose well. Most of us may tend to read the Old Testament as a chronology of Bible history with, well, the other stuff afterwards. In the Hebrew framework, we begin to see how the Law chronicles the death and revival of kingdom hope. Mt. Sinai was the beginning of God fulfilling his promise to reestablish his kingdom through the offspring of Abraham. We start to understand the role of the Prophets in speaking to the kings of earth and calling God’s people to submission to the King of Heaven whose covenant they were transgressing. Most interesting to me was the way the Writings were cast as a kingly exposition of what life in the kingdom looks like.

Schreiner also gives the New Testament the tripartite treatment: the Gospels, Acts and Epistles, and Revelation. Schreiner emphasizes the placement of Matthew and his genealogy at the center of the canon as essential for interpreting not only what follows, but what goes before:

“[Jesus] arrives as the King, the seed of David, who accomplishes Adam’s task of ordering the place of the earth to make it look like heaven” (88).

The author shows how each of the four gospel writers emphasizes one aspect of the kingdom: The King’s Place (Matthew), The King’s Power (Mark), The King’s People (Luke), and Life in the Kingdom (John). Moving into Acts, we see how the kingdom of God expands to the ends of the earth. Although Paul’s letters are not filled with the word “kingdom” per se, Schreiner shows how they are kingdom dispatches rife with language about people, place, and power. Finally, Revelation describes the falling of all earthly kingdoms and the restoration of God’s power over the new earth (place) through His Son and his people.

Review

An interesting by-product of Schreiner’s re-sorting of the Old Testament books is that the ones we normally associate with kingdom–1&2 Samuel and 1&2 Kings–fall into the Prophets and get only a few pages of treatment. I see this as the author choosing not to go for low-hanging fruit. As a part of the Crossway series Short Studies in Biblical Theology, the author admits, “[We] pust pick and choose which peaks in the Scriptures are worth ascending…while painfully passing by others” (22). Rather than wasting precious space seeking to convince us of the obvious, he opts to spend his time in parts of the Scriptures that we wouldn’t normally associate with the kingdom. It’s a commendable and fruitful approach.

Secondly, I appreciate how Schreiner continually hammers his definition home in every chapter. The kingdom of God is people, place, power. Power, people, place. Place, power…you get the picture. You will never forget these three categories after reading this little tome, and the themes will begin to scream at you from every page of Scripture thereafter.

Finally, I find the tree motif convincing. I think it gives us a way to visual what healthy kingdom life ought to look like. How does that opening Psalm go again? “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:3). Although the SSBT series is merely exposition without application*, Schreiner’s kingdom tree challenges God’s people to envision how Christ’s power is bearing fruit through us, the branches, and nourishing us to extend his kingdom to shade the ends of the earth.

Pick up The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross today!

*I read another book in the series, Covenant by Tom Schreiner, to double check, and it seems the editors of the series intentionally asked the authors to focus solely on the Biblical text without teasing out practical implications. I would assume this was for the sake of brevity.

(disclosure: I received this book because Patrick is a gracious friend. But don’t let that stop you from buying it!)

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