Ratzlaff Reviews: The Message & The Kingdom

VernThe legendary Vern Ratzlaff (right), Canadian Mennonite pastor and professor, was sporting his 5-inch beard long before practically every American white guy under 35 started growing theirs. Vern is spending free time at his outpost in Saskatoon reading dense anti-imperial theology and writing concise summaries for the rest of us. He reported this week of “an orgy of fresh tomatoes” in his garden.

The Message and the Kingdom, J. Richard Horsley & Neil Silberman, GrossetPutnam, 1999.

The Message and the Kingdom is a careful analysis of the religious, political and social aspects of the Roman empire; the world of Jesus and of Paul was not only a spiritual battleground but a landscape of far-reaching dislocation, cultural conflict and political change.

The book points out how the message of Jesus resounded among a people suffering under Roman tyranny. The revolutionary message of Jesus ignited these listeners, infuriating the Roman imperial establishment. Saul of Tarsus had a vision that persuaded him to deliver Jesus’ message throughout the empire.

Horsley’s and Silberman’s book shows how the message of Jesus and Paul was shaped by the history of their time and by the social conditions of the congregations to whom they preached. The book details how the quest for the kingdom of G-d by Jesus and Paul is both a spiritual journey and a political response to the acts of violence, inequality and injustice that characterized the kingdom of humans.

Paul’s writings ‘are extracts from the handwritten journal of a revolutionary work-in-progress—a collection of passionate notes from the underground.’ (p 147) ‘Membership in the kingdom of G-d offered disenfranchised people a means to empowerment.’ (p 153) As implementation of this vision, the Philippian church was in partnership in the form of financial sacrifice (Phil 4:l)(p 154), a situation where ‘community was everything and personal status a thing to be despised.’ (p 155). Sharing their wealth with those with whom they had no blood kinship or political connection, the assemblies committed themselves to self sacrifice and on effecting a particular social change (p 185).

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