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Book Review – The Gospel of the Kingdom by George Eldon Ladd

September 26, 2012

“Does mankind have a destiny?” asks George Ladd, “Or do we jerk across the stage of time like wooden puppets, only to have the stage, the actors, and the theater itself destroyed by fire, leaving only a pile of ashes and the smell of smoke?”[1]
Such is the way the world will end, Ladd says in The Gospel of the Kingdom, unless the Kingdom of God as presented in the Bible is really there. What is the kingdom of God? Ladd reviews the several answers given by European theologians: God’s kingdom is an “inward power” (Adolf von Harnack), the “wholly other” in Jesus Christ (C.H. Dodd), and an altogether future reality (Albert Schweitzer), or the Church itself (Augustine and many Protestants).

One Kingdom, Present and Future

However, Ladd’s own view is “none of the above.” The kingdom, as Ladd explains it, has two components:

  • The kingdom of God is a present reality; it has begun in our world in the teachings and works of Jesus, “If I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28).
  • The kingdom of God is a future consummation, a righteous end of history. The present kingdom is only partial—there is some justice, some forgiveness, some victory over the demonic. But still to come is a greater ending when history is brought to a righteous conclusion. This is what we are to pray for in the Lord’s Prayer. There is an Age to Come, to be inaugurated with the Second Coming; it will commence with a general resurrection of the dead, a healing of the cosmos, the forgiveness of sins, and the judgment of sins and of the devil.

The mystery, so often referred to in the kingdom parables, is this: the kingdom is present in a small but absolute way. The prophesied “Day of the Lord” came in two stages: the first and second Advents of Christ. It is this two-stage entry which is the mystery, a thing never revealed through the Old Testament prophets, but revealed in the Gospels.

The kingdom “is more than promise; it is realization; we look forward to the glorious consummation of that which we have only tasted.”[2]  In preaching Jesus Christ, in healing, in the binding of Satan, in the love which forgives, we witness to and advance the kingdom of God. The kingdom asks of us a new righteousness—this is embodied not in a written law so much as in a daily practice of the Kingdom righteousness (the Sermon on the Mount and  1Corinthians 13).

Mystery of the Kingdom Graph

According to Ladd, the kingdom of God has come in portion but is yet to come in fullness.

Repentance and faith are a “violent” turning from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s beloved son (Colossians 1:13). That is to say, repentance is not natural; one must decide to “violently and by force” (Matthew 11:12) turn from puffed up self-righteousness and strive to believe in the kingdom.

The Meaning of History and the End of it All

In preaching, we hasten the day of the Second Coming, the consummation of the Age: “The gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all the nations; and then the end shall come” (Matthew 24:14). This is our mission as well as our message. “This verse is one of the most important in all the Word of God to ascertain the meaning and the purpose in human history. The meaning of history is a problem which is today confounding the minds of thinking men . . . In a former generation, the philosophy of progress was widely accepted; but modern interpretations have been utterly pessimistic. Someone has suggested that the most accurate chart of the meaning of history is the set of tracks made by a drunken fly with feet with with ink staggering across a piece of white paper. They lead nowhere and reflect no pattern of meaning. This what Rudolf Bultmann believed: “Today we cannot claim to know the end and the goal of history. Therefore the question of meaning in history has become meaningless.”[3]

Endless Stairs

Rudolf Bultmann believed that apart from comprehending God’s end goal, understanding of history is an unanswerable pursuit.

Ladd concludes, “Someday when we go into the archives of heaven to find a book which expounds the meaning of human history as God sees it, we will not draw out a book depicting The History of the West or The Progress of Civilization. That book will be entitled, The Preparation for and the Extension of the Gospel among the Nations. For only here is God’s redemptive purpose carried forward.”

“I do not know when the end will come. And yet I do know this: When the Church has finished its task of evangelizing the world, Christ will come again . . . My concern is not with closed doors; my concern is with the doors that are open which we do not enter . . . To us it is given not only to wait for but also to hasten the coming of the day of God (II Peter 3:12). This is the mission of the Gospel of the Kingdom and this is our mission.”

Ladd, George Eldon. The Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959.


[1] George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959). 13-14

[2] Ibid. 41

[3] Ibid. 120

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 28, 2012 3:32 am

    I’m feeling a bit like Nathanael when he first meets Jesus. “Jesus answered him, ‘Before Phillip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’ Nathanael answered him, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered him, ‘Because I said to you, “I saw you under a fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.'” (John 1:48-50)

    I just finished reading George Eldon Ladd’s article “The Gospel of the Kingdom,” which is taken from his book of the same name, for my Perspectives course. Nate Scholtz came and spoke at our class this past Tuesday, so I got to your blog by poking around on the Frontiers website.

    Just before finding your blog, I followed a link from the Perspectives website and was poking around in the William Carey Library website. Hmmm, here’s a link for Islam. Hmmm, look at these interesting books. Hey! the fourth book down is one that’s on my shelf that I purchased at a local second hand store for about $0.50 a few years ago. And then I go and find your blog and today’s post is about the very article I just finished…. I suppose some people would call it serendipity…. I doubt that’s what George Eldon Ladd would have called it.

  2. November 14, 2013 1:49 pm

    I was extremely pleased to discover this site. I wantdd to
    thank you for ones time for this particularly fantastic read!!
    I definitely enjoyued every little bit of it and i also ave you saved to fav to see new stuuff
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