Kingdom Come in Everyday Speech

by Don Cupitt (SCM Press).
This review, by Alan Goss of Napier, completes a trilogy:
  1. The New Religion of Life in Everyday Speech
  2. The Meaning of It All
  3. Kingdom Come in Everyday Speech
This is the third ... in a series of books in which the Cambridge theologian looks behind ordinary everyday language and idioms to discover that religion is still alive and well, though not in ways espoused by mainline churches.

Cupitt’s case is based around the contrast between “ecclesiastical” religion and “kingdom” religion, the latter growing out of the former. In ecclesiastical religion God is the sole producer and sustainer of reality. What God said went.

Ecclesiastical religion subordinates this world to a better world beyond; it is mediated by authoritative scriptures, creeds, rituals and clergy; there is emphasis on rank, hierarchy, moral laws, rituals and discipline; and great importance is attached to mystery, to the supernatural, to things beyond our ken.. Ecclesiastical religion is “heavy”, and is largely concerned with power and control, keeping the masses in their place. The church was the Church Militant. You either slotted your self into this militant framework with its God-made cosmic order, its disciplinary structures, hierarchies and distinctions (e.g. the inequality between men and women) ... or you risked rejection and even your life. It really was oppressive.

But the old order is passing away. Now we’re out of uniform, we’ve been demobbed, and ordinary language shows us that Christianity has moved into a post-ecclestiastical stage of development.

Kingdom religion, which has its roots in the teaching of Jesus and the Old Testament prophets, is a vastly different animal. The idea of God as an objective, supernatural, transcendent being “out there” is exploding, falling apart, with God being dispersed into our increasingly secular world. In kingdom religion there is no heavenly Beyond—this world is all we have and we’d better make the best of it. The kingdom world is global and humanitarian where people are liberated from poverty, toil and oppression, a hope clearly and strongly expressed by the Hebrew prophets. Whereas ecclesisatical religion is heavy and self-denying [viz. requires that we deny our self - ed], kingdom religion is easy and light. People are encouraged to express themselves, to question to (language again!) “do your own thing”, or as Frank Sinatra so aptly sang it, “I did it my way”. People now perceive the world, and their role in it, in a less inhibited and more outgoing way. To quote an advertising slogan, your mobile phone gives you “the world in your pocket”. All things are yours, said Paul, the world is your oyster.

This changeover, from a heavy, solid, God-made created order where you “fit-in” (or else), to a very much lighter, continuously changing man-made order is, for Cupitt, a stupendous and marvellous change. Heaven has come down to earth, not all at once and as a permanent fixture, but as something that has to be continuously worked at and re-enacted, for example in liturgy. It is, Cupitt says, “a marvellous change, the single most important thing that every modern human person needs to grasp — and the hardest to grasp”.

Cupitt acknowledges that there is a place for the church, even though it has slipped too far downmarket and is no longer of the first importance to religion. (Perhaps, like the monarchy, its had its use-by-date in its present form though we continue to hanker after the ceremonial, the trappings etc.)

In any case, the church was always a holding operation and having now completed its task it no longer commands the authority it once enjoyed.

Cupitt understandably attracts fire from many quarters, but he answers that, what his opponents see as religious decline, others see as religious fulfilment.

Whatever our response, many agree that it’s time the church forsook its exhausting, divisive, trivial pursuits and gave itself over to a wholehearted commitment to this world. Warts and all. As one ancient writer put it, to create “a new heaven and a new earth”.

Alan Goss

[Don covered a lot of this ground in his after-dinner speech at the year 2000 Conference - ed]