Is the Tangible Kingdom Movement biblical?
The Tangible Kingdom Movement is based on a book called The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community. The book is written by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, who describe themselves as mentors, church planters, and jaded pastors. Their philosophy is basically that Christians should try to exhibit the personality of Jesus, through acts of service, love, and acceptance, rather than focusing on doctrine and a clear presentation of the gospel.
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The Tangible Kingdom Movement, and its philosophies, is not based on the Bible, but rather on an interpretation of the Bible that focuses on what will best appeal to unbelievers in a postmodern culture. Smay and Halter's book also contains historical inaccuracies, claiming that the early church was spreading rapidly and easily, while this was not the case. The early church was actually fiercely persecuted (Acts 8:1; 11:19; 13:50) and it is miraculous that Christianity survived those early days.
The most important concept of the Tangible Kingdom Movement is the concept of incarnational living. The practice, rather than the doctrine, of Christianity, is emphasized. We are to be living examples of Christ's love and compassion on earth. This is especially deceiving because it is partially true. God's Spirit does indwell us (1 Corinthians 12:11; Galatians 5:16; Ephesians 1:13-14), and we are called to be His ambassadors to the world (2 Corinthians 5:20), to be compassionate and loving and gentle to the unbelieving (2 Timothy 2:24-26), and to be His vessels through which the living water of His Spirit flows (John 7:37; 2 Timothy 2:20-21). The Tangible Kingdom Movement encourages Christians to display an attitude of general niceness, helpfulness, and acceptance, but it excludes two very important components of our role as ambassadors: the power of the gospel and our reliance upon God's Spirit.
We should not be ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everybody who believes (Romans 1:16-17). If the gospel is not clearly and correctly spoken, people will not understand their need for a Savior, nor will they understand what Jesus is actually offering them. Smay and Halter are coming from the perspective of a Western culture, which is saturated with messages about Christianity, most of them garbled, false, and emphasizing the wrong things. In light of that, the philosophy of their movement is understandable. Most unbelievers are turned off by simply the mention of Christianity, because it has such a terrible reputation in our culture. Believers should be cautious about how they present the gospel, and about timing. An unbeliever who feels judged, or suspects that your friendship is insincere, will obviously not be open to hearing a gospel presentation. But because there is so much confusion about what the gospel is, unbelievers desperately need Christians who understand the gospel and are willing to offer acceptance, true friendship, and an answer for the hope within them. Unfortunately the Tangible Kingdom Movement encourages the friendship, but not the hope or the answers. This will not help anyone, nor is it a biblical model of evangelism.
Secondly, inherent in the philosophy of the Tangible Kingdom Movement is reliance on self rather than on God. If we think we can win people to Christ by putting aside doctrine and simply being kind and accepting and servant-hearted, we are essentially telling God that His way does not work and that we have a better idea. The problem is, we don't. Many religions encourage service and kindness—there is nothing distinctly Christian about that. And if God's way is tried and fails, we must remember that He is the one who changes the hearts of men, not us. If we do not rely fully on Him, and do things His way, we will not see anyone get saved, because He is the one saving them and we are merely His vessels.
Again, the philosophy of the Tangible Kingdom Movement, given the hostility towards Christianity that exists in Western culture, is understandable. It supplies an attractive alternative to biblical evangelism because it is non-confrontational and ignores the issues to which people usually take offense: sin, judgment, and reliance on God rather than self. However, the answer is not to shy away from those confrontational issues. When unbelievers ask us about our faith, and about our hope, we must tell them the whole truth—including the fact that sin leads to hell, and that Jesus is the only hope for sinners. It is painful to see our friends or family reject Christ, and reject the hope He offers, and it always hurts terribly to be rejected ourselves, especially by those we love most and wish to help. However, we can take comfort in the knowledge that people were offended by Jesus as well, and the prophets were also persecuted, and we receive great reward in Heaven when people reject us for the sake of Christ (Matthew 5:11-12; Matthew 10:24-25).
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