Kingdom Triangle: A Book Review By Darryl Wooldridge

kingdom_triangle

Kingdom Triangle, by J.P Moreland, is a crucial book–especially for nudging awake the Western church. Moreland is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology. He has authored or co-authored over one hundred books, articles, journals, and received over twenty-five awards and honors. Moreland has debated from one end of this country to the other in universities, churches, and other public venues. I only mention some of his accomplishments to assure you that Dr. Moreland is eminently qualified to address the subject of Christian worldview and to propose a way forward for the twenty-first century church.

In Kingdom Triangle Moreland discusses the global South and its precipitous growth in Christian conversions enabled and validated by supernatural testimony. In contrast the West seems, by all measures, to be waning in Christian growth, influence, and belief in the supernatural. In this morally and ethically postmodern world, especially in the West, empiricism has infiltrated the church and is denaturing it of its supernatural roots. Scientism has dismissed Christian thought as simplistic, relative subjectivism. Moreland says, “There simply is no established, widely recognized body of ethical or religious knowledge now operative in the institutions of knowledge in our culture, for example, the universities” (p. 76). Moreover, religion is not thought to be “a domain of fact and knowledge, so there are no experts” (p. 92).

We must defend Christianity at this point of attack, and in this Moreland successfully argues the case for nonempirical knowledge in rebutting the scientists and ideologues that wish to marginalize and relegate all religion, especially Christianity, to relativism outside of objective truth: “If it works for you that’s fine;” or, “If it feels good to you, just do it, and leave me to what works for me.” The “truth” is to be left to what can be observed and measured. Moreland shows how scientism, and its relativistic attitude toward anything outside of its measuring, tares at the very root of what is truth and what really makes humans happy. The good life, he says, is one of “human flourishing constituted by intellectual and moral virtue . . . [a] life of ideal human functioning according to the nature that God himself gave to us” (p. 94). The good life is not a measure of how much pleasure can be had or how much difficulty and pain can be avoided.

Moreland further presses what human life was intended for by contrasting it with what it is not meant to be when he refers to the bane of the empty self: “The empty self is inordinate individualist . . . infantile . . . narcissistic . . . [and] passive” (pp. 142-143). The empty self is false and hides behind a presentation that protects it from the world in order to be safe. It is “a tangled web of internal tapes created by childhood struggles, pain, embarrassment, anxiety, and fear” (p. 141). Moreland’s response to the empty self is Christian self-denial in which we are invited to follow Jesus into a different kind of life than that which is empty or false. In this, happiness is expressed in “a life well lived, a life of virtue and character, a life that manifests wisdom, kindness, and goodness” (p. 144). He secondly recommends a spiritually disciplined life in which the disciple’s body and mind are brought into control for good and rational service to God and his Kingdom. This is done through disciplines of the body in dependence on the Spirit of God. Thirdly, Moreland suggests that we need to “cultivate emotional sensitivity to the movement within [our] souls” (p. 155).

Not afraid of potential repercussions, Moreland states that the white Evangelical community, in particular, is populated with obsessive-compulsive, left-brained, type A males who are not rightly connected to their emotions. This disconnect follows from a fear that emotions are too subjective and that they cannot be trusted, thus the general fear of any apparent movement of the Holy Spirit over the emotions of people and the sometimes-attendant ecstatic responses displayed.

Moreland, however, reminds us that such a display, often led by charismatic/Pentecostal believers, cannot be let-off without some scrutiny. The charismatic/Pentecostal community cannot be left with “an addiction to special experiences of the manifest presence of God as a substitute for the day-to-day process of cultivating a rich inner life as that process is captured in the church’s formative literature.” (p. 156).

In his final chapter, Moreland may surprise some of his regular readers. He argues for the third side or vertex of the triangle as an acceptance and restoration, in church communities, of the “Kingdom’s miraculous power.” He cites a few statistics to show how the global South is leading the way, even exploding, in the manifestation of the Christian conversions due in large part to the Spirit’s manifest power (pp. 166-168). People are able to see that God is living and cares about the needs of the disenfranchised, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, and the “leprous.” Moreover, God is reaching the Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu by his miraculous mercy and grace. After assuring the cessationists that their work and “emphasis on Scripture and theology is critically needed today,” Moreland encourages them to continue in this much-needed endeavor and then goes on to lovingly admonish them. I quote this admonishment here in brief:

But frequently, you are too cautious and too concerned about “being in control” to allow things to get messy and to take risks where you may look foolish if God’s manifest presence does not show up. Too often, you are defensive and stuck in tradition for its own sake. There is too little power in your churches, too little extravagant worship in which your people pour out their hearts to God on Sunday. Too much of your church’s accomplishments can be explained without there needing to be a God to explain them. Things are too predictable and too, well, American (p. 180).

Moreland speaks with authority. In addition to his standing in the academic community, he is someone who has personally attended these same churches for thirty-five years. In a balanced approach, he cautions the charismatics/Pentecostals when he points out that they are “too anti-intellectual.”

First, you are too anti-intellectual. . . . As “signs and wonders” continue to increase worldwide, there will be satanic counterfeits, and it may well be that the caution and biblical fidelity emphasized by those at the Word end of the spectrum will become more important than ever . . . [and referencing Rick Nuñez, Full Gospel Fractured Minds] recapture the life of the mind in a way distinctive to your community (pp. 180-181).

So then, in agreement with Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church, Moreland proposes the solution to the issues by three foci: (1) Recover The Christian Mind, in which he firmly begins with the need to recover the Christian mind and enter into the world debate well equipped to rationally demonstrate valid reasons for intellectual belief in the Christian story; (2) Renovate The Soul, by moving concisely to show the need and method of renovating the soul; and (3) Restore The Spirit’s Power, where he argues for the great need to restore God’s Spirit in our churches for testimony and means of God’s activity in the world and accomplishment of his ends. In his own words Moreland says that we must pursue a “development of the life and mind . . . the cultivation of an inner life . . . learning to live in and use the Spirit’s power and the authority of the Kingdom of God. . .” (p. 196).

As I already stated, Moreland’s concern for this third side or vertex of the triangle is of great importance for him. He addresses it with two points in his conclusion. He addresses the skeptics as giving into stereotypes that people involved in the manifestations of God’s power are (1) “weird, uneducated, and extreme cases, frauds” and (2) that they are fearful “of risking and looking foolish if [they] pray for the sick and nothing happens” (pp. 197-198). After speaking about his own risking in the area of prayer for the sick, he says,

Learning to be naturally supernatural . . . is a matter of learning about the presence and power of the Kingdom of God, and recovering the implications of viewing Jesus’ activities as flowing from his life of dependence on the Spirit, doing what he saw the Father doing, and providing a human model of what we should do (p. 199).

So then, Kingdom Triangle is, in my view, a critical and important work at this pivotal juncture of history. God is active and doing what he said in Scripture that he would. If a survey of our time can teach us anything, even from a secular vantage, then it teaches us that we are in a grave time, perhaps even the culmination of the age. We have a choice to be co-laborers or to withdraw and stand down in dispassionate malaise or fear. Moreland says we were created for greatness and we desire drama (pp. 19, 21, 192). I agree. His “thick world,” allows for God’s supernatural involvement in his creation, and is at “the center of the meaning of cosmic history and [our] individual story. . . . Join me in the revolution. This is your opportunity. Seize it and rejoice in it” (pp. 192-199).

I join Moreland and encourage you to read his book, Kingdom Triangle, and to respond with boldness to its message and call to be transformed by the renewing of ours minds, renovation of our souls, and to open to the outworking of God’s power through the Spirit. We were created for such a thick world in high drama, communion, and service to God and his creation.Kingdom Triangle, by J.P Moreland, is a crucial book–especially for nudging awake the Western church. Moreland is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology. He has authored or co-authored over one hundred books, articles, journals, and received over twenty-five awards and honors. Moreland has debated from one end of this country to the other in universities, churches, and other public venues. I only mention some of his accomplishments to assure you that Dr. Moreland is eminently qualified to address the subject of Christian worldview and to propose a way forward for the twenty-first century church.

In Kingdom Triangle Moreland discusses the global South and its precipitous growth in Christian conversions enabled and validated by supernatural testimony. In contrast the West seems, by all measures, to be waning in Christian growth, influence, and belief in the supernatural. In this morally and ethically postmodern world, especially in the West, empiricism has infiltrated the church and is denaturing it of its supernatural roots. Scientism has dismissed Christian thought as simplistic, relative subjectivism. Moreland says, “There simply is no established, widely recognized body of ethical or religious knowledge now operative in the institutions of knowledge in our culture, for example, the universities” (p. 76). Moreover, religion is not thought to be “a domain of fact and knowledge, so there are no experts” (p. 92).

We must defend Christianity at this point of attack, and in this Moreland successfully argues the case for nonempirical knowledge in rebutting the scientists and ideologues that wish to marginalize and relegate all religion, especially Christianity, to relativism outside of objective truth: “If it works for you that’s fine;” or, “If it feels good to you, just do it, and leave me to what works for me.” The “truth” is to be left to what can be observed and measured. Moreland shows how scientism, and its relativistic attitude toward anything outside of its measuring, tares at the very root of what is truth and what really makes humans happy. The good life, he says, is one of “human flourishing constituted by intellectual and moral virtue . . . [a] life of ideal human functioning according to the nature that God himself gave to us” (p. 94). The good life is not a measure of how much pleasure can be had or how much difficulty and pain can be avoided.

Moreland further presses what human life was intended for by contrasting it with what it is not meant to be when he refers to the bane of the empty self: “The empty self is inordinate individualist . . . infantile . . . narcissistic . . . [and] passive” (pp. 142-143). The empty self is false and hides behind a presentation that protects it from the world in order to be safe. It is “a tangled web of internal tapes created by childhood struggles, pain, embarrassment, anxiety, and fear” (p. 141). Moreland’s response to the empty self is Christian self-denial in which we are invited to follow Jesus into a different kind of life than that which is empty or false. In this, happiness is expressed in “a life well lived, a life of virtue and character, a life that manifests wisdom, kindness, and goodness” (p. 144). He secondly recommends a spiritually disciplined life in which the disciple’s body and mind are brought into control for good and rational service to God and his Kingdom. This is done through disciplines of the body in dependence on the Spirit of God. Thirdly, Moreland suggests that we need to “cultivate emotional sensitivity to the movement within [our] souls” (p. 155).

Not afraid of potential repercussions, Moreland states that the white Evangelical community, in particular, is populated with obsessive-compulsive, left-brained, type A males who are not rightly connected to their emotions. This disconnect follows from a fear that emotions are too subjective and that they cannot be trusted, thus the general fear of any apparent movement of the Holy Spirit over the emotions of people and the sometimes-attendant ecstatic responses displayed.

Moreland, however, reminds us that such a display, often led by charismatic/Pentecostal believers, cannot be let-off without some scrutiny. The charismatic/Pentecostal community cannot be left with “an addiction to special experiences of the manifest presence of God as a substitute for the day-to-day process of cultivating a rich inner life as that process is captured in the church’s formative literature.” (p. 156).

In his final chapter, Moreland may surprise some of his regular readers. He argues for the third side or vertex of the triangle as an acceptance and restoration, in church communities, of the “Kingdom’s miraculous power.” He cites a few statistics to show how the global South is leading the way, even exploding, in the manifestation of the Christian conversions due in large part to the Spirit’s manifest power (pp. 166-168). People are able to see that God is living and cares about the needs of the disenfranchised, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, and the “leprous.” Moreover, God is reaching the Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu by his miraculous mercy and grace. After assuring the cessationists that their work and “emphasis on Scripture and theology is critically needed today,” Moreland encourages them to continue in this much-needed endeavor and then goes on to lovingly admonish them. I quote this admonishment here in brief:

But frequently, you are too cautious and too concerned about “being in control” to allow things to get messy and to take risks where you may look foolish if God’s manifest presence does not show up. Too often, you are defensive and stuck in tradition for its own sake. There is too little power in your churches, too little extravagant worship in which your people pour out their hearts to God on Sunday. Too much of your church’s accomplishments can be explained without there needing to be a God to explain them. Things are too predictable and too, well, American (p. 180).

Moreland speaks with authority. In addition to his standing in the academic community, he is someone who has personally attended these same churches for thirty-five years. In a balanced approach, he cautions the charismatics/Pentecostals when he points out that they are “too anti-intellectual.”

First, you are too anti-intellectual. . . . As “signs and wonders” continue to increase worldwide, there will be satanic counterfeits, and it may well be that the caution and biblical fidelity emphasized by those at the Word end of the spectrum will become more important than ever . . . [and referencing Rick Nuñez, Full Gospel Fractured Minds] recapture the life of the mind in a way distinctive to your community (pp. 180-181).

So then, in agreement with Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church, Moreland proposes the solution to the issues by three foci: (1) Recover The Christian Mind, in which he firmly begins with the need to recover the Christian mind and enter into the world debate well equipped to rationally demonstrate valid reasons for intellectual belief in the Christian story; (2) Renovate The Soul, by moving concisely to show the need and method of renovating the soul; and (3) Restore The Spirit’s Power, where he argues for the great need to restore God’s Spirit in our churches for testimony and means of God’s activity in the world and accomplishment of his ends. In his own words Moreland says that we must pursue a “development of the life and mind . . . the cultivation of an inner life . . . learning to live in and use the Spirit’s power and the authority of the Kingdom of God. . .” (p. 196).

As I already stated, Moreland’s concern for this third side or vertex of the triangle is of great importance for him. He addresses it with two points in his conclusion. He addresses the skeptics as giving into stereotypes that people involved in the manifestations of God’s power are (1) “weird, uneducated, and extreme cases, frauds” and (2) that they are fearful “of risking and looking foolish if [they] pray for the sick and nothing happens” (pp. 197-198). After speaking about his own risking in the area of prayer for the sick, he says,

Learning to be naturally supernatural . . . is a matter of learning about the presence and power of the Kingdom of God, and recovering the implications of viewing Jesus’ activities as flowing from his life of dependence on the Spirit, doing what he saw the Father doing, and providing a human model of what we should do (p. 199).

So then, Kingdom Triangle is, in my view, a critical and important work at this pivotal juncture of history. God is active and doing what he said in Scripture that he would. If a survey of our time can teach us anything, even from a secular vantage, then it teaches us that we are in a grave time, perhaps even the culmination of the age. We have a choice to be co-laborers or to withdraw and stand down in dispassionate malaise or fear. Moreland says we were created for greatness and we desire drama (pp. 19, 21, 192). I agree. His “thick world,” allows for God’s supernatural involvement in his creation, and is at “the center of the meaning of cosmic history and [our] individual story. . . . Join me in the revolution. This is your opportunity. Seize it and rejoice in it” (pp. 192-199).

I join Moreland and encourage you to read his book, Kingdom Triangle, and to respond with boldness to its message and call to be transformed by the renewing of ours minds, renovation of our souls, and to open to the outworking of God’s power through the Spirit. We were created for such a thick world in high drama, communion, and service to God and his creation.

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  1. It is worth noting as Moreland does on page 111 that these three correspond to the three keys to the churchs explosive success in the first four centuries as described by Michael Green in his book . Moreland comments in the conclusion that most will understand his interest in the first section since he has devoted his career to the life of the mind.

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