Kent Annan would be in the Shane Claiborne ecclesiastical camp which focuses almost entirely on social justice within a Christianized context. The contention of Annan, and others holding his view, is that we are in the kingdom of God now, but the kingdom has not yet come in all of its fullness – the “already, but not yet” theological position. This means, according to Annan, that we can participate with God in bringing in the kingdom (pp. 39, 98, 115). This idea has been in existence for a long time, and eschatologically is normally called postmillennialism. Postmillennialism has historically been expressed in two forms: evangelical, which teaches we partner with God in bringing in the kingdom through evangelism. As the gospel is spread ultimately the majority of people will become Christians and Christ’s kingdom will come on earth, as it is in heaven. The liberal form of postmillennialism teaches that the kingdom comes, not through evangelism, but through righting injustices and social reforms. In Annan’s first paragraph he stakes out his position in the liberal camp, “…my longing to better participate in justice – that God’s kingdom would come on earth as in heaven. I confess that I wish it weren’t such a slow kingdom coming.” (p. 9). This idea that God’s kingdom comes on earth in its fullness through our social action has been at the heart of theological liberalism since its formation. Annan is merely presenting an updated version. It is instructive to note that there is no gospel message at any point in Slow Kingdom Coming, and the few scriptural texts used are almost all out-of-context (e.g. pp. 84, 118, 124).
Annan demonstrates no interest in bringing people to Christ. His goal is social change: “This book is about five faithful practices that can help us be committed to deep instead of shallow change. We can be committed to making a long-term difference instead of settling for quick fixes that don’t last” (p. 18). More specifically he states, “We’re freed to participate in the kingdom coming through these five faithful practices: attention, confession, respect, partnering and truthing” (p. 22). Annan quotes from a host of social justice promoters such as Kierkegaard (pp. 5, 45, 123), Shane Claiborne (p. 29), Mother Teresa (p. 29), Simone Weil (pp. 39-40), Martin Luther King, Jr (p. 59), and Wendell Berry (p. 63). He references, and presents a totally unbalanced liberal interpretation of recent events such as those in Ferguson MO (p. 56) and Charleston SC (p. 61), as well as “Black Lives Matter” (p. 132). His thinking is shaped not only by the social justice leaders mentioned above but also by Richard Foster’s contemplative spirituality (p. 40), Benedictine retreats (p. 40), and Princeton Seminary, from which he graduated and where he learned lectio divinia (pp. 81-82, 99).
The justice issues Annan wants to address include education, medical, human rights and trafficking, housing, orphans, clean water, politics, and the arts (pp. 33-34, 37, 75-78, 85, 101). The author’s thesis, that solving these social injustices will slowly draw the kingdom of God to earth, is flat out wrong and finds no basis in Scripture. However, as a manual purely focused on addressing social justice Slow Kingdom Coming has merit. Annan is far more balanced than Claiborne, makes no attempt to merge social justice with the gospel as Timothy Keller does, and is practical in his approach. I especially appreciated his honesty about the discouragements, disappointments and limits in attempts to solve social problems (pp. 13-18, 35, 46-62, 75, 126). For those ruled by idealism, these are sane and helpful confessions by someone who has “been there, done that.” The author recognizes four types of attempts to help: rescue, fix-it, equal agency, and together with God (pp. 85-102). He favors the final approach but unfortunately sees this as a partnership “with God and each other in bringing God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven” (p. 98).
The five practices which Annan advocates as bringing long-term change are each given a chapter. They are:
Attention – awakening to justice
Confession – the posture for engaging
Respect – the golden rule for helping
Partnering – with God and others
Truthing – hard thinking and feet on the ground
The most valuable of the five practices, in my opinion, is that of truthing. Here Annan shows that many knee-jerk and well-intended actions to solve social injustices may actually backfire. Even starting orphanages can have a negative effect if careful research is not done (pp. 103-120, esp. 106). This is wise counsel for all interested in working in the social arena.
Despite the title and emphasis throughout, Slow Kingdom Coming offers nothing of value concerning bringing the kingdom of God to earth, simply because it draws none of its theology (or better philosophy) from Scripture. It is simply a new spin on old liberalism’s social gospel. There is no mention of the true biblical gospel, which in fact appears to be unnecessary in Annan’s view (see p. 96).
The book does provide insight for those involved in social justice (which is valuable and important). However, by teaching that the main focus of God’s people should be the social agenda, that the gospel does not apparently matter, and that God’s kingdom is brought to earth through our efforts in solving the world’s problems, Annan not only presents an unbalanced view of the Christian life, he presents a deceptive one.
Slow Kingdom Coming, Practices for Doing Justice, Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly in the World by Kent Annan (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2016), 146 pp., Paper $16.00
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher Southern View Chapel.