How an Old Book of Theology Changed My Life
“I count myself one of the number of those who write as they learn and learn as they write.”
Ten years ago this fall, I lived out that famous quote from Augustine of Hippo. I started writing about a book of old theology—Messiah the Prince—which I had not yet fully read. What I learned in the process has changed my life.
I did this because I had to. I had been hired, more or less, to write a modern version of the book—to give today’s readers easier access to Symington. The final product was published in 2014 as Messiah the Prince Revisited. (Shameless plug: You can order the original here or my modernized abridgment here.)
As I wrote the introduction, I had to ask and answer the question, “So what? Why should anyone care about this book?”
The answer, as I said, changed my life. And I think it will change yours too. Because Symington’s answer, for those with ears to hear, will tell you the meaning of life. It will tell you what we’re all doing here, in this life, on this earth.
Symington’s book is about Jesus as king—the word Prince in the title simply means ruler, in the same way the word is used in the title of Machiavelli’s book, The Prince.
Symington, after the most exhaustive examination of the Bible’s references to the kingdom, comes to these conclusions about Jesus as king:
- He is really king—now, not at some future date.
- He is king over all things—not just the church, but literally everything that exists. Yes, even government.
- He rules as Redeemer, not simply as Creator. The full of extent of the kingdom Christ has always held as Creator He now holds as Redeemer.
- If Jesus’ Redeemer kingdom did not extend beyond the church, it would be impossible for Him to bring a single person from outside the church to salvation.
- As Redeemer-King, Jesus makes all parts of creation—including all people and all groups they form—work for the good of His church.
- Because Jesus is Redeemer-King, all people and all groups they form have an obligation to serve Jesus and work for the good of His church.
- Yet Jesus’ Redeemer kingdom is spiritual, not earthly. That means the church and its members are not owed and do not need earthly power. Church and state should remain separate.
- If, however, Christians find themselves holding earthly power—control of a government or other institution—they should guide that institution to acknowledge Christ as king over it, to operate in obedience to relevant biblical principles for that institution, and to help the church.
I drew these lessons from Symington’s insights.
- Being a loyal servant in Jesus’ kingdom isn’t just about living the right kind of life as an individual. It’s also about forming or influencing institutions to follow Christ too.
- Yet being a loyal servant of Jesus isn’t really about joining the right institution—whether that’s the right political party, the right school or the right profession. It’s about persuading whatever institution we’re part of to follow Christ.
- I concluded I must make the church a priority. The church is the most important institution in Christ’s kingdom. It must be the most important institution in my life—even if it’s not where my 9-to-5 is.
- Yet I realized it’s not necessary to make a living doing “Christian” or church work to be serving in Jesus' kingdom. Since His kingdom is universal, it includes every kind of institution—family, church, government, business.
- We ought to follow Jesus with both sound and substance—acknowledging Him as king with words and obeying His commands with actions. But since Jesus is king whether He is acknowledged by people or not, we can serve Him by urging our institutions to follow the substance of Christ’s commands, even if they refuse to acknowledge Christ by name.
- Jesus commanded and modeled for us a life of healing, restoration and justice. As Redeemer King He now works through people to accomplish those goals. That means all Christians should be working to heal and restore relationships and to establish in our communities, not just a lack of harm, but a positive justice.
Do I live out these lessons perfectly. Of course not. But even when I don’t, Symington has taught me that I can trust that Jesus, as Redeemer King over everything, is still using me and my many faults to advance His kingdom. He can do the same for you.