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Building the Kingdom of God on Earth: The Churches’ Contribution to Marshal Support for World Order and Peace, 1919-1945

By Martin Erdmann
May 2008 | Review by Gary Gilley
  • Publisher: Wipf and Stock
  • ISBN: 978-1498247429
  • Pages: 376
  • Price: £77.74
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Book Review

This excellent work informs us of the past and forewarns us of the future. Dr Erdmann writes of the era before and after World War I when influential people pondered how war might be abolished and the world’s social ills resolved. Something had to be done about war and its lasting devastation – a ‘new world order’ was urgently needed.

 

Abolishing nationalism

Standing in the way, however, was the issue of nationalism. John Foster Dulles, the principal mover behind the new world order, believed the ‘solution [lay] in the abolition of the entire concept of national sovereignty and the unification of the world into a single nation. All boundary barriers are thus automatically leveled’ (p.85).

Great Britain would have to play a key role. The British Empire had the most ‘excellent and refined qualities of humankind’ (p.40) and ‘British imperialism and the spread of social welfare were fundamental to the continuous existence of the British way of life’ (p.40). If a new world order was to be established, the British Empire, along with the United States, would have to lead (pp. 35-37, 50-59).

However, politicians and governments could not accomplish this goal alone; something more powerful was needed – the church.

If the church could be convinced that by creating a new world order in which war, poverty and injustice were eliminated they were also ushering in the kingdom of God, then it would gladly join hands with politicians to bring about such a world society. Dulles sought ‘to motivate the churches to become actively involved in building a global society’ (p.87; pp. XIII; 57-58).

 

Doctrine downplayed

The Federal Council of Churches (FCC) came on board. One leader stated, ‘We are coming to see that the kingdom of God in Christ’s conception never means anything less than a righteous human society … He has come not alone to save people out of the world and fit them for a far-away heaven, but to make a heaven here’ (p.151).

By downplaying doctrine (p.305) and ‘applying the principles of socialism … the kingdom of God on earth would be set up according to the ecumenical ideal’ (p.306). Stripped of all biblical and theological distinctives, the kingdom of God was virtually identical to the new world order with its political and social agenda.

Furthermore, an over-exclusive Christianity would deter the coming of the kingdom of God. It was therefore necessary to recognise that ‘the moral, or natural, law is revealed through other religions, and can be comprehended by all men, so that it is a force far more universal than any particular religion’ (p.120).

Since dogmatic beliefs were incompatible with ecumenical unity, they were laid aside in favour of the ‘social gospel’ as expressed in the Social Creed of 1932. The true mission of the church according to the FCC was to build the kingdom of God on earth (pp. 123, 145, 148, 154). Saving souls from sin was replaced with saving the world from war, poverty, unemployment and injustice.

 

World Council of Churches

Thus, between the World Wars a liberal postmillennial view of the kingdom of God dovetailed with a political push for a new world order. This led to the formation of the World Council of Churches in 1943 to build God’s kingdom through the ‘social gospel’ (p.259). On the political front, the United Nations Organisation was formed in 1945 to bring about world government (pp. 268-270).

The ambitious goals behind these two organisations have never been realised, although they continue to enthuse some political and religious leaders. Most recently, within Christianity the emergent church movement has re-energised the postmillennial liberal attempt to establish the kingdom of God on earth through a social agenda and an unbiblical understanding of the church’s mission. To read Erdmann’s book is to be forewarned of what is transpiring today.

Building the Kingdom of God on Earth is an excellent historical study of events during the first half of the twentieth century. It is a scholarly work with extensive footnotes for the researcher. The book will inform you of the past and prepare you for the present and future. I recommend it highly.

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