To make it plain, I didn’t like much in Mortimer Arias’ book, Announcing the Reign of God. The crux of Arias’ argument is stated at the book’s close. The Christian church, he says, needs a creative and new understanding of evangelization and must focus on a new kingdom perspective.
He is earnest—relying on 110 exclamation points for urgency in the book’s 139 pages—but his vision of a more just and kinder world is peppered with common criticisms of the Western church, and he argues that broad re-distribution of the world’s wealth will yield the excellent fruit of a great and just kingdom of Christ on earth. Arias also falls into heresy when discussing repentance, the nature of salvation, the understanding of the purpose of communion in the local church and what he calls gross literalist images of second-coming preachers who were an offense to my intelligence and my faith.
Arias is a bishop in the Bolivian Methodist Church and was a professor of evangelism at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver. He says, The kingdom of God is . . . the new order of love, the kingdom of the Father. The need for a new order of love is made clear by people struggling for justice and freedom from oppressive societies; when so many young people are rebelling against authoritarian religions; when others are running away from neglectful parents; when women are seeking equality and liberation from the exploitative use of patriarchal images of sexual subordination it is essential to recover an understanding of God’s fatherhood and the liberating and fulfilling meaning of the reign of God that Jesus came to inaugurate: the reign of fraternity, the true family of God, the reign of grace.
This reign of grace, as would be expected, translates into a liberal dose of what Arias calls unconditional forgiveness and free forgiveness with no need of individual repentance. If unconditional and free forgiveness is a true understanding of the forgiveness Jesus offers, then who on Earth needs to repent? In Arias' theology, God gives every person unconditional forgiveness and God welcomes every person unconditionally into his heaven. Obviously, if this is so, then Jesus did not need to die and Jesus did not need to rise from the dead. There are many ways to tear into Arias' view, but naming just three: What of Jesus’ admonition of Nicodemus in John 3:3 that You must be born again? What of Jesus’ claim in John 3:18 that a person who does not believe in the Son of God is condemned? And what of the urging of John 20:31, requiring personal belief in Jesus as the Christ in order to be granted eternal life?
Arias argues that authentic liberation is not represented by those who present the false liberation promoted by those who see sinners as people without hope or any possibilities at all. Yet, Arias offers no answer to the many Scriptures that clearly describe all individual people as enemies of God at their core and, as such, are without hope for relationship with him until they repent and turn to salvation offered in Christ.
Troubling also are the author’s inflammatory statements that criticize the fruit of sin but do not connect the sin to a new birth with power to sever the cause of sin at its origin in the human heart. Arias also sees societies and, by extension, the church, as reluctant to recognize the full humanity of disabled people. Arias would re-distribute the world’s wealth by giving unlimited funding for children’s lunches, old people survival incomes and more accessible education and paltry sums given to Third World nations through the World Bank. That’s a good plan, sinners confiscate all the wealth of other sinners expecting to righteously spread that wealth and build a righteous world. Who needs Jesus anyway.
As could be expected, given his commitment to what he calls a new kind of evangelism, Arias espouses a clearly postmillennial view of eschatology and says, We can commit ourselves to the improvement and the transformation of society for the sake of the reign of God, in line with the reign of God. Arias does not argue that a personal encounter with Christ will change a person's heart and lead to a better world. His vision is rooted in a vision for a better world apart from a transformed life in Christ. He embraces the love of Christ without embracing the power of Christ that enables selfless love. Arias’ error is encapsulated in his misunderstanding the very nature of repentance. He argues, for example, that Zacchaeus’ transformation in Luke 19:1-10 came as the result of his change of economic relationships and the implicit change in style of life and priorities Jesus called ‘salvation’ and integration into the people of God. Contrast this view with the Bible's consistent presentation that repentance comes first and is demonstrated in a person's good works.
Announcing the Reign of God is another proof that earnestly urgent sincerity doesn’t prove right doctrine. Saul of Tarsus was earnestly urgent in his sincerity. But he was just wacked . . . until he personally encountered Christ!