The Tangible Kingdom Movement is described in a book titled The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community, written by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay. Halter and Smay refer to themselves as “a somewhat jaded pastor” and mentors, consultants, and church planters. There is no indication that the authors have any biblical or seminary training, nor is there any statement of faith, other than their being “missional.” From their website we read, “The Tangible Kingdom offers theological answers and real-life stories that demonstrate how the best ancient church practices can re-emerge in today’s culture, through any church of any size.”
However, the authors’ knowledge and understanding of the first-century church is superficial and, in many cases, inaccurate. For example, in their book they suggest that the first-century Christians were “spreading like a virus . . . and spilling out into the streets.” This description is far from the actual historical events recorded in the Bible, as well as in secular history. In actuality, the early Christians were intensely and routinely persecuted by both the Jews and the Romans (Acts 8:1; 11:19; 13:50) and spent many years in hiding.
What is misleading about this Tangible Kingdom Movement is the word incarnational. This word is now becoming the buzz word of the postmodern, experiential method of practicing Christianity, a movement attempting to transform and unify the world under the guise of an evolving or emerging church. In such movements, the emphasis is no longer placed on the Bible or upon regeneration through the workings of the Holy Spirit. Rather, the Tangible Kingdom Movement emphasizes what is called a “collective experience and unifying community service.” As such, the gospel as taught in the Scriptures, including the “offense of the cross” (Galatians 5:11), is omitted along with other passages that are deemed “offensive.”
A major part of the Tangible Kingdom Movement is practicing “community service” in order to “demonstrate” Jesus’ love for mankind. The actual gospel message of salvation is rarely, if ever, taught. This movement teaches that those who purport to be Christians are those who serve “incarnationally” because Jesus lives in and through them. With its focal point chiefly on God’s love and quest for unity among His people, this movement fails to mention the true nature of the gospel message—repentance from sin, the blood of Christ shed on the cross, the Christian life of denying self and taking up the cross, and the promised persecution to come (Matthew 16:24; John 15:18). Naturally, the idea of love and unity is appealing. Who doesn’t want to be loved and accepted? But the fact that Jesus was “despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:3) doesn’t appear to be emphasized in Tangible Kingdom teachings.
The Tangible Kingdom movement is misleading in that it overlooks the Bible’s teachings about the coarse deceptions of the world, its disobedient attitudes, and sordid lifestyles that quench the Spirit and close the door on the triumphant life God promises to all those who
– trust Him implicitly and are overflowing with His love,
– depend upon God’s Word,
– choose to enter the narrow gate, and
– say “No!” to compromising their faith.
The authors of The Tangible Kingdom claim that Christians are divided into two schools of thought—those who believe in and see Jesus through the “literal interpretation of doctrine” and those “who see the message of Christ through the personality of Jesus.” The Tangible Kingdom Movement prefers to see the message of the gospel through the person of Jesus Himself, rather than what He actually taught, as though the two could be separated! Their argument is that what really drew people to Jesus Himself was not what He said because His message repelled people. They even go so far as to say that, during His confrontation with the Pharisees over the woman caught in the act of adultery, that He was “ drawing a smiley face” in the sand (John 8:1–11). But Jesus never encouraged people to see His message through His personality. Rather, He challenged them to prove their love for Him by keeping His commandments (John 14:15).
There is no doubt that Jesus’ message repelled some people, as it still does today. It repels those who wish to continue in a sinful lifestyle and still have the benefits of heaven when they die. It repels those who reject the Bible as the only standard of faith and practice and substitute emotional experience for holy living. It repels those who want to relegate Jesus to the status of a kindly, indulgent pal who winks at sin, rather than the holy, righteous Creator of the universe who hates and punishes sin. Jesus came to provide an alternative to eternal hell and damnation, from an everlasting separation from God Himself. He came offering an eternal and lasting sacrifice for our sins. Any message that leaves out these truths is not “tangible” at all. It is smoke and mirrors.