Book Review: Kingdom Theology and Human Rights

Kingdom Theology and Human Rights Derek Morphew

Derek Morphew is a key Vineyard theologian, and presently supports movements and individuals alongside having oversight of Vineyard International Publishing (VIP). VIP is the publisher of this book, a short, readable but rich little monograph that brings the distinctive theological framework of the Vineyard movement(s) into conversation with one of the pressing cultural/theological questions of our time. Published back in 2015, it’s been sat on my shelf for too long, and I’m very glad I got round to reading it. This review will give an overview of the book, and then I’ll offer a paragraph each for Vineyard and non-Vineyard readers.

This is a readable and straightforwardly laid out book – following a short introduction, Morphew lays out what he sees as the biblical texts that relate to human rights, before sketching a brief biblical theology of human rights. I am in full agreement with Morphew’s essential biblical framework/position – indeed, any biblically-minded Christian will find lots to agree with. He writes “Respect for human life is derived from central areas of biblical revelation; creation – that we are all created in God’s image, the incarnation, the mission and message of Jesus, the atoning work of Christ, and the eschaton“. As someone particularly interested in the imago Dei, I appreciated how Morphew showed me that human dignity, the biblical foundation for engaging meaningfully with human rights from a theological perspective, is actually found in other key bible themes. Following the laying of biblical/theological foundations, Morphew moves through a brief and very readable summary of the development of human rights ideas, and a comparison of the major theological positions/traditions with regard to human rights. He closes with comments on some of the ‘instruments’ or statements of human rights, and some helpful calls to action in the light of his theological analysis. There are two helpful appendices, on historical documents, and on Fascism and Marxism, as well as a full bibliography.

For the Vineyard reader, this book is an essential piece of distinctively Vineyard theological reflection. It should be widely read by pastors and others involved in engaging with culture – particularly on issues of social justice and political engagement. Morphew demonstrates that the theology of the Kingdom must lead to action – not just in the walls of the church or the small scale of neighbourhood mission, but in the arenas of law, politics and academia. As he concludes, pastors should ‘disciple and educate’, ‘make the contacts’ with those working in relevant spaces and organisations, ‘watch and publicise’ issues of importance, ‘confess and influence’ (n.b., this makes a powerful case for the utility of Christian confessions, generally, but also for understanding and articulating things around human rights in particular), ‘get involved in the local church’ and finally ‘consider your vocation’. This last is particularly important, in my view, releasing particularly younger Vineyard folk to joyfully pursue the things of the Kingdom of God in what they are called to – including pastors and church planters but by no means limited to that. This is a book that makes a case for Christian involvement in culture, and is a helpful corrective to a lot of the populist nonsense that floats around the edges of Vineyard theology and often dominates particularly online discussion.

For the reader who is not part of the Vineyard movement, this book may come as something of a surprise! I think that this would be a good place to start with engaging with what might be understood as the ‘public theology’ of the Vineyard movement – whilst there are those in the Vineyard with a more private approach to faith, leaders such as Rich Nathan in the USA, and John Wright in the UK, have repeatedly made the pastoral and practical case for public involvement. Morphew provides the theological working – and also shows how the Vineyard’s Kingdom Theology can be seen to interact with ‘secular’ understandings of human rights, as well as being complimentary to yet distinctive from the theological positions of other parts of the church. As Morphew notes, “Christians have often failed to engage in the ministry of justice because they have an escapist eschatology” – ‘eschatology’ here could just as easily be replaced by ecclesiology, missiology, or soteriology, but the point is important. In this book, Morphew demonstrates how Kingdom Theology, the eschatological/theological framework of the Vineyard movement, can be seen to resource the church for talking meaningfully about human rights.

To conclude the review, you can probably tell that I liked this book! It offers exactly what it says on the tin – a summary of kingdom theology, brought into conversation with human rights, that is practically useful and theologically Vineyard. For pastors and readers in the Vineyard, it is a healthy and challenging corrective to some of the less authentic expressions of ‘theology’ that have crept into our movement, whether it be the placement of particular nations or politicians above allegiance to King Jesus and His kingdom, or a ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude which seeks separation. For readers not within the Vineyard, I contend that Kingdom Theology and Human Rights is a valuable contribution to the discussions it engages with, as well as an interesting introduction to Vineyard theology from one of it’s leading living authors.

 

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