Paul Tillich made this point for me originally in one of his writings. Essentially, he said that God waited until the ripe time in history to reveal Jesus. What was this ripe time? It was the time of the pinnacle of the hellenization of the Jews. It was a time when Greek philosophers had defined the word, logos as the divine seed, the creator of all that is. It was a time when the intellectual processes of understanding a spiritual need and, a spiritual reconciliation to God was made possible by the melding of Jewish and Greek thought. It was a time when the Hebrew language did not have the capacity to explain in proper terms the inclusion of the Gentiles into God’s kingdom plan especially from a fallen spiritual perspective.
Paul tells us so simply that; Rom 5:6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. This right time…ripe time…kairos was the time when God would be able to explain cogently his plan that was in place from before creation. Think about the words before creation. Before there was an Abraham or Moses…before there was an Old Covenant… before there was circumcision or the Mosaic Law… before any of this… God had purposed to redeem and reconcile humanity. Not Jews… not Gentiles, humanity. So then, had I been sitting in the Chinese restaurant with the evangelical leader as Brian McLaren was, I would have replied kindly that what Jesus said about the kingdom prior to the cross was strictly spoken to Jews who were under the Mosaic Law and covenant….that is was spoken prior to the cross event and that Paul brought added clarification by way of progressive revelation.
It does not matter that he was explaining it in letter form to a scribe. What he was imparting was his attempt at clearly explaining the gospel to the Romans. The problem was not just a problem of the wrong monarch. The kingdom of God was not absent from earth because the right form of government was not available. The kingdom of God requires a spiritual rebirth. The kingdom of God required a faith in a loving and merciful God who would declare us righteous based upon his loving act toward humanity (2 Cor 5:21.)
I am not down on McLaren the way that many evangelicals are. I see him as a brother in Christ with very important insights. I see him focusing on and bringing to light a side of the gospel message that the bulk of evangelical Christianity has overlooked and, I applaud him for it. However, I am concerned about the spiritual need of all humanity. I am concerned that we cannot just simply think more kindly and more gently and become that. We must be transformed and the transformer of all transformers is the gospel as Luther began to show it. It is the love of God shed abroad in the hearts of humans who are fallen.