Book Review: Kingdom Triangle

J.P. Moreland does not shy away from difficult issues of intellect, battling secular thinkers and philosophers. Kingdom Triangle presents Moreland at his sharpest, as he lays out the main tenets of two of Christianity’s main challenges of the 20th and 21st centuries: naturalism and postmodernism. Moreland’s work sets out to explain the “crisis of our age” followed by an expansive discussion of how to combat this crisis through the “kingdom triangle:” recovering the Christian mind, renovating the soul, and restoring the Spirit’s power.
Moreland laments the fact that the Christian church has succumbed to the worldview put forth by naturalism and postmodernism: moral drift and confusion, disintegration of the family, preoccupation with the trivial, obsession with personal happiness, among other symptoms. Moreland frames his book around the “thin” worldviews of naturalism and postmodernism compared to the “thick” Christian worldview:
“A thick world is one in which there is such a thing as objective value, purpose, and meaning. In a thick world, some things really matter and other things don’t…Some things
are right and others are wrong. You can lead a heroic life or waste it.” (p. 29)
Overall, Moreland provides a clear, succinct, yet deep overview of the main tenets of naturalism and postmodernism then systematically exposes the naturalist and postmodernist worldviews as “thin” and thus irrelevant.

Because of the limited scope here, I cannot discus everything about the book, but will say that Moreland’s first several chapters are excellent aids to both Christian faith and apologetics, and I highly recommend them to anyone wishing for a deeper knowledge of the culture around us in order to “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you” (1 Peter 3:15).

Perhaps the most helpful and challenging part of the book for me was Moreland’s application of recovering the Christian mind (given after a lengthy and heady discussion about the nature of knowledge). Moreland challenges the reader to distinguish between what one says they believe and what they actually believe because “the content of what we do or do not believe makes a tremendous difference to what we become and how we act” (p. 132).

In order to cultivate this foundation of knowledge about God and his Truth, Moreland recommends ruthlessly diagnosing the nature and strength of what you actually believe by asking yourself two questions when you think about a specific topic of Christian belief. First, is what you believe more of a slogan or a vague, unclear string of words you utter in mantra-like fashion as a substitute for clear thinking? Can you write on paper exactly what the topic means to you and what you think about it? Second, how strongly do you believe these things?

As a strategy for growth in knowledge, Moreland suggests keeping with you a list of questions, topics, doubts, confusions, or things about which you more want to learn and staying on the lookout for things to read, people to ask, or insights to learn regarding the list. I thought this was a great idea, and challenged myself to make a list. I found that my list was large, humbling, and intimidating. I’ve revisited the list and added to it since I started, and have yet to cross anything off. There is so much I have yet to learn, or learn better.
The first several chapters of the book are fantastic, and I definitely did not do them justice above. However, I cannot give an enthusiastic recommendation of the book mainly due to the fact that when Moreland moves out of his area of expertise (the intellectual and philosophical sphere), his discernment and arguments suffer. When it comes to theological issues, Moreland has a tendency to neglect the one true source – the Word of God. Instead, he often relies on the example of the church in the first several centuries (historical and helpful but not 100 percent biblical reasoning) or the current experiences of the church (experiential and interesting but not 100 percent biblical reasoning). Further, he exhibits subtle inconsistencies, like cautioning the reader against the emergent postmodern church movement, but later recommending such practices consistent with mystical spirituality and heavily embraced and encouraged by emergents.
Additionally, he gives unconvincing theological grounding and exegesis in his chapter arguing for the recovery of the Spirit’s power found in the miraculous and prophetic gifts, instead leaning on current examples of the miraculous and prophetic around the world and in his own experience. I have to add here that this subject is one of the categories on my list of things to learn better, thus better being able to give an answer.

He breaks Christians into four main groups related to the role of the Spirit’s miraculous gifts (taken from Wayne Grudem): cessationist (no miraculous/revelatory gifts today), open but cautious (miraculous gifts are possible but the teachings and practices associated with the current use of them are frequently abused and not important for evangelism and discipleship), Third Wave (miraculous gifts are important for the life of the church, especially healing, deliverance, words of knowledge and prophecy), and Pentecostal/charismatic (second baptism of the Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues). Moreland, who has Third Wave leanings, has choice words for each of the categories, lauding them for their strengths and admonishing them for their weaknesses. However, Moreland seems to oversimplify the arguments for cessationists, and according to his classifications at least, I would fall in between a cessationism and open but cautious.

I appreciate Moreland’s commitment to engaging and strengthening the Christian worldview, and am grateful for not only his intellectual abilities (he could run circles around this review, I’m sure), but also his attention to the practical application of where knowledge and belief meet faith. I also agree with him that we as Christians believe in the supernatural realm, as well the sovereign, omnipotent workings of God. But his discernment seems to stall with his wholehearted recommendation of Third Wave theology and encouragement of subtle mystical practices. Some of his “interesting” (my descriptor) author recommendations include Richard Foster, Dallas Willard (who wrote the foreword), Henri Nouwen, and Francis MacNutt, and he also recommends many Vineyard resources.

Moreland’s book is difficult to review, with so much deep truths, thought-provoking content, and meaningful application. Plus, I put off writing the review until more than a month after I finished the book, so my thoughts aren’t as sharp as I wanted them to be. In closing, I recommend reading Kingdom Triangle with discernment, “testing everything and holding to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). If you are looking for a similar study on postmodernist/naturalist worldviews and have time to read several books, I would alternatively recommend David Wells’ series of books on the church and culture.

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