The notion that all men are created equal and that social barriers of wealth are nonexistent in God’s Kingdom has always held a central position in Christianity. In his book “The Upside Down Kingdom” the author discusses how in the kingdom of God those with wealth in this world will be at the very bottom whereas those that are poor will be at the top. Therefore to achieve higher status in the kingdom of God one should be compassionate and help the poor in this world.
The book is a exploration of religious thought and has been in publication for more than 30 years. Its author Donald B. Kraybill is a College Professor, and Senior Fellow of Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies in Pennsylvania. Highly knowledgeable on the subject the author is often considered one of the foremost experts on Anabaptism and Amish thought.
The central theme that runs in various chapters of the book is that in the eyes of GOD social status is viewed in reverse perspective .In the kingdom of God the wealthy who fail to be humble and share their wealth with the unfortunate will have a lower position than the poor and unfortunate who will be higher up in the pyramid. In the book the chapters that support this thesis are chapters one, five six, and eleven.
Chapter 1 entitled Down is Up, establishes that in the Kingdom of God economic status and social influences of this world do not hold any value .The rich and the powerful might command the highest place of influence in this word but in the kingdom of God they will be in a completely opposite realm. Similarly the poor and destitute might be downtrodden in this world but in the kingdom of God they will hold a very important position. We can capture the idea of inversion by thinking of two ladders side by side- one representing the Kingdom of God, the other the Kingdom of this world” (pgs 16-17). Chapter one introduces the thesis to the reader and the comparison with the ladder establishes the author’s perspective in a clear fashion. The chapter serves as a building block for the thesis and sets the stage for the rest of the author’s arguments. It establishes that in God’s kingdom the opposite rules apply as compared to man’s kingdom and that to get ahead in the Upside down kingdom the strategy to adopt is compassion and a love for God as well as your fellow men.
Chapter 5 deals with the complex issue of slavery and control that people exert over one another. In the contemporary world though slavery does not exist in traditional form people with wealth and power still treat people who are poor and powerless as their property. In the upside down kingdom God is the only owner of man and no one has the right to own any one else. The only thing that distinguishes one over the other is their compassion love and commitment to God. To achieve importance and worth in the kingdom of God one should focus on being true and loyal to their one and only owner i.e God and treating all his creations with respect humility and love.
Chapter 11 focuses on the drive to attain power and how it too shifts priority away from God. In the quest to attain power and influence over others, individuals often fail to realize that the ultimate objective to gain this position of power is to benefit others and not to use it to their own advantage. A person with power in Man’s world may be at the top level of the ladder here but will find that his power or influence is very ineffective in the Kingdom of God. In this kingdom compassion rather than power influences and changes people’s lives. In the chapter Kraybill defines power into four distinct categories: Financial power, expert power, organizational power and personal power. All four of these powers, give one individual the authority to control others and make things happen. People in the position of power have the ability to change lives for better or for worse. Thus power does entail responsibility. It is also a kind of trust which must be used wisely. In the world of man those that use power for their own advantage often get more power and wealth. But in the Kingdom of God those who use power to improve the lives of the downtrodden the poor and the unfortunate will be the ones that will occupy positions of power. Those that abused their power will find themselves in the lowest spectrum of the Upside down kingdom. This chapter too, discuses strategy to get ahead in the Upside down kingdom. Here the focus is on using power to help people and not for your own selfish purposes.
The book is written by a religious scholar whose knowledge of the Bible is quite impressive. He supports his arguments with biblical text which is used quite aptly and in appropriate context. The book is meant for an audience interested in religious interpretation. The narrative followed is based on biblical references and Christian thought. Based on its subject the book can be classified into the genre of religious teaching.
The scope of the thesis is quiet comprehensive in nature and examines a broad spectrum of topic. The author presents a very convincing text to prove his thesis that in the kingdom of God the rules are exactly opposite and that man should be doing the exact reverse of what they are doing to get ahead in God’s kingdom.
The authors writing style is easy to follow and understand even for a layperson who may not know much about religious thought. He avoids complex terms and his comparisons as well as analogies are easy to comprehend. . The author does have a engaging writing style that captures the interest of the reader even when examining the huge range of topics the book deals with. The book’s overall prose and writing style will appeal to the layman, as well as the ministers that the book targets.
A weakness that I felt the book possesses was that many of the ideas and themes were frequently repeated in chapters. This made the text monotonous at times and made me lose interest and turn to the next chapter. I feel to avoid this over lap of chapters some of the chapters should have been combined into one. Chapters two and four deal with the same topics and could have been joined to create a more logical flow for example. The same can be said about chapters eight and ten. These changes would have made the books organization more logical and improved my reading experience.
Another weakness I felt is that the author never made the thesis or purpose of the book clear in a clear statement. This is not to say that the communication of the thesis was not evident. It came across very clearly but the author never coined a statement in the beginning chapters to state the actual purpose of why the book was written or what it sought to prove. The author did manage to set the stage adequately for his arguments and for the presentation of the central thesis but that introductory phase would have made all the difference in the minds of the readers and prepared them for what was to come. It would also have acted as a prelude to the wide range of topics that the author discussed in the subsequent chapters.
On a positive side the book was very informative and well researched. It displayed exemplary biblical knowledge that educated the reader and enlightened them about their faith. I began to understand Christian perspective in better light after reading this book. It changed my perspective as a Christian and I have begun to feel that we should as a religious community amend our ways and start implementing the concepts advocated in the book
Despite its shortcomings the book provides strong evidence to support its thesis that if we are to follow Christian teachings we have to turn our existing rules upside down. It was certainly an eye opener for all of us who ever thought that modern society did follow Christian principles and moral values. I would recommend it as compulsory reading to individuals interested in religion, society and advocates of social as well as moral changes in the contemporary world.
Kraybill Donald “The Upside Down Kingdom “Berkeley, CA: Herald Pr , 2003.” 311 pages.