In Understanding the Kingdom of God, pioneering theologian Georgia Harkness addresses the “spiritual hunger . . . beneath the spiritual chaos and lack of compelling purpose” she perceived in society. Her claim is that understanding the kingdom of God gives hope, calls for repentance, offers renewal, demands obedience to the will of God, and calls us to love one another. This wide-ranging text sets forth the dilemma of determining the nature of the kingdom proclaimed by Jesus, surveys four twentieth-century streams of thought regarding the kingdom, presents Harkness’s own understanding of the kingdom and its grounds in the Old Testament, the early church, and Jesus’ parables, and examines the implications of this understanding for the church and for the future of every person. Three decades after its first publication, the penetrating insights of Georgia Harkness’s Understanding the Kingdom of God continue to speak to today’s readers.
Georgia Harkness (1891–1974) was a pioneering theologian in The Methodist Church. After graduating from Cornell University, she received a double master’s degree in Religious Education and the Arts and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Boston University. Her academic teaching career spanned almost forty years. Harkness taught philosophy and religious education at Elmira College (1922–1937) and Mt. Holyoke College (1938), and later was named Professor of Applied Theology at both Garrett Seminary, where she taught from 1939 to 1950, and Pacific School of Religion, where she taught from 1950 until her retirement in 1961. She thus had the distinction of becoming the first woman to teach theology in a Protestant seminary in the United States. Her almost forty books spanned subjects such as theology, devotional practices, philosophy of religion, ethics, and social issues. She was especially noted for aiming her work at laity and clergy rather than other scholars. Harkness was also a leading voice against racism and sexism, protesting both racial segregation and institutional discrimination against women, whether in the church or society at large. An ordained deacon in The Methodist Episcopal Church, her work led to the eventual abolishment of the segregated central jurisdiction of The Methodist Church and to the ordination of women in the denomination.