"building the kingdom"?

A friend recently gave me a book to look at, about how faith has inspired many people in the civil rights and social justice movements. I agreed with much of the criticism of the church and I liked much of what had been done by these people. But I kept hearing about "building the kingdom of God" as their motivation. And as the vision they offered. This didn't appeal much to me.

I've heard the idea often before. And I found a concise statement of it online, in an exposition of Methodist beliefs. This isn't just Methodist, though. I've heard it from Catholics as well, and Episcopalians, Mennonites, etc. The question "How Does the Kingdom Come?" is answered: Its creation is a co-operative task involving both God and man. The pattern of a redeemed society is the thought of God. Its achievement is through the spiritual energy imparted by His spirit in human hearts, but its final consummation comes slowly through the joint efforts of God and man, working side by side, in the struggle to create a new and divine order and to make His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

The phrases that stand out (and trouble me) are: "comes slowly," "through the joint efforts of God and man," "in the struggle to create a new and divine order."

They trouble me because they seem to present the kingdom of God as something much less than Jesus preached. They speak of God's kingdom as coming slowly, while Jesus announced:

"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand." (Mk 1.15)

"If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you." (Mt 12.28)

"The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, 'Lo, here it is!' or 'There!' for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you." (Lk 17.20-21)
And if they are referring to Jesus' second coming, why say "slowly" when Jesus said "like lightning" (Mt 24.27) and "suddenly like a snare", with "the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory" (Lk 21.27-35)?

Most importantly to me, Jesus seems to be promising an immediate experience of his kingdom. "The kingdom of God has come upon you." If this is true, then a promise of a kingdom that "comes slowly through the joint efforts of God and man" doesn't sound like very good news in comparison.

The "efforts" and "struggle" and "working" are very apparent in the social justice movement. It fits with the idea of "building the kingdom." But I hear Jesus proclaiming the good news that the kingdom is God's gift to us. Both in the gift of Jesus appearing and announcing "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand," and in the gift of its final apocalyptic revelation, God's kingdom is God's work, given to us. And this isn't just semantics. The political struggle and burden of responsibility (for building the kingdom) is very apparent in Christian activism. Overwhelming workloads and burn-out are common. Is this what Jesus called us to? Is this good news? Compared to this, Jesus' actual words sound like very good news:
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Mt 11.28-30)
God's kingdom isn't built by our work or through our struggling. It's offered to us if we will receive it as God's work, God's gift, for God's glory. "Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." (Mk 10.15)

"Building the kingdom"? No. The kingdom of God is God's work, available now, for those who will receive it as a gift.

That's what I want.