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Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Friday, May 01, 2009

Studies in Eschatology [6]

Thy Kingdom Come...

I wish to continue with my overview of eschatology, or those biblical doctrines pertaining to future things. With my previous posts, I laid down some necessary ground work on the subject of hermeneutics, the basic principles one employs to study Scripture. I outlined three broad areas of hermeneutics where stark differences exist between eschatological systems when applying those principles to Scripture. Those three areas are how the OT and the NT relate to each other, how we utilize prophetic passages, and distinguishing between ethnic Israel and the Church.

Before moving on to considering the three main systems of eschatology, I believe it is necessary to define one other important element in our discussion and that has to do with defining the Kingdom of God. Here, with the idea of God's Kingdom, we find once again a significant difference between the covenant Reformed believers and the non-covenant Reformed believers.

Let me begin with the covenant Reformed believers. Simply put, without few exceptions, the covenant Reformed equate the Kingdom of God (KoG) with the NT Church. Though there is an understanding that a future and eternal aspect of the KoG still awaits for eternity, the Christian Church IS the KoG now in the present. I will develop this more in a later posts, but this "KoG = the Church" concept is the key factor in defining the amillennial and to a degree, the postmillennial, systems. Hence, at this point in Christian history, the KoG has come upon the earth in the form of the Christian Church which now awaits the consummation of all things at Christ's return who will usher in the eternal state.

The 5th century Church father, Augustine, was the first to write at length on this premise of the KoG equating the Church in his massive tome, The City of God [Culver 2005, 857]. Augustine's position has been the one held by the Roman Catholic Church up to our modern times, and was the position adopted by the Protestant Reformers which continued to shape their eschatology even after they broke away from Catholicism. Tragically, Augustine's Kingdom/Church theology resulted in some disastrous circumstances throughout the course of Church history, including the marrying of Church and state, the persecution of heretical dissenters by the Church/state, and a long record of political intrigue among the various popes, bishops, kings, and emperors.

Yet, it must be noted the covenant Reformed just don't adhere to this view out of blind loyalty to historical traditions. They build their position on the Church/KoG by appealing to scripture and theology. Their first appeal is to the specific instances in the ministry of Jesus where He opened His ministry by pronouncing the KoG being "at hand," a little phrase that could also be translated "drawing near," (see for instance Matthew 10:7, Mark 1:15). The phrase "drawing near" has the idea of "coming upon." Christ proclaimed His gospel ministry to be directly speaking to the KoG preparing to "come upon" His audience. After His Resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost when the Church was officially energized by God to carry forth the gospel message of the kingdom, that KoG "came upon" the people. So it is concluded the KoG and the NT Church are one and the same.

Moreover, the apostles, particularly Paul, spoke of the KoG in terms of relationship to the Church. For instance, he writes to the Colossians that in the work of God's salvation in their lives, they were "transferred into the kingdom of the Son of His love" (Col. 1:13). Salvation into the Church is equated with entrance into the kingdom.

Additionally, the covenant Reformed position will argue how the biblical understanding of "kingdom" is not one of a realm, with subjects and a king sitting on a throne, but rather speaks to the authority of a sovereign to rule or reign [Ladd, 122ff.]. So in other words, it is understood the Bible speaks primarily of an abstract dynamic to the KoG. That being, Christ's spiritual authority given to Him by the Father to rule the entire earth.

So, when we consider some of the further teaching from Christ and the apostles on the KoG, the emphasis is upon a spiritual dynamic, not a literal kingdom. For example, Jesus told Pilate in John 18:36 that His kingdom is "not of this world." Luke 17:20, 21 records Jesus as telling the Pharisees that the KoG is not observable, nor can anyone say "here it is" or "there it is," but that the KoG is "within you." When Paul wrote to the Roman Christians to correct some issues of division within their fellowship, he wrote in Romans 14:17 that the KoG is not about "eating and drinking, but is about righteousness and peace." In other words, the KoG is equated with the Church, the body of Christ, a spiritual group united around the true sovereign King.

And then one final argument raised is what is considered the complete lack of any teaching in the NT on Israel being restored in a future, geo-political kingdom [Crenshaw and Gunn, 247-262].

Contrasted with the covenant Reformed position is of course the non-covenant Reformed who have an entirely different perspective on the KoG. They believe the KoG is still future and is not at all equal to the Church. Instead, the Church is distinguished from the KoG in that it is composed of those individuals both Jew and gentile who are now presently being called out by God to be a "spiritual aristocracy" who will one day inherit the kingdom [Culver 1954, 39]. These individuals are presently owned by Christ as King and are governed even now by His principles, but the full sense of the KoG awaits establishment for the simple reason that the King is absent, away from the scene of the kingdom [ibid].

Thus, when Jesus said the KoG was "at hand" or "drawing near," that was not to say it had arrived and so represents a higher order of spiritual reality coexisting with the present course of affairs [Blaising, 193], but that it was as Jesus stated, "drawing near." The idea being it is imminent in that Jesus has presented Himself as the sovereign of the KoG, but a futurity of the kingdom is still to come [Saucy, 94, 95]. That is why Christ taught His apostles, and by extension all believers, to pray "thy kingdom come."

Just like the covenant Reformed believers, the non-covenant Reformed also build their future eschatology on Scriptural considerations. The first feature being that the OT eschatology prophesied a future KoG which would be set up on the earth. Many OT prophesies spoke to this including Daniel 2:34, 35, 44, 7:13, 14; Isaiah 2:2-4, 11:1ff, 65:17; Micah 4:1-8; Zechariah 14:9, 10 to list just a small handful.

Secondly, Christ proclaimed these promises for Himself when He came, see for instance his words in Matthew 11:2-6 and Luke 19:12-17. Robert Culver points out with Luke 19:12-17 that Jesus made it clear to His disciples that He expected a long period of time to transpire BEFORE His kingdom should be established [Culver 1954, 36ff.]. The parable of the ten talents given by Jesus was in response to a misconception that the KoG "would appear immediately" (Luke 19:11). Also, in Acts 1:6, 7, the Lord again corrected the misconception of the KoG by the apostles who believed God was about the "restore the kingdom to Israel." He told them it was not for them to know the times and the seasons, meaning they were not to concern themselves with the timing of the kingdom. Note here that Jesus did not correct their misunderstanding of the KoG as it is to be equated with the Church, but He corrects their idea about the timing of the future kingdom's coming.

Now, as I noted above, one key argument raised by the covenant Reformed against the idea of a future KoG is the complete lack of NT passages teaching Israel being restored in a geo-political kingdom. I believe that is an important argument to answer, along with the passages they claim emphasize the spiritual dimension to the KoG. What I would like to do is pause here with this brief summary of both positions and then follow up with a post specifically addressing those arguments from a futurist view of the KoG.

*******
Sources:


Craig Blaising, "Premillennialism," in
Three Views of the Millennium and Beyond, ed. Darrel Bock. (Zondervan: Grand Rapids MI, 1999).

Robert Duncan Culver,
Daniel and the Latter-Days. (Revell: New York NY, 1954)

__________, Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical. (Christian Focus: Great Britain, 2005).

George E. Ladd,
The Presence of the Future. (Eerdman's: Grand Rapids MI, 1974).

Robert Saucy,
The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism. (Zondervan Publishing: Grand Rapids MI, 1993).

Nathaniel West,
The Thousand Years: Studies in Eschatology in both Testaments. (Scripture Truth: Fincastle VA, n.d.).

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19 Comments:

Blogger DJP said...

...one key argument raised by the covenant Reformed against the idea of a future KoG is the complete lack of NT passages teaching Israel being restored in a geo-political kingdom. I believe that is an important argument to answer, along with the passages they claim emphasize the spiritual dimension to the KoGReally? I think it's an incredibly lame argument. But perhaps you mean "important" in the sense of "I can't believe how many people who otherwise believe the Bible fall for this"?

8:08 PM, May 01, 2009  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Well, I mean "important" in the sense that I at least want to be charitable by recognizing what they believe even if I think such a position is incredible.

8:56 PM, May 01, 2009  
Blogger donsands said...

"..the Church is distinguished from the KoG in that it is composed of those individuals both Jew and gentile who are now presently being called out by God to be a "spiritual aristocracy" who will one day inherit the kingdom"

Yes. The Israel of God, as Paul teaches us in Galatians.

King Jesus, who sits upon His throne now, as He came to the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7:13-14), and sits at His right hand (Acts 2:35), does have all authority and power over all the universe.

Thanks for such a good study. You have a tremendous amount of knowledge when it comes to the end times. Maybe you have the 1 Cor. 12 gift of knowledge?

Have a full of joy and peace Lord's day. Christ loves His people, and we can rejoice and be content in His love.

8:29 AM, May 02, 2009  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Yes. The Israel of God, as Paul teaches us in Galatians.Where exactly did Paul teach that in Galatians? He taught on Jews and gentiles presently being called together into one body the church, but I have yet to see anything to compel me he was saying that entity we know as the church is "the Israel of God." In fact, I would argue the opposite is true when we consider exegetically Galatians 6:16 where Paul distinguishes those being presently called out into the church, from the nation of Israel.

King Jesus, who sits upon His throne now, as He came to the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7:13-14), and sits at His right hand (Acts 2:35), does have all authority and power over all the universe.Agreed. So the question: Why then do Reformed Covenant folks reject the prophecies that demonstrate that the ancient of days will return to restore Israel to their land and establish the kingdom of God on earth? I see Acts 2:35 as the initiation of the fulfillment of that prophecy, not the entire consummation of it.

Fred

9:39 AM, May 02, 2009  
Blogger DJP said...

Maybe "influential," or "illegitimately influential," or "bafflingly influential," or "embarrassingly influential"?

And: isn't that funny? Decoder-ringers think it's very, very significant that (allegedly) no mention is made of the land promises in the NT.

But the fact that Jesus and apostles regularly speak of Israel, and the apostles constantly speak of the church, but neither ever EVEN ONCE calls the church "Israel" — that's not significant at all?

Things that make you say, "Hmmm."

12:18 PM, May 02, 2009  
Blogger Chris Poe said...

Fred (and others),

Are you familiar with the book "The Kingdom of Christ" by SBTS Dean Dr. Russell Moore?

He builds from Ladd's (and Henry's) "already, not yet" ideas about the Kingdom of God i.e. inaugurated eschatology. The reason of course that I bring it up is that it and similar views seems to represent an inaugurated conception of the Kingdom of God that isn't necessarily covenantal.

Much of the book is dedicated to showing how progressive dispensationalists and certain Reformed covenantal amils have been moving closer to each other and have found some common ground with the already, not yet idea of the Kingdom of God. Of course this consensus lends itself to cultural engagement, political activity, etc. being "Kingdom work." Those dispensationalists who do not consider the Kingdom to have been already inaugurated oppose the idea, as do many Reformed amils who are committed to the idea of the spirituality of the church.

I've had the book for a while but haven't made it through it yet. Part of it is because I keep flipping to the endnotes, which are about half of the book.

2:08 PM, May 02, 2009  
Blogger DJP said...

Huh? I'm a dispensationalist who holds the lonely position that the Messianic Kingdom isn't here in hardly any sense. But you read my blog, you know I engage the culture a lot.

What does one have to do with the other?

3:09 PM, May 02, 2009  
Blogger donsands said...

"Where exactly did Paul teach that in Galatians?"

I was thinking, if you take the whole letter, it says all who come to faith are the Israel of God. Paul says, we are all sons of Abraham, and heirs (Gal. 3:29). And so I thought it made sense that Paul was making a similiar appliaction when he says Israel of God at the end of his letter.

Christ is surely reigning on His throne, ever since He ascended to the same throne.
He is making all things new, until he defeats His last enemy, death (1 Cor. 15:25-26).

Yes, He will complete and fulfill all things when He returns, but until He comes back, His people need to obey the King, as good subjects, and follow the Master as good disciples, and love the Father as good children.

Actually, I'm not convinced in my heart of any particular eschatological view.

That's why I am listening to your teachings, and rebuttals.

I agree not all Israel is Israel, and there is an Israel of God in that sense as well.

3:52 PM, May 02, 2009  
Blogger Chris Poe said...

Dan,

This essentially goes back to Carl F.H. Henry's "Uneasy Conscience of American Fundamentalism." The familiar charge is that dispensationalism (and not simply the Scopes trial) was largely responsible for the retreat of fundamentalists from the public square, etc. Specifically, the idea is that differing conceptions of the Kingdom of God were largely to blame. Certainly George Ladd and Carl F.H. Henry (who apparently during his Fuller days at least was a pre tribber, unlike Ladd) had different concepts of it than Alva McClain did, and this has implications for how we are to live and what we are to focus on in the here and now, just as postmillenialists will view things much differently than dispensationalists or more "pessimistic" amils.

See for example Russell Moore's participation in a recent "Making Men Moral" conference based on the Catholic Robert George's book of the same name. That's a title that provokes a visceral negative reaction from me since I don't tend to think that's the church's role in any sense, or at least shouldn't be our goal, however much society might benefit from a reformation of morals. My views are basically the same as what John MacArthur laid out in his sermon, "The Deadly Dangers of Moralism" that is printed in "Can God Save America?" Some like Dr. Moore (who I have a lot of respect for) may be able to be involved in such endeavors and keep the proper perspective, but it seems to me that that they always end up eventually degenerating into some kind of social gospel (whether "liberal" or "conservative")in the end. After all, it's a lot easier to attract people for some kind of moral crusade (especially if it involves "saving America") than it is to rally them around gospel ministry. That the issue of homosexuality is the last straw for many "conservatives" in mainline churches like the PCUSA instead of say, preachers who can't affirm the Virgin Birth, the bodily resurrection or exclusivism is rather telling.

I'm by no means an expert on these eschatological issues and was asking if any are familiar with the book and what thoughts they may have about it.

I think the difference in your case would be that you have strong opinions about politics but aren't out to create a new Moral Majority or whatever. In other words, I don't see a tendency toward a "conservative" social gospel, unlike some others. We do have a responsibility, but our priorities and emphasis need to be in the right place.

5:49 PM, May 02, 2009  
Blogger Chris Poe said...

The featured sermon at the S. Lewis Johnson Institute site right now is "The Kingdom of God on the Earth." It is linked on the home page. http://www.sljinstitute.net/

It was preached in 1968 and contrasts his view with the older postmil views, etc. Here's a snippet about the Great Society and LBJ:

"Now as we conclude tonight I’m just going to turn to one of them, just one of them, literally hundreds of passages that have to do with the kingdom, and let’s read it, Isaiah chapter 11 and verse 1. Now here is the divine great society. Now though Lyndon
did not realize it, there is to be a great society upon the earth, which shall so, which shall be so much more wonderful than his pitiful great society, that you will never be able to recognize that society."

Oneplace has a couple of recent messages by J. Vernon McGee on "The Millennium Versus the Great Society" as well. I've never listened to him much, (he wasn't on the air in my hometown) but overall I thought they were quite good, especially in contrasting the older postmil view with the biblical teaching on the Kingdom of God.

6:13 PM, May 02, 2009  
Blogger DJP said...

Not really familiar with Moore. But Alva McCalin's The Greatness of the Kingdom (great book, btw) laid a philosophy of history that argued that what we do now DOES have an impact on the Millennial kingdom, and an abiding significance.

Further, Conservative Women for Amarica was founded by dispensationalists; wasn't Falwell as well? Mueller was (iirc) dispensational, and he's famous for his orphanage work.

My point isn't to approve or disapprove of any of these specific works, but to say that dispensationalism does not necessarily cause social retreat.

8:08 AM, May 03, 2009  
Blogger Truth Unites... and Divides said...

If one were to assume a hierarchy of doctrines, where would the doctrine of eschatology fall?

I should think that it's secondary or tertiary. Anyways, I wonder if Fred or DJP have an opinion regarding www.monergism.com which is decidedly against premill dispensationalism, yet also recognizes John MacArthur in its Reformed Hall of Fame.

I.e., Why or should differing views on Eschatology lead to separate church denominations?

10:22 AM, May 04, 2009  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Hey Chris,

Are you familiar with the book "The Kingdom of Christ" by SBTS Dean Dr. Russell Moore? (Fred) I am familiar with the title, but I can't say I have read the book. Though what you are telling me intrigues me some.

He builds from Ladd's (and Henry's) "already, not yet" ideas about the Kingdom of God i.e. inaugurated eschatology. The reason of course that I bring it up is that it and similar views seems to represent an inaugurated conception of the Kingdom of God that isn't necessarily covenantal.

(Fred) Having read a lot of Ladd, I think he would balk at the notion that his view of the KoG isn't covenantal. Perhaps he didn't imply being committed to covenant theology in his writings, but from what I have read, he certainly has a lot of covenantal ideas, particular the whole replacement theology of the Church taking completely over all the promises from Israel. That in itself is a key perspective from covenantal theology.

Much of the book is dedicated to showing how progressive dispensationalists and certain Reformed covenantal amils have been moving closer to each other and have found some common ground with the already, not yet idea of the Kingdom of God. Of course this consensus lends itself to cultural engagement, political activity, etc. being "Kingdom work." Those dispensationalists who do not consider the Kingdom to have been already inaugurated oppose the idea, as do many Reformed amils who are committed to the idea of the spirituality of the church. (Fred) I hear a lot from those who think the various positions are attempts to reconcile the different eschatologies. I am not sure if that is necessarily true, at least by the proponents of each perspective. I am sure they would each argue they are trying to be faithful to scripture. I know for myself, that certainly is my desire with my studies I am writing up. I particularly don't care if I happen to be in agreement with Amillers on a point here and there. If we both happen to be correct on a point of doctrine, that's great. There is enough of a significant gulf remaining I know our perspectives will never find agreement. I am not looking for reconciliation, or cooperation, or finding common ground with different eschatological systems to begin with. I am just wanting to be faithful to the text and build my theology from that.

11:38 AM, May 04, 2009  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Hey Don,

I was thinking, if you take the whole letter, it says all who come to faith are the Israel of God. Paul says, we are all sons of Abraham, and heirs (Gal. 3:29). And so I thought it made sense that Paul was making a similiar appliaction when he says Israel of God at the end of his letter. (Fred) I pretty much agree with the other points you raised. With this first comment, however, I would just add a clarifying thought that with my study of the scripture, even though we are spiritual sons and daughters of Abraham due to our faith in Christ, that identification does not make the NT Church the "new Israel" nor does it mean the Church has absorbed all the promises God made to Israel through Abraham. There is still a distinction between the NT Church and Israel who will be restored in their land in the eschatological future.

11:56 AM, May 04, 2009  
Blogger donsands said...

"There is still a distinction between the NT Church and Israel who will be restored in their land in the eschatological future."

Looking forward to "unpacking" this. I'll stay tuned.

12:36 PM, May 04, 2009  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

If one were to assume a hierarchy of doctrines, where would the doctrine of eschatology fall? I should think that it's secondary or tertiary. (Fred) I would say that it doesn't fall into the place where Christians need to separate fellowship. But, we have to face the reality that eschatology is a direct result to specific theological presuppositions, and those theological presuppositions not only have a direct bearing upon one's eschatology, but other areas of theology as well. For example, certain specific theological presuppositions, such as covenant theology and having a rigid continuity between OT Israel and the NT Church impacts what one thinks of baptism, church fellowship, and the participants in the Lord's Table. Preterist presuppositions have a direct bearing upon how one reads prophetic texts. Though I am sure I would be aligned with those individuals as far as orthodox gospel doctrine is concerned, high view of God and Christ, it would be difficult to be members of the same congregation because our presuppositions shape our convictions about basic membership issues. If that makes sense.

Anyways, I wonder if Fred or DJP have an opinion regarding www.monergism.com which is decidedly against premill dispensationalism, yet also recognizes John MacArthur in its Reformed Hall of Fame. (Fred) I am guessing John Hendryx who is the curator at monergism, recognizes John more out of his main convictions which Hendryx can agree. That being, John's views of election, Christ's death, John's theological preaching over the years.

I.e., Why or should differing views on Eschatology lead to separate church denominations? (Fred) Sort of what I outlined above. It's the same reason views of baptism, church government, those things separate denominations.

1:20 PM, May 04, 2009  
Blogger Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Thanks for the thoughtful reply Fred. It makes a lot of sense.

I really like the Monergism.com website, yet they have somewhat of an anti-dispensational bent to them. And I was wondering why they emphasized their antipathy to leaky dispensational (historic premill) eschatology.

2:43 PM, May 04, 2009  
Blogger Chris Poe said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2:49 PM, May 04, 2009  
Blogger Chris Poe said...

WRT covenantalism, my understanding is that Ladd was covenantal (I haven't read much of him directly) but in my lexicon at least, (informed mainly by reading Dr. Vlach and Barry Horner's "Future Israel") I consider replacement theology or supersessionism to be a much wider category than covenant theology. Replacement theology would encompass everyone from Romanists to most New Covenant theologians, as well as covenant theologians.

NCT is of course an attempt at a mediating view and is certainly a move toward covenantalism, but it is definitely not CT. It also tends to be rather nebulous. I know of at least one premil NCT theologian of some note who strongly opposes supersessionism and tends to think there will be a physical temple. Most would say he's dispy for believing the latter but he identifies himself as NCT, perhaps in part because he is not pretrib.

WRT Monergism, I think it's a good site. But a few years ago (back in my OPC TR days) I quit frequenting it once I saw that Federal Vision proponents were enlisted to work on it when John Hendryx needed help updating the pages, etc. But I'm thinking that may be a thing of the past at this point given all of the useful anti-FV and NPP material posted there now. Hendryx is a PCA Presbyterian, so that it would have an anti-dispensational bent is hardly surprising.

I also tend to agree with Fred's statements above. In my experience it would be difficult for a convinced dispensationalist and convinced amil to work closely together. I also know of few Five Point Calvinists who are also dispensationalists outside of TMS circles or some SBC preachers here and there. Well, there is always DBTS, for those more inclined toward fundamentalism :) (I'm sure there are more in other parts of the country, but I'm in the Deep South and am speaking mainly of personal experience and what I've seen online.) The prevailing view is that Calvinism and dispensationalism are incompatible and one doesn't have to be in Calvinistic circles for long to see this idea expressed.

It appears that F.I.R.E. is an attempt to allow for charity on this issue since it has NCTers, dispensationalists and covenantalists among its membership. But within many individual churches it would be difficult for the two views to coexist, especially if one teacher strongly holds to one view and another believes something completely different.

On "The Kingdom of Christ"-- Moore's point seems to be that a lack of cultural engagement on the part of evangelicals was blamed on the prevailing view in the mid 20th century that the kingdom was not present in any real sense, (this is given as the view of Henry and Ladd) and he highlights the disagreement between McClain (among others) and Ladd.

I didn't intend to imply that the movement of Progressive Dispensationalists and some covenantalists toward each other WRT their conception of the Kingdom of God was a deliberate attempt to find common ground and not the product of exegesis on the part of the Progressives and the modified covenantalists, some of whom (Hoekema especially) were influenced by Ladd's inaugurated eschatology, which is anathema to many amils.

2:57 PM, May 04, 2009  

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