Lordship

Avoid the Language of “Already, and Not Yet”

Since I have been deeply involved in the eschatology debate for over ten years, had some of my works published in other eschatology websites, interviewed postmillennial authors, and have been in the healthy business of proselytizing premils to the postmil position for just as long, I have noticed a few trends. My own transition from pre to postmil was not neat. I wondered in the other premillennial categories and in the “Amillennial parking lot” for a short while.

I confess a deep appreciation for my amillennial brothers. Men like Vos, Horton, and Beale continue to offer fresh insights into the biblical text and to expand the biblical theological vocabulary in some desirable directions. Beale’s work on a theology of worship is a gift to the church.

But while appreciating their labors I also see a trend in the use of language that can be harmful to the postmillennial cause. I refer specifically to the use of the language “already, and not yet.” “This theological concept of “already” and “not yet” was proposed by Princeton theologian Gerhardus Vos early in the 20th century, who believed that we live in the present age, the ‘now’, and await the ‘age to come.” The premillennialist George Eldon Ladd had used similar language when arguing that we taste a little now of the age to come, but not the fullness of it.

Vos and Ladd share similar viewpoints, though they would have differed on their interpretation of I Corinthians 15:24-26. That essentially is the only difference between a historic premil and an amillennialist; a few chronological issues, but a firm agreement on the continuation of the decline of civilization. Some amil scholars still argue among themselves on the identity of a future anti-christ. Other amil thinkers embrace the “optimistic” label to balance out the “amil” label, though this is a more recent phenomenon.

Already, and not yet

This language can be helpful at times, and it has turned into a unified slogan among many in the Reformed camp to combat pre-tribulational theology. Let us assume for the moment that the pre-trib. position is unsustainable and not even worth debating. If this is the case, how is the language of “already, and not yet” been helpful to elaborating the victorious promise of the gospel declared by postmil advocates in the Reformed camp? I venture to say it has not been helpful at all in the postmil eschatological proposal. When the amil advocate uses the language–and the language was coined by amillennial advocates–he means that though we taste a bit of the world to come now, we ought not to expect any type of cosmic manifestation in power and might of the gospel until the Second Coming.

This embodies a largely pessimistic vision of the work of the gospel in the end of history. Again, this is not a debate on the post-resurrection world. There is no debate on that issue. We all affirm the Gospel victory then. The question is: “What will the world look like before Jesus returns at the end of history?” Kenneth Gentry offers a helpful definition of postmillennialism:

“Postmillennialism is the view that Christ will return to the earth after the Spirit-blessed Gospel has had overwhelming success in bringing the world to the adoption of Christianity.”

Assuming this definition, we are affirming that not only will we receive a taste of the world to come in this era of human history, but we will also see with our eyes and touch with our hands the very progress of the Spirit-blessed Gospel in the world.

If not “already, and not yet,” then what?

So what am I suggesting? I am suggesting we no longer use that language, except in very specific cases. This language may be helpful in communicating ideas with someone re-thinking the dispensational position, but even then I recommend caution, since they may be prone to research this language and be led to amillennial writers.

We are not suggesting a utopian society. We believe sin will always be with us until Jesus returns, but we are also affirming that human sin will lose the war against the gospel when it comes to the conversion of the nations. I agree with my mentor, James Jordan, that as the gospel brings people and nations to submit to King Jesus and as the Gospel becomes more prevalent in the national discourse we will also see a greater battle against our own sin since people will become more aware of their struggles. This, however, does not negate the imperative that the nations will come to Zion and worship (Is. 2, 11), but it emphasizes that confession and repentance will always be part of the Christian experience in this world.

Instead of the “already, and not yet” language we may choose to refer to our hope as the “already, already, but not yet,” emphasizing that we will not just taste of the world to come, but also experience the world to come in this world. Obviously this is a long-term strategy. Postmillennialists are not naive to suggest that this Spirit-blessed Gospel will cause world-wide transformation over night, rather this is a long-possibly millennial- project. A double “already” emphasizes the reality of this Gospel vision in history. Further, it emphasizes that we are not simply tasting of the world to come individually, but corporately as a people.

This world is indeed our home, and we long for a renewed world. We do not despise this creation, we long for its restoration.

What other language can we use?

If the “already, already, but not yet” seems like a theological technicality, then I suggest a few other phrases. We are living in the age of “glory to greater glory,” “fulfillment to greater fulfillment,” present, but not fully present,” “joy to greater joy,” blessing to greater blessing.” These are all categories that define the glory of the transformative gospel before the Second Coming.

You may even provide a better and more accurate picture of this truth in words if time allows, but in the meanwhile be cautious with the “already, and not yet” language. History matters to God. And describing that history in certain words can communicate something we do not wish to communicate.

How I Have Changed

Photo: Circa 2002, Senior Year at CCC...good times. Now: Ministers, missionary, pharmacist, military chaplain, financial advisor. God has been faithful! Kenneth James Conklin, Timothy J Russell, Matthew Fisher, Tom YuI spent a couple of hours today chatting with an old friend of mine. He is now a pastor of a Lutheran congregation. He is a fine fellow whom I long to re-acquaint face to face with a pipe and a fine beer. After all these years we have kept a relatively lively relationship over the phone. We have even joined forces to write a lengthy piece combating an evangelical prohibitionist advocate of our day.

Interestingly what brought us together even more so in these last few years have been our theological journeys. We both attended a fundamentalist college, but even back then we were already pursuing dangerous literature. One time he brought a book back from home that had a warning sign on its first page written by his mother. The first page stated that we were to be careful as we read this book for it was written by a Calvinist. Lions, and tigers, and Calvinists, oh my!

How far we have come! It has been over 10 years since we parted those glory college days, and now we both are pastoring healthy congregations. We are in different theological traditions, but very rooted in our Protestant commitments. Beyond that, we are rooted in a vastly historic tradition.

As I pondered that conversation I wondered just how much I have changed over this last decade. I went from a revival preacher to a liturgical minister. Now don’t get me wrong, I long for revival, I just don’t long for the same type my brothers long for. This revival I long for is filled with beautiful images, a pattern-filled story, tasty bread, and delightful wine; church colors, rituals– in the best sense of the term—and lots of feasting. While my fundamentalist brothers longed for the sweet by and by, and times they would gather at the river to sing of that ol’ time religion. Those romantic days no longer appeal to me.

How have I changed? In so many ways! But my changes were not just theological. I have held the same convictions I have today on a host of issues for over 10 years. My changes were more situational and existential (and normative for the tri-perspectivalists out there). My reality has changed. I now treasure different things that I did not treasure a decade ago. You may say marriage does that, but the reality is I have taken my sola scriptura to the next level. I have begun to see its applicability beyond the sphere of the mind. The arm-chair theologian no longer seems admirable. Even marriage carries a symbolic significance to me. This is not just a privatized institution; it is, to quote Schmemann, “for the sake of the world.” Yes, I have changed.

I have also changed existentially. I have learned to delve deeply into personal piety and have found it refreshing. In the past my piety led me into the valley of pietism. It was discouraging; pessimistic. Now my piety keeps me in green pastures. My existential struggle with doubt is no longer a reality. I have found objectivity in the most unlikely places. They have kept me secure and alert to my own tendencies; to the idols that I have failed to crush. Jesus has become more than an intellectual pursuit, but the heart of the issues, because he is the heart of history.

Yes, I have changed since my college days. I would like even to affirm that this is the new me; a “me” broken by idolatry and restored and renewed by word, water, and wine. Thanks be to God!

Bring Out the Champagne! The Party Has Just Begun!

Easter is gone, right? Actually Easter has just begun! The Easter Season lasts for 50 days. It is glorified in the PENT-ecost season. According to the Christian Calendar, Easter lasts until May 19th (Pentecost Sunday). But didn’t we spend ourselves bodily and spiritually this past Lord’s Day? If that’s the case, stir yourselves unto good works. The party has just begun!

We–who are liturgically minded–tend to carefully attend to the Lenten and Advent Calendar, but yet we forget that apart from the Resurrection Lent and Advent would not make any sense. After all, what are we expecting? A virgin birth to a son who would simply die at the age of 33? What are we expecting? A perpetually closed tomb? A sight for annual pilgrimages to Israel?

I am suggesting we need to stock up in our champagne bottles. Every Sunday meal needs to start with the popping of a champagne bottle. “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! POP! “Children, that’s the sound of victory!”

For every day of Easter, set aside a little gift for your little ones or your spouse. We set 100 Easter eggs aside for our two oldest children and let them open them up each day. Other traditions can be added, of course. We indulge in Easter hymnody and Psalmnody.  Easter is no time to get back to business as usual, it’s time to elevate the party spirit.

With that in mind, here are a few suggestions for these next 46 days:

First, for evening family readings, meditate specifically on the Resurrection account and the post-resurrection accounts. Digest every detail of the gospels, and also allow St. Paul to add his resurrection theology in I Corinthians 15.

Second, teach one another the art of hope. We live in a hopeless culture. We walk around with little enthusiasm for what God is doing in our midst. We also don’t believe that God is changing us and conforming us to the image of His son. We need to–especially in this season–to rejoice more with those who rejoice and encourage more those who weep with the hope granted to us in the Resurrection of our Messiah.

Third, invest in changing your community. Ask your pastor in what ways can you be more fruitful in your service to the congregation. Consider also your neighbors. Do you know them? If you do, how many have been in your homes for a meal or a drink, or simply to talk?

Fourth, play Easter music in your home and in the office. Here are some selections of great CDs or MP3’s.

Finally, avoid the introspective rituals that are so prevalent in our Christian culture. Do not allow doubts to overtake you. Think of your Triune baptism. Trust in Christ fervently. Allow the Covenant of Grace to shape your identity. The resurrection of Jesus was the confirmation that those in Christ are made for glory. Look to Jesus and serve Jesus by serving others. By doing so, you will not grow weary in doing well, and you will learn to party beside the empty tomb.

Christ is Risen!

Betraying the Lordship of Christ

My faithful Kuyperian friend, Jake Belder, offers a great quote from David Bosch’s December 1979 issue of the Journal of Theology for Southern Africa. The quote is lengthy, but here is the concluding paragraph:

If we forget this we commit the same mistake as those Christians who argue…that we had better withdraw from the world into a religious enclave. The terrible thing these Christians are doing is to grant legality to the spurious claim of the enemy that this world belongs to him, not to God! And when Jesus said to Pilate, ‘My Kingdom is not of this world’, his words should not be understood as meaning that his Kingdom is entirely other-worldly. It should rather, within the context of John’s gospel, be understood to mean, ‘My Kingdom does not operate according to the rules of this world which have been adulterated by Satan. My Kingdom is unique. But this does not make it other-worldly.’ Did Jesus not, after all, teach his disciples to pray, ‘Thy Kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven?’ Therefore, if we Christians surrender this world to Satan, we play right into his hands. And we betray the Lordship of Christ.

A Pastor’s Note: Christmas and Lordship

In the last few years The New York Times has been publishing several articles on Christmas and religious displays. In one article published in 2004, the author complains about the lack of Christian themes in modern Christmas music, while another complained that in a pluralistic society we must be sensitive to Jews and Muslims. This sentimental view of Christmas together with this pluralistic view of Christmas both err. The Coming of Messiah is the coming for the nations. Whether Buddhists or Jews, Messiah must be acknowledged, and indeed He will be acknowledged by all peoples. The Consolation of the world (Luke 2:22-35) will bring light to every man. The question is not so much a question of sentimentalism or pluralism, it is a question of authority and lordship. Christmas declares that Caesar is not Lord, Messiah is, and His kingdom has no interest in sharing its glory with another.

Hyper-Pious Love vs. Biblical Love

From Contra Mundum, Volume I, 1955

The Biblical and the socialist-communist laws of love are irreconcilable and are in mortal conflict. They are not primarily two laws about “love” in varying degrees, with the socialist law having a higher degree of love, and therefore better. The socialist law of love is hyper-pious; it is sanctimonious. It is hypocritical.

The Manhattan Declaration and the Lordship of Christ

Andrew Sandlin responds to John Macarthur in his latest article Lordship Salvation is Not Enough:

But the fact is, the state must never be about the Gospel or redemption, only about justice (Rom. 13:1–7).  We have a name for political systems that profess to offer redemption: totalitarianisms.  The old Soviet Union, for example, tried to reengineer humanity, fashioning “The New Man,” purged of greed and the profit motive and bowing to all things political.  That tyrannical government resorted to obloquy, abuse, intimidation, torture, murder and genocide to accomplish its goal of the humanity’s salvation.  When individuals abandon the message of salvation in Jesus Christ, they do not abandon the quest for salvation; they simply transfer it to some other entity.  In the 20th century, that entity was the omnicompetent state.  It is just this sort of religiously interventionist state in the United States that the MD fears may attempt to silence distinctively Christian vocal opposition to the prevalent anti-life and anti-family climate — just as it has in numerous governments around the world.

All power and authority

In light of my talk tomorrow at New Life Presbyterian on the Wrath of God, I decided to post my introductory paragraph with the hope that I shall post the rest at some other opportune time.

If the love of God is inseparable from His holy character, than His wrath is no different; as I have argued in my lesson on the Love of God, God is the plenipotentiary, meaning, He is invested with full power, authority, and strength. Unlike leaders and dictators of this world, whose plenipotentiary derives from the people or through manipulation, God is all powerful and able to do what He pleases because He is God. No one can bestow power to God, since power finds its completion in God himself. Just as Hebrews tells us that God can swear by no one but Himself, since no one matches the authority and honor of God, then perfect power and authority rests on God alone, for there is no other who shares in His perfect glory and holiness.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: Analysis and Application Part VII

csl26_thumbayounglewis1.jpeg

As a Young Man taken by his brother Warren

I would like to continue dealing in shorter articles with Book III. It is here where Lewis discusses the Cardinal and Theological Virtues. These virtues have the power to transform cultures. Lewis speaks in a few words of what a Christian society ought to look like:

Those who do not work, do not eat; everyone is to work with their own hands; they are to produce something good; obedience to magistrates; from children to parents; lending money at interest is forbidden; charity is an essential part of Christian morality; we fear insecurity, which is why we do not give.[1]

Social morality is a natural outworking of genuine faith. History is filled with covenant breakers, and they have never and will never seek the restoration of a purely Christian society, until they embrace a new Lord and turn their backs on Caesar. In the words of C.S. Lewis:

A Christian society is not going to arrive until most of us really want it: and we are not going to want it until we become fully Christian.[2]

To become fully Christian is to see this world as God’s World. All goes back to the issue of sovereignty. Whose sovereignty? God’s or autonomous man? This Christian paradise where God’s law prevails and where Christian man lives as unto the Lord in all things,is not a utopia. Nevertheless, it is an outflow of pure (Mere) Christianity.

It is interesting how dogmatic Reformed Christians are about the transformation that must occur in the individual after conversion. However, they are less than sure about the transformation that must occur when all these individuals begin to interact with society at large. This, once again, is that insipid Christianity that tastes more like Gnosticism than historic catholicity. Andrew Sandlin expressed this well some years ago when he said that if individual sanctification should change the environment you abide, then corporate sanctification will change the environment of the world.

 


[1] Mere Christianity, pg. 81.[2] Ibid. 83.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: Analysis and Application Part VI

In this final book,[1] Lewis speaks about the “so what” of the Christian life. Book III on Christian Behaviour goes far beyond the theological snobbery. In past times in Church History, theology was not seen as being application. This idea changed radically with William Ames (the Puritan), and more contemporary thinkers in the Reformed and Anglican tradition that stress theology is practical.[2] After all, what would be the sense of theological inquiry if it had no application beyond the classroom or Star Bucks? Biblical theology is ethical and so are all things. If we deny that, we return to the abstractionism of the Greeks.

C.S. Lewis discusses then the three ideas of morality:

Morality, then, seems to be concerned with three things. Firstly, with fair play and harmony between individuals. Secondly, with what might be called tidying up or harmonizing the things inside each individual. Thirdly, with the general purpose of human life as a whole: what man was made for: what course the whole fleet ought to be on: what tune the conductor of the band wants it to play.[3]

Allow me to summarize Lewis in three words: Human morality is concerned with a) relationships, b) internal, and c) eternal. In this last point, the reader needs to realize that morality goes far beyond our lives here. It prepares us for a life to come. In my own thinking I have tried to ameliorate that absurd notion that our goal is to forget this evil world and prepare for the next. This does not seem to be the idea of the apostle Paul nor of Jesus. Nevertheless, the world to come is of significance to all because our morality may be motivated by it. This should not be a meritorious motivation (Ephesians 2:8-10), but as a sign that there is more to life than this world. C.S. Lewis writes:

Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live forever, and this must be either true or false. Now there are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years, but which I had better bother about very seriously if I am going to live forever.[4]

This is brilliant logic! Why should anyone live decently if this is all there is to it? Sartre would be right. Nietzsche would be right. But existential atheism is immoral, because it denies the life to come. This is the already, but the not-yet is around the corner for any of us. Morality is crucial in this respect. As in Pascal’s wager, if you live immorally you have everything to lose, but if you live morally under the guidance of a sovereign authority, you have nothing to lose.

This world is not eternal. The hyper-Preterist (probably unheard of in Lewis’ day)[5] is wrong in denying that this present world will end one day. Christ will make all things new through the purification of all things. He will not annihilate this world, but bring it to its intended use. It will be a sort of perfect, perfect Eden. Since the earth, in its present form is not eternal, then some elements of this earth are also not eternal, like the state.

If individuals live only seventy years, then a state, or a nation, or a civilization, which may last for a thousand years, is more important than an individual. But if Christianity is true, then the individual is not only more important but incomparably more important, for he is everlasting and the life of a state or a civilization with his, is only a moment.[6]

The idea that the state is only a temporary tool in the hands of God to preserve justice is powerful indeed.[7] In the New Heavens and New Earth, justice will have been completed and civil government as we know it will be done away with, since there will be no more role for justice, since all justice has been fulfilled in Christ’s second Advent. Nevertheless, in hell, the state will also not exist, though that righteous justice will be applied negatively forever. This is what Gary North would term, the eternal negative sanctions of the covenant.

This holistic theme in Lewis leads to the idea of the intellect. We have been speaking of Lewis’ idea of morality. But true morality is implicit is true theology. The thinking is not absent. In fact, God hates slack (Proverbs 10:4; 18:9). The slacker or lazy will have a hard time entering into a new kingdom where strength, courage, and honor are exalted. This has nothing to do with height or physical strength (consider Frodo). Lewis explains:

God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers. If you are thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you you are embarking on something, which is going to take the whole of you, brains and all.[8]

Christianity is not alluring at first sight. It is like Christian’s journey in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. It is filled with difficulty and turmoil. Bumper stickers that speak of “Have Joy, Have Jesus” are speaking devilish non-sense. One must count the cost if he is to embrace the gospel. It may even require leaving family and friends. And your brain always comes with you in this new journey. As Lewis mentioned, it requires brain and all. The modern aversion to intellectual endeavor is sinful. In fact, the Christian faith calls for believing intellectuals who at one hand can read the mysteries of Revelation and on the other hand, read of the details of daily living in Proverbs. It is an unbroken unit.

Christian Behaviour touches on much more. Among them are the seven cardinal virtues. In order to briefly speak of one of these elements, let us hear the words of Lewis on the virtue of temperance:

Temperance referred not especially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going to the right length and no further.[9]

The inception of fundamentalism urged that Christians in all places cease to drink their beer and wine. Why? Because they limited temperance to drinking alone. The Sunday morning minister who shuns alcohol and proceeds to indulge his flesh in a buffet is a sinful hypocrite.The teetotalism that Lewis speaks of is a misapplication of the law of plentifulness. God has given us wine and drink so that we may enjoy his bountifulness. Christians forget that their liberties are not tools for abuse, but tools for refreshment.

Some struggle with certain sins, like alcohol and as a result they deny the cup of wine passed to them at the Eucharist. They think it will tempt them to return to their bad habits. This is once again foolish and has led to the unbiblical notion of grape juice in the supper. This is a result of the early anti-alcohol amendments. Do you think that there were alcoholics in the first century? Of course. Do you think alcoholics back then struggled with temptations in this area? Of course. Then, why did Paul still serve real wine in the Sacrament? He did because no sin or temptation can overcome the shedding of blood of our Lord. The wine serves as perpetual reminder that our sins are blotted out and we are made new through this covenant communion.

Some will try to impose their temptations on others by saying that since they do not drink, then you should not drink either. To which Lewis responds,

One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up.[11]

Christian Behaviour is to be an impetus to all people enjoying all things.[12]This is similar to Luther’s idea that the abuse of something is not an argument for its proper use. Because someone enjoys that which you are tempted with, is no reason to expect that they give it up for your sake (unless mutually agreed upon).  When all things are used properly, then Christian Behavior is seen in its proper light—the light of Christ.


[1] There is a fourth book in this copy of Lewis’ Mere Christianity that deals with issues Trinitarian. They, as far as I know, were not originally part of the talks. Therefore, they will not be added to this discussion.

[2] Greg Bahnsen, John Frame, N.T. Wright and others all stress the ethics of the Bible.

[3] Mere Christianity, pg. 71.

[4] Ibid. 73.

[5] With the possible exception of the British author James Stuart Russell.

[6] Ibid. 73.

[7] Romans 13.

[8] Lewis, 75.

[9] Ibid. 76.

[10] At least on two grounds, gluttony and Sabbath breaking.

[11] Mere Christianity, pg. 76.

[12] Granted, I will not offer the alcoholic a drop of wine in my home. But the issue at the sacrament is an issue of command.