Thursday, April 21, 2005

“The Already” And the “Not Yet”: Implications for Evangelical Theology

A Review of The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective by Russell D. Moore (Crossway Books, 2004)

Over the last 60 years Evangelical theology has not been static. Russell D.Moore's The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective traces the development of a growing Evangelical consensus regarding the "already" and "not yet" perspective of the Kingdom of God as reflected in both the modified covenant theology of Hoekema's The Bible and The Future and Blaising and Bock's Progressive Dispensationalism. This book is not for the faint hearted. The extended footnotes and bibliography take up over one third of its three hundred and twenty pages.

Moore starts with a valuable historical picture of development of the Kingdom aspect of Evangelical theology since the end of World War II, beginning with the concerns of Carl F.Henry and George Ladd. He discusses how the differing views of the Kingdom held by traditional Dispensationalism on the one hand, and traditional Covenantal theology on the other, contributed to an Evangelical lethargy regarding cultural engagement specifically in the political arena. This is set in the historical context of the Fundamentalist reaction to a liberal theology that had replaced the Gospel with a truncated “social gospel” that effectively denied individual redemption.

As theologians from both sides of Evangelicalism began to wrestle with the meaning of the “already” and the “not yet” perspective of the Kingdom, over time a consensus began to emerge regarding the Kingdom. Moore discusses how positive aspects from both sides of the Evangelical debate over the Kingdom came to be embraced in a consensus regarding the nature and cosmic scope of the Kingdom in its inaugural form in the New Covenant as well as its consummation in the New Heavens and the New Earth. The result is that though both sides may and do still debate details, both Progressive Dispensationalism as found in the writings of Blaising, Bock, and Saucy, and modified Covenant theology represented by Hoekema, Gaffin, Poythress and others, agree on a foundational structure and the cosmic scope of the Kingdom of God.

I might add that there is little discussion in this book of Post-millennialism. There are historical as well as theological reasons for that. Nineteenth century Post-millennialism was as much a product of the influence of the modern age’s optimism as was the optimism in the liberal churches embrace of the “social gospel”. Nor is it clear that current Post-millennialism by its own presuppositions is able to grapple in a Biblically meaningful way with an “already” and “not yet” perspective of the Kingdom.

Some may question how wide an impact Progressive Dispensationalism has had on the people in the pew, and see that as a problem for the propositions Moore articulates. The same question may be asked of the just as recent modified Covenant Theology. It is not clear that the average person in the pew of the church adhering to Covenant theology understands that theology any better then the person in the pew of a Dispensational oriented church, (Progressive or traditional), understands that Dispensationalism.

Whatever the case, Moore establishes the point that a theological consensus on the Kingdom provides a foundation for the integration of an organic view of theology as a whole. Modern Enlightenment thinking fed the tendency to categorize theology proper into separate components that were rarely or only superficially related to one another. The recognizing of the organic connection between the categories of theology proper is a welcome development.

This holistic integration of the different areas of theology is seen as Moore traces the impact of the Evangelical consensus regarding the Kingdom on the issues of eschatology, soteriology, and ecclesiology; three areas that have long been bones of contention between traditional Covenant and Dispensational theologians. Moore sets forth how the consensus on the Kingdom has by organic connection led to a basic consensus in these three areas.

Though Moore focuses on how this consensus provides a unified foundation for thoughtful Evangelical political involvement, his discussion also gives a starting place for an Evangelical response to Post-modernism, the communitarianism of the Emergent church, and the Open Theism challenge. That starting place is in the cosmic scope of redemption provided by the “already” and “the not yet”: a cosmic scope that does not negate individual salvation, but on the contrary gives individual salvation a fuller and richer meaning in light of all that Jesus as Messiah King will accomplish.

In the last chapter of The Kingdom of Christ, Moore discusses how at the point of an emerging consensus on the Kingdom, Evangelicalism is being divided by Open Theism on the one hand, and the communitarian focus of the Emergent church on the other; both of which Moore sees as a move away from the clear implications of the “already” and “not yet” Kingdom view. The central focus of the Kingdom view is Jesus reigning as Messiah King, both now in the inauguration, and fully and completely in the future consummation of the Kingdom. Open Theism by definition cannot be consistent with that focus. Communitarianism clouds that focus with an emphasis that makes the church as community central to what the church is.

I am surprised The Kingdom of Christ has not received more attention then it seems to have at this point. It is one of those books that, as I read it, I could not help but sense I was reading something of real monumental importance. Time will tell if such is really the case, but it is a book that I encourage every Evangelical Pastor and theological student to read.

~ The Billy Goat ~
Copywrite © April 20, 2005

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