Monday, April 9, 2018

History and Faith

"He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him"
(John 1:10).

Nineteenth-century liberal thought was highly anti-supernatural, and the liberal theologians of that era sought to strip away all the miracles and wonders of the story of Jesus as we find it in the New Testament. They wanted to present Jesus as some kind of great moral teacher, not as someone who claimed to be the incarnate Son of God. They held that the way to understand what Jesus was all about is to study what he had to say about the kingdom of God. In their understanding, the kingdom is here and now, working itself out in history. It is an evolutionary kingdom, not a supernatural one, in which men are getting better under the moral influences of Jesus’ teachings.

In the early days of the twentieth century, Albert Schweitzer published a devastating critique of this viewpoint. Schweitzer pointed out that the New Testament clearly presents the kingdom of God as a supernatural and catastrophic event that breaks into history from eternity. This is what Jesus announced, said Schweitzer, not some moral rearmament programme. Schweitzer went on to say that Jesus was disappointed when the kingdom did not come and that He died in despair on the cross. Schweitzer himself turned to pantheism.

C. H. Dodd replied to this that Schweitzer was right about the kingdom’s being a supernatural event, but wrong in thinking that it did not arrive. Dodd said that the kingdom fully came in Jesus’ day. He pointed to the miracles of casting out demons, the Resurrection, Ascension, sending of the Spirit, and destruction of Jerusalem. On the cross Jesus cried, “It is accomplished!” Dodd’s view is called “realized eschatology,” and it means that the kingdom came completely in the first century.

Orthodox Christianity teaches there is an “already” and a “not yet” aspect of God’s kingdom. It is supernatural, it is present, and it will yet be fully realized. Only when Christ returns will the kingdom be inaugurated in its fullness.

The same tension between the already and not yet is true of our salvation and sanctification. God has begun a good work and will complete it. Until He does, ask Him for personal diligence, hope, and much growth in Christian grace.