I would say the second chp of Russell Moore’s The Kingdom of the Christ is the finest survey of how eschatology and kingdom have been studied by evangelicals, both dispensational and covenant, in the 20th Century. I lived through most of those days, and Moore’s clearly-written and fairly-judged description is what many need to read — especially those who are in their 20s and 30s and who can’t quite figure out why we think George Eldon Ladd is the bees-knees.
Blogging through a book is never easy, but blogging through a historical description is impossible, so I’ll just make a few observations. Moore, as I said yesterday, is smitten with Carl Henry’s works so much of this is both descriptive of debates about eschatology and how Henry saw the issues.
First, dispensationalism of a traditionist sort can be rightly chided, not without exception, for its cavalier attitude toward life in this world, and it springs from an inadequately shaped understanding of the kingdom of God. This led (and still leads some) to a “this world is not my home, I’m just apassin’ through” attitude.
Second, progressive dispensationalists have dodged that criticism, not by repackaging the old by genuinely advancing in the direction of George Ladd, who spent decades of his life arguing that NT eschatology and the kingdom message were both “now” as well as a “not yet” thing. (I have observed before that settling this time question, and Ladd gets this right, does not go far enough. We also need to define what it is that is “now” and what is “not yet.” I do some of this in A New Vision for Israel, even if not always in as clear as prose as I’d now like it to be.)
Third, old-fashioned covenant theologians had too much of a realized, spiritual view of kingdom, making kingdom not all that far from personal redemption. But the more recent covenantal folks, like Poythress and others, who have dipped into Gerhardus Vos and Abraham Kuyper for some new fuels, are revising that, and they, too, have come much closer to George Ladd’s famous studies.
Fourth, which means we are now at a point where evangelicals, esp those of a more conservative orientation (which is those in the scope of Moore’s book), are agreed that Ladd got it right — not in everything, but certainly in the big picture. If he got this right, then there is a new consensus for a new day for discussion how Christians can frame a kingdom theology and do so in such a way to engage the culture on the basis of that theology.
I want to say that I think Moore is right here; and I think this is the sort of thing that the emerging movement is also trying to do; and I hope many of my friends in the emerging movement will engage Russell Moore, even if they disagree with some of his proposals. What he wants is what they want: a robust theology of the kingdom shaping the Church.
Last, I wish Moore would address the moderate and left evangelical view of these matters, for not only is there a consensus now among conservative evangelicals, but with moderates there is also one: we, too, think of eschatology as both now and not yet. What I would say is that much of what Moore has done so far — and his own themes of the meaning of “kingdom now” will surely vary from what I’m about to say — is consistent with what he calls the evangelical left, and he points here to Sider and Wallis (and I’d not put Sider on the left; Wallis is left; Sider is a moderate on this issue). In other words, I firmly believe that many of us will say at the end of chp 2 this: “We’ve stood with Ladd all along.” Now whether or not we will agree with Moore in the rest of his book, as he lays out a Laddian/Henryan theory of kingdom, the point needs to be made that some in the evangelical left and nearly all in the moderate evangelical camp have for a long time had a robust now and not-yet theology of the kingdom.
Which leads me to say that I’m excited again for what comes next in this book.