“But Now”—Learning to Live in the Newness of Christ

photo-1416958672086-951aa7064010 2It has often been observed that the “last days” are not just some future event of tribulation and doom but are instead the days of Christ’s church, inaugurated by his resurrection. Thus, as Acts 2:17 and Hebrews 1:2 teach us, the last days have begun with the finished work of Christ and will culminate when he comes again to consummate what his resurrection began.

Such an observation stands behind the notion of an inaugurated eschatology, the belief that the kingdom of God is already and not yet. Indeed, coming out of the debates with George Eldon Ladd in the mid-twentieth century, evangelical theology has found a large consensus on this fact—the kingdom is not only present and it is not only future; rather the kingdom of God has been inaugurated but awaits its culmination.

Certainly, this view of the kingdom is different than the way the Old Testament Prophets foresaw the coming kingdom. To them the coming of the messiah meant the restoration of Israel’s kingdom, the outpouring of the Spirit, and a new age marked by resurrection and life. What we find in the New Testament, however, is that this new age would come in the midst of the old, and that the last days of the old age would coincide with the era of the church, whereby the people of God would bear witness to Christ’s future return.

Biblical evidence for this two-phased kingdom is found in the Gospels where Jesus speaks of the kingdom as already (Matthew 12:28) and not yet (Matthew 24:35). It is also found in the arrival of the Holy Spirit which has made born again believers new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), but without restoring the whole cosmos yet—what Isaiah 65 describes as a new heavens and new earth. Likewise, the resurrection of Christ—the first-fruits of the new creation—indicates a redemptive-historical shift from the old age to the new. And its this resurrection shift that is picked up by certain language in the New Testament.

Beginning with Paul’s speech to in Athens (Acts 17), there are two words that mark the change brought about by Christ’s resurrection. These words are nuni de, “but now.” As Fleming Rutledge observes in her provocative book on Christ’s crucifixion (and resurrection), “this radical newness, this transformation, is epitomized by the very frequent appearance in Paul’s letters and the epistles of Peter of the phrase “but now” (nuni de)” (The Crucifixion60).

Her observation reflects the apocalyptic nature of the New Testament, that the future has invaded the present (to borrow Ladd’s language), the kingdom of heaven has come to earth, and the resurrection of Jesus has marked a new stage in redemptive history. Indeed, the kingdom is not consummated yet, but neither is it absent. And importantly, the presence of the kingdom and the resurrection power of Christ is witnessed through the apocalyptic phrasing “but now.” Continue reading

Looking Forward to Jesus, and Not Some Date on the Calendar (Guest Post by Ben Purves)

rem-its-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it-and-i-feel-fine-irs-2Since the world did not end last Saturday (September 23), David Meade has designated a new date (October 15). But since Jesus said, “No man knows the day or the hour” (Matthew 24:36), I am convinced that this prediction is equally absurd. Absurd, and yet a snare to be addressed.

Just two weeks ago, we had to ask a man to leave our church property because he was spreading this propaganda. And for the next month and, really, until Christ does return—at an hour that we cannot predict—we will again be forced to contend with the errant predictions of self-appointed prophets.

To help give a biblical answer to the question about Christ’s return, our pastor of student ministries Ben Purves wrote a helpful blog outlining our biblical convictions about the future, the return of Christ, and the Christian hope. Unlike the recent doomsday predictions, these reflections (shared below) are steeped in the Bible and edifying for saints awaiting the day when Christ will return and establish his kingdom on the earth.

*********

Is Christ returning today or tomorrow?

Many people are talking about it thanks to yet another group announcing their conjectures based on mathematical gymnastics and astronomical mysticism. As of now, the deadline for Christ’s return has been announced as scheduled for sometime between now and sundown on Saturday, September 23 in Israel. If not by then, it is expected by the end of the day at the international dateline.

So, as with Harold Camping’s failed prediction that Christ would return on May 21, 2011 and hundreds of other predictions throughout church history, this kind of doomsday forecasting has been a staple of religious belief, even though it is explicitly forbidden by Jesus: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).  In fact, when it comes to discerning the signs, we need to look to what Scripture says and not what signs might be appearing in the cosmos.

For starters, we know that all of creation is experiencing birth pains and anticipating the return of our Lord (Rom 8:22). We also know that we have been in the last days since the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-18). Yet when we see news stories of hurricanes, floods, and wildfires, like clockwork, religious leaders from the mainline to the fringe invite their followers to join them in hysteria. Continue reading

The Warfare Worldview of Ephesians

kingWhen was the last time you prayed against the devil? Or, attributed your physical pain or emotional vexations to a demonic spirit?

If it has been some time (or never), it’s probably because you live in the 21st Century America, where the evils of the world—moral and natural—are explained by biological factors and scientific calculation. But if you lived in 16th Century Europe, it would be a different story.

In the Medieval period, ghosts and goblins, spirits and demons were regularly blamed for spiritual and physical tribulations. In that world, God and the angelic realm were not excluded from visible world. Sovereign over all spirits, God ruled the world and nearly every struggle in life could be connected to spiritual realities. Today, faith in God, especially Christian faith has demystified. Religion is a private affair. And God, in the public square and in the halls of learning, is an unwelcome guest.

As a result, Bible-believing Christians must fight against the prevailing, scientific worldview handed to them by television and education. Whereas leading scientists once gazed into the heavens to worship God, now scientifically-minded man is blind to the enchanted world in which we live. This is not to say we should go back to pre-scientific age of vain superstitions, but as Scripture testifies, we should see that the event on earth are part of God’s cosmic conflict with evil.

This fall, as we remember the Protestant Reformation, the supernatural makeup of the world and the spiritual warfare that the God’s Word invites is but one unified truth we need to recover. As John Calvin commented in his words to King Francis, “When the light shining from on high in a measure shattered his darkness, . . . [Satan] began to shake off his accustomed drowsiness and to take up arms.” Indeed, faithful preaching of God’s Word will be met with spiritual opposition, and thus we who seek to make Christ known must be steeled by the word of God, which is the sword of the Spirit.

For that reason, we come to the book of Ephesians and the faithful examples of the Protestant Reformers. Continue reading

Wisdom, Kingdom, Salvation: A Three-Paneled Window into the Psalms (Psalms 1–2)

the-psalms

Wisdom, Kingship, and Salvation: Looking at the Psalter through Psalms 1 and 2 (Sermon Audio)

Few books have had a more personal or profound impact on the worship of the church than the Psalms. And for the next two months our church is going to meditate on their message. But what is there message? And how do we find it? Is it possible to read the Psalms as one unified book? Or must we only see them as a hymnbook with various authors, genres, and themes?

Starting in this introductory on Psalms 1 and 2, I argued we should read the Psalms as one unified message that begins with the David of history and leads to the Son of David, Jesus Christ. As the weeks go on we will look at each book of the Psalms, and how they develop a message of wisdom, kingship, and salvation.

You can listen to the sermon online or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and resources for further reading and viewing are below. If time is short, be sure to watch the Bible Project video about the Psalms. Continue reading

What Does the Resurrection Mean? (1 Corinthians 15:50–58)

sermon photo

What does the Resurrection Mean? (1 Corinthians 15:50–58) (Sermon Audio)

This week marks the sixth and final message on 1 Corinthians 15. Since Easter, I have preached 6 messages on the glories of this chapter. Whether the sermons are any good is debatable, but the chapter is indisputably glorious. So, take time to read it, and if interested you can listen to one (or a few) of the six messages below.

Discussion questions and resources for further study can also be found below. Continue reading

Grasping the ‘Already’ and the ‘Not Yet’: Four Quotes on Inaugurated Eschatology

kingA few weeks ago I mentioned inaugurated eschatology in a sermon on 1 Corinthians 15:20–28. While this “three dollar word” can at first seem confusing or unnecessary—“let’s just stick with the simple gospel,” I can hear someone say—the concept of Already and Not Yet is so important for understanding New Testament eschatology, I couldn’t pass it by.

So in the sermon I used the term, defined it, describe it, and employed the obligatory D-Day / V-Day illustration. Today, I want to point out four quotes that further explain the place and importance of this concept. In short, inaugurated eschatology is a concept that relates to way God’s kingdom has come to earth and yet awaits its final consummation. As I understand it, this concept is most clearly seen in regards to Christ’s resurrection (the topic of 1 Corinthians 15), the Holy Spirit, and the kingdom of God.

Indeed, it is safe to say any theology of the Spirit, the kingdom, or the resurrection that does not take into consideration the already and not yet mismanages God’s economy and distorts the way God is working and will work in the world. Therefore, this idea is of the greatest importance for reading the Bible and doing theology. So, take time to consider these quotes. They will help solidify the concept which covers nearly every page of the New Testament. Continue reading

Lyrical Eschatology: Andrew Peterson’s Songful Seminar on Eschatology

hillsEvery year new books on prophecy, eschatology, and end times are written, and most of them—if not all of them—suffer from the same deficiency: they only focus on the facts and figures of end time predictions. With lots of biblical citations, they spend considerable time debating about the millennium, literal hermeneutics, and how to read Revelation. Of course, these are all important truths to consider, yet, in almost every case, these theology texts fail to convey the beauty, goodness, and truth of biblical eschatology.

In Scripture eschatology is almost always lyrical. In the Prophets, the place where eschatology rises like the Rockies, we do not find naked propositions and bland predictions. Rather, we find naked men foretelling the coming judgment of God (Isaiah 20), baskets full of good and bad fruit (Jeremiah 24), and hills overflowing with wine to describe the future restoration (Amos 9). Indeed, in the Bible eschatology is poetic, not prose. It is meant to captivate hearts, even as it illumines minds.

Yet, except for a few biblical scholars, this feature is almost entirely lost. Daniel is treated like Nostradamus (converted), and Ezekiel’s prophecies are read as an architect manual for some future building project. Yet, this is not first and foremost what the Spirit of Christ was leading these men to see and say. Their authoritative words are given not to a supply us a chronological forecast of future events. Rather, these servants of God are commissioned by God to call us to trust in the covenant Lord who declared the end from the beginning.  In other words, eschatology is centered  on the last man (1 Corinthians 15:45), not just last things!

Even more, in Scripture the medium employed by the Prophets was poetry, visually stimulating words intended to produce faith and hope. Accordingly, any book on eschatology that turns poetry into prophecy charts suffers the same fate: it gives facts without fire, hope without the Prophet’s heart, predictions without poetry. Indeed, it may communicate much truth, but it is truth denuded of spiritual life and eschatological hope.

Therefore, we who love the Lord and believe every jot and tittle of the Bible, need eschatology that sings. We need more than “textbooks.” We need lyrical eschatology. And thankfully, we find it in places like the stories of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, as well as the music of Andrew Peterson.ap

For years I have said evangelicals need to put down Left Behind saga and pick up the richer, more biblical, lyrical eschatology of Andrew Peterson. Why? Because the heart of eschatology is not the details surrounding the Rapture. The heart of the eschatology is the resurrection and the hope of a new creation in Christ. This is what Andrew Peterson captures in his music. And thus I have put together the unauthorized Andrew Peterson’s (Songful) Seminar on Eschatology. (Yes, I’m an admitted fanboy).

As an adjunct professor of theology, these songs will now be part of my syllabus on eschatology. If you have never heard them before or considered the way biblical eschatology is lyrical and centered on the new creation (not the timing of the tribulation), I urge you to listen. While I believe every album of Andrew Peterson has eschatological themes, these are the top twelve songs (now) eighteen songs (including one by Ben Shive), divided between Eschatology Proper (i.e., that which focuses directly on last things—resurrection, the coming of Christ, etc.) and Eschatology Presently Effected (i.e., the effects that the resurrection of Christ currently has on life).

Again, take time to listen to Andrew Peterson’s songs. Maybe you can listen to them as you make space on your eschatology shelf for his books on eschatology (The Wingfeather Saga) or other lyrical eschatology like that of The Gray Havens, another singer-songwriter impelled with the same Narnian vision. In whatever manner you listen, let us all consider how Scripture impels us to do more than fight over for our eschatology; it requires us to sing our eschatology. And for that I’ve found no one more helpful than Andrew Peterson.  Continue reading

Life After Death (1 Corinthians 15:35–49)

sermon photoLife After Death (Sermon Audio)

Few passages are more exhilarating than 1 Corinthians 15 and its promise of resurrection life. For those who trust in Christ, Paul says what is buried in the dust will be raised in glory. Taking up a variety of images, he describes the indescribable in verses 35–49— namely the way in which children of Adam formed from the dust of earth are raised to life in Christ to share his heavenly glory.

In Sunday’s message I took time to explain how Paul makes his argument to skeptics in Corinth. Looking to creation, to the way in which seeds come to life, and to the way dust becomes glory, I tried to follow and flesh out Paul’s argument. You can listen to the sermon online or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and further resources—including Andrew Peterson’s lyrical eschatology—are listed below. Continue reading

Raised with Christ (pt. 1): The Unfolding Effects of Christ’s Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20–28)

sermon photoRaised with Christ (pt. 1):  The Unfolding Effects of Christ’s Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20–28)

Nothing is more central to the Christian faith than Christ’s resurrection. Yet, how exactly does his resurrection secure ours? In what way is his resurrection applied to our lives? Is the promise of our resurrection just divine fiat, or is there something more that unites us to Christ? And is the resurrection only a future reality or is there something present to it?

All these questions are addressed in 1 Corinthians 15:20–28. After showing the necessity of the resurrection for the gospel (vv. 1–11) and salvation (vv. 12–19), Paul explains the (theo)logic of the resurrection in verses 20–28. Picking up concepts (firstfruits and covenant headship) and cross-references from the Psalms (110:1 and 8:6), Paul explains the way in which Christ’s death raises us to life.

This Sunday we started to unpack these verses, next week we will finish this section. You can listen to the sermon online or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and resources for further study are below. Continue reading

George Eldon Ladd on “The Kingdom and the Church”

alreadyIs the kingdom present or future? Is it now or not yet? Could it in any way be both? If so, how?

In evangelical circles this question has been answered for the last half-century with a view called “inaugurated eschatology.” This view affirms Christ’s present royal position as seated at God’s right hand, even as he rules the church by way of his Spirit (Matthew 28:20; John 16:7; Ephesians 1:21–23).  At the same time, his kingdom has not been yet consummated, and the people who have believed the good news of the kingdom await the day when he will return to establish his rule on the earth.

Among the many names who have advocated this position, few are more important than George Eldon Ladd, the late New Testament professor from Fuller Seminary. During the middle decades of the twentieth century, his books on the kingdom of God engaged Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology alike. And in each, he provided a rich biblical exposition on the subject.

Ladd maintained that the kingdom of God is found in Christ’s reign more than the location of his rule (i.e., his realm).[1] He understood the kingdom as a future reality, but one that had broken into the present. Against a view of the kingdom of God as spiritualized in the individual—a view based on a poor translation of Luke 17:21 (“the kingdom of God is within you,” KJV; rather than “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you,” ESV)—Ladd centered the presence of Christ’s kingdom in the church, without confusing the church with the kingdom. In this way, Ladd opposed both replacement theology and classical Dispensationalism.

Today, his works remain invaluable for students of eschatology. Indeed, those who are unfamiliar with him or inaugurated eschatology are missing the best exegetical research on the kingdom of God for the last two generations. While certainly fallible—as his biography shows—his studies have been a major catalyst in evangelical theology.

In what follows is a summary of five points from a chapter entitled “The Kingdom and the Church” in his A Theology of the New Testament.[2]  Continue reading