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Doctrine

Already & Not Yet? Looking into This Paradigm for Interpretation

Have you ever been discussing theology or reading a book and heard the speaker say something like, “Well, this is a case of the already/not yet.  We have something inaugurated in fulfillment, yet it’s not fully accomplished.” Have you wondered how to respond? I’m going to be looking at this paradigm of interpretation (because that’s what it is) over the next couple of weeks. Feel free to respond with questions you want me to dig up (and do some digging of your own). I’ll be looking at how helpful this paradigm and terminology is, what limits exist, and how it compares with literal interpretation of the Bible. We’ll also see that different people mean different things by it.

Already/not yet terminology was popularized in relationship to kingdom theology developed by Gerhardus Vos as seen in this wikipedia article. Here’s an excerpt:

This present-day tension is often expressed in phrases such as the kingdom of God is “already, but also not yet,” or “here, but not yet fully here.” This teaching about the “already” and “not yet” was first proposed by Princeton theologian Gerhardus Vos. Since 1948 and the Latter Rain Revival these thoughts have entered Pentecostal teachings. Today this teaching about the “already” and “not yet” has been accepted by many Christians, including pre-, a- and postmillennialists.

Because the kingdom of God is already here, believers in the kingdom theology expect to see God actively working, sometimes even miraculously, in the present day. Most of them testify they have seen this expectance being fulfilled. In a kingdom theology framework, present-day manifestations of the kingdom of God include the presence of the Holy Spirit within every Christian, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, successful evangelism and missionary activity, as well as divine healing and other miracles. Additionally, the role of individual Christians and of the Church as a whole is to represent the kingdom of God to the world, through evangelism, missions, and social action.

Because the kingdom of God is not yet here in its full expression, the works of this present evil age continue though not as unlimited as it would have without the presence of the Kingdom of God. Although Christians have eternal life, they still sicken and die. Although God dwells within them, their knowledge of God at times seems quite limited. War, poverty, sickness, godlessness, and death continue, and kingdom theology teaches that they will continue until the end of the age.

In addition there is a debate regarding the nature and structure of the kingdom of God. Christians who see a first-century fulfillment of prophecy tend to also see the kingdom as having been already instituted in its fullness at the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, whereas through the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, a new kind of kingdom in which Jesus reigns was instituted. This is justified through Jesus’ own words regarding the kingdom: “My Kingdom is not of this World,” or “My Kingdom is among you,” and “My Kingdom is within you.”

What questions do you have?

6 Comments

  • Mark Shaw says:

    What has been the majority view of our fellowship regarding the idea that Jesus’ offer of the Kingdom was suspended/postponed? AND Are there many today who have an either/or view of the Kingdom or do most see us as part of the spiritual kingdom now with an earthly kingdom to come?

  • Will Hatfield says:

    Mark,

    I’m probably not the best one to answer “majority view” questions or how many people hold to a different view. I have heard both sides of the idea taught…that Jesus’ offer was postponed and that it wasn’t (within our circles).

    As far spiritual kingdom ideas, most I’ve heard would believe in some type of universal spiritual kingdom now (in that God always is sovereign) but the question is more tied to the difference between this & the church vs. an earthly kingdom to come…

    More to come obviously.

  • Mark Shaw says:

    I’m realizing (again) how important this discussion is. The popularity of social justice issues on nearly every evangelical agenda seems to be the result of an overrealized eschatology….(already). It is so easy to start using their language…”advancing the kingdom”, “building the kingdom” etc. None of those phrases are used in the NT. The kingdom comes, is among us and is to be received. It will be set up by the King…but for now it is like a tree and like leaven. Growing and permeating almost imperceptibly (sp?). What do you think of Dallas Willard’s view of this in The Divine Conspiracy?

  • Will Hatfield says:

    I agree with your comments about the kingdom. I’m not that familiar with the Divine Conspiracy. It seems that Willard is providing a corrective to easy believism while probably connecting too strongly discipleship/kingdom theology/justification.

  • Matthew LaPine says:

    Looking forward to more comments on this.

  • Jeff Gates says:

    Will,

    I am glad you are addressing this issue. As I understand it, the already/not yet idea of progressive dispensationalism is becoming very popular among evangelicals. Although I do not hold to this position, I understand some of the justification for it and how it is used to justify an (over)emphasis on social justice. The argument is that since Christ is now reigning on David’s throne, believers are encouraged to help bring society under His authority (see Russell Moore’s The Kingdom of Christ). I am glad you are addressing it.

    I basically hold to the postponement view, but with a twist. The OT prophets taught that the Kingdom would only come to Israel when they had first made the Lord the King of their hearts. Jesus offered the Kingdom to Israel, knowing that they would reject Him as their King and that this would result in Him dying for their sins and the sins of the world. So the church was not
    plan B. One day Israel will fulfill the requirement for the Kingdom, i.e. making Jesus King of their hearts, and Jesus will set up His Kingdom among them. So if social justice is to be addressed, it must have another basis.

    Jeff

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