Monday, January 12, 2009

The Kingdom and the New Evangelicals: A Conscience in Search of a Theology?

About a year ago I finished reading Russell Moore's The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective. This book isn't primarily about the controversies that provoked the division between the Fundamentalist and (New) Evangelical movements. Rather, it's an examination of the theological arguments advanced by the New Evangelicalism that are too easily lost in the shadows of the controversy that arose when so many of the New Evangelicals went off the theological rails.

Moore takes us back to those discussions of kingdom eschatology, ecclesiology, and soteriology and shows how New Evangelicals proposed a theological system that was on many points distinct from both traditional Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology. My sense is that eschatology is the cornerstone issue, though not as much the eschatology of Daniel and Revelation as the eschatology of the Gospels and the Epistles. In other words, in what sense are we living in the last days? How, if at all, have the Kingdom promises of the Old Testament been fulfilled through Christ's incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension? What is the relationship between the Abrahamic Covenant and the establishment of the Church? What effect should the answers to those questions have on our understanding of the mission of the Church?

If these are questions you'd like to understand better, this will be a helpful book even if you don't fully agree with Moore. His documentation is voluminous, and the footnotes are well worth reading even though they'll probably triple the amount of time it takes to read the book. More importantly, he offers a wide perspective on the Dispensationalism-Covenant Theology debate that's unlike anything else I've encountered. The icing on the cake of this book is that it connects the dots [mixed metaphor, yeah I know] for those who, like me, have wondered why Fundamentalist Dispensationalists are so quick to divide over eschatology and to be so harshly critical of Progressive Dispensationalism. Moore paints the historical picture of how revisions to traditional Dispensationalism and its eschatology in particular are so closely associated with a movement that deliberately repudiated and distanced itself from the Fundamentalist movement. It's not hard to see why people who saw the New Evangelicalism devolve would react strongly against anything that carries a whiff of the old, familiar scent of gospel compromise.

An analytical approach that was useful to me as I read was to weigh whether the New Evangelical perspective was really driven by exegesis, or whether it was a civic conscience in search of a theology to justify itself. Though I'm far closer to a conclusion now than I was before I started reading, I'm not sufficiently convinced to shoot my mouth off, at least not on that point. At least not yet. In any case, in our current theopolitical climate, this is a matter in which we need careful thinking from believers much more than we need emotional manipulation from vapid mush-head young evangelicals.

What prompts this conversation now is that Moore recently posted a tight little article on his blog, "Is There a Future for Israel?" If you've never thought much about the issues, or you've only heard one side of the Dispensationalism-Covenant Theology conversation, this would be an accessible and thought-provoking piece to read. If it piques your interest, it might be worth giving his full volume a shot.


Bob Hayton said...

Thanks for sharing that article. I'm interested in the book now.

Bill Cook said...

Interesting stuff, Ben - thanks. I'm more Covenental than not - although as you know, I wouldn't extend that to Paedobaptism (but even so, I think Moore's characterization of the Covenental position in the article is not entirely accurate... but I'll give him a mulligan since it's a short article and I haven't seen the book). At any rate, I've always thought it was pretty clear from Romans 9-11 that there is some role for ethnic Israel (or a remnant thereof) in the future, but I've not devoted a lot of study to what exactly that might look like. I don't know that I would agree with Moore that it necessarily implies political blessings on visible Israel, etc., but I would be interested to see how he fleshes out those arguments in the book.

Good stuff to chew on - thanks again.

Bob Hayton said...

Bill (and Ben),

Have either of you read O. Palmer Robertson's The Israel of God: Yesterday, Today, and Foerever?

He provides a fascinating discussion of Romans 11, where he stresses the emphasis of the chapter on the present reality of Paul's day (and ours). A futuristic fulfillment doesn't seem to be the most natural way to read Rom. 11. Paul is putting himself forward as an example of God's promises to Israel not being forsaken. He a converted Jew is evidence that God's promises don't fail. It's worth the look to hear Robertson's argument.

I agree with you too, Bill on the covenantal slam that Moore gives. But I gave him the pass too. And I also am not paedo, but perhaps I'm not as covenantal as I think either.

Ben said...


Not yet, but it's on the long list. I have listened to his 9Marks interview and wasn't at all convinced, though it was informative and well worth the listen.

Bob Hayton said...

I'll have to track down that interview, sounds interesting.

Anonymous said...

Pretrib Rapture - Hidden Facts!

How can the “rapture” be “imminent”? Acts 3:21 says that Jesus “must” stay in heaven (He is now there with the Father) “until the times of restitution of all things” which includes, says Scofield, “the restoration of the theocracy under David’s Son” which obviously can’t begin before or during Antichrist’s reign. Since Jesus must personally participate in the rapture, and since He can’t even leave heaven before the tribulation ends, the rapture therefore cannot take place before the end of the trib! Paul explains the “times and the seasons” (I Thess. 5:1) of the catching up (I Thess. 4:17) as the “day of the Lord” (5:2) (which FOLLOWS the posttrib sun/moon darkening - Matt. 24:29; Acts 2:20) WHEN “sudden destruction” (5:3) of the wicked occurs! (If the wicked are destroyed before or during the trib, who would be left alive to serve the Antichrist?) Paul also ties the change-into-immortality “rapture” (I Cor. 15:52) to the posttrib end of “death” (15:54)! (Will death be ended before or during the trib?) If anyone wonders how long pretrib rapturism has been taught, he or she can Google “Pretrib Rapture Diehards.” Many are unaware that before 1830 all Christians had always viewed I Thess. 4’s “catching up” as an integral part of the final second coming to earth. In 1830 it was stretched forward and turned into a separate coming of Christ. To further strengthen their novel view, which the mass of evangelical scholars rejected throughout the 1800s, pretrib teachers in the early 1900s began to stretch forward the “day of the Lord” (what Darby and Scofield never dared to do) and hook it up with their already-stretched-forward “rapture.” Many leading evangelical scholars still weren’t convinced of pretrib, so pretrib teachers then began teaching that the “falling away” of II Thess. 2:3 is really a pretrib rapture (the same as saying that the “rapture” in 2:3 must happen before the “rapture” ["gathering"] in 2:1 can happen - the height of desperation!). Other Google articles throwing light on long-covered-up facts about the 178-year-old pretrib rapture view include “Famous Rapture Watchers,” “X-Raying Margaret,” “Revisers of Pretrib Rapture History,” “Thomas Ice (Bloopers),” “Wily Jeffrey,” “The Rapture Index (Mad Theology),” “America’s Pretrib Rapture Traffickers,” “Roots of (Warlike) Christian Zionism,” “Scholars Weigh My Research,” “Pretrib Hypocrisy,” “Pretrib Rapture Desperados” and “Deceiving and Being Deceived” - all by the author of the bestselling book “The Rapture Plot” which is available at Armageddon Books online. Just my two cents’ worth.

(Just saw the above web item. Jim)