ESCHATOLOGY IN THE CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY (2)

Philosophy History 2PMT 2015-043 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

Postmillennialism involves the whole system of biblical doctrine. In the basic Christian philosophy of history, eschatology is a key plank. In my last blog article I began a brief overview of the basic elements of the Christian view of history. In that article I focused on the basic doctrine of God. I will now complete my overview by considering the remaining elements.

Creation

All of reality derives from a personal, moral, sovereign being. The Christian’s creational viewpoint puts man under God and over nature (Ge 1:26–27; Ps 8). It imparts transcendent meaning to temporal history and sets before man a high calling.

The entire Universe from the smallest atomic particle to the largest and farthest flung galaxy was created ex nihilo. It exists solely by the exercise of God’s creative will, and was brought into being by his sovereign, successive divine fiats (Ge 1:1; Ex 20:11; Heb 11:3). All facts and laws, all people and materials, trace their origin, meaning, and purpose back to God (Ps 24:1; Jn 1:4; Ro 11:36ff; Col 1:16–17; Rev 4:11.). Michael Goldberg reminds us that “for both Judaism and Christianity, ordinary, profane time is real, and it is real precisely because it — rather than some other ‘Great Time’ which transcends it — is the locus (and focus) of redemption and meaning.”[1]

Providence

God has an eternally decreed, minutely detailed, sovereignly determined, and unfailingly certain plan for the Universe. He personally and intimately administers this plan for his own glory (Ps 115:3; Pr 16:1–4, 9; Da 4:35; Mt 10:29, 30). Providence imparts transcendent meaning into the control of history. “The entire scheme of the Bible is structured around the movement ‘from creation to new creation by means of divine redemptive interventions.’”[2] God “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11; cf. Ps 33:11; Isa 45:10–11). Providence is the alternative to the Chance and brute factuality (i.e., the unrelatedness of reality) of the non-Christian viewpoint.


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Fall

Because of God’s testing of Adam, which results in Adam’s Fall (Ge 3:1–8), history becomes the battleground of Christ and Antichrist (Ge 3:15). Sin affects every aspect of human endeavor, distorting all of reality. We cannot understand our historical situation apart from the intrusion of sin, as an unnatural factor. Neither may we think of man’s fundamental problem as ontological, related to his finite being. Adam’s pre-Fall abilities were remarkable (Ge 2:15, 19–20), as will be our resurrected existence (1Co 15:42–53). Man’s fundamental problem is ethical, related to his rebellion against the Law of God (Ro 5:10; 8:7–8). Because of this he labors under God’s curse (Ge 3:15; Ro 5:12–19; Gal 3:10).

But God does not abandon history because of man’s Fall. History does, however, witness the rise of a new factor: redemption.

Redemption

A major motif of history is God’s redemptive activity in reconciling creation back to himself (Ge 3:15; Col 1:19–23). This will very powerfully and directly affect our understanding of biblical eschatology. God establishes his redemptive plan in order to bring wayward man back to himself. “God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him” (Jn 3:17). We can possess no proper understanding of historical progress and direction when referring only to the Fall of man. We must take into account also the restorative acts of God in redemption. The division of history into BC and AD highlights Christ as the focal point of the historical process. Such an historical designation has theological implications. Some scholars opt for BCE and CE dating, which is a sign of an anti-Christian bias.

Revelation

God reveals himself and various aspects of his will infallibly and inerrantly in his Holy Word, the Bible: “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2Ti 3:16; cp. Jn 10:35; 2Pe 1:20, 21). The causative prophetic word of the Creator providentially governs history. God’s eternal decree, from which his prophetic Word springs into history, is neither abstract nor random; it is concrete and rational. It is not raw force, but structured power. God’s Word intelligibly constructs all things, “declaring the end from the beginning” (Isa 46:10; cp. Ps 33:11; 148:5; Heb 1:3; 11:3). God’s objective revelation in Scripture is foundational to a truly Christian eschatology.


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Consummation

Not only does history have a beginning, but God is providentially guiding it to a particular end: “He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness” (Ac 17:31; cp. Isa 46:10; 55:11). Our labor on earth “is not in vain in the Lord” (1Co 15:58). We labor in the present with a view to the future — and ultimately to history’s consummation and the eternal state. “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Php 3:20-21). In fact, “it was the Christian view of history that gave western civilization its remarkably widespread conviction that the future offers hope.”[3]

I can afford no more space to this important matter of the philosophy of history. But I urge you to keep these general statements in mind as you sturdy biblical eschatology from the postmillennial perspective. We are dealing with a very important matter: the Christian philosophy of universal history. We must recognize that “Scripture affirms that all history has a purpose and goal, that history is unrepeatable, and that it moves toward the final triumph of the good.”[4] To read much of popular eschatological literature, one could surmise that the Bible is an eschatological jigsaw puzzle, a grand trivial pursuit. Such is not the case.

Whether or not the entire course of world history is under the absolutely sovereign administration of the infinitely personal God of Scripture means everything to eschatological inquiry. Whether or not we view the Universe as God’s creation designed for his glory is fundamentally important. If God is not absolutely sovereign, some competing god or some countervailing principle or some unforeseen fortuity could throw a dark blanket of obscurity over the ultimate eschatological outcome of universal history and human existence. This would undermine any hope for a moral conclusion to world and universal history.

Regarding the facts of eschatological eventuation, God has an eternal plan that absolutely governs the origin, process, direction, and outcome of history. A Christian philosophy of history must insist that his will is determinative rather than responsive. God is not merely reacting against forces inherent within historical processes, whether resulting from a competing spiritual being or beings, or flowing from autonomous human activity, or arising from “natural” phenomena. Furthermore, God graciously and objectively reveals himself and his will to man. If neither of these biblical “givens” is true, then, hopelessness prevails. Denying the former, God himself cannot certainly know the future because it would be definitionally random and unknowable. Denying the latter, we could have no hope for lifting the veil of the future; our inquiry would be pure guess-work.

Notes

  1. Michael Goldberg, Theology and Narrative: A Critical Introduction (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 2001), 56.
  2. Kent E. Brower and Mark W. Elliott, eds. Eschatology in Bible & Theology: Evangelical Essays at the Dawn of a New Millennium. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1997), 22.
  3. D. W. Bebbington, Patterns in History: A Christian View (Downer’s Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1979), 42.
  4. Carl F. H. Henry, God Who Stands and Stays: Part Two, in Carl Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1983), 6:493.
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