TURRETIN’S TAKE: A Journey Through Francis Turretin’s Institutes, 1: Should Christians use the word Theology?

One of the most renowned texts in Reformed theology is Francis Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology. In his Institutes, Turretin addresses twenty topics across the whole range of systematic theology. A unique feature of the Institutes is that they address each topic through a series of questions. After each question, Turretin proceeds to provide an answer and a defense of his answer.   

Coming in at over 2,000 pages in three volumes, it is not an easy feat to work one’s way through this tome. The purpose of this series to is to provide brief and accessible summaries of Turretin’s work. Each post will cover an individual question and answer. This post will summarize the first question under the first topic, theology.

Turretin begins his Institutes in a unique way. He begins with answering the question of whether or not Christians should use the word “theology” and how to best understand the word. Part of the reason Turretin begins with this question is because of the importance of providing definitions of words. In a 3-volume book on theology, it’s important to know what is meant by theology. Another reason for starting here is that some people thought it was not appropriate for Christians to use the word “theology”.

There are two main arguments against the use of the word “theology” that Turretin responds to. The first argument is that the word isn’t used in the Bible. Since it isn’t used in the Bible, Christians should use other words that are used in the Bible. The second argument is that non-Christians use the same word for their systems of belief that contradict the Christian system. Therefore, they believe it is inappropriate to use that word.

In response to the first argument, Turretin points out that the absence of a word in Scripture doesn’t mean the word is unbiblical. He says, “It is lawful sometimes to use words which are not found there if they are such as will enable us either to explain divine things or to avoid errors.” (Institutes 1:1) Words such as “Trinity” or “original sin” enable us to more clearly communicate the truth that the Scripture teaches, even if it doesn’t use those particular words.

Turretin’s response to the second argument points out that the Scripture itself uses the same word to designate true Christian realities and false things. The word “god” itself is used to designate the true God of the Bible and false gods. Since Scripture sees fit to use the same terms as non-Christians to describe true things, it isn’t inappropriate for Christians to use the word “theology” when speaking of God and the things of God.

Having dealt with the question of whether or not Christians should use the word “theology”, Turretin turns to the issue of how the word has been used. Two of the ways it has been used are as a part of philosophy (by Aristotle) and in reference to the deity of Christ (by various church fathers). For Turretin, he defines theology as, “A system or body of doctrine concerning God and divine things revealed by him for his own glory and the salvation of men.” (Institutes 1:2)

Finally, there is one particular statement that Turretin makes in this section that is worthy of individual focus. Turretin says, “…we cannot speak concerning God without God; so that [theology] may be termed the science which is originally from God, objectively treats concerning and terminatively flows into and leads to him…” (Institutes 1:2) This statement is important because it draws our attention to the fact that theology goes beyond the mere study of facts and knowledge. Theology should inevitably result in an encounter with God himself. He is both the object and the goal of theology. This is the gloriousness and danger of studying theology. It is glorious, because God is glorious. It is dangerous, because God is dangerous to sinners. This shouldn’t be a deterrent from pursuing theology, but it highlights the weightiness of the task and the sobriety that should be exercised by those who would pursue it and meet God.

That Hideous Subversion Part I: Nietzsche’s Ressentiment and Neo-Liberal Fanaticism

That lambs dislike great birds of prey does not seem strange: only if one gives it no ground for reproaching these birds of prey for bearing off little lambs. And if the lambs say among themselves: ‘these birds of prey are evil; and whoever is least like a bird of prey, but rather its opposite, a lamb — would he not be good?1‘”  -Friedrich Nietzsche

What is Ressentiment?

Ressentiment is a moral or religious usurpation in act or attitude which attempts to negate the strength of presiding entities by the objections of the weak. Ressentiment features itself as an objection of morality, a trump card of principle, which is enacted through the compliance of those in power to the demands of the weak subversively favoring human weakness as a form of vengeance. It is a ruse and slight of hand which levels individual and corporate strength through principles of religion and morality. This idea was formulated by the nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche which critiqued morality and religion in order to understand them as restrictive elements which hinder the trajectory of man’s potential. As Nietzsche expressed it, ressentiment emphasized a moral usurpation of human strength by moral philosophy and the crucified Jesus followed by his moralistic disciples. The mounted univocation positing that Socrates and Christians throughout the centuries weakened man through asphyxiated structures imposed upon humanity’s strength finds itself to be a true and actual occurrence observed upon the plane of human interaction. This consists of a dominant interplay between the weak and the strong whereby the powerful are restricted through some religious or moral incentive (these questions, which history has already answered, indicate the present pervasiveness of the triumph of weakness: did the morality of Socrates limit the impulses of Dionysus?/did the frailty of Jesus restrict the strength of the Roman empire?).

Even if this is admittedly true, is the ironic triumph of weakness in man inherent in Christianity indicative of an ultimate degeneration of human strength? All moral structures are an effort to restrict an individual priority of power and redirect it to serve the good or to serve God. Strength, utilized by Christianity and moral philosophy, is a point of an individual’s service, not a point of personal advantage over people or circumstance. Nietzsche’s comments on Socrates in Twilight of the Idols displays the extent of his condemnation of Socratic thought to illustrate this degeneration: “Socrates was a misunderstanding; the entire morality of improvement was a misunderstanding…the harshest daylight, rationality at all costs, life bright, cold, cautious, conscious, instinct-free, instinct-resistant: this itself was just an illness, a different illness, a different – and definitely not a way back to ‘virtue’, ‘health’, happiness…To have to fight against the instincts – this is the formula for decadence: so long as life is ascendant, happiness equals ascent.2” For Nietzsche’s Socrates, the pursuit of something higher than desire, to see the quality of life as something more than “appetite” and less than the triumph of conquest, is to commit an unacceptable sacrifice of strength on the altar of weakness. The mortification of metaphysical priority in exchange for blind and constant hunger calls for the subjugation of all things to power without question or priority. Man has nothing more to serve than himself, nothing higher to pursue than what he wants. No other purpose and no higher reason can possibly steer him away from this. What is the result? Socrates (according to Nietzsche) is subject to ressentiment against what was dominant in him – the strength of his own passions.

Ressentiment As Irony With Noted Movements of Agreement and Divergence Resulting In a New Paradox

To demand of strength that it should not express that strength, that it should not be a desire to overcome, a desire to throw down, a desire to become master, a thirst for enemies and resistances and triumphs, it is just as absurd to demand of weakness that it should express itself as strength.3 -Friedrich Nietzsche

Ressentiment is the ironic play of strength (the ruse) from the high grounds of morality and religion (the contradictors of nature) cast by the weak (moralists and Christians) upon the powerful (those uninhibited by moral and religious restraint) to ensnare them. Nietzsche leaves no room for the inherent paradox in history (the Incarnation) and in his own time when he ignores this fact: weakness did express itself as strength, and the advent of Christianity changed the world. Regardless of the absurdity of it, Christianity deposed the powerful through the absurd coalescence of power and weakness convening together in the paradoxical incarnation of God (“the foolishness of God is wiser than men”).

Where Christianity agrees with Nietzsche is when it confirms weakness as a moral and religious cast restricting the unlimited appetite of human power. This delimitation happened when God became man, and it also occurs when the followers of Jesus “make not provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” Those who have faith bear their cross and “put to death the deeds of the body” while seeking to become the “servant of all.” Perhaps the most daring aspect of servanthood is to “love your enemies” (in this case the identity of a servant is indistinguishable from its more forceful synonym, slave). How can one not look at the example of Jesus dying on the cross for his enemies and not see that his love brought him to unmediated suffering in weakness? Christianity through this example and the call to follow Jesus agrees with the Nietzschean notion that moral and religious restraints are the establishment of weakness in human life. The action of men upon these teachings completely restricts the unfocused potential of power and places it beneath the will of God in pursuit of Christ’s incarnate example. When you serve others, you give to them your strength rather than taking their strength from them. Humility is the opposite movement of pride in the same way that weakness is the opposite movement of human power (“he was crucified in weakness”), and to descend to need is not to rise through self-indulgence. By this example, the road to God is not known as an immediate triumph over others, apprehending their error through the narrow rightness of one’s beliefs, the popularity of Christian truth, its prosperity, or anything else that may benefit the individual or collective people over other. Rather, the road to God is known as a long and descending path of humility in pursuit of Jesus. Simply put, it is strength sacrificed to the purposes of God.

Where the observed phenomenon of ressentiment qualitatively diverges is when it establishes that reasons for weakness (moral or religious) are not valid to adopt and practice in human experience. This also has an effect on whether or not the goal of weakness is a form of revenge against human strength. Nietzsche’s caricature of Christianity and moralism diverge from Christianity because the latter does not avenge itself against another. To pity those in need—the diseased, ugly, and unwise or those who are malformed in mind and body—in such a way as to not exploit or reject their presence is motivated by a view of tarnished man that exalts him as the image of God no matter what his weakness is. The weakness of man is not dispensed with to assume strength, but the strength of man is subservient to the presence of weakness. Not to eliminate or rule, but to serve and transform it graciously. An emphasis which denies that harmony between people is a priority and sees love as a form of “pity” which has no justification in human society eliminates what makes humanity capable of strength. When you serve others, you make them strong. You enrich them with a sense of priority that will offer them some measure of relief and strength. Otherwise, what then is the solution? Is it to rid the weak from our midst and to condition society to only accept with love that which is strong and robust? Is it to “lock up” priests and pastors as such because a contrary perspective threatens “public morality” as Nietzsche curiously suggests at the conclusion of The Anti-Christ? When human power becomes an unlimited priority, what is left of humanity, and who can reconcile its divergences? Nothing becomes sustainable but power, and even that is bound to collapse because humanity as a resource can only last for so long under such conditions. Christianity justifies weakness in order to potentiate love. Nietzsche condemns it to potentiate power. These delineated points of agreement and disagreement are the distinctive backdrop for the modern paradox of ressentiment as amorality and moral practice with the illusive opinions interchanging between marginalized and general perception within the realm of popular opinion. The paradox takes shape in two ways: it is amoral, or immoral, and it is without actual basis in reality but applies itself as an anti-morality while taking shape as the marginalization of the general and the generalization of the marginal. The modern paradox to be observed possesses the mediating character of irony because it is an appearance of instinctual perversity that has within it the components of both moral justification and the trajectory of a new identity. The first category is shared by Christianity and moral philosophy. The second is uniquely Christian and indirectly parodies the Pauline doctrine of the new creation.

Paradox Mediated Through Irony

Although Nietzsche sees Christianity and preceding moral philosophy as committing the transgression of ressentiment, it might be more clearly observed as a modern social manifestation or cultural phenomenon stripped of all moralistic and religious garb as an act of vengeance. Ressentiment finds its expression from small to great measures: ressentiment is your little brother asking you to play as a weaker video game character simply because you are better at the game than him, because he thinks it’s the fair thing to do; it’s the person who likes a photo of someone else on social media out of envy and covetousness (the exchange of individual priority to desire a thing that others ascribe value to); it’s the perspective that competitive sports don’t make winners because everybody is a winner (a leveling athletic phenomenon justifying weakness as the moral uniting factor); it’s minority groups seeking to punish others and denounce them based on their distinctive strength from the delusional platform of a moral high ground justified by an internal or external sense of alienation. Nietzsche had to reach retrospectively history and identify when primal weakness was usurped by moral philosophy and Christianity. In his day, Christianity was still the dominant intellectual position of the time. Because of this, perhaps, it could best be argued that his distinction did not distinguish him as someone who exposed moral philosophy and Christianity as a usurpation of the strong by the weak, but rather exposed him as an ironic subject of his own thinking. Whatever the case, his paradigm exists today even though the past and present contexts are very different.

In America, Christian religion exists increasingly as a diminishing substance and a lengthening shadow resulting in a strange form of instinctivism. However, this instinctivism is not an actual return to the strength of the pre-Socratic Greeks, as Nietzsche would have idealized, but an unresolved contradiction between the priority of potentiated love and potentiated power that ultimately results in ressentiment. As far as power goes, whatever you want you should get through a social platform. You should acquire this whatever the cost, without respect to any truth outside of your opinion and the opinion of those who agree with you. The potentiation of love is the mirage of moral intent and farce of a new identity solidified by social acceptance. The problem with this lies in the fact that there is no new identity that can be real or moral cause that can be championed without a movement by the transcendent God. Any motioning of these higher realities is irrational; any paradigm for behavior beyond individual and collective imagination is seen as restrictive.

Many people in America experience this contradistinction in the weight of a cultural shift whereby a Christian nation has become an increasingly atheistic society. This leaves a void in identity and moral value. The ironic evidence of this void finds its bearing in persons like Nkechi Amare Diallo (born Rachel Dolezal) who self-identified as a black American and who successfully became an N.A.A.C.P president in Spokane, WA. The “ruse” (as an article in The New York Times aptly called it) consisted of a fabricated narrative identifying her as a black American (instinctivism conjoined to a fabricated sense of morality). Unlike Nietzsche’s Socrates, her ressentiment had nothing to do with the truth about reality sought by the practice of dialectical inquiry, but it was maintained through the incarnation of a farce which in the place of a moral premise served a moral point of application (perhaps Nietzsche would equivocate these two subjects of observation). Rachel Dolezal commits ressentiment by assuming a civil rights vesture. To restrict the powerful, the oppressor, herself, she identifies as something she is not and gives it an imaginary moral dimension of beneficence.

How Is Dolezal a Paradoxical Figure Subject To Ironic Considerations?

Nietzsche says in his book On the Geneology of Morals:

The slave revolt in morality begins when ressentiment itself becomes creative and gives birth to values: the ressentiment itself becomes creative and  of natures that are denied the true reaction, that of deeds, and compensate themselves with imaginary revenge. While every noble morality develops from a triumphant affirmation of itself, slave morality from the outset says No to what is “outside,” what is “different,” what is “not itself”; and this No is its creative deed. This inversion of the value-positing eye — this need to direct one’s view outward instead of back to oneself — is of the essence of ressentiment: in order to exist, slave morality always first needs a hostile external world; it needs, physiologically speaking, external stimuli in order to act at all — its action is fundamentally a reaction.4

The creative aspect of Dolezal’s ressentiment was the assumption of a completely new identity through a fabricated narrative. This narrative adopted a deep sense of value for the racially marginalized, but it involved a restriction of personal identity (trans-ethnicism) in order to promulgate a seemingly moral cause. Here is the anti-morality subsuming morality by paradox: in order to really identify as herself, she is ultimately removed from herself and her identity is transfigured into fictitious proportions. The irony is that a lie is justifiable and that through this someone may find a new way by which to create themselves, through which to be true to reality. What is this but the cover up of instinctual perversity? What is this but getting what you want at all costs and making it moral to do so? Her moral obligation, which was contextualized through her involvement with the N.A.A.C.P., was a reaction to the external world, a reaction against injustice and marginalization (very real causes that should be rightly championed). But what is left of Rachel Dolezal? There is no right view of actual self in her paradigm, only an untrue identity which reacts against an unjust world through the tragic medium of a farce. Was her sense of value actually value at all in a proper sense if her ethnicity and new identity are fabrications of an imaginative dimension? Any reaction through this medium can hardly be considered good but can reasonably be considered an illegitimizing act of vengeance upon herself and upon a history of oppression, not a moral act. Her “no” to reality is a negation of who she is in favor of an identity and world that exists fundamentally in her imagination and cannot be credibly mediated from there to reality.

_______________________________________________________________________________

  1. Friedrich Nietzsche, Basic Writings of Existentialism. Edited by Gordon Marino: Modern Library, 2004
  2. Nietzsche, Friedrich, The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols And Other Writings. Edited by Aaron Ridley and Judith Norman: Cambridge University Press, 2010
  3. Friedrich Nietzsche, Basic Writings of Existentialism. Edited by Gordon Marino: Modern Library, 2004
  4. Friedrich Nietzsche, Basic Writings of Existentialism. Edited by Gordon Marino: Modern Library, 2004

 

An Introduction to Thomistic Metaphysics: Part I

Introduction

This is the initial post in a series on Thomistic metaphysics. The goal of the series as a whole, and of this post individually, is to introduce readers to a basic understanding of Thomas Aquinas’s conception of metaphysics and to show the connection of this with theological considerations, whether it be with reference to God, man, etc. Before considering specific aspects of Thomistic metaphysics (act-potency distinction, esse-essentia distinction, etc.), there are two preliminary remarks that need to be made regarding that which will comprise this post: 1) a definition of metaphysics from the Thomistic perspective must be presented and 2) a brief word on the relation of metaphysics (and of philosophy more generally) to theology.

 Defining Metaphysics

First, what is metaphysics? [1] Bernard Wuellner, in his Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy, defines metaphysics as, “the science of the absolute first principles of being.” [2] That is, metaphysics is that science which deals with those aspects of reality that transcend all others, “behind” which there is nothing left to consider. This is what is meant by “first principles,” namely, that which “does not proceed from a prior principle,” [3] or that which is most fundamental to existent reality. For example, there is the first principle of essence – that is, that by which a thing is what it is; when we speak of essence we are here considering the “humanness” of a human, or that by which a human is a human. These are the sort of things that are considered in metaphysics. Thus, all other considerations of reality (i.e., physics, biology, chemistry, psychology, etc.) stem from the considerations of metaphysics; this is why a common definition of metaphysics is ‘considerations of ultimate reality.’ For clarification, in Wuellner’s definition, “being” refers to that which exists. Metaphysics is not concerned with specifics between mammals and amphibians, but with the distinction and categorization of various aspects of those beings according to the previously mentioned “first principles.” Thus, Ralph McInerny, in his introduction to a volume of Thomas Aquinas’ selected writings, says, “there is a theoretical science that Aristotle called theology or first philosophy, and that came to be called metaphysics…. metaphysics was assigned being as such, or being as being, as its subject.” [4] The definition that McInerny presents, namely, being as being, is my prefered definition, since it clearly denotes that it is being itself and its various aspects that is the subject of metaphysics.

Metaphysics and Theology

Second, what is metaphysics’ relationship to theology? Generally among Protestants, a hard-fast distinction is made between metaphysics (or philosophy, more generally) and theology, such that the two are either proposed to be entirely distinct disciplines with very little significant overlap or to be contrary disciplines that oppose one another. These views are, plainly put, inadequate; no one can escape the reality of philosophical influences. Nor can one deny the influence of philosophic ideas upon any given theological tradition. It is in light of the inadequacy of these views that we must consider the relationship of philosophy, particularly that of metaphysics, to theology. This relationship is one which is currently under debate within Reformed circles—such as in the recent controversy centering around James E. Dolezal’s All That Is In God and theology proper. I believe that Ralph McInerny excellently summarizes the relationship of metaphysics and theology:

“The whole aim of philosophy, as it was begun by the Greeks, is to achieve wisdom; wisdom is knowledge of first principles and causes; but the first principles and causes are divine. Philosophy by definition strives towards knowledge of the divine, and if it is successful, ends as theology. Truths about God do not begin where philosophy ends; they are the telos of the whole philosophical enterprise…. This is what made it wisdom, according to Aristotle, and that is the goal of philosophy.” [5]

Metaphysics, as considering the first principles of being, or being as being, necessarily leads to natural considerations of God insofar as the first principles of being have no principles above them from which they come and, thus, on which they depend. For God is Himself is absolute being in the sense that He is utterly independent of all else to be Himself; this idea is usually described by the philosophical-theological shorthand of God’s aseity, or God as a se. God does not depend upon principles of being in the way creatures do, rather these are used to describe Him that we might rightly understand God in Himself and all else in relation to Him. Therefore, God is the ground of being upon which all creaturely being depends and because of that any consideration of metaphysics must culminate in consideration of the divine or else the subject has only been shallowly investigated.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

[1] Throughout the history of philosophy, various definitions of Metaphysics, with differing levels of precision have been presented. To remain intellectually honest with my readers, I must admit that the definition which I present is one of many potential definitions. Nevertheless, in my estimation, this is one of the best definitions.

[2] Bernard Wuellner, Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy (Fitzwilliam, NH: Loreto Publications, 2012), 76.

[3] Wuellner, Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy, 97.

[4] Ralph McInerny, ed. “Introduction” in Thomas Aquinas: Selected Writings (New York: Penguin Books, 1998), xvi.

[5] McInerny, ed. “Introduction” in Thomas Aquinas: Selected Writings, xv.

Charles Hodge on the Messianic Kingdom of Christ

Introduction

Theologians distinguish between God’s sovereign rule over the whole earth as king as abstracted from a particular historical context and Christ’s sovereign rule over a redeemed humanity and cosmos redemptive-historically. The former refers to God’s lordship over the world at all times and everywhere as the sovereign who possesses all authority and control. The latter refers to the incarnate manifestation of the messianic kingdom of Christ in time and space whereby Christ both secures and realizes his lordship redemptive-historically. In order to better understand the messianic, redemptive-historic kingdom of Christ, I explicate Charles Hodges’ doctrine below. Hodge was a systematic theologian at Princeton Seminary before its demise in succumbing to the sweeping tide of liberalism.  

The Old Testament Promise of the Messianic Kingdom

Promised in the Old Testament, the Kingdom of God, as a progressively inaugurated reality is a central theme in Biblical Theology. The center of that kingdom is Jesus Christ, the promised king. It was revealed that he would possess all dominion, authority, and power. Generating from the line of Solomon, and in accordance with that covenant given to Solomon, the Son is to be arrayed, finally, in all glory. His coming will be marked by judgment of all his enemies, the glorification of his church, and the consummation of his kingdom.

The Terminology Predicated of the Messianic Kingdom

This kingdom is revealed in the Scriptures through synonymous terms: the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, and the kingdom of the Son of man. Gloriously described, the biblical writers and prophets grasp at its meaning through language reminiscent of the paradisiacal state of man in Eden and the theocratic glory of Solomon in his time of blessing.

Theanthropos: The Lord of the Messianic Kingdom

The Lord and sovereign of this kingdom is the magnificent Christ – the God-man – who rules over his kingdom, not as the Logos (the second person of the Trinity considered before the incarnation), but in his Theanthropic state. The word “Theanthropic” is composed of two root words, Theos (meaning God), and anthropos (meaning man). Together constituted, Hodge refers to the magnificent reign of the Lord Jesus over the kingdom of God as the God-man.   

The Foundation of the Messianic Kingdom

The foundation of this kingdom is two-fold: (1) The infinite glory of the Son of God as God and (2) the redemption of Christ realized through the incarnation. Due to the Logos’ infinite condescension in the incarnation and his perfect obedience in life, God has given him a name which is above every name. The infinite worthiness of Christ is the basis of his infinite condescension (the greater the glory, the greater the humility). This worthiness in relation to his condescension, even unto death on the cross, is the two-fold basis which constitutes his worthiness. Due to his worthiness, and the actual accomplishment of redemption for his people, he is fit to attain a glorious exaltation. This exaltation consists in his resurrection, ascension, enthronement, intercession, and, ultimately, his second coming.  Hodge writes,

“It is because He being equal with God ‘humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross,’ that ‘God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (ST: Vol 3. 855).

Key Aspects of the Messianic Kingdom

Hodge describes this redemptive-historical kingdom as “being presented in different aspects in Scripture.” Referring to its extent over all creatures, Hodge refers to it as a “kingdom of power.”  Christ will deliver up to his father after finishing his present work of intercession (his work as a priest before God on the church’s behalf, always praying for them at the right hand of God, even now; 1 Cor 15:24). Referring to God’s people on Earth, the church militant, it is a kingdom characterized chiefly by grace. Hodge refers to Christ as the “absolute proprietor” and “sovereign.” “Proprietor” refers to an ultimate owner. For example, a sole owner of a local business would be its proprietor. “Sovereign”, on the other hand, is a title used in reference to a king. In this respect, Jesus is the Lord God almighty, reigning and ruling over his church as his kingdom even on earth. Finally, regarding the future consummation of that kingdom in the new heavens and earth, the kingdom is a kingdom of glory, an everlasting kingdom. Christ’s headship over his consummate kingdom will continue forever.

The Definitive Aspect of the Messianic Kingdom

Hodge affirms that, in a sense, God has always had a kingdom on earth. Yet, he distinguishes the general category of kingdom, which transcends all history, with the “messianic” kingdom of Christ. He believes the messianic aspect of this kingdom began at the incarnation of Christ. He bases this on our Lord’s own preaching of the kingdom in the Gospels (Luke 4:43, 8:1), Jesus’ own pronouncements that He is a king (John 18:37), and the apostolic proclamation consisting in the kingdom of God (Acts 23:23). Men are called to “seek the kingdom” as a present reality. For Hodge, those who receive Jesus truly constitute his earthly kingdom – those who profess allegiance to Christ as king constitute his visible church. Due to the present nature of the kingdom, Hodge pronounces a condemnation on modern eschatological systems denying Christ’s present reign. He states,

“Nothing, therefore, can be more opposed to the plain teaching of the New Testament, than that the kingdom of Christ is yet future and is not to be inaugurated until His second coming. This is to confound its consummation with its commencement.” (ST: Vol 3: 857)

The “Other-Worldly” Nature of the Messianic Kingdom

Central to biblical ethics is the notion of Hodge that this kingdom is essentially “other-worldly.” In other words, the kingdom differs substantially in the present age from the kingdoms of men. It is not a kingdom of earthly power, wealth, and success; rather, it is a kingdom consisting in righteousness, peace, and the Holy Spirit. The kingdom of God is primarily an internal reality which has external ramifications in the present age. For Hodge, the “conditions of admission” to this kingdom are regeneration (John 3:5), conversion (Matthew 18:3), and holiness of life (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10).

The Consummate Aspect of the Messianic Kingdom

This presently inaugurated messianic kingdom will ultimately be consummated by Christ at the end of the age. Those who are alive on the earth and believe in Jesus will be transformed into his image and likeness. Having beheld the glory of the Lord, they will be beatifically transformed into his image. Other joys the saints will experience in heaven include the manifestation of the glory and love of God, “the indefinite enlargement of their faculties” (their entire person will be made stronger), exemption from sin and sorrow, increase in their knowledge and love of God, and being in the presence of the brethren forever.

The Progressive Aspect of the Messianic Kingdom

In addition to the present/final aspects of the kingdom of God, Hodge teaches that there is a foretaste of the ultimate kingdom which is progressively realized through history. In an “already/but not yet” sort of fashion, the kingdom “gradually progresses” like a “grain of mustard-seed, which is indeed the least of all seeds; but when it is grown…is the greatest among herbs…” (ST Vol 3: 856). For Hodge, the inward grace of regeneration made manifest through the church’s proclamation of the Gospel has practical ramifications regarding the day-to-day experience and enlargement of the kingdom of God on earth.

Postmillennialism

In this vein, Hodge is what theologians refer to as “Post-Millennial.” This means he believes that the second coming of Christ will follow a “thousand year” golden age of Gospel/Moral triumph on earth preceding the second coming of the Messiah. Though many theologians disagree with Hodge as to his views of the millenium, it is hard to disagree exegetically with the overall optimism of his eschatology. The view that there is going to be a future epoch wherein God’s blessings are poured out to a remarkable extent is called “golden age” Postmillenialism (the golden age refers to that epoch of great blessedness). “Golden Age” Postmillenialism is distinguished from a generally optimistic “Postmillenialism” which maintains Hodge’s optimism and kingdom focus, but rejects the so-called “golden age.” In support of the latter view, I would contend that when our Lord and Master bids us to pray that his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven, he is not only referring to his ultimate consummate kingdom but also that the kingdom of heaven might be realized, progressively even now.

Conclusion

Hodges’ general eschatological thrust is that of glory regarding the kingdom in substance, righteousness regarding the kingdom morally, and hope regarding the kingdom in its progressively realized and ultimately consumated aspects. Hodge’s kingdom doctrine centers around the sovereign, definitively actualized, progressively realized, and ultimately consummated rule of Jesus Christ over all the world in power, his sheep in grace, and his heavenly delivered people in glory.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

  1. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology: Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, 2013.