Can Christians Trust their History?

Epistemology is the study of how we as human beings know and are justified in having certainty about what we know. One’s epistemology influences their philosophy of history. Given the skeptical stance many scholars and lay-people have regarding Scriptural history, especially Old Testament historiography, it is safe to say they have a particular view of epistemology which engenders this skepticism (Provan 37-40). My purpose here is to analyze Rene Descartes’ epistemology and its impact on history. Before I proceed in that manner, a brief statement of how history is known with certainty is provided.

Philosophy of History: Distinguishing Historiography and Archaeology

The science of understanding and discovering what occurred historically is called historiography; simply stated, historiography is the study of historical writings in order to reconstruct the past. While some have sought to place a heavier emphasis on studying archaeological evidence to reconstruct history, the majority of one’s understanding of history must come from historiography (Provan 7-8). Archaeology should be utilized to verify the text, document, or stone tablet being examined; however, those studying history will not know the significance of such artifacts unless they have been recorded in a historical document. In essence, archaeology is fact without contextual interpretation. Written texts interpret the significance of archaeological facts. An example would be if someone were to find, years after I am dead, my wedding band, the person would be able to identify it is a wedding band, but the only way they would know if the band belonged to me is through a document which stated so or if my name was engraved on the inside of the band. Otherwise, without any written information as to who it belonged to, the person discovered a wedding band with no knowledge of the one who possessed it. Archaeology tells us about certain facts; historiography tells us what those facts meant to those persons engaged with them.

Cartesian Epistemology Stated

Rene Descartes (1596-1650) developed an epistemology and a method of epistemology which has influenced the study of history for the worst. Descartes’ most quoted saying, “I think therefore I am,” provides insight into the substratum of his thought. The epistemology of Descartes begins with the rational powers of one’s own thinking self. A reliance on testimony and information given through others is not the starting point of his philosophy. The aforementioned quotation, when unpacked in its full context, is saying one can have the indubitable certainty that they possess a mind and the ability to think. Descartes’ point of departure is the self as a thinking thing. He begins, certainly, with the self alone. The subject, therefore, can know, with epistemic certainty, that they exist in some form because they think (Stumpf 250-251).

However, at this point in Descartes’ meditation, it is impossible to know with certainty whether or not one has a body and whether or not the external world exists. For Descartes, the way one comes to a knowledge of the physical is through first acquiring a self-knowledge through cognitive abilities; in other words, the first step to knowing the existence of everything else is to know I, as a thinking being, exist. First, he establishes the indubitable: himself as a thinking thing. The second step then is to determine whether God exists. If God exists and He is good, then He is not deceiving me about the external world. Descartes explicates his own ontological argument which states that a finite, imperfect being cannot conceive of an infinite, perfect being on its own; therefore, there is an infinite being who is God (Stumpf 251-252). As one can see, Descartes was concerned only with a certainty of knowledge which stems from one’s self; given his concern, Descartes view of history was not particularly high, “Because historians employed observation and interpretation rather than logic and mathematics, the seventeenth-century philosopher Descartes, who rooted his thinking in self-evident axioms, proceeding to trustworthy knowledge and certainty by way of deductive reasoning and mathematical method, likewise did not think highly of history” (Provan, Long, Longman III, 20). 

Cartesian Influence Upon Old Testament Historiography

At this point, the question must be raised, how does Cartesian Epistemology influence the study of historiography? More particularly, how does Descartes’ epistemology affect the study of Old Testament history? For Descartes, knowledge begins with the ability to know with certainty via self-realization or self-awareness in the process of systemic doubt. In essence, the result of his epistemology regarding the study of history is that everything must be held accountable to the indubitable individual and his reason. The result of such a system is a form of history which is only somewhat knowable – it is, essentially, a radically dubitable history. What is meant by this, is that the history can only be known through what actual, reasonable, scientific facts present themselves. In other words, what science can confirm as true, as a universal axiom based upon one’s own reason (Provan, Long, Longman III, 45-48).

The notion of, “I think therefore I am,” while it holds some truth, cannot be that which governs the study of history because it results in an extreme skepticism of external sources. The result is that history, as an inquiry, would be void of any deliverance. The problem here is that history requires testimony, which is not subject to the standards of autonomous reason alone. While there are objective standards which can be held, such as multiple eyewitness accounts and the support of archaeological evidence (Provan, Long, Longman III 25-27), historiography is ultimately a matter of testimony and written accounts which provide insight into historical events.

Take the following example: Surely most people have experienced rummaging through old photos of their parents, grandparents, or some loved one. When this experience occurs, there are usually two scenarios which arise: 1) the photograph one is looking at has the name of those involved in the photo, the date of its taking, and the location in which it was taken, or 2) the photo does not provide this information, and the person inevitably asks their parent or grandparent about the history of the photo. Even in scenario 1, usually, a conversation is still struck in regards to the photo taken. The objective standard would be what can be reasonably known about the photo; for instance, if it is a photograph of one’s uncle, it would be unreasonable to say the photo is of their aunt. However, the testimony of the uncle is needed to understand the history of the photo; the person looking at said photo cannot reconstruct an accurate history unless they were there themselves. And even if they were there, their perspective of the situation may be different then the uncle’s, and they may remember details the uncle forget or vice versa. Ultimately, the one looking at the photo will need to trust the testimony of the person in the photo to know what history occurred surrounding the photograph.

The way in which this form of epistemology influences OT history, and the history of ancient Israel, is by seeking to deny significant events within the OT due to the seeming absurdity of them or lack of archaeological or extra-biblical evidence. An example of this would be the skepticism as to the actual historicity of the patriarchal era by scholars due to a lack of archaeological evidence. In essence, because there seems to be no extra-biblical evidence of the existence of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, then a disbelief of their existence is in order. This is based upon a presupposition of the Bible as a non-historical book or a semi-historical book and an epistemology which states that nothing that can be assuredly known can come from the testimonies of others. Even those scholars who would consent to the context and cultural surroundings of the patriarchal era being accurately portrayed by the Biblical text, they would argue this is only partial history and the Biblical text does not accurately and completely portray a true and pure history (Hamilton, 84).

Take this quote for example: “Admittedly, the biblical story about Jacob and Joseph contains elements of folklore. It was intended to be an interesting and edifying story, rather than a straight biographical account… Nevertheless, the biblical account is more than fiction. In its broad outline, as well as many of its details, it agrees with the historical setting of the second millennium B.C” (Anderson, 30). The question which arises is why, if the account fits the historical context, is the biblical narrative contained with folklore. Additionally, why is the biblical narrative an edifying story? When one encounters the biblical narrative of Jacob and Joseph in the Biblical text, the story is presented to the reader as an actual historical event. So, why deny the testimony of the narrative about itself? All the evidence points to the account being historical, but those with a purely scientific, rationalist, skeptic method will not concede to the evidence of the text’s full historicity. Not only does the historical context and the text itself appeal to the accounts historicity, but there are a people who have been around for centuries— the Jews—  who testify to the account. To deny the biblical narrative is to deny the history of the Jews and to deny the history of Christ.

The Christian Response: On Behalf of Testimony

The issue with Cartesian Epistemology for the study of history and historiography lies within the starting point of knowledge. If the starting point is me as a thinking being, the result is two-fold: 1) If I must predicate knowledge upon knowing myself as a thinking person, how am I able to come to a  knowledge of myself? The answer is simple: It is through the testimony of others. How do I know my name? It is through the testimony of my parents who named me. How do I know a language? It is through the testimony of another explaining to me the language. How do I know mathematics? It is through a teacher testifying to the principles of math. Even though I am capable of knowing I am a thinking being, I am still incapable to know who I am without a higher, more objective standard governing me. 2) This results in a skepticism in all that is external to me as a thinking being; for, I cannot be certain of anything unless it rests within myself as the thinking subject.

In regards to the first issue which arises, no one is truly the starting point for their knowledge. In some form, all men gain epistemological certainty from the testimony of others. The only one who is His own self-sufficient starting point is God. Therefore, one must be an infinite being if they are to have epistemological certainty which is rooted in themselves. For, a finite being cannot manifest this form of epistemological certainty— God is the only one who is able to do so.

See, Descartes’ epistemology is backward; a certainty of knowledge does not come from establishing one’s own existence and working up to God’s, but a certainty of knowledge comes from knowing God and working one’s way down to themselves. In essence, the Christian is able to have epistemological certainty of the history of the Old Testament, of God’s creation, of God’s goodness, and of himself because God is the only being who is able to have certainty of knowledge within himself. God is the one who defines who we are (Gen.1:27), he is the one who ordered the created universe (Gen. 1:1), and he is the one who governs history. Our certainty of the scriptures as a historically reliable text is due to God’s governance over his redemptive plan in Christ, and his desire to communicate the history and development of the aforementioned plan to his people; as well as the reality that the Biblical texts have proven to be historically accurate, even though there are certain areas of uncertainty.

________________________________________________________________

Bernhard W. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966)

Iain Provan, V. Philips Long, and Tremper Longman III, A Biblical History of Israel, 2nd ed. (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015),37-40.

Samuel Enoch Stumpf, Socrates to Sartre: a history of philosophy., 2d ed. (New York,: McGraw-Hill, 1975)

Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook On the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2005)

 

Mice, Mariners, and Mountains: C.S. Lewis and the End Times

Visions of the Eschaton in the Fictional Works of C.S. Lewis

The writings of C.S. Lewis have been treasured by Christians all around the world for more than half a century; and yet, the reason as to why this Oxford don experienced such prolific rise in popularity is not immediately clear. He was not a known as a great exegete of scripture who unfolded the obscurities and mysteries of scripture for God’s people. He wasn’t a well-known preacher who stormed across country-sides, winning innumerable souls to Christ. Nor is he remembered as great theologian, someone who extolled the richness of Christian doctrine for all to bask in. By his own estimation, in fact, Lewis said of himself, “I am a layman, indeed the most lay of layman, and least skilled in the deeper questions of sacred theology.” Albert Mohler even remarked once that the theology of C.S. Lewis “at several points, simply is not trustworthy.” In spite of these assessments however, many great expositors, preachers, and theologians claim that Lewis was one of the seminal influences on their intellectual development and theological understandings (John Piper, Douglas Wilson, Sam Storms, Randy Alcorn, Alister McGrath, J.I. Packer just to name a few). Besides the well-known names of contemporary Christianity, many conservative evangelicals have claimed that the writings of this, at times, liberal and ecumenical Anglican were instrumental in bringing them to faith in Christ—I include myself in this aggregate. What are we to make of all this? What is it about Lewis that Christians, and evangelicals in particular, seem to find so alluring? And why should fundamentalists or especially people in the reformed community—who are typically, and rightly, wary of anything that smells like liberal theology or ecumenism—grant Lewis such a pardon and count him among their ranks? The simplest answer I can give to this question is that evangelicals are willing to forgive Lewis for what he got wrong, because of the extraordinary and wondrous manner in which he expressed what he got right.

One way I think it is helpful to think of C.S. Lewis is that he is more like a painter than a theologian. When I look at Rembrandt’s mesmerizing painting The Prodigal Son, I don’t focus on the historical anachronisms, the misplaced ethnic identities, or the fact that his painting hasn’t captured the nuance of every theological truth contained in Jesus’ original parable. Instead, I see that the painter has focused in on one singular glorious truth and portrayed it in a new way so that I would be moved by it. I can almost feel the arms of the Father wrapping themselves around me, I identify with the one-shoed son who sinks in front of his Father, desperate to be restored. This is what Lewis does for me in his fictional writings especially. When Lucy Pevensie asks whether Aslan, a lion, is “quite safe?” and Mr. Beaver replies “course he isn’t safe, but he’s good!” I don’t focus on the fact that Jesus doesn’t have fur or a tail, but that his power and goodness perfectly coalesce such that I should fear, love, and trust him. When Aslan lays down his life to save Edmund from the Queen, I don’t focus on the fact that Lewis pictured a form of redemption that was closer to ransom theory than penal-substitutionary atonement, I rather think of the Powerful Jesus who didn’t have to lay down his life, the Jesus who could’ve slain all his foes, but instead, surrendered his power and went to the cross like a lamb instead of a lion, and that he did it for me. Lewis’s fictional works are filled with glorious paintings like this. Paintings that call us to wonder and gaze at the truth being communicated and not the tertiary subtleties that have not been captured perfectly. Finally, these considerations bring us to what I think may be one of C.S. Lewis’s most wonderful portraits, namely: the way his fictional works envision the eschaton. . Let’s gaze at this painting for a while and see if we aren’t moved by the brushstrokes of his pen.

The Great Divorce

The Great Divorce is an allegorical story in which Lewis depicts certain truths about Heaven and Hell. It is not a story about what he thought Heaven and Hell are actually like; but rather, one in which particular glories regarding Heaven, and particular miseries regarding hell are highlighted for the reader’s consideration. The story opens with the main character, who is never identified or named, walking the streets of Greytown. As he walks through the dismal, monochromatic streets he is “always in the rain” and “always in twilight.” The shops he passes by are “dingy houses, small tobacconists…and bookshops of the sort that sell The Works of Aristotle. The people he encounters in this place are quarrelsome and easily disgruntled. Everyone in this place seems to be so bothered by other people and so pleased with themselves that they really have no ability, or more accurately no desire, for relationships at all. This place is meant to depict some of the horrible realities of hell. People seem to continue their lives much in the same fashion as they had on Earth, yet, they live in such a way that is totally devoid of hope, joy, love, or God. God has left everyone here to their fate; they have become gods in their own eyes, but they have no power to see what miserable deities they really make now that the true God has removed himself from their lives. Eventually, the main character stumbles into a queue to board a bus, “a wonderful vehicle, blazing with golden light, heraldically colored.” The driver of this bus is himself “full of light” and cheerful in his demeanor—a quality that the cranky residents of Greytown find annoying. As they board and depart, they have no idea that this bus ride will actually transport them new a place of vibrant color and glorious beauty—Heaven.

A Bus Ride to Heaven

The first thing our passenger from Greytown hears as the doors of the bus to Heaven open is “the singing of a lark.” When he exists and gazes upon this new place for the first time he feels “a light…coolness that drenched me…like those of summer morning.” He looks around at the landscape and observes that “I had the sense of being in a larger space…as if the skies were further off…and the green plain wider than they could be on this little ball of Earth.” His experience of the immensity of this “new Earth” was such that “The Solar System seemed to be an indoor affair.” Remembering that our character is, after all, a resident of Greytown, he says that he doesn’t feel very safe in this new place. He feels exposed, this place seems dangerous, and he has a sneaking suspicion that something ill will befall him. Still, he continues to explore. He notices that he and the other passengers appear to be as translucent as “ghosts” when compared to the vivid landscape. His body is not really different than it had been on Earth, instead, it seems to be that the sheer color and vibrancy of this place makes his body appear opaque. The trees, the land, the grass “appear much solider than things in our country [so] that men were ghosts by comparison.” He bends down and tries to pluck a daisy, but finds the flower to be hard like a diamond and he hurts himself trying to wrench it free of the earth. As he walks on the grass, he notices that it is almost cutting his feet. He clearly was not made to endure this place. This grey man, this man who forgot joy or hope, who has been condemned to the miseries of his own heart cannot seem to be at home in this strange place. But alas, the glory of the countryside is nothing compared to the glory of the people who inhabit it. He sees the inhabitants from a long way off, but in spite of their distance, they were radiant. As they approach, “The Earth shook under their tread as their strong feet sank into the wet turf.” These people are as glorious as the place they live and more glorious still. They were clearly made or prepared to be here in a way that he was not. These glorious people begin to interact with the “ghostly people” from Greytown. One of the luminous beings walk up to a grey man that he knew on Earth. The grey man becomes indignant because the luminous man was a murderer in his previous life when he last knew him. “Aren’t you ashamed?!” he cries. The luminous man smiles and replies “No, not as you mean. I do not look at myself. I have given up myself.” Of course, what he means is that his sin caused him to repent and look to God in his former life, and he is still looking at God even in his glorious state. This is especially interesting since the grey man is far less beautiful than his friend now is, and yet, the grey man is only satisfied to continuously gaze upon his own ugliness. At one point, Lewis alludes to the verse in Revelation where the author says “the smoke of hell goes up forever in the sight of the saints” What he means is that the “saints” of Lewis’ Heaven feel immense pity for the residents of Greytown who cannot, will not see the beauty of this glorious place. It’s this refusal to see beyond themselves and behold the beauty of God that leads Lewis to say in another place, that “the gates of hell are locked from the inside.”

The Pursuit of God

Much more could be said about the interactions between the characters from Greytown and the residents of Heaven. However, that is not what I want to consider here. Further on into the story, the main character encounters George MacDonald, his favorite childhood author, who is there to help him understand all that he is seeing. Their conversation turns at one point to the range of mountains that loom large in the background of the landscape. The man from Greytown asks about them and MacDonald tells him that “Everyone of us (the redeemed) lives only to journey further and further into these mountains.” As real, as glorious, as colorful, and as vivid as this place that the man from Greytown is now in, the mountains only get more real, more glorious, and more intensely vivid as you travel into them. The joy of the saints is depicted as a barefooted sprint into the glorious presence of God, and with every step, that glory intensifies. This, for Lewis, is the aim of eternity. To run headlong into God’s glory, forever seeking to enjoy his presence more and more. The run never ends. The journey is never over for the saint. There is always more of God to be had, however intense the present weight of his glory is, that weight will increase all the more as the trek continues. This brings us to another story that Lewis wrote concerning this theme: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the fifth installment in The Chronicles of Narnia. It’s a maritime adventure filled with swashbuckling, sea-monsters, buried treasure, and even dragons. However, as the story comes to a close, the heroes find themselves sailing through placid, crystal-blue waters. The calamities have all passed away and the passengers of the Dawn Treader find themselves beholding a glorious horizon: Aslan’s Country. The further they sail towards “the end of the world” they begin to notice lilies floating on top of the deep water, they can see the first peaks of the mountains of Aslan’s realm, and they start to feel peculiar. They notice that their desire for food diminishes, the sailors are talking less and less, and people merely stand aboard the deck on gaze off into the distance. Lewis tells us that, “Every day the light became more brilliant and still they could bear it.” Prince Caspian declares that “I feel that I can’t stand much more of this, yet I don’t want it to stop.” The reason for all this is that the passengers are feeling the effects of the glory of “Aslan’s Country”, and the joy they experience and the glory they feel only becomes more intense as they sail onward. Eventually, the crew can go no further and four passengers, Lucy, Edmund, Eustace, and Reepicheep board a small vessel in order to continue on alone. The serenity of the voyage continues to increase until, at last, they come ashore on a white, sandy beach. The entrance to Aslan’s Country is blocked by a towering tidal wave that continuously rolls, yet never moves. Suddenly, Reepicheep—a mouse who dresses and talks after the fashion of a musketeer—leaps from the boat, plunges his rapier (sword) into the sand and declares “I shall need it no more!” He then proceeds to ascend the wave and enter the eternal home of Aslan where he will run forever, deeper and deeper into the mountains. One of the grandest allusions to Jesus in The Chronicles of Narnia immediately follows this scene, and I recommend that you read the story for yourself, however it does not directly pertain to what I want to focus on here. Instead, I want to draw attention to the fact that Lewis depicts Aslan’s Country, or Heaven, in a very similar fashion as he he did in The Great Divorce. In addition, Lewis cultivates in his reader’s mind the notion that the glory of Heaven is something that the saint must be prepared for while on Earth. The journey to Aslan’s home was purposefully slow; the crew members of the Dawn Treader had to grow more and more accustomed to the wonderful things that they were experiencing. By the time the protagonists reach the “celestial shores”, they crave nothing else besides Aslan himself. Their joy of Aslan’s glory was so wonderful that it eventually and finally vanquished all other desires in the souls of the crew members by the time they make landfall. This is a wonderous comparison for the believer’s journey toward Christ. The Joy of walking with the savior makes war on all our idolatrous passions throughout the course of our lives until at last, he wins. By the time we reach the shores of Heaven, we are finally ready to mimic Reepicheep by plunging the swords of our former lives into the sand, and venture forth to chase the presence of God for all time.

A Few final Thoughts

Everyone wonders about the afterlife. We eagerly anticipate what glorious raptures await the saints in Heaven, and we shudder to think of what horrors await the unrepentant in Hell. We imagine that Heaven will be a place of reunion, of fun, of activity; while imagining that Hell is a place primarily of physical torment—and these things may very well be true. Yet, the genius of Lewis is to remove all of the “extracurriculars” from our visions of Heaven and Hell, and to help us imagine them in a different way. With Hell, Lewis seems to be aware that people consider fire and torture to be the primary reason for the misery of those who are confined there, and yet, Lewis seems to suggest that this is not the case. He tells us a story about people who are prisoners of their own device, people who cannot seem to get past themselves and see the glory of God for what it is, and most importantly, he tells us that the journey into eternity is the climax of a journey they started in life. He expresses it beautifully when he says in The Great Divorce, “There are only two kinds of people: Those who say to God ‘thy will be done’ and those to whom God says ‘thy will be done’.” Do you see? The real punishment in Hell for Lewis is not the physical pain, rather, it’s the torture of the soul who will forever attempt to be the source of their own joy only to repeatedly find that they cannot. Similarly, Heaven is the result of a journey that we start here. We fall in love with God here, we desire him here, we know him here. It serves to reason then, that the real glories of Heaven will not be barbecues with Friends and Family or pursuing our favorite weekend hobby, but loving, enjoying, and knowing God more and more on into eternity. This is not just Lewis’ vision, but I believe it’s the vision of scripture. The Bible tells us that “22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” The reward of Heaven is nothing less than experiencing the glory of God as it washes over his people and his world. Everything will be made new, everything will be restored, and everything will reflect God’s glory. It’s a world that Lewis helps me to yearn for, and I hope it’s helped you too.

 

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.

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