Already and Not-Yet – an Excerpt from Practicing Christian Doctrine

The following is an excerpt from Practicing Christian Doctrine, by Beth Felker Jones.

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Christian eschatology is about the future, but it is also about the present. The practice of eschatology is not only something removed from us, far away in time. The kingdom of God is a future that we long for, but it is also already breaking into the world.

This double aspect of eschatology is widely recognized by biblical scholars and theologians, who sometimes talk about it as an eschatological tension between the already and the not-yet.

Cover ArtThe “already” of eschatology is the present-tense reality that began with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and continues right up to the present moment. The “not-yet” of eschatology is the future-tense reality of the kingdom come in fullness, visibility, and power.

The whole of Christian life and doctrine is practiced in this tension, between the already and the not-yet of the kingdom. In that tension, we have the present-tense mission of proclaiming the “good news of the kingdom,” making Christ known “throughout the world,” as we look forward to the day when “the end will come” (Matt. 24:14). We live and work between the first and second comings of Christ, between the manger in Bethlehem and the marriage feast of the New Jerusalem.

….When eschatology neglects that future, we are opened to the danger of equating the church with the kingdom and to the pitfalls of hubris, overconfidence, and confusing human achievement, pride, and power with holiness. When eschatology loses sight of the future, we are vulnerable to one more version of works righteousness, succumbing to the false belief that it is our job to make the kingdom happen. We may be deceived into trading the kingdom of grace for the kingdoms of this world, or we may end in despair when our human efforts at kingdom building fall short.

Paul, knowing that the fullness of hope is yet to come, thus practices an eschatological reservation, acting in the knowledge that something is always reserved for the not-yet. The eschatological reservation trains us in a posture of present humility, humility required by our confidence in the future.

©2014 by Beth Felker Jones. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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