25 June 2014

Temporal Conditionality and Typology vis-à-vis Eternal Reality

We read in 1 Kings 2.4
'If your sons take heed to their way, to walk before Me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul,' He said, 'you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.'
The Davidic promise is two-fold. It contains both a temporal/provisional aspect which is typological and an eternal/unconditional aspect which is the reality.
The much reiterated promise made to David in 2 Samuel 7.12 dealt with his earthly line and descendants, which ultimately included Jesus Christ himself. But it also referred to the Resurrection and Ascension, namely the reality of the Eternal Kingdom, the True Israel founded by the True David and one that unlike its earthly type would not be provisional and would not fail.
Peter makes this clear in Acts 2.30-36
He refers to the promise and said it referred specifically to Christ. Jesus is the Davidic King. I don't think anyone disputes that.
But many believe his Kingship is not currently in effect. This is because they still believe the New Testament concept of the Kingdom is tied to the earthly Jerusalem and based on a misinterpretation of Apocalyptic symbolism, a literal and physical 1000 year reign.
On the contrary Peter argues the promise of Davidic Kingship was fulfilled in his day. The Resurrection and Ascension lead to the fulfillment of the promise when Christ the Davidic King sat down on the throne in heaven (v33).
The Son cannot be seated above the Father but has been exalted to sit at the right hand of the Father. That arrangement stretches and strains the economic ordering of the Trinity. The Son is almost equal to the Father but of course in another sense the Son is certainly equally to the Father. The imagery would also be familiar to contemporary readers. The right hand of the throne was a place of honour and distinction reserved for a prince ruling as co-regent.
He then invokes Psalm 110 which also invokes the imagery of the Davidic King...once again in heaven. The Kingdom was fully established (Already) with Ascension and Enthronement of Christ.
It could be said that at that very moment Christ should have returned as Judge and Avenger, but he didn't. Why?   
As I've explained before, God sometimes institutes what we might call Eschatological Delay.
When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, by all rights death and the end of the world should have come upon them. God instead promises the Seed of the Woman would defeat the Serpent. And instead of instant physical death, Adam and Eve are allowed to live for many centuries.
The Curse stands. The promise of Judgment stands. But there's mercy and thus a delay in its execution.
Again by way of comparison, when Christ ascended and was enthroned, by all rights he should have returned to bring wrath and judgment upon the earth and the New Heavens and Earth should have been brought to fruition. This earth and all of its works should have burned and the Great White Throne Judgment should have occurred.
Peter in his second epistle tells us that God is longsuffering. Another example of delay would be the period wherein the Ark was being built. The Judgment had been made, but God was being merciful and delaying the execution of that Judgment. Or again think of the exile. It was already promised to Hezekiah but there was a delay.
At present we're awaiting the return of Christ. He could come at any moment and this reality has been true since the 1st century. Many verses have been misread and misunderstood and have led many to believe that he couldn't return until this or that time, in many cases until fairly recently.
Christ will come soon. It's just that soon doesn't mean the same to God as it does to us.
Though difficult to grasp, it could be argued the New Heavens and Earth are already in existence and in a sense though it transcends our empirical experience, through union with Christ, we are already present in the Heavenly Realm, the Holy Zion.
This issue regarding the Davidic Covenant is yet another example of the dialectical or dynamic tension that is often present in Scripture. The categories defy our attempts at reconciliation. What might be true in terms of the shadowy symbol is not always absolutely true with regard to the eternal reality.
It comes across to the logician's ears as a contradiction. Is the Davidic Covenant provisional? Yes and no.
Unbreakable and Eternal? Yes and no.
In terms of temporality, the promise was provisional. The earthly kingdom failed and was removed. This happened with the division of the kingdom into Israel and Judah, followed by captivity and exile and its abrogation was finalized by the destruction of the Temple in AD70.
Interestingly even some Jews acknowledge that only God Himself can covenantally reinstate what we as Christians would call the physical or Old Covenant Israel. He has not done so and based on what the New Testament teaches will not do so.
The Zionist state founded in 1948 is a-covenantal and in no way a fulfillment of prophecy nor does it represent a reactivation of the Old Covenant or even a preparation for it.
I commonly read that many in the early Church and particularly Augustine of Hippo did much to introduce Platonism into the Church. While the early Church Fathers are certainly not above criticism I don't think this is a completely fair charge.
Augustine was a great man both in his intellect and wisdom and in his error. He was human and flawed but in many ways profound and certainly one who sought to honour God even if he was sometimes misguided.
But what I cannot accept is that his categories were just simply an introduction of Neo-Platonism into the Church. That's a reductionist assessment and interpretation of not only his thought but frankly the categories provided by Scripture.
It is true that Platonic Philosophy, particularly with regard to the Forms allows for distinctions to be made that seem prima facie contradictory and certainly unverifiable when subjected to Empiricist criteria. It could also allow for modes of thought that would seem to be subtle, difficult and nebulous or even at times somewhat mysterious.
But I would argue when Scripture presents similar categories, this isn't Neo-Platonism. This is simply Apostolic Theology. That's not to say they were Platonists. Far from it. Perhaps it might be said that in some ways Plato approached mental categories that were conceptually closer to Christian doctrinal frameworks than certain other philosophers such as Aristotle.
A familiarity with these concepts might have helped theologians such as Augustine to express theology in linguistic and conceptual terms and categories that people could understand.
This does not necessarily mean they were introducing Platonism. It's simply making use of the vocabulary that was available. There's certainly a danger in that as there is with all analogies.
If that's Platonism then Peter and Paul were also Platonists and certainly so was the author of Hebrews.
Many Baptists have attacked Augustine for his doctrine which allows a distinction between the Invisible and Visible Church.
More often than not it is clear the critic has not properly understood the nature of the doctrine.
And certainly I would agree the doctrine is subject to abuse and undue emphasis to the exclusion of other teachings. This is true with all doctrines. This is a common fruit of attempts at creating coherent rationalistic systems of thought rather than build a body of doctrine that is correspondent to and reflective of revelation.
But just because the doctrine was abused by its synthesis with Sacral Christendom does not negate the concept, nor is it acceptable to simply pin the misunderstanding on some kind of Platonist syncretism.
Paul himself declared in Romans 9 that not all who are of Israel are of Israel. He's speaking in terms of particular and universal, a temporal manifestation versus eternal form or reality. This sounds like Platonism but is not. Rather it is temporality and form being compared and contrasted with eternal substance.
But again a person familiar with Platonic categories will probably and more readily be able to grasp the truth. And it is clear (at least to me) that those who utterly reject the Scriptural Dialectic are just as committed to Aristotelian modes of thought that place reality solely in the temporal and visible.
Though not a few would find the mere suggestion to be irksome and offensive, I posit that Aristotle syncretised with Biblical Theology has led to a host of bad theologies from Scholasticism to Baptistic theology to Hyper-Calvinism to Theological Liberalism.
It is no wonder that not a few of the Early Apologists believed (rightly or wrongly) that the pagan philosophers had in the past appropriated truths from the Old Covenant people and merely distorted them.
As much as I might greatly appreciate the criticisms of someone like John Yoder with regard to Christendom, his criticisms of Augustine and the Reformers at times are woefully misguided. The problem was not baptized Neo-Platonism but rather another pagan philosophy rightly identified by Leonard Verduin... the dangerous and destructive heresy of Sacralism.
By viewing society as a Corpus Christianum, a Christian body or society a number of categories were introduced which came to abuse actual Biblical frameworks.
I would strenuously argue this also occurs any time a denominational framework is added on to the Scriptural polity. It creates additional tiers and covenantal structures that are extra-Scriptural and consequently (even if unintentionally) distort the inspired teaching.
These tensions, which we can clearly see in the various Covenant arrangements, are essential to understanding Scripture. We will misunderstand the doctrines otherwise and in every case fall into reductionism and distortion.
I think it could be argued the modern mind has been shaped by various Enlightenment ideologies but for many, Empiricism with its understanding of logic, rationality and coherence have greatly hindered modern man's ability to grasp the Biblical categories.
The Scriptures themselves teach us a form of internal and Subordinate Logic. The Scriptures are not bits of atomized data that we study and assemble into frameworks that our minds can interact with and comprehend.
It is revelation from God that we are to submit to, even if its categories transcend and even defy our perceptive limitations.
When read rightly the Scriptures open to us a metaphysical realism, a spiritual world that we cannot interact with apart from the help and guidance of divine revelation.
But we must also be careful that we don't fall into another trap of Platonic deduction wherein we grasp forms or key doctrinal ideas and treating them in an a priori fashion, we autonomously work out elaborate deductive schemes.

Our doctrine must operate within the categories we are given. This does not disallow the introduction of theological terminology but it does limit the concepts to revelatory dependence, not philosophical speculation.