George Eldon Ladd's book The Presence of the Future is one of those landmark theological books that send shockwaves throughout Christendom. This is neither an overstatement nor the ramblings of a lunatic fan – it is exactly what happened in the mid-1960s when the book was released under the title Jesus and the Kingdom (the title was changed in 1974 when the "Revised Edition" was released).
So what is so "shocking" about Ladd's book?
Well to understand that you have to first take a step back and look at history of theology up to the 1960s.
Beginning in the early 18th century, scholars and theologians started to interpret the Bible as a historical document rather then the "word of God". This led many folks to discount the miracles, signs and wonders described in the Gospels as fictional stories added to the documents to help boost the early church's claims. [@more@]
Albert Schweitzer was a key player in this quest for the "historical Jesus" studying the Jewish writings, culture and religion of the inter-testamental period. Unfortunately, Schweitzer did not stop there – instead he proposed the concept that Jesus did not recognize himself as "God" but that he knew that he was just a human following the direction of the Lord.
The result of this "human" or historical Jesus concept is that the eschatological message of the kingdom of God that Jesus was proclaiming was false. Instead the only "good" parts of the Gospels where the social ethics promoted by Jesus (see my earlier book review on Schweitzer's Kingdom of God and Primitive Christianity).
- Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement tended to focus on the victory passages of the Bible saying that the kingdom of God had come among man and that followers of Jesus could enjoy the fullness of life (ie. a realized eschatology).
- Evangelicalism went the other route and focused on the spiritual nature of Jesus' message claiming that the kingdom of God was yet to come (ie. a delayed eschatology).
Enter George Ladd.
As the professor of New Testament exegesis and theology of Fuller Theological Seminary, Ladd was able to study the life and ministry of Jesus through the lens of both the quest for the historical Jesus and the conservative fundamental view. In other words, he studied ministry of Jesus Christ through the context of first century Judaism while maintaining the inerrancy of the Bible.
The result of this study was became known as "inaugurated eschatology" – or as Ladd puts it in The Presence of the Future:
The Kingdom of God is the redemptive reign of God dynamically active to establish his rule among men, and that this Kingdom, which will appear as an apocalyptic act at the end of the age, has already come into human history in the person and mission of Jesus to overcome evil, to deliver men from its power, and to bring them into the blessings of God's reign.
The Kingdom of God involves two great moments: fulfillment within history, and consummation at the end of history.
The impact of such a statement echoed throughout Christendom to the point that the majority of Bible scholars across all movements today tend to agree with Ladd's "inaugurated eschatology". Examples of such scholars include N.T. Wright, C.H. Dodd, and Gordon D. Fee.
You might have noticed that I used the phrase "tend to agree" when mentioning other scholars. The reason for that phrase is that while a lot of scholars agree with the concept of inaugurated eschatology, they don't apply it in practice.
To my knowledge, which I will grant is limited; there are only two movements that make inaugurated eschatology the PRIMARY focus of BOTH their theology and practice. These two movements are the Vineyard and the New Wine Movement within the Anglican Church in the UK.
Remember yesterday when I referenced the "eschatological Jesus" – well, this is what I was referring too. The Jesus who ushered in the Age to Come through his life and ministry; yet who also told informed us that the Age to Come is yet to come.
The Kingdom of God is here, coming; delayed and near – all at the same time. We live between the times in an eschatological tension.