The Rejection of Errors (2): The Antithesis and Eschatology

In the first post in this series I connected the Rejection of Errors adopted at the Synod of Dort (1619) with the Reformed doctrine of “antithesis” between belief and unbelief. To put that doctrine in some context I offered a brief overview of the fate of the antithesis and attempts at synthesis between historic Christianity and various compromises. At the end I suggested that there’s a connection between the way one relates to the antithesis and one’s eschatology and here I intend to flesh that out a little.

Embedded in the antithesis, as I understand it, is a tension between eschaton and everything else. As those united, by the Spirit, through faith, to the ascended Christ, we participate in the eschaton (heaven) and in the eschatological (consummate) age now even though we are not there yet. We participate in that place and time proleptically by our union with Christ and by the present, ongoing work of the Spirit who has made us alive in Christ, who feeds us with the body of Christ and who unites us believers all together into his body. When we gather on the Sabbath we are called out of this age and into the age to come. Heaven opens, as it were, and we are lifted up into the heavenly courts. We come before the face of the living God.

Where we live now is not the eschaton. That fact that there are ways in which we participate in the eschaton but there are ways in which we do not and cannot now participate in that place and age, means that we live in tension between two worlds. I think there is a connection between how one relates to the antithesis between “the world” and “Christ” or between this age and the age to come, is reflected in one’s eschatology. If one thinks that tension will be resolved before Christ returns, either in a literal millennial golden age or in a metaphorical but earthly (post) millennial golden age where we experience eschatological life prior to the return of Christ, not just in the means of grace and in the church, but in civil/common life, then one has attempted to resolve the antithesis too soon. Any attempt to resolve the antithesis too soon is an over-realized eschatology.

That’s why the theonomists tend to be post-millennial. They have a plan for getting to and administering the earthly golden age (despite the warning of the Second Helvetic Confession about not seeking a “Jewish golden age”) before or in anticipation of Christ’s return. Many of those who have swelled the ranks of the theonomic movement since the 50s were converts from pre-millennialism. They simply transposed their hermeneutic and eschatology to another form of chiliasm. G. Vos says that somewhere and he’s exactly right. That golden-age vision fuels the “Christian America” theocratic cultural and political program. That’s why ostensible rapture-seeking, Tim LaHaye-reading pre-mil folks act like post-mil folks, because its all really the same thing with a different arrangement. They’re all golden-agers. This isn’t new. Most Reformed folk were theocrats in the classical period and many of them also flipped from one form of chiliasm to another.

The eschatological corollary to antithesis is the theology of the cross. We don’t live yet in the age to come. We are citizens of the heavenly kingdom but we are pilgrims on the way to the heavenly city. We get glimpses of eschatological life. We “taste of the powers of the age to come” in the Holy Supper and in the preaching of the gospel. We have a foretaste in sweet fellowship with our brothers and sisters but always it is interrupted. The visible church, in this life, is mixed with elect and reprobate. There is church discipline yet. Sins continues to claim its willing victims. For those in Christ, the sting of death has been removed but death has not. The guilt of sin is gone but the wages of sin must yet be paid. We are a semi-eschatological people and we live in a semi-eschatological time and place. The antithesis tells us that we must not try to erase the tension by obliterating the fact and doctrine that providence is common to all humans (Gemeine Gratie; common grace; universal mercy or benevolence) elect and non-elect alike. To over-state the antithesis is to run to Montanism or Gnosticism. To deny it is to run to rationalism/empiricism/modernism. We live between. We must embrace the antithesis between light and darkness, between Jerusalem and Athens, and we must embrace the theologia crucis entailed by it.

For more on this see,Against the Theology of Glory.”

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