Saturday, June 06, 2009
Covenant Theology and Historic Pre-Millennialism
I've been reading through Craig L. Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung (eds.), A Case for Historic Premillennialism: An Alternative to the "Left Behind" Eschatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 200). The best article, I think, is the one by Sung Wook Chung on "Toward the Reformed and Covenantal Theology of Premillennialism". When I first saw the title I thought of an infamous sermon by John Macarthur that people who are Reformed must be dispensational premillennial. Sadly, that was about as convincing as saying that reggae music should be the official sound of the Klu Klux Klan. Since Reformed folks tend to be either amillennial or postmillennial, I was intrigued as to whether Chung could present a good case for a Reformed and covenantal premillennialism; in short, I think he does!
Chung affirms his covenantal approach in seeing a unity in the covenant of grace from Gen. 3.15 to Rev. 22.21, but points out a few problems with standard covenant theology. First, there is an overemphasis on the soteriological dimensions of the covenant of grace which has neglected the kingdom dimension of God's work in history. Second, Reformed theology tends to spiritualize key passages of the Bible which command a more literal interpretation, e.g. Rev. 20.1-6. Third, by overly focusing on the covenant of works in Gen. 2.15-17, Reformed theologians have not correctly understood the significance of Gen. 1.26-27 for the reality of God's rule. Generally, I think this is correct. The dichotomy between emphases on Redemption (in Reformed theology) and Kingdom (in Dispensational theology) could said to be a false one since covenant and kingdom are correlative concepts. That is not to say that Reformed and Dispensational theologies are remotely reconciliable, they are not, but covenant theology does not have to dispense with the theocentric aspects of God's rule in its understanding of the application of the redemptive story.
Chung offers an "alternative" covenantal reading of Genesis 1-2. For him, Gen. 1.26-27 stands as the archetype of the covenants of promise/blessing found in the later OT. Gen. 1.26-28 is no simple "cultural mandate," but shows that God intends to establish his rule on earth through his vice-regents. Gen. 2.16-17 shows the conditional nature of God's covenant with his people where Adam plays the role of priest who must demonstrate fidelity and loyalty to the King as representative of his progeny. Gen. 2.16-17 is the constitution for the kingdom in Eden. Thus, the character of the dominion of God in Eden was that God wanted Adam to have a priestly and kingly role. Adam was blessed and commissioned by God to rule over the whole creation as king and to worship God. In the Fall the execution of that task was lost and it would be recovered by the seed of Gen. 3.15 who will bring restoration to the dominion of God to a new edenic garden.
Chung sees here two covenants in the Garden of Eden, one unconditional and another conditional, but both are geared towards establishing the Adamic kingdom over the entire creation. It was God's original purpose and plan that humanity might exercise dominion over the entire creation, not just spiritually, but physically as well. As God's image, Jesus Christ represents God's authority, dominion, reign, and glory. He also represents humanity before God as well. Jesus fulfills the roles first given to Adam by exercising dominion over creation (Gen. 1.26-28) and by exercising love and obedience to God (Gen. 2.16-17). Jesus succeeds, then, in reestablishing the kingdom of God among humankind. On the Abrahamic covenant, this also had a physical orientation (land, descendents etc) and Chung contends that those who interpret the promises spiritually do so on account of their "unwitting gnostic tendencies" (oooh aaaah!).
Chung does not avoid the white Elephant in the room - why does Jesus Christ have to reign with all believers alive at the parousia for a thousand years? Why is the millennium even necessary? For Chung, in the millennial kingdom, Jesus fulfils the priestly and regal dimensions of the first Adam's kingdom. Interestingly enough, Rev. 20.6 demonstrates that those who will reign in the millennial kingdom will be both kings and priests. The millennial kingdom on earth will be a restoration and fulfilment of the Edenic kingdom on earth. In this sense, the premillennial kingdom is the penultimate realization of the kingdom promise/blessing in the context of the current world, whereas the new Jerusalem in the new heavens and earth is the ultimate realization of the kingdom promise/blessing in the context of the eternally transformed cosmos.
I find Chung's thesis attractive (all the more so because the historical premillennial view seems to square with Rev. 20.1-6 and second century interpretations of Revelation by Papias, Justin, Irenaeus, and Tertullian were millennial). Still, I don't know whether historical premillennialism will displace amillenialism as the default position among reformed theologians. Some would obviously contest his interpretation of Genesis 1-2. Furthermore, Greg Beale's "inaugurated millennialism" in his Revelation commentary and Kim Riddlebar's A Case for Amillennialism, continue to make the amill view a very attractive option for many.