Reformed Theology and the Kingdom of God

Coming of the Kingdom From time to time I read critiques that Reformed theology doesn’t really do justice to the kingdom of God, or that it is weak on kingdom theology.  In other words, some current theologians, teachers, and authors are critical of Reformed theology because (in their view) it relegates the kingdom of God to a minor place in the overall theological scheme.

Before disproving this accusation, I think it is worth nothing that in evangelical circles the term “kingdom” has taken on an almost faddish status.  In today’s evangelical world when a few popular figures emphasize the kingdom in a trendy way, others latch on and it goes viral overnight (“kingdom” becomes a hip evangelical word like “authentic” or “vintage”).  What happens then is those evangelicals who equate Reformed theology with TULIP/Calvinism say that Reformed theology has a weak view of God’s kingdom because TULIP doesn’t talk much about the kingdom.  I realize this is debatable, but it is worth discussion.

However, one thing is clear: historic Reformed theology does not ignore the kingdom of God.  Kingdom theology makes up one of the great and important threads of Reformation doctrine.  We have to remember that there’s much more to Reformed theology than TULIP.

First, God’s kingdom is discussed in the creeds and confessions.  In the Nicene Creed we confess together that Christ’s kingdom “shall have no end.”  In the Heidelberg Catechism the following topics are discussed: Christ as King (Q/A 31), the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Q/A 83-85), and the petition in the Lord’s prayer, Your kingdom come (Q/A 123; cf. Q/A 128).  The Belgic Confession mentions the kingdom of God in articles 27 and 36 while the Canons of Dort speak about the kingdom in III/IV.10.  Similarly, the Westminster Standards discuss the reign of Christ and his kingdom extensively: WCF 8:1, 5; 23:3, 25:2, 30:1-2, WLC 42, 45, 53, 191, 196 and WSC 23, 26, 102, and 107.  Very clearly the Reformed Creeds and Confessions have much to say about the kingdom of God.  It is no mere footnote.

Second, the kingdom of God was discussed quite often by Reformed theologians in the past.  John Calvin (d. 1564) wrote about the kingdom so often in the Institutes it would take too long to list the references here.  In commenting on the Catechism, Zacharias Ursinus (d. 1583) spoke in-depth about the kingdom (Commentary, p. 176, 440-463, and 632-637).  Similarly, Thomas Watson (d. 1680) wrote much about the kingdom in several of his books, including The Lord’s Prayer, The Beatitudes, and Heaven Taken by Storm.  Dutch theologian Willem Teelinck (d.1629) wrote about the kingdom of grace and how it applies to godliness in The Path of True Godliness.  The following Reformed theologians also had a lot to say about Christ’s kingdom: Herman Witsius, Herman Bavinck, Wilhelmus a Brakel, William Ames, and the list goes on.

Third, and finally, Reformed theologians of recent history have written on the kingdom of God.  For example, Herman Ridderbos wrote The Coming of the Kingdom and Meredith Kline wrote Kingdom Prologue (see also Geerhardus Vos’ The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Church).  Kim Riddlebarger speaks of it in A Case for Amillennialism while Anthony Hoekma did the same in The Bible and the Future (see also C. Venema’s work, The Promise of the Future).  David VanDrunen has also recently done extensive study in kingdom theology (Living in God’s Two Kingdoms and Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms).  And the list goes on; I’ve only mentioned a small handful here.

If you thought that Reformed theology neglected the topic of Christ’s kingdom, I encourage you to check out some of the above resources.  Or, next time you hear someone wrongly accuse Reformed theology of ignoring the kingdom theme, you can (lovingly!) prove otherwise.  Reformed theology has a rich, biblical, and edifying view of Christ’s kingdom and what it means to be a citizen of it.

(This is a repost from February 2013)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Antichrist(s)

This is an excellent, balanced, and biblical resource on an often misunderstood teaching of Scripture: The Man of Sin: Uncovering the Truth about the Antichrist. I marked the following paragraphs (among many others) that are worth sharing:

“The biblical writers do indeed foretell of Antichrist, but the images found in Scripture are markedly different from those of either ‘The Omen’ or the ‘Left Behind’ novels.  The fact that end-times speculation and sensationalism has trumped sound biblical exegesis is surely the reason this is the case.  Too often people don’t know what’s in their Bibles but can recount in great detail the plot of the most recent Christian novel.  Christians are quite familiar with the frightening images created by Hollywood but often remain ill-informed about the church’s reflection on this important doctrine.  This is most unfortunate and creates a climate in which Antichrist speculation occurs apart from serious reflection upon the teaching of the biblical text.”

“…According to New Testament writers, Antichrist is a past, present, and future foe.  As the supreme mimic of Christ, Antichrist will stage his own death, resurrection, and second coming.  The apostles faced him.  The martyrs faced him.  We must face him.  And in the one final outburst of satanic evil right before the end of time, Antichrist will make one last dramatic appearance before going to his doom.”

“Therefore, since Antichrist has already come, remains with us today, and will come again, understanding the tension between the already and the not yet is the key to understanding what the doctrine of Antichrist actually entails, and understanding this tension enables us to know how we are to combat him.”

Kim Riddlebarger, Man of Sin, p. 35-36.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

The Rapture and A Cosmic Dog Whistle

In A Case for Amillennialism, Kim Riddlebarger gives a great biblical refutation of the secret rapture that dispensationalists teach.  Here’s one paragraph of that section.

“One of the most telling criticisms [of a secret rapture] is the language used by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, the very passage used by dispensationalists as a proof text for two comings of Jesus Christ and the secret rapture.  Three times in the passage, Paul used terminology to convey the idea that Jesus Christ’s return to earth will be accompanied by divine announcements which are clearly universal in nature.  In verse 16, Paul mentioned that ‘the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God.’  The whole thrust of the three-fold announcement is that God himself will proclaim the return of Jesus Christ so loudly that the whole world will hear.  Not only so, but the world will also witness the subsequent catching away of believers (v. 17). 

If dispensationalists are correct in saying that this coming is secret, then only believers will hear the divine declaration.  As my colleague, Rev. Ken Jones, so aptly puts it, this turns the thrice-repeated announcement of Christ’s return into something akin to a cosmic dog whistle.  It is another example of a text where the champions of literal interpretation cannot take the key passage literally.  What is worse, if dispensationalists are correct about a secret rapture, then Jesus does not have two advents but three.”

As I’ve said before, I really like this book and highly recommend it.  This quote is found on page 143 of A Case for Amillenialism.

shane lems

Eschatology, Millennialism, End Times, etc.

 A friend of mine recently made the trek out of dispensationalism into Reformed theology.  A few members in the church I serve also came out of dispensational circles.  These things made me want to study dispensationalism from a dispensationalist’s point of view, so I purchased and read Ryrie’s Dispensationalism (Revised and Expanded)While I don’t want to give a book review of it here, I’m glad I read it.  After reading it, I’m not at all convinced that it is the most biblical method of interpretation.  In other words, I’m still convinced that the Reformed (covenantal and amillennial) view of Scripture is more biblical.  But that’s a whole different post and discussion!  What I want to do here is recommend a book for those of you interested in the historic Reformed view of biblical interpretation and eschatology.

The book I have in mind is Kim Riddlebarger’s A Case for Amillennialism.  Even though many of our readers may have heard of this one, I believe it is significant enough to keep on our reading lists and book recommendations. It’s not one of those trendy small hardcover books that will lose its appeal in 8 months; this is one you can keep going back to in your biblical studies.

Riddlebarger understands dispensationalism since he used to hold a dispensationalist view of the Bible and history.  After his own intense studies, he became convinced the Reformation got it right.  This means – and he explains these things in the book – OT prophecy and eschatology have everything to do with Christ, covenant, the church, and the already/not yet nature of Christ’s eternal kingdom.

Here are a some other things Riddlebarger discusses (and these discussions are steeped in Scripture): the rapture, the Day of the Lord, the two ages, the church as the Israel of God, Christ’s return (the Parousia), the Olivet Discourse, Daniel’s prophecies, and Revelation 20:1-10 (just to name a few).  Though it technically isn’t a systematic theology text, it is an oustanding supplement to ST topics (hermeneutics, Christology, pneumatology, eschatology, etc.).

A Case for Amillennialism is around 250 pages and well written – most Christians who are committed to studying this topic will be able to read it without much trouble.  I do wish there were footnotes instead of endnotes.  Also, there is no Scripture index, which is very disappointing (though I think the publisher is to blame for that one.  Dear publishers, please put Scripture indexes in books!!!).  In a word, this is a book on my shelves I refer to quite often because it is a clearly written biblical explanation of some important themes in hermeneutics and eschatology.  I believe it will be a great resource for years to come.  If you don’t have it, or have been thinking about getting it, don’t hesitate; you won’t be disappointed.

shane lems

sunnyside wa