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Towards a Biblical Doctrine of Time: Installment #3

This is installment #3 of a series that was originally an article in The Journal of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary Journal, Volume 7, Spring 2020


By


Roger D. Duke





TOWARDS A BIBLICAL DOCTRINE OF TIME

St. Augustine

Francis Schaeffer provides an assertive segue into the doctrinal discussion: “God has . . . created . . . history.”[1] Wayne Grudem concurs:


[W]hen God created the universe, he also created time. When God began to create the

universe, time began, and there began to be a succession of moments and events one after another.[2] . . . The fact that God created time reminds us of His lordship over it and our obligation to use it for his glory.[3] [4]


The doctrine regarding the creation of time has always been a major concern for the Christian Church. Augustine wrestled with it as theologian and philosopher. He wrote The City of God after Rome’s Fall. His apologetic demonstrated that Rome’s predicament was “a part of a long-range divine plan on the part of the ‘Christian’ God”[5] worked out in time. God’s creation of time was necessary for His economy of history. Augustine wrote:


Whatever else God had made before was created at the beginning. Undoubtedly, then the world was made not in time but together with time. For, what is made in time is made after one period of time and before another, namely, after a past and before a future time. But there could have been no past time, since there was nothing created.[6]


Augustine’s concept of the creation of time was basic to his doctrinal construct. He reasoned that “God created time . . . when he created everything else.”[7] He further argued, “Since God created time, he existed before time, he will exist after time, and therefore he exists outside of time.”[8] The Judeo-Christian Doctrine of Creation has always held that God created all things that exist. This creation “include[ed] time and presumably space—ex nihilo, ‘out of nothing.’”[9] Therefore, “There was no time before he created it.”[10]


The creation account was not only a space-time event for St. Augustine; “History is [also] spiritual.”[11] He saw “history as the drama of man’s salvation and redemption, as willed by God.”[12] History “was ordained before the foundation of the world and that which was revealed in God’s bestowal of grace through Jesus Christ are the main ingredients of history.”[13]


Augustine concluded, “History’s linear movement exists, having its starting point with creation, finding its fulcrum in the Incarnation, and concluding with the Second Coming and Judgment, that God’s plan for man may be worked out in time.”[14]


Hans Urs von Balthasar


The discussion of time and history has been given first place over the “doctrine of creation” to this point. Creation “does not stand by itself but depends upon and elaborates the redemptive activity of God in history.”[15] It is inseparably linked to time’s creation—taken together—they become the “nucleus of a theology of history.”[16] Any


. . . theological approach to history seeks to outline the biblical interpretation of history, conceived as a movement purposed and controlled by God, who is Lord of history, and further to ask whether this conception of history as a series of happenings ‘according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God’ (Acts 2:23).”[17]

According to Balthasar, this nucleus is “intended to be about the relation of Christ as belonging christologically within time, to time in general, the time of human history.”[18] Said another way, the Christ-event is the great epoch of history.


It is not possible to construct a doctrine of history without “embracing both the orders of Creation and Redemption.”[19] There was an actual creation of time. Subsequently, there was an actual Incarnational-Redemption event in time. Both realities are imperative for Christ to redeem mankind. This makes “Jesus Christ, God [who] became man . . . the center point of history.”[20] This zenith justifies “the creative activity of God throughout the history of mankind.”[21]


Balthasar summarized,


The historical life of . . . [Christ’s] death, Resurrection, and Ascension . . . give the norm for all of history, . . . from the living center of history itself. Seen from the highest, definitive point of view, it is the source of history, the point whence the whole of history before and after Christ emanates: its center.[22]

Carl F. H. Henry


The Bible’s doctrine of time and history is of cardinal importance, just as the analogy of faith is for Biblical interpretation.[23] Carl F. H. Henry stated,


The Bible . . . sponsors its own historiography, or writing of history, by a distinctive exhibition of particular events and affirmation of their meaning, and by emphasizing the nature of the comprehensive course and climax of human affairs. The Bible instructs us therefore in the difference between adequate and inadequate and arbitrary approaches to history. It sees all history in terms of the governing principle of God.[24]


Consider Henry’s insight. From beginning to end, the Bible asserts its recorded events to be actual space-time history. The Sovereign LORD creates and rules over them all.

From the outset Judaism was different than the false religions around them because of “Yahweh’s historical revelation.”[25] Henry adds, since “the God of the Bible reveal[s] himself in history, . . . the very idea of history takes its rise from biblical religion.”[26] Consider that the Hebrew language contains no modern word for history.[27] However, Jewish thought incorporated the concept of history into the Torah, Prophets, and Writings. One major exhortation of the biblical writers was “to remember” the historical acts Yahweh had performed. This action was a major means to call them back to the Sinaitic Covenant. Henry concurs: “Later, Israelites looked back to Moses and the exodus, and the Hebrew people insisted on the details of 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles as integral to a proper understanding of their past.”[28]

Henry contrasted the Hebrew view of history with their surrounding heathen neighbors:

In a world where others interpreted all that happens as [a] cyclical process, the Hebrews with their awareness of God’s active revelation in external human affairs instituted the very idea of history. . . . The great prophets of antiquity grasp the unity of history . . . through the steadfast purpose of Yahweh; in His creative activity that constitutes the very possibility of human history; it is His moral and redemptive revelation that unveils history’s inner meaning and shapes the destinies of men and nations.[29]


The phrases “moral and redemptive revelation” and “history’s inner meaning” are fulfilled in time by Jesus Christ. They are fully demonstrated in history by the Christ-event. Henry quotes H. M. Kuitert as saying that Christianity must strive “against any temptation to lift Christianity out of history, we must stubbornly hold that historical events from the hardcore of the biblical witness. They are historical events in the full sense; they belong to past time.”[30]


Please look for Installment #4 that will be forthcoming to the invertedchristian.com blog. These are produced to help the reader find his or her way to Christ, or to help them as them become "fully devoted followers of Christ" or "inverted Christians."

[1]Schaeffer, Complete Works, vol. 3, 159. [2]Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Great Britain: Zondervan/Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 169. [3]Grudem, Systematic Theology, 266. [4]Please note Grudem’s reminder of the Christian’s moral and ethical “obligation” as steward over his allotted time. [5]James L. Christian, Philosophy: An Introduction to the Art of Wondering, 4th ed., (New York: Hold, Rinehart and Winston, 1986), 287. [6]Augustine, City of God, Book XI, Chapter 6, trans. Gerald G. Walsh, Demetrius B. Zema, Grace Monahan, & Daniel J. Honan (New York: Doubleday, 1958), 211. [7]Christian, Philosophy: An Introduction, 243.


[8]Ibid.

[9]Christian, Philosophy: An Introduction, 243.

[10]Ibid.


[11]John L. Morrison, “Augustine’s Two Theories of Time,” The New Scholasticism (Autumn, 1971): 607.

[12]Ibid. [14]Augustine, City of God, XII, 13, 20, quoted in; John L. Morrison, “Augustine’s Two Theories of Time,” The New Scholasticism (Autumn, 1971): 608.


[15]The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. I, s.v., “Creation.” [16]Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theologie der Geschichte (Switzerland: Johannes Verlag, 1959; reprint San Francisco: Ignatius Press/Communio Books), 7. (page citations are to the reprinted English edition). [17]The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. II, s.v., “History.” [18]Balthasar, Theologie. 7. [19]Ibid., 7. [20]Ibid., 113.


[21]John Warwick Montgomery, “Karl Barth and Contemporary Theology of History” [internet]; available from https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/bets/vol06/6-2_montgomery.pdf; accessed July 1, 2019.

[22] Balthasar, Theologie. 24. [23]For a fuller discussion of “The Analogy of Faith” see: “Analogy of Faith” [internet]; available from https://www.theopedia.com/analogy-of-faith; accessed July 2, 2019; or “16. What does the term ‘Analogy of Faith Mean?’” [internet]; https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/qna/analogyfaith.html; accessed July 2, 2019. [24]Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, vol. 2, 313. [25]Ibid, 312. [26]Ibid. [27]Ibid. [28]Ibid. [29]Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, vol. 2, 253. [30]H. M. Kuitert, The Reality of Faith (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1968), 163; quoted in Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, vol. 2, God Who Speaks and Shows: Fifteen Theses, Part One (Waco: Word Books, Publisher, 1976), 255.

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