Towards a Biblical Doctrine of Time: Installment #4
This is Installment #4 and last in the series of articles originally published in
The Journal of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary Journal, Volume 7, Spring 2020
Roger D. Duke
THE CRUCIAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE BIBLICAL STORY
Albert Wolters describes the biblical narrative or “the . . . drama of salvation.”[i] To him, Scripture “tells a single story, from the origin of all things in Genesis 1 to the consummation of all things in Revelation 22.”[ii] He lays out this account in Six Acts:
Act One: God creates the world as his kingdom.
Act Two: [T]he whole of God’s good creation, including all of human life, is contaminated by human rebellion.
Act Three: God[’s] . . . resolution: He will crush sin and the disastrous effects that were unleashed by and Adam and Eve’s rebellion.
Act Four: [The] . . . promise is kept when Jesus of Nazareth steps onto the stage of history.
Act Five: [The] . . . “era of witness”Act Six: The final work of the judgment and renewal of the entire creation constitutes the. . . final act of world history.[iii]
Act Four will be our final focus as Jesus of Nazareth stepped onto the stage of history. This event was the fulcrum[iv] point of history.[v] The Apostle declared, “But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son” (Gal. 4:4). Christ’s birth is a space-time event.
For Wolters, Act Four is not theoretical, but factual. Balthasar concurs concerning this in-time understanding about the Lord: “[Christ] is himself history”[vi] and “governs and gives meaning to history.”[vii] Christ is: “The historical life of the Logos—to which his death, Resurrection and Ascension belong. . . . [He] gives the norm of all history. . . . [Christ is] the living center of history itself. . . . [He] is the source of history, the point whence the whole of history before and after Christ emanates: its center.”[viii] Both theologians amplify Christ’s self-declaration: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8).
Cullman asserts, “The Primitive Christian consideration of history concentrates primarily upon a definite number of events of a quite particular sort.”[ix] His faith was based on the historical events of Christ’s life. In a logical and linear manner, “Some events happened before while others will happen after Christ.”[x] The “aim . . . [was] to set these quite definite occurrences in relation to the central event which took place in Palestine about the year one.”[xi] It was clear from the TaNaK that “the entire redemptive history of the Old Testament tends toward the goal of the incarnation.”[xii] The first Christians understood the Hebrew Scriptures were fulfilled and “possible in Christ”[xiii] alone.
This essay examined aspects of time-space in Biblical history, but an attendant question may arise: “Why did Christ Come?”[xiv] Schaeffer helps here. Christ’s reason for coming was revealed to Joseph, “‘Thou shall call his name JESUS; for he shall save his people from their sins’ (Matt. 1:21).”[xv] Schaeffer continues:
How is Jesus going to fulfill this promise? The fulfillment cannot be separated from Calvary’s cross—from the nails, the hammer, the harshness of such a death. Jesus the Passover Lamb will complete the promise the Jews affirmed in the Passover for 1,500 years. He is going to save His people by His act of Passover obedience.[xvi]
As important as the “Why” question, the “How” question may be more important. There is no redemption, if Christ is not come in history. For the Scriptures declare, “God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory” (I Tim. 3:16). It was necessary that the Christ-event happen in time as actual history, or we are of all men most miserable.
To argue for the sine qua non of the biblical construct of time-space, Schaffer offers some conclusions:
First, Christ died in history. . . . He died in space, time, history.
Second, Christ rose in history. . . . Christ rose and He was glorified, in history.
Third, we died with Christ when we accepted Him as Savior. If I have accepted Christ as
Savior, this is now a past thing in history.
The fourth point is that we will be raised by Him as He was raised. And this will be a
point of future history.[xvii]
Note how Schaeffer declares the historical events of Christ in times past as prelude to our personal resurrections in the future. Those historical events are waiting to be fulfilled at the return of Christ.
In summary, perhaps James Orr’s words can serve as a final confession of what the doctrine of time means to Bible-believing Christians:
He who with his whole heart believes in Jesus as the Son of God is thereby committed to much else besides. . . . He is committed to a view of God, to a view of man, to a view of sin, to a view of Redemption, to a view of the purpose of God in creation and history, to a view of human destiny, found only in Christianity. This forms a “Weltanschauung,” or “Christian view of the world,” which stands in marked contrast with theories wrought out from a purely philosophical of scientific standpoint (italics added).[xviii]
Even so Lord Jesus come!
[i] Albert M. Wolters Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worlview (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2005), 71. [ii] Ibid., 123.
[iii] Wolters Creation Regained, 123-124. [iv] This term/concept is taken from an earlier Augustinian quote cited in Footnote #55: The full quote: “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.” [v] Please allow a personal reflection: I took “Systematic Theology” with Roy O. Beaman as a Diploma of Theology student at Mid America Baptist Theological Seminary c. 1984. He taught us there are three epochal events in God’s history: Creation, Incarnation, and Final Judgment. These made a lasting impression on the young theologue. From his influence came the idea of the “Christ-event” employed in this essay. [vi] Wolters Creation Regained, 123-124. [vii] Ibid. [viii] Ibid. [ix] Cullman, Christ and Time, 20.
[x] Ibid. [xi] Ibid. [xii] Cullman, Christ and Time, 35. [xiii] Ibid. [xiv]Schaeffer, Complete Works, vol. 3, A Christian View of Spirituality, 123. [xv]Ibid. [xvi] Ibid.
[xvii] Schaeffer, Complete Works, vol. 3, A Christian View of Spirituality, 234-235.
[xviii] James Orr, The Christian View of God and the World: As Centering in the Incarnation (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1954), 4.