I’m embarrassed to say I did not know this, more embarrassed to admit that I never thought to ask:
The move toward a Kingdom theology [among both covenantalists and dispensationalists] … accounts for the name of the newer form of dispensationalism. It is called “progressive” not because it is more contemporary than other forms of dispensationalism but rather because in it “the dispensations progress by revealing different aspects of the final unified redemption,” namely the eschatological Kingdom of God.
—Russell Moore (quoting toward the end Blaising and Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism, 48)
I’m really finding Moore’s book, The Kingdom of Christ, to be very helpful. I’m about two chapters in, and so far all he’s doing is summarizing the evangelical debate over the nature of the kingdom (mostly in the 20th century). He’s really doing a masterful job on a sometimes convoluted topic. A clear thesis seems to be emerging: covenantalists and dispensationalists have independently moved toward each other over the last century. The already/not-yet, inauagurated eschatology, presence-of-the-future paradigm has won wide acceptance.
My years of seminary really should entitle me to a firm opinion on whether this is a good thing, but they haven’t. This just isn’t an issue I’ve delved into. Over the last decade I’ve been a lot more excited about the one-story unity of Scripture than I have about the kingdom theme, and I’ve done a lot more reading in redemptive history than in covenant/dispensational issues.
But if you adopt an inaugurated eschatology, there’s a clear tie-in between the two: the one story of Scripture is the story of God establishing His kingdom. That sentence wouldn’t have made any sense to me years ago, because “kingdom” meant “theocratic, political, physical entity.” (I see now that I was influenced by a classic dispensationalist paradigm without knowing it.)
But if “kingdom of God” means “the rule of God,” then it’s a different story. Clearly, God’s rule over this world is not merely the sovereign rule which encompasses Christian and non-Christian, earth and space—though it is that. There are some parts of this world that God rules in an even more specific sense. 1 Corinthians 15 speaks of it as territory that was “put under Christ’s feet,” and it makes clear that there is much territory that has yet to be submitted to Him. One day, in the new earth, Jesus’ kingdom will be a theocratic, political, physical entity. But today His rule is expressed through individual human hearts (“The kingdom of God is within you,” Luke 17:21), and not all are submitted to His lordship. My own heart has been conquered by Jesus Christ the King, but most people in this world are not citizens in His kingdom.
This debate is significant, because there is little point in taking a specifically Christian view of history, math, science, literature, or—the nasty one—politics if Christ’s kingdom is wholly future. Just muddle through as best you can until Christ fixes everything, and don’t commit any obvious intellectual sins. But if Christ is the rightful ruler of all, then we have the right to press His claims over every field of human endeavor.
I feel in my bones that this is the biblicist way. People who know and love the Bible know that it speaks to everything.
Nonetheless I offer this post as fodder to those readers who may have delved deeper into this issue than I have. We can only profit from the Christ-honoring exchange of ideas.