For much of the 20th Century, Dispensationalists taught that the kingdom is strictly a future event. My first Bible was the Ryrie Study Bible. I loved that Bible! I still own it (though I haven’t opened it in over ten years).
Charles Ryrie was a leading theologian in the Dispensational movement in the late 20th Century. In his book, A Survey of Bible Doctrine (Chicago: Moody Press, 1972), he explains the Dispensational view of the kingdom:
“The millennial kingdom is that period of 1,000 years during which our Lord Jesus Christ will rule the earth in righteousness and will fulfill to the Jews and the world those promises of the Old Testament covenants.”
Amillennialists refuted the idea of a future kingdom, insisting
(God’s rule) “is going on now, and will be until Christ returns. Hence the term realized millennialism is an apt description of (this) view…if it is remembered that the millennium in question is not an earthly but a heavenly reign.”
Then Along Came George Eldon Ladd
While doing his doctoral studies at Harvard, George Eldon Ladd studied the kingdom debates in Germany. Beginning in 1964, with the first publication of Jesus and the Kingdom (later retitled The Presence of the Future: The Eschatology of Biblical Realism). he advocated the German construct of “Already/Not Yet.”
“The Kingdom of God is the redemptive reign of God dynamically active to establish his rule among men…This Kingdom, which will appear as an apocalyptic act at the end of the age, has already come into human history in the person and mission of Jesus to overcome evil, to deliver men from its power, and to bring them into the blessings of God’s reign. The Kingdom of God involves two great moments: fulfillment within history (already), and consummation at the end of history (not yet)”
For Ladd, the kingdom of God manifests itself in two stages: The “already” of God’s reign in the lives of Christians, and the “not yet” of when God will rule over the full realm of the cosmos. What God’s people experience spiritually now is a prolepsis of the fullness that will be experienced when Christ returns.
The Inner Rule of God in Individual Hearts?
Ladd’s view is an example of the interior kingdom (see my previous post where I delineate the 8 very different ways various Christians view the kingdom of God), where the manifestation of God’s rule in our present day is not in the realm of the material created cosmos. Rather, for Ladd, it is the dynamic redemptive-rule in the hearts of individuals.
If Ladd’s view of the kingdom of God is correct, then the mission of God’s people is to proclaim a gospel that God is to be the ruler of each person individually in the present as a means for guaranteeing the bliss of entering into the King’s material rule/realm in the future, when the internal spiritual experience will come to consummation in the more external tangible experience.
You may not have ever heard of George Eldon Ladd, but it can’t be understated the influence he has had on American evangelical Christianity.
“In a 1984 survey that Mark Noll sent to members of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) and the Institute for Biblical Research (IBR), Noll asked, ‘Please list the three individuals, living or dead, who have exerted the dominant influence on your scholarly work. You do not have to share the conclusions of these individuals but they should be the ones whose work influences you most.’ For ETS members, the number one individual was John Calvin. Number two was George Ladd. For IBR members, number one was George Ladd.”
While the “Already/Not Yet” construct has been helpful to help us understand that the kingdom of God can be both present and future, it raises other tensions:
- Is the kingdom of God individual or social?
- Is the kingdom particular to the church or does it include the entire cosmos?
Ladd’s formula for the kingdom of God did this:
- The kingdom “Already” is God ruling individual Christians in the church who have submitted to the lordship of Christ in their lives
- The kingdom “Not Yet” is when God’s rule will actually be manifested in social order and in he redemption of the entire cosmos.
Scot McKnight, in his recent book, Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church, summarizes Ladd’s take:
“The word ‘kingdom,’ then, is not a place or a space or a realm or a people with boundaries and kings and a temple. No, ‘kingdom’ refers to the abstract dynamic that God is now at work redeeming individuals in Jesus Christ in this world, and this rule in Jesus Christ will be completed and universal at the eschaton when the kingdom arrives fully.”
What About Redeemed Community?
While it cannot be denied that Jesus Christ’s lordship includes the redemptive-rule of Christ over individual Christians, Ladd’s proposal does not emphasize God’s call on these individuals into redeemed community.
It also does not provide a theological foundation for God’s people to participate with God in his mission for the redemption or reconciliation of the entirety of his creation. (More on this in the next post).
What do you think? Is the present manifestation of the kingdom of God primarily or even exclusively about God’s rule in the hearts of individual believers? Is the kingdom also about his authority over the entirety of the created cosmos? Should God’s rule also include other aspects of this present world? Is God the Lord of business? Of education? Of the arts? Of governing? In what ways?
 Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979),
 George Eldon Ladd, The Presence of the Future: The Eschatology of Biblical Realism, Reprint edition (Grand Rapids, Mich: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996).
 Andrew David Naselli, “Three Reflections on Evangelical Academic Publishing,” in Themelios, Volume 39, Issue 3, ed. D. A. Carson (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2014).
 Scot McKnight, Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2014), 13.