Two-Age Apologetics

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Q: What does a Biblical Theological commitment to a two-age philosophy of history mean for the discipline of apologetics?

A consensus has yet to emerge among those committed to Reformed Biblical Theology concerning a practical paradigm for the discipline of apologetics. This is partially due to the varying apologetic models subscribed to by the several significant contributors to Reformed Biblical Theology. And even among the few most prominant Biblical Theologians a singular voice on the task of apologetics is strikingly absent.1.1 In recent years a few important works have surfaced which promise to push us toward a consistent Biblical Theological paradigm for apologetics.1.2

Dr. William D. Dennison has emerged to engage in the endeavor to formulate a consistent Theological-Philosophical paradigm for apologetics. To his groundbreaking work Paul's Two-Age Construction and Apologetics we are deeply endebted. At the onset it becomes apparent that Two-Age apologetics is necessarily presuppositional. The antithesis between the two aions is comprehensive. Each aion has its weltanschauung, a world and life view. The former one is distinctly and thoroughly uneschatological, kata sarka. The latter is distinctly and thoroughly eschatological, kata pneuma. Any defense of a thoroughly eschatological world and life view (of faith) against a thoroughly uneschatological world and life view (of sight) must, then, inevitably assume an antithetical nature.

The Two-Ages

It is no coincidence that the epistles of the Apostle Paul have stood at the center of recent consideration of Biblical Theology and its relation to the discipline of apologetics. But the two ages are not the exclusive province of Paul. Behind the teaching of Paul stands the figure of our Lord and Savior, whose message concerning the coming of the Kingdom of God serves as the eschatological foundation of the more systematic Pauline theology.1.3 The teaching of our Lord and its relationship to that of His most prolific ambassador has undergone intensive investigation in recent years. Attempts at harmonization have been most successful where the eschatological event-character of the gospel-message has been the common foundation for the teaching of Jesus and Paul.1.4 The aspect of supreme relevance for the task of apologetics is the comprehensive eschatological dualism (antithesis) which everywhere informs and structures both our Savior's thought and language and Paul's.

A stark antithesis emerges between those who belong to this world-age and the disciples of Christ who belong to the kingdom of God. This antithesis is alluded to by Jesus in various analogies, but most tenably in terms of the world versus "My disciples." A brief examination of Jesus' most famous discourse, the Sermon on the Mount, should draw this out. There are two treasuries (in heaven and on earth), two eyes (the single eye and the evil eye), two masters (God and mammon), two gates, two ways (narrow and broad), two trees (fruitbearing and barren), two foundations (the Rock and the sand), etc. There is salt and that which is unsalty. light and darkness, the just and the unjust. There are those who seek first the kingdom and its righteousness, and there are the Gentiles who seek after food and raiment. That is, there is a world and life view which because of its uneschatological vision boils down to "life is food and the body is clothing."1.5 Over against this is the world and life view which, because of its eschatological vision, affirms that the body is more than clothing and life is more than food. The body is for the age to come, the preeminent realm of the Spirit; and life is for the kingdom-righteousness of God, received consummately in the resurrection.

In the fourth gospel the antithetical expression includes "from beneath" versus "from above;" "light" versus "darkness;" "truth" versus "not of the truth;" "the world" versus (often implied) "you who are my disciples;" etc. In the Lucan witness, there are children of this age and children of light, this present time and the age to come, this world vs. that world, etc. A brief survey will conclude that the ubiquity of antithesis in the teaching of Jesus belongs to the stark division which is created by the coming of the Kingdom. With Paul this dualism is most often expressed by the sarx versus pneuma antithesis, but it also finds expression in the more explicit "this present aion" versus "the aion to come," yuchikos versus pneumatikos, the kosmos versus the heavenlies, etc. Through the intrusion of the aion to come, the two world-ages have come to overlap. The two-age crisis--the Kingdom has come, the end of the world has occured, the last man has lived and inaugurated the age to come... and yet the present old world order continues--is the backdrop of the message of the gospel, the mystery. Thus, there are now two absolute and exclusive categories of men, the children of this aion and the children of light.

It is this Spiritual reality which had cast its shadow in the old covenant economy creating the outward distinction between Israel and the Gentiles. With the coming of God in the flesh the definitions began to find their basis on more inward and invisible (that is eschatological) distinctions; and it would not be until the eschatological outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost that the eschatological proportions of the distinction would come to be fully felt. What had taken shape at the beginning when God called the light out of the darkness was taking on a whole new significance at the end. What had begun to come into view in Genesis 4-5--where the city of God represented by the godly line of Seth had developed side by side the city of man represented by the ungodly line of Cain--was revealed to belong to the eshchatological drama of the coming of the kingdom.

The Endeavor of Apologetics

Where is the common ground, then, between the children of light and the children of this age? On what grounds do the children of light defend their faith against the children of this age? The answer is their creation in the image of God. So broad a topic with its manifold ramifications for the task of apologetics can hardly be addressed here. It will suffice to affirm that man's creation in the image of God does not first and foremost entail his rational facilities, but his built-in teleology as a recepticle and reflector for the divine glory-presence. By his life of faith the Christian reflects the glory of God. Thus, the most compelling apologetic argument the believer can make is his godliness. It is our godliness that most clearly demonstrates our other-worldliness.

Unfortunately, the practice of apologetics has become an academic enterprise. The most admired apologists are the ones who most effectively demolish their opponents with combative rhetoric. Instead of the taking up the cross, they execute it. What a poor reflection of the God who so loved His enemies that He voluntarily condescended, taking on human flesh in order to die for those who crucified Him. The Kingdom of God is not advanced by winning a debate, but by losing your life. This is the foolishness of the cross. We would be fools to think that the angels of heaven rejoice every time a antagonistic theonomist demoralizes his atheist opponent with an "impossibility-of-the-contrary" argument. And yet this is what passes today for apologetics.

An a(pologi/aof the hope that is within us (1 Pet 3:15) is a witness to the truthfulness of the gospel-event. It is not a defense of our subjective feelings of hopefulness, but a defense of the objective hope into which we were broght, the living hope which is Christ resurrected from the dead (1 Pet 1:3). If we investigate this text in 1 Peter we are brought to realize that the subject of apologetics arises in the midst of our suffering for righteousness' sake (3:14) and the apologetic of godliness (3:13). It is specifically our patience in suffering for righteousness' sake which bears witness to our eschatological hope (not-yet other-worldliness) as it demonstrates our union with our Saviour (other-worldliness already) who alone truly suffered for righteousness' sake and that with perfect patience. As it is written, "As a lamb led to slaughter He did not open His mouth." And lest we should grow triumphalistic in our apology the imperative is modified by "with gentleness and fear."


1.1 Dr. Merideth Kline, Dr. Richard B. Gaffin, Dr. William D. Dennison, Dr. Herman Ridderbos, and Dr. Edmund Clowney among others have aligned themselves with the presuppositional apologetic of Dr. Cornelius Van Til. Earlier contributors to Biblical Theology did not have his framework in which to work, and their apologetic leanings varied, heavily influenced at times by the "classical" apologetic models of Old Princeton and Old Amsterdam.

1.2 Among them is Dr. William D. Dennison's landmark doctoral thesis entitled Paul's Two-Age Construction and Apologetics and Dr. Richard B. Gaffin Jr.'s article "Some Epistemological Reflections on 1 Cor 2:6-16" in the Spring 1995 WTJ.

1.3 Dr. Herman N. Ridderbos, Jesus and Paul

1.4 "This is the main theme of Paul's ministry and epistles, 'Old things are passed away; behold all things have become new' (2 Cor 5:17). What in very ancient times had indeed been ... promised by God, but which continued hidden, this has now been made manifest, brought to light. And of this 'fulness of the times', of this now of the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2) Paul is the herald (Eph 3:2ff). The nature of his mission and ministry, therefore, is defined by the history of redemption. He is not merely a religious genius, he is not merely a church reformer, he is a witness of revelation in the original, historical sense of the word. He is the one who who, together with the other apostles, is to accompany and explain the penetration of the new aeon into the present time with his testimony. This viewpoint is of particular importance to vindicate the unity between Paul's kerygma and Christ's teaching of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is a well-known fact that all sorts of contrasts have been said to exist here. But however different the modality in Paul's ministry may be as compared with Jesus Christ's, it can be rightly said that Paul does nothing but explain the eschatological reality which in Christ's teachings is called the Kingdom." Ridderbos, When the Time had Fully Come, pp. 48-49.

1.5 Rev. Charles Dennison, lectures on the Sermon on the Mount.

1.6 For a further treatment of the imago Dei see Dr. Meredith G. Kline's Images of the Spirit.

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