This blog is devoted to discussing the pursuit of eternal life.
Discussion and participation by readers is desired,
but contributions should correlate to the book,
The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology
of Perseverance & Assurance

Thomas R. Schreiner
& Ardel B. Caneday

Saturday, February 26, 2011

“Already” but “Not Yet,” Not Contrary to the Law of Non-Contradiction

It occurred to me that my response to a comment here would be instructive for readers of this blog, given recent postings here and here. The portion of my response, which I post here with some additional material, concerns a quote attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald who wrote,
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function (The Crack-Up, 1936).
I regard Fitzgerald’s statement a classic example of denying the law of non-contradiction. Therefore, it hardly describes what I affirm concerning justification [eternal life, redemption, salvation, et al.], both already and not yet, in the blog entry to which the comment is attached. I do not "hold two opposed ideas in [my] mind at the same time" in any of what I posted in my blog entries linked above.

I firmly believe in the law of non-contradiction. I also believe that Jesus believes in the law of non-contradiction. I still believe that two antithetical propositions cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense. I still believe that Y cannot be non-Y. This is crucial for understanding what I am affirming in my blog entry.

As I state in my entry here, Christ’s first advent sweeps forward two correlated acts of God from the Last Day—resurrection and judgment.

Therefore, all the biblical imageries that portray salvation in Christ, whether salvation, eternal life, resurrection, judgment, justification, et al., have their framework of already come but not yet consummated fully oriented to the two-phase coming of God’s Son. Thus, his coming with two distinguishable phases locates, determines, and defines the already and the not yet aspects of salvation, of eternal life, of resurrection, of judgment, of justification, et al.

Christ Jesus is come already; not yet come is Jesus Christ.

It is self-evident that in order for these two statements, arranged in a chiasm, to be truthful, the second affirmation cannot mean that Jesus Christ is “not yet come” in precisely the same way and in the same sense that the first statement asserts that he “is come already.” Such an assertion would be irrational. The Scriptures are not irrational but they do present Christ’s two-phase coming in riddle-like form that beckons understanding that requires belief.

Jesus presents such a riddle when he announces, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (John 5:25).” Because, Jesus has “life in himself” and authoritatively claims, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 5:26; 11:25), he issues his riddle: Resurrection is come already; not yet come is resurrection. It is a riddle, but it is not contradictory. It is not contradictory because Jesus' second affirmation does not mean that resurrection is not yet come in the same way and in the same sense that his first affirmation declares that resurrection is come already. Jesus' riddle does not violate the law of non-contradiction. Contradiction is only in the mind of the one who accuses the riddle of contradiction. The mind that imputes contradiction to Jesus' riddle fails both to believe and to understand.

Jesus’ riddle calls for belief. Understanding comes through faith. Yet, many Christians find it difficult to hold in proper balance this biblical tension that Christ’s two-phase coming gives to the salvation that he has already inaugurated but has not yet consummated. Instead of reconciling their beliefs and thinking to Scripture’s portrayal of salvation as a single integrated whole that Christ brings to his people in two aspects or phases—already and not yet—because the tension seems unbearable, many Evangelicals adjust Scripture’s portrayal to fit their shrunken conception of salvation. They tend to grasp hold of the already aspect as from grace and exaggerate it out of biblical proportion. And they tend to recast the not yet aspect as a non-integrated and non-essential phase of salvation but instead regard it as a bonus earned by only some believers who through their own achievement merit a reward.


Brent Hall said...

Curious if you, Dr. Caneday, think the new heavens and new earth are subject to the already-not-yet tension. My reading of Is 65 suggests that the new h and e relate to the New Covenant, thus already-but-not-yet (people still experience death in new h and e according to Isaiah). Rev 21:5, in context of new h and earth, puts the focus on the not-yet, for death is no more. But the "new creation" motif throughout the NT suggests already-not-yet. Also, it's difficult to read John 1 without seeing echoes of the Genesis creation narrative--hinting that Jesus has inagurated the new creation.

A. B. Caneday said...


Without doubt, both new covenant and new creation have already but not yet aspects, phases, or dimensions. For the NT makes it clear that the new creation has already begun with the renewal of humanity (e.g., 2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 5:17; Eph. 2:10, 15; et al.). New creation, of course, yet awaits its consummation as Paul makes clear in Romans 8 with creation groaning as it anticipates its liberation in the day the sons of God will be revealed.

Hebrews 8-10, especially, but several other passages also, make it clear that the new covenant has also been inaugurated.

However, when it comes to "the new heavens and new earth," I am not convinced that it has already but not yet phases, unless one regards the present creation, from its inception (Gen. 1:1) forward, to be the already phase out of which the not yet phase shall be formed. I would not have any particular disagreement with this concept, for biblically speaking, the new heavens and new earth are not created ex nihilo but are the thoroughly regenerated, renewed, and reconciled creation subjected to frustration on account of humanity's rebellion.

However, to take the new heavens and new earth, as portrayed in Isaiah 65, as having already but not yet phases that correlate to the already but not yet phases of new creation as described above (inaugurated with the advent of the Last Adam), falls on difficulties, as I see it. Admittedly, Isaiah 65:20 poses difficulty, but I don't think the difficulty is at all fatal but is surmountable.

Indeed, it is quite impossible to read John 1 without hearing echoes of the Genesis creation narrative that hint that Jesus has inaugurated the new creation. I think, however, that to say that he has inaugurated the new creation is not to be equated with "inauguration" of the new heavens and new earth. It seems to me that the vision Revelation 21:5 projects is one that is commensurate with that of Isaiah 65. When the new heavens and new earth come to pass all continuity with this present creation will be exclusively consummation of the old and full-fledged inauguration of the new in what to us is the not yet phase of the new creation. In other words, while it is true that new creation overlaps with the present creation, I am not convinced that new heavens and new earth overlap with the present heavens and present earth in the same sense. Rather, the present earth and present heavens are the new earth and new heavens not yet regenerated, renewed.

(It's strange. Isn't it? I just used not yet in my last sentence. I think, then, that my last sentence identifies how not yet terminology applies to the new heavens and new earth.)

I surely do hope that what I have written here is intelligible and clear.

Brent Hall said...

Crystal clear! Thanks for answering my question.