If the title of this post means nothing to you, that’s ok. But I want you to know that you should know what this means. Why? Because like the explosive force of a ball rocketing off a bat, already and not yet theology has launched across evangelical churches.
In short, already-not-yet (ANY) claims that biblical promises are fulfilled in the present age yet are consummated (finally fulfilled) in a future age. For example, the kingdom is present today in our heart (or in the church, etc) but will have a super fulfillment when Jesus returns.
Far from being an impractical, heady doctrine, believing ANY will change the way you live. For example, if you believe you are living in the “kingdom” now, while its “not yet” fully here, then you might be persuaded to bring in kingdom-like conditions to the world. Hence, the idea of social justice could become necessary to the mission of the church (see Tim Keller’s book Generous Justice).
While a seed form of ANY might have existed for centuries, it really popped out when George Ladd wrote The Presence of the Future. He legitimized ANY for evangelicals. Ladd argued that we are in the kingdom now, yet its full expression will appear with a physical kingdom on earth (he was premillennial).
Taking this approach and applying it to the whole Bible has sprouted a multitudinous amount of books. For example, Charles Scobie wrote a Biblical Theology on the entire Bible called, The Way of Our God. In this work, he argues that not only is the New Testament caught between a rock (fulfillment) and a hard place (consummation) but so also the Old Testament. He says, “[W]ithin the OT there is tension between proclamation and promise, just as in the NT there is tension between fulfillment and final consummation” (93).
Scobie can argue this way because he believe the Testaments live with tension between the already (present) and the not yet (future). It is not small turn of screwdriver, but an entire power drill thrust through biblical interpretation. This changes how we read the entire Bible. Scobie writes, “But eschatology is in fact a key dimension of every biblical theme” (93). Hence, ANY (or the presence of the future) shapes the very way we read the Bible.
The million dollar question is this: Should we read the Bible this way? If so, should we bring in kingdom-like conditions (i.e. is the church’s and therefore my mission to feed the poor, heal the sick, etc.?). We could simply entrench ourselves in the fortress of theology X against the ANY’s siege on interpretation; we could also uncritically accept ANY as the best and greatest method of interpretation ever; or, we could listen to what Already-Not-Yet proponents have to say in a fair and balanced matter and make conclusions later. Let’s choose the last choice.
G. K. Beale has written A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New where he addresses this issue specifically. The whole book is about already-not-yet elements of the main biblical themes (e.g. justification, salvation, etc.). I plan to read and summarize his book chapter by chapter here and so just what Mr. Beale has to say one the matter.
You can consider my reading and blogging on this as already but not yet done.