Adam’s Quest For A Better Life: A Study in Calvin’s Doctrine of Pre-Redemptive Eschatology -- By: James E. Dolezal
RBTR 7:1 (Jan 2010) p. 39
Adam’s Quest For A Better Life:
A Study in Calvin’s Doctrine of Pre-Redemptive Eschatology
James E. Dolezal is a research fellow at The Craig Center for the Study of the Westminster Standards and a Ph.D. candidate in systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA. The author is grateful to Professor Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. for his helpful suggestions on the material contained in this essay.
“It is not biblical to hold that eschatology is a sort of appendix to soteriology, a consummation of the saving work of God.” So writes Geerhardus Vos in his discussion of pre-redemptive eschatology. He goes on, “The universe, as created, was only a beginning, the meaning of which was not perpetuation, but attainment.”1 It is not an uncommon notion today that if Adam had never sinned he would have remained forever in the earthly paradise of Eden. Eternal life was supposedly already in his possession prior to the fall. In the Reformed tradition, Vos offers a uniquely clear rebuttal to this idea, insisting that Adam, before the fall, was looking for an “absolute end” that he did not yet possess. But, it would be a mistake to view Vos as innovative or novel in asserting the operation of a pre-redemptive eschatology.
John Calvin also detected an eschatological principle operating apart from the consideration of sin and redemption. He did not view the original creation, and especially Adam, as static or absolutely complete. It is the aim of this article to establish and explain Calvin’s pre-redemptive eschatology. Calvin is not as systematic in his treatment of this issue as Vos and other twentieth-century Reformed theologians. But, even if somewhat underdeveloped, he certainly holds to an eschatological aim that precedes, and in some sense, regulates soteriology.
While redemption is highly important to Calvin, it is not necessarily the centre of his theology.2 Yet, his emphasis on redemption makes any examination of his pre-redemptive eschatology somewhat complicated. He was purposefully conscious that the readers of his commentaries and Institutes, and the hearers of his sermons, were fallen men in need of
RBTR 7:1 (Jan 2010) p. 40
salvation. So naturally there is a stress on redemption even in his treatment of the pre-lapsarian era. This creates a difficulty for our understanding of his view of the world considered apart from the curse.
Having acknowledged the prominent place that redemption occupied in Calvin’s thinking it is nevertheless clear that in Calvin’s assessment of the history of revel...
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