George Ladd’s Impact on Biblical Scholarship

I’m reading Scot McKnight’s new book Kingdom Conspiracy. McKnight talks about the enormous influence that George Ladd had on him as a student and a scholar. He describes Ladd’s book, A Theology of the New Testament, as “a transformative book in [his] life.” (40). But he notes that he’s not alone.

“In 1984 Mark Noll did a survey of evangelical professors and found that most of them fell into three major groups: the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), the Institute for Biblical Research (IBR), and the Wesleyan Theological Society (WTS). One of his questions was about who was most influential in their thinking. The ETS group listed first John Calvin and second George Ladd; IBR members listed George Ladd first and F.F. Bruce second. Within ten years Ladd’s Theology had exercised a profound influence on major segments of evangelicalism.” (40-41) “Predictably,” he adds, “the Wesleyans listed O. Orton Wiley and John Wesley at the top; Ladd was not on their list.” (264n.25)

This is important to note since McKnight will contend that Ladd was wrong, yet very influential, in some of his ideas regarding the kingdom. In particular, Ladd reduced kingdom to the “reign” of God and said it should not to be equated with the church. McKnight argues that “kingdom in Jesus’ world would have meant ‘a people governed by a king.'” (66) He continues, “Any suggestion, then, that ‘kingdom’ means only ‘ruling’ or ‘reigning’ cannot satisfy what the Bible explictly affirms.” (70) Indeed, so tightly does McKnight tie the kingdom to the church that he boldly affirms “there is no kingdom now outside the church.” (Emphasis his. 87)

I’m still just scratching the surface of McKnight’s book but he’s already pulling apart some of the threads on my concept of kingdom which, like McKnight and many others, has been highly influenced by Ladd.

George Ladd

George Eldon Ladd (1911 – 1982)

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4 thoughts on “George Ladd’s Impact on Biblical Scholarship

  1. “there is no kingdom now outside the church.”

    Wow. I’d be interested in your assessment of this after you’ve finished McKnight’s book.

  2. On that last point, McKnight’s Arminianism shows itself. To Reformed scholars, God’s cosmic rule is as clear in Scripture as is Christ’s headship of the church. Only those in the church acknowledge that Jesus is Lord and God is King, and the church is certainly the primary instrument of God’s rule in the world, as Ladd acknowledged, but God rules over all the nations of the world and accomplishes his purposes even through the likes of Nebuchadnezzar and Sennacherib, despite their refusal to bow the knee to him. Roman Catholicism’s frequent tying of the kingdom of God to the church is not an error Protestants should copy. This difference is a manifestation of the different doctrines of providence that synergist (e.g. Arminian) and monergist (e.g. Calvinist) theologians derive from their reading of Scripture.

    That is how it looks to me, anyway. On the other hand, I am glad that Scot is highlighting the importance of the new covenant community (the church) as the people among and through whom God can work in the world, precisely because we are a people whose lives are fundamentally informed by our desire for God’s kingdom to come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We pray for it, we work for it, and we long for the day when God will make it a reality, both through us and without us but for us, as he chooses.

    • Terrence,
      As usual you offer some keen insights. Thank you.

    • “On that last point, McKnight’s Arminianism shows itself.” That’s an interesting suggestion, and you may be right. I haven’t analyzed McKnight’s brand of Arminianism. That said, I consider myself basically Arminian, and yet I agree with your description of how God works through even unregenerate earthly rulers. It seems to me that the parable of the weeds (Matt. 13) suggests that the kingdom encompasses more than just the “sons of the kingdom.” “Sons of the evil one” are also found inside the kingdom. To me, this suggests that the kingdom is broader than the church–understanding the “church” to mean the community of those who are willingly serving the King. And McKnight’s category of “a people governed by a king” should include, I would think, both those willingly governed and those unwillingly governed. I wonder how much agreement McKnight will receive on this point.

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