Eschatology is a topic of serious theological discussion that has suffered rather badly in its’ narrow treatment by both ends of the theological spectrum. While liberals have tended to reduce the subject to symbolic mythology or a realized sociology, conservatives have been guilty of succumbing to the threat of Marx that religion in general and eschatology in particular would become the otherworldly opiate that sedates people with hope without engaging them in any significant present. When defined by either extreme, the serious student is left with either a bankrupt model leading to social activism or a commitment to revise his text on when Jesus is really coming every time the historical climate changes.
In truth eschatology should never be reduced to either of these dead ends. It is a serious reflection that affects all parts of a theological system. If conservative theologians have been guilty of any persistent error it is to treat theological categories systematically rather than systemically. The difference is that systematic theology tends to create and sustain biblical or philosophical categories while systemic theology ( a term I have coined from systems theory) looks more at the interconnections between theological categories. In systematic theology we can tend to myopia and lose the fact that all things are connected in theology leading to a disillusionment with any part of the system. Systemic theology utilizes the basic categories of theology but allows them to be a bit more fluid. Its’ interest is pulling on the interconnecting threads between doctrines and see just how they are affected by each other.
... , the most distinguish advocate of hope theology, rooted his theological perspective with the eschatology. He emphasized that it is only through ... from Modernist approaches; rationalism, secularism and modern philosophical systems, modernists claimed that the truth and beliefs written in ... . Metz. Personal Evaluation The hope theology is focused on the future. It tends to unfetter itself from the modes ...
With this in mind, one can enter the system of theology at any given point and note the effect that that perspective has on the rest of the system. In order to understand why eschatology is important and how it affects the other parts of our theology, I have chosen to engage an older text, Eschatology and Ethics in the Teaching of Jesus by Amos Wilder. This text is appropriate because Wilder is a bit more liberal than evangelicals are comfortable with and will provide an excellent sounding board to pull out the connections we are seeking.
Wilder’s Eschatological Vision
Amos Wilder strikes a very different chord concerning eschatology early in his book when he notes that its’ basic substance is that of myth read forward. By doing this, he is calling to our minds the idea of myth as a general observance of our past in creative, albeit not essentially true, metaphorical language. Myth has a power to create extended meanings not accessible in true narratives by utilizing extraordinary symbolic language. In this way, ancient writers were effective in describing timeless important truths that had to be learned. Much like the parable, the myth or fairy tale is essential in engaging the whole of our creative faculties in apprehending a complex truth. Wilder takes the novel approach of suggesting that the category of myth does not necessarily have to be backward looking. For him eschatology is more of a myth read forward.
Of the most importance to Wilder is the idea that myth is a critical way of accessing that which has been and is essentially important to a culture. When considering this idea in relation to the future he notes that eschatology firmly establishes that which is critical to a culture’s aspirations by using a sweeping metaphorical symbolism of the final consummation of the kingdom of God. Descriptions of a new world order where life, peace, healing and joy are present is a powerful metaphor which illuminates the essential hope of the faith. Its’ energy derives in the now seeking a future rather than a future speaking to the now.
Of interest to this study is the manner in which Wilder comes to his conclusion. He does so by attempting to understand why an eschatological Jesus spent so much time developing a long term ethic. If, as the conservatives suggest, he was coming back at any given minute, why did he proclaim an ethic concerning marriage, divorce, civil disputes and social relationships? All these social categories require a good deal of time. In Wilder’s eyes, these seem to be consistently apprehended lifestyles. The conclusion Wilder comes to is that these lifestyles are the expression of that which is consummated by hope found in the myth of eschatology. This is interesting because Wilder is pulling on a thread of the system, i.e. ethics, and allowing it to affect another element, eschatology. While his conclusions are a bit off, his method demonstrates that how we chose to view one element has a profound effect on how we approach the whole. In one sense we have already answered the question, “why is our concept of eschatology important?”
... a surprising resurgence (or, in fact, long-overdue beginning) of interest in Wilde's penultimate play. Several revivals have begun to ... ideas; the finely honed satire of social pretension, greed, self-interest, folly, and affectation. All the marks of the true comedy ...
As a side note it is interesting that this position avoids the realized eschatology of Dodd, the consistent eschatology of Schweitzer and the unhistorical eschatology of Barth. Unfortunately for Wilder it leaves him no closer to the kingdom!
What this brief study of Wilder has done, however, is to bring to light two real facts. First, our eschatology can make a huge difference in the way we approach the most vital aspects of practical faith. Secondly, a skewed eschatology results in an entirely different lens through which theology itself can be apprehended.
In approaching my first point it should be noted that Wilder clearly begins his erroneous path by settling on a definition of eschatology that is faulty. While intriguing, his view of eschatology as myth truly violates the basic biblical definition on the subject. While the term “eschatology” is a theological creation it reflects what the bible refers to as “last things”. It is interesting to note that Wilder, like most conservative theologians narrowly defines “last things” as that which occurs at the end of time. While this is one aspect of eschatology it is not inclusive of major points of practical interest such as death, the status of the soul after death, penultimate judgment and the like. Eschatology consists of all these things and each have a definite impact on our lives and ministry.
Understanding eschatology as the last days narrative is not without merit, however. One writer who has influenced Pentecostals (like myself) on this subject is Steve Land in his book, Pentecostal Spirituality. Land, notes that in terms of practical spirituality, eschatology has an enormous impact. Pentecostals have typically understood their entire life in Christ under the rubric of “Last days ministry”. The terms that were used to define the nature of the movement in its inception were highly eschatological including, “The Evening light” (reference to the end of time) and the “Latter Rain Movement”. The conscious understanding that Jesus had empowered his church in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy for one last great revival before the end was the power that energized them into mission. Land calls this fission. It is the energy created with a clear consciousness of the end in mind.
... , ISBN 0853318182 Lund Humphries Lambourne L. , (1996), The Aesthetic Movement, ISBN 0714830003: Phaidon McDermott C. , (2007), Design: the ... He made himself a convenient vehicle through which the Aesthetic Movement was extensively advertised (Campbell, 2006). Wilde had an ... , 2006). These artists in conjunction with craftsmen of aesthetic movement sought to lift up the form of furniture, ceramics, ...
Eschatological “fission” has all sorts of effects on the church. On one side, our consciousness is affected by a need to be ready for the end when it comes. This point is best illustrated by Peter’s statement, “Seeing how these things will come to be, what person ought you to be in holiness before God”. The ethical mandate mentioned by Wilder above, really makes better sense here in light of the scrutiny of God rather than the mere reading ahead of hope! The energy for a passion towards holiness may have its positive roots in a love for God but negatively speaking the general fear of judgment is important as well!
Fission also energizes one towards the mission of the church. If one considers the eschaton as something that is soon to be fulfilled, the evangelical mandate (especially from a Wesleyan Arminian perspective) becomes critical. If the curtain is about to come down on the last act of the great drama of redemption, the passion of the church for lost soul should also be affected. Pentecostalism has been so moved in this area that it is one of the fastest growing movements in the world.
Another aspect of the eschaton that is especially meaningful for Pentecostals is what Land describes as “eschatological fusion”. By this he means the energy created by the in breaking of eschatological power into our present reality. For Pentecostals this is evidenced in two distinct ways; the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and in Worship. As has been stated earlier, the Pentecostal movement has always considered itself an end time movement. The reason for this identification has traditionally been the experience of the Baptism in the Holy Ghost. According to Land, the fusing of the power of God into the church through the Baptism is nothing less than a foretaste of the fullness of the glory of the eschaton. This fusion is empowering and when combined with the aforementioned fission creates the dynamic passion which has propelled Pentecostalism’s powerful evangelism arm.
... people claim to experience God, therefore God probably exists. * A) If an entity is experienced, it must exist b) God can be experienced or encountered directly ... . * Inductive argument: if an entity is experienced then it must exist, people claim they experience God- therefore God probably exists * Cumulative argument: most of ...
This theme is also true of worship. Land describes this relationship as the eschatological experienced by the community in the present as a way of energizing the body in comfort and healing in the last days. The lively participatory nature of Pentecostal worship is not simply a rah rah show for God as many critics have claimed. But it is a spiritual experience of God in worship. This experience mirrors in a partial way, the experience all Christians will enjoy in the eschaton. The basic evangelical description of this idea has been name the “now/not yet”.
While our conception of eschatology has a dramatic effect on our practical ministry, it further has the second effect on our concept of theology in general. If, for instance, we adopt Wilder’s notion of eschatology we are left wondering at the very nature of the theological enterprise. Wilder, like most liberals can only make his assertions if he discounts scripture as a fundamental source of revelation. Liberals are famous for trying to tell us the secrets none of us really want to know!! They can do this only by destroying the bedrock of theology, scripture, and replacing it with the shifting sand of reason. To believe what the Bible says about the last days requires us to believe the Bible is a reliable source of information about God. Simply by affirming a scriptural viewpoint about eschatology demonstrates a commitment to revelation.
Further, however, eschatology affects a long list of theological concepts. If one believes that the Bible describes things as they will truly be, our concepts of anthropology, harmitology, angelology, demonology and especially soteriology are all affected. Anthropologically speaking, we learn that humankind will not simply suffer decay but be raised immortal and incorruptable. Harmitologically speaking we learn that sin is real and will find ultimate defeat in the eschaton. If we cease to consider angels and demons as metaphors for evil and consider them real we see that faithfulness is ultimately rewarded and evil destroyed. Finally, soteriologically speaking we learn that the scope of what God has planned for us is greater than we can imagine. While the list could go on and on, it is indicative of the fact that our eschatology makes a huge difference and affects every line of our theological reasoning.
... experiences. Theology's concern with "all things", rather than simply providing info about God. Role of symbols in Theology ... so that experience happens. Union w/ God is not random, God choose you to experience. Theological Anthropology: ... eschatology). Inadequate understandings of experience: subjective emotionalism, passive reception of sense data, limitation to language expressions. Experience ...
In summary, it seems that both practically and ideologically eschatology cannot simply be dismissed as an untenable theological quest. It is necessary for us to maintain a real balance, however, so that we do not err in falling into the error of the left or the right. After all, the way of redemption is narrow and the gate strait….few there are that find it!
Berkoff, Louis. Systematic Theology. Eerdmans:Grand Rapids.
Erickson, Milliard. Christian Theology. Baker: Grand Rapids
Land, Steven Pentecostal Spirituality: A Passion for the Kingdom. JPTP: Sheffield. 1993.
Wilder, Amos. Eschatology and Ethics in the Teaching of Jesus. Harper: New York.