May 24, 2011

Destruction or Freedom? Thoughts on the End of the World

So I've held off saying anything about the recent end of the world predictions because, according to eschatologian and friend, Chad Brooks, it's easier to make fun of bad eschatology than to be in the process of developing a good one. I certainly don't want to fall prey to that critique. It would be all too easy to jest and mock giving only in the appearance of taking pot shots to garner page loads. But I've decided to post briefly now with the goal of using the recent end times mania as an opportunity to engage in that process of developing a good eschatology. So, the following is not so much on the folly of such predictions, though that critique will be present, but on what strikes me as peculiar about the standard end of the world story in contrast to the biblical story.

The rather straightforward story of Christian scripture is that God created a good world to be populated and overseen by creatures who bear his divine image. Sin and death ravaged that originally good creation and left it in bondage to decay. In Christ, God is committed to the salvation of his image bearing creatures who are instrumental in the ultimate rescue of all creation. The story of the Bible both begins and ends in a garden where God dwells with his beloved image bearers.

In contrast, end of the world predictions often take this straightfoward story and press it uncomfortably into an elaborate scheme that has the appearance of biblical fidelity but is in reality far from it. The notion that the faithful will escape the utter destruction that is coming on the world and its evil inhabitants is usually typical of this approach. Such destruction, though, would be the culmination of creation's entropic bondage, not freedom from it. Creation will certainly be transformed, but transformation is not annihilation.

One peculiarity is that the church has, for centuries, maintained good biblical eshcatology in her liturgy. The Gloria Patri preserves in song the hope of God's intention for creation:
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost,
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.
World without end. Amen. Amen (emphasis mine, of course).
Week by week, the faithful have gathered to sing of God's commitment to uphold and redeem the work of his hand. God has not and will not abandon his creation. Instead, he promises to liberate it from bondage to decay. The second coming of Christ will certainly be the end of the world as we know it, but it will hardly be the end of the world.
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1 comment:

ἐκκλησία said...

Matt, I agree with your discipline to not simply take pot-shots at false prophets, even though their false predictions give people who hate Christianity an excuse to hate it more so.

However, before Christianity addresses the question of whether or not ecclesiastical orthodoxy contains good eschatological theology, there are other questions that need addressing first, for such a query to make any sense. (For example, imagine asking what route one should take to arrive at a destination, before even knowing what transport, if any, is available).

We need to ask other more basic questions of our theology, and obtain true answers, before moving on to the more advanced ones. You’ve already touched on some of these antecedent questions in your others posts, intentionally or not; and they are pre-suppositional issues.

For example, is ecclesiastical orthodoxy currently able to differentiate between eschatological fulfillment and historical fulfilment? (I would argue “not well, if at all”). Why does it matter?

If we cannot fully appreciate the signposts we’ve already been given, that have led us to where we are today, how can we appreciate the signposts that point us on towards the Eschaton?

In other words, without the ability to recognize whether the tree is putting forth its buds, or whether it’s dropping them on the ground [Matt 24:32:26], what hope do we have in interpreting the present time as its proper season [Luke 12:56]? So how can we recognize where in the gradient of history we are? History itself doesn't appear simple.

You argue; theology has its simple beginning, but that its end in pressed uncomfortably into elaborate schemes that have the appearance of Biblical fidelity but are really far from it.

This is true. Except that it is our theology doing the pressing. This recognition then, convicts our theology (but not the Bible)!

For example, here is one question (of a number) that we could ask, and answer, to try to gain traction:
Can we resolve the ambiguity about God’s elect between covenants? Who are God’s sheep? If our answer changes from testament to testament, covenant to covenant, it is our lens that is flawed.

Why do we ask questions such as “Has the Church replaced Israel?” rather than questions like "Is the Church, Israel)” (or “Is Israel, the Church")? Why would we ask a question like this?

First, it is a Biblical question (God elected exactly one wife, one kingdom, to serve him in the world unto eternity [Deut 14:2][1 Chron 16:13][Psa 105:6][Isa 41:8][Rom 9:4] yet our theology disagrees. This muddies our view of history and the Eschaton.

Second, it exposes our presuppositions which may not be warranted presuppositions (i.e. Is there a difference between the Church and Israel? Our presuppositions say ”yes”, without warrant).

Third, it forces us to question history through the lens of theology rather than theology through the lens of history.

Fourth, it enables us to see old covenant theology and new covenant theology in the same light – which we currently lack. For example, look again at the stone that became a great mountain in [Dan 2:34-35]; is the mountain Dan speaks about, Israel or the Church? If the stone was Jesus, and if Israel (the Kingdom) is the Church, and the Church is Israel (the Kingdom), than the mountain is the same mountain whether spoken of from old or new covenant perspective.

Finally, Biblically considering one single bride, one sheep-fold, one Kingdom, historically through unfulfilled covenant to fulfilled covenant, and on into the Eschaton, profoundly changes our view of history, our view of theology, and our view of ourselves.

It also provides a simple Biblical scheme for an Eschaton which is history’s natural conclusion, matching the simple beginning you alluded to - all because history has been simplified and understood Biblically (if by “history” we mean history understood prophetically).