Christianity as eschatology

Section 3 of Michael Bird’s Evangelical Theology is Gospel and Kingdom.

The kingdom of God for Bird is ‘divine dominion’ – an inaugurated eschatology where kingdom is both present now and not yet fully arrived – here he is following Ladd, Jeremias, G R Beasley-Murray etc.  Scot McKnight has posted more on this section and has commented before on the limits of Ladd’s rather idealised and abstracted idea of the kingdom – Scot wants to link it more ‘earthily’ with the story of Israel and the people of God.

But here are some broad questions:

Where does eschatology ‘fit’ in your everyday faith? What difference does it make in church life – how much does the local church see itself as an eschatological pilgrim community? What difference in your work?  In your motives, priorities and hopes?

How future oriented do Christians in the West tend to be? Or do we tend to be so tied to this life with all its comforts and pleasures that we have little desire, thought or need for the next?

Bird rightly wants to push eschatology up to the top of the list. Christian faith is eschatological from first to last. He concurs with Moltmann (Christianity is eschatology) but more importantly with the entire thrust of the New Testament.

He sees kingdom as God’s reign over God’s people in God’s place – the entire biblical story is framed eschatologically as it moves towards God’s redemption of creation from evil, sin and death. Jesus’ teaching is kingdom centered – the now and the not yet of the kingdom of God. Paul’s theology is thoroughly eschatological – as Peter, as Revelation. The church is an eschatological community, or as Bird puts it, a community of exiles journeying towards a heavenly Jerusalem.

It is this future-orientated story that marks out Christianity out from other world views – past and present.

– Contra the story of the eternal and glorious advance of Roman civilization.

– Contra Enlightenment optimism.

– Contra postmodernity’s pluralism and fragmentation.

– And, contra I would add, capitalism’s relentless pursuit of profit.

He says that “eschatology …. is not just about the final chapter of the book of history. No, eschatology is an invasive story, about how God’s promises to bring justice, reconciliation, and peace to earth have already invaded this age …”

The end result is that God will be “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28).

The future hope of Jesus’ return  has 3 implications for Bird:

  1. Evangelize: tell the good news of the gospel. Eschatology as the engine for mission.
  2. Endure: hope in suffering.
  3. Encourage: spur one another on in light of the future (Heb 10:24-5).

He also lists 7 excellent reasons of Richard Hays on why the church needs apocalyptic eschatology:

  1. To carry Israel’s story forward – the whole story of Scripture and God’s promises to Israel find fulfilment in the eschatological people of God.
  2. To see the cross as a saving event for the world – the victory won at the cross has cosmic implications; it destroys the power of the old order and inaugurates new creation.
  3. To provide critique of pagan culture – Jesus is Lord over all powers, authorities, ideologies, politics and truth claims.
  4. To resist complacency and triumphalism – the church is a servant of God on a journey.
  5. To affirm the body – eschatology is not anti-creation. It is for new creation and that includes resurrection bodies. God creates the world good.
  6. To ground its mission – future hope shapes mission.
  7. To speak with integrity about suffering and death – Christians are to be realistic about the evil of grief and death and injustice – but grieve with hope and compassion (and work for justice now).

In the rest of the section Bird unpacks his views for historic premillennialism (like Blomberg et al) and is post-tribulation, intermediate state and heaven (like N T Wright, a waiting place prior to new creation), hell (as eternal punishment) and new creation.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

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