Eschatology and Advent (5) Christianity without eschatology is not Christian

Continuing our journey through the theme of eschatology and advent, at this stage reviewing developments in NT eschatology and especially how within Christianity ‘future hope’ is no marginal doctrine but is like the spine that gives support and shape to the whole. Without it Christian faith collapses in a heap.

We left off with the (re)emergence of an ‘already and not yet’ eschatology in NT biblical studies in the second half of the twentieth century. God’s future has broken into the present within history. We are to be people of hope in what God has done in the death and resurrection of his Son and in the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Jurgen Moltmann

This brings us back to Jurgen Moltmann and his major impact on restoring eschatology to the centre of Christian theology.

For Moltmann future hope defines all authentically Christian theology. This hope is grounded in the cross. And this is where The Future of Hope does not sit alone – it is a companion volume to The Crucified God and The Church in the Power of the Spirit. The resurrection follows the cross, and the paradox between death (cross) and life (Spirit) is seen in the work of the Spirit who is transforming present darkness toward a future glorious kingdom.

This is all the work of God and leads to hope that the future will transcend and exceed the present in a transformed new creation. This hope is especially powerful for those who suffer and are marginalised in the present. Because of the resurrection

“the future of the new creation sheds its luster into the present of the old world.”[1]

There is plenty in Moltmann to puzzle over and wrestle with and he has been criticised as well as praised. But the main point for our tour of modern eschatology is to agree with Richard Bauckham’s assessment that, after Moltmann, the proposition

“that the resurrection of the crucified Christ provides in some sense a model, as well as a promise, of what the future general resurrection and the new creation of all things might mean has been widely accepted and developed in recent theology.”[2]

Let’s bring this talk of the future down to earth a bit.

I was talking with a close friend recently who knows a lot about pain and suffering. His battles are obvious, but with typical insight and humility, he commented that push just a little beneath the surface of most people’s lives, or the lives of those close to them, and you will find all sorts of stuff going on – illness, stress, bereavement, anxiety, loss, fear, depression, hopelessness …

To be human is to struggle in the in-between times of now and not yet.

And it is precisely here that Christianity’s future hope speaks into the present. It is a hope based in history, on the supreme self-giving love of God to confront evil and defeat death at the cross of his Son, on the victory of God over the powers of Sin and Death in the resurrection, and of the gift of his empowering presence the Holy Spirit in the here and now.

Contrast this with theology that travels down the Wredestrasse – there is no eschatological new age to come. The present is all we have.

An example is Marcus Borg (d. 2015) and others from the Jesus Seminar (a group of mainly US scholars doing biblical studies particularly around Jesus and the Gospels).

For Borg, the New Testament’s language of the future captures truth in metaphorical and symbolic language. Its focus is transformation into new life here and now. An obsession with the future, especially judgement, he argues, makes Christianity a religion of self-preservation (avoiding punishment) structured around requirements and rewards. Questions about personal destiny after death reflect an unhealthy preoccupation of the self and divides people into camps of the ‘saved’ and ‘unsaved’. It also tends to encourage a neglect of justice in this life.

In other words, being so heavenly minded as to be of no earthly use.

So there is a pretty stark choice here

The power of future hope to speak into and change present circumstances – however hard they might be

OR

No eschatology, no future hope – the present is all there is. Hopes of future justice are ‘pie in the sky’


[1] Moltmann, Coming of God, 28.

[2] Bauckham, “Conclusion,” 672.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s