Decided it was time for another brief theological excursion to see if there's anyone out there whose interested. Mike's topic for the day? Eschatology. Sounds riveting, doesn't it?
Eschatology is all about what you think theologically about the end of things. Are we on a road to nowhere? Is the world about to end? What will happen if and when it does, and what's God going to do with it?
Now this might sound very theoretical and bookish, but it actually has worrying implications for all of us. Put simply, if you believe that the world will end, that the end is near, and that all the material achievements of this world will be destroyed, then it has profound effects on your ethics and politics. Why conserve the environment if it is all going to be destroyed? If you're an oil baron, that's a very handy theology to have guiding people who are in places of influence.
I find this fascinating - that so-called Biblical Christians can completely blank out the Bible's teaching on stewardship and responsibility withing the material world, and simply focus on some future which consists of being pulled out of this world before it is destroyed.
It all shows the spiritual-material dualism that a lot of these people operate with. Unless I'm imagining things, the Biblical narrative is all about God meeting us in the context of a material reality, and becoming one with that physical world himself in Jesus Christ. That says to me that the material matters.
One of the highlights of New Wine was a couple of talks by Graham Cray on this very subject. He was very good, and probably quite radical for some people there. The La Haye books got a critique, as did the more speculative end of the Revelation-reading market. There were the obvious interpretational issues about Revelation being a sybolically encrypted critique of the ills of the day (more like the prophecy of someone like Amos, but in code). This would no doubt anger the "UN are the antichrist" end of the US fundamentalist scene.
Another simple (but profound) point he made was that the language of the New Testament implies a renewed heaven and earth, not 'brand-new, start from scratch' versions. That involves some linguistic arguments about kainos and neos (sorry, can't do Greek font) - the former having connotations of renew and used in Rev 21:1 "new heaven and a new earth" whereas new is usually neos. Probably one of those where they can interchange sometimes, though, so don't hang your whole theology on it!
Don't quite know where that leaves us, but I certainly have profound concerns about the end-time theologies that are around in some circles, with their duality and plenty of other worrying attributes. When I have watched the Tony Robinson programme Doomsday Code, I'll say some more on this. Comments welcome now, though