Thursday, September 21, 2006

And in the end...

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
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3 comments:

Emma said...

It's interesting the differing views we get about the end of the world from the 'it's not really relevant so we don't need to think about it' I get in one ear to the 'the end is nigh, repent or fry' I get in another ear to the 'it matters, but let's not get caught up in the minutiae, it has been the end times for 2 thousand years already after all, lets think sensibly about it' that I am getting in my .. err.. third ear. I would be interested to hear what Graham Cray had to say, now that his talk is neatly filed away in a beautiful library ;)
I read the La Haye books when I was in Sixth Form up to about the 4th, got irritated and bored with them and stopped. I am reading through Revelation at the moment and groan each time I have to read another chapter, because, to be honest, I just don't get it! And I'm not really too sure how relevant it is after all... is that a bad thing to say?!

Graham P said...

I think any discussion of 'end-times' requires consideration of heaven, however we perceive it. It's very easy to get caught up in the idea that the world will become a huge ball of flame and at a timely momeent God will 'Beam us up', but I believe the reality will differ. If the Kingdom of God is at hand, as we believe, and we are trying to bring the Kingdom in through sharing our faith, then we really will see a "new heaven and a new earth" without the obvious separation we currently endure. Put differently, I believe heaven will come down, perhaps it's already on it's way. Let's not forget during this discussion that's a bit 'doomy-gloomy' that God's final word is not judgement, but blessing (Barth).

Mike said...

Excellent - a discussion already! Totally agree, Graham, that blessing, not doom is what it's all about. It's got to be about all the good things we achieve here coming to a fulfilment and completeness in the kingdom that is to come, otherwise heaven is a huge discontinuity with now.

Emma - persevere. Tell yourself, this is a theological political satire, but I haven't learned the lingo yet.