Posts Tagged ‘Endtimes’
Eschatology: Biblical, Historical, and Practical Approaches
By D. Jeffrey Bingham
Publisher: Kregel Academic
There is an old saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover…” and this is true with Eschatology: Biblical, Historical, and Practical Approaches. When I ordered this book, it was on the basis of the subtitle with consideration to the words biblical, historical, and practical. While I found this book informative, I did not find it biblical, historical, or practical. I will qualify my findings based on the subjective definition of all those words.
Eschatology by Bingham is one side of a box. The Christian tradition is rich and diverse as is the Jewish tradition from which Christianity is derived. When I considered “biblical” and “historical,” I was expecting a thorough treatment of the subject of Eschatology, which is defined as “The part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.” I suppose I did get treatment on the subject, but it was very narrowly defined and almost exclusively from one perspective and tradition and that being Protestant and Reformed. While this was not totally unexpected, it was rather disappointing considering again the subtitle. I was hoping for a more inclusive and expansive treatment of the subject. As such, the material was presented in such a way that an unsuspecting reader might assume the dispensational view of biblical “final things” is the only way to understand and interpret the Scriptures.
It was my hope that the presentation of material would be more comprehensive and delivered in an objective manner, allowing the reader to make an informed decision on what theory they might understand as “more practical.” Unfortunately, this is/was not the case.
In fairness, the material, narrowly defined as it might be, was presented well. I appreciated the essay format with multiple authors. Likewise, I appreciated the effort and attempt at including a historical perspective although as a church history buff I noticed immediately how exclusionary the material actually was.
Confidence in Authority (Romans 13:1-5)
Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.
I’ve been giving this portion of Scripture considerable thought in recent days. I think some of the reason has to do with the context of current events. First let me point out that I understand the cultural context and the original intent of the text (at least as best as I am able with the academic tools i have at my disposal), and I realize the writer, Paul, was addressing real issues of the day. Certainly, the issues addressed carry over into our Western contemporary world as well and are as applicable today as they were when the letter was written some two millennia ago. Second, I mentioned current events stirring my thoughts over this Romans 13:1-5 passage. In recent days there has been much debate over the doctrine of Hell (in general), ECT (eternal conscious torment), Universalism, Inclusivism, and a myriad of splinter topics surrounding the discussion of Heaven, Hell, and Eschatology. Also, with regard to eschatology, there has been increased conversation about the end times (end of the world, Rapture, Armageddon, Antichrist, etc.). It is not my intent to discuss all of these subjects, but my point is to highlight the amount of “chatter” these topics have generated in recent months. A quick search on the internet will bury any researcher in information on these highlighted topics. You might be wondering how these current events I point out correlate to the text I have mentioned…
Let me begin with reemphasizing my first point. I realize the text has a primary interpretation and I do not want to detract from that; however, I would like to offer a bit of an extrapolation for consideration. I am not suggesting an alternate interpretation of the text, but I am presenting an idea for a more comprehensive application.
Okay; so I’m going to cut to the chase. I think the source of all the conversation (re: the list of topics mentioned) originate from fear, worry, anxiety, elitist and judgmental attitudes. I know that is a pretty big and somewhat general list, but follow with me a minute or two. It should go without saying, but I am presenting my position from a Christian worldview.
The passage of Scripture I have cited at the beginning of this post discusses submission to authorities; specifically, Paul mentions governing authorities and our thoughts are drawn to civil authorities (eg., law enforcement, mayors, presidents, etc.). In the presentation of his discourse, Paul makes several points that got me to thinking outside the parameters of the primary intent of the text. One of his points follows below:
For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you.
Paul prefaces this statement with a qualifier; “For all authority comes from God…” Consequently, it is my understanding that God is the primary authority. The subsequent gist of Paul’s argument is geared to submission and obedience to the authorities; ultimately, submission and obedience to God is where this argument logically flows—
“So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.”
Live without fear…avoid punishment and keep a clear conscience. Hmmmmm…
Now, I wonder… If we have been promised eternal reconciliation with our Creator, provided we submit to his authority, what else is there to be anxious about? Why would or why does hell matter? What difference does the end of the world or a Rapture make? It isn’t my intent for those questions to sound callous or uncaring; I realize that doctrine matters and it is good to have an understanding of certain matters relating to our faith. I don’t think concern and/or fixation on the level of fearful obsession over these matters is healthy, nor was it something intended by God. I also realize the importance of understanding eschatological doctrine, although much of the information we have regarding this knowledge is shrouded in mystery from the Bible. Part of the reason for the various positions over these doctrinal issues is the ambiguity in the Bible over specifics and details for Hell, Heaven, Final Judgment, Rapture, Armageddon, New Heaven—New Earth, etc., and etc. When Jesus was pressed by his disciples about the end times, he was not specific… well, he was… He said; “No one knows…” (Matthew 24:36). Similarly, we have hints, echoes, and shadows of what will be and how it will occur regarding the final details of the earth, what happens after death, and the ultimate eternal kingdom, but we have not been given specifics. Perhaps the more pertinent point behind all of this conjecture and rhetoric is missing entirely. God has instructed us to fix our eyes, hearts, ears, mind, and soul upon Him entirely. He has instructed us to live wholeheartedly for Him (Deuteronomy 6:5; Mark 12:28-31) and He has instructed us to love one another in the same way that He loved us, unconditionally, selflessly, and entirely…even to point of laying down our lives for one another.
The way of pure faith is to persevere in contemplative practice without worrying about where we are on the journey, and without comparing ourselves with others or judging others’ gifts as better than ours. We can be spared all this nonsense if we surrender ourselves to the divine action, whatever the psychological content of our prayer may be… The divine light of faith is totally available in the degree that we consent and surrender ourselves to its presence and action within us. (Invitation to Love; Thomas Keating)
Coming back to the Scripture that inspired my thoughts (Romans 13:1-5), I wonder what our conversations would be and I wonder how our lives would look if we were to live under full authority and obedient submission to God, the Ultimate Authority, and His Government. I believe there is good chance there would be less fear, less doubt, less debate, less argument, and less division. I believe the world would witness people with purpose, confidence, assurance, peace, and joy. I believe, because of these things mentioned, there would be more people interested in becoming citizens of God’s Kingdom even if they did not have all the details because they were witness to the winsome and joyfully industrious people who profess to be part of God’s Kingdom on earth.
Finally, it seems to me the internal witness of God’s Holy Spirit would provide believers with the assurance and confidence to trust God implicitly. While our curiosity might be piqued by some of the less definitive teachings in the Bible, in the end we would find ourselves able to trust whatever may play out according to God’s design and plan. I find myself trusting whatever comes. I don’t think it matters to me how things play out. I’m confident that I will be living with the Triune God for all eternity. This fact alone makes anything else that might come before that great day “a-okay.”