The Resurgence of Eschatology
There has been a resurgence of eschatology. Stanley Grenz says, “The doctrine of last things is the systematic-theological reflection on history as the narrative of God’s activity in bringing humankind to God’s intended goal”. He approaches this from three levels, the individual level, the corporate (human story) level, and the cosmic level.
Contemporary approaches to eschatology started with an emphasis on the kingdom of God with Albrecht Ritschel (1822-89). For him and other classic liberalist, the kingdom is ethical in nature, it is here and now, within history, it is not something that will come catastrophically in the future. The focus is more on the life of Christ, than his death, and Jesus’ rule is within the human heart, not an external and visible rule. Bultmann represented a more mythological approach. Instead of taking things literally or rejecting what was written, he re-interpreted the text in terms of its existential rather than historical meaning. Jesus’ coming isn’t historical, but in the believers experience. Borg and Crossan had a non-eschatological view of Jesus, and dismissed verses that said otherwise. For Johannes Weiss (1863-1914) the kingdom is “totally otherworldly” (109) with little emphasis on the ethical now. Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) started the quest for the historical Jesus and understood Jesus’ message to be completely eschatological, not so much ethical. The kingdom would come supernaturally in Jesus day. Because it didn’t occur, he thinks Jesus was simply wrong. Charles H. Dodd (1884-1973) with Schweitzer emphasized the eschatological motif, but believed these events already happened in the present. There is no second coming. The debate between Weiss/Schweitzer and Dodd was resolved with an “already” – “not yet” in regard to God’s kingdom. The future (non-escapist) helps to shape the present. Moltmann, the pre-immanent eschatological theologian is interested “in showing the practical consequences of a biblical eschatological perspective as they inform church life and the burning political issues, such as social justice, world peace, and personal freedom” (146).
I found understanding the basic flow of history and how the various views that we have today fascinating. After becoming a Christian in college, the first group I connected with was highly influenced by the Plymouth Brethren, thus I inherited a dispensationalist approach to eschatology. I was a pre-millennial, pre-wrath rapture kind of person, with a more of a Johannes Weiss view, where the kingdom was all about the future, and the primary ethical implications was evangelism, holiness and steadfastness, as Grenz mentions. Under the influence of N.T. Wright and others, I have moved toward a more historical Jesus and an amillennialist approach, appreciating elements that other millennialist approaches bring to the table as Mouw mentions. The premillennialist bring evangelistic and personal holiness fervor, while the post-millennialist bring a heart for social justice.
I’ve very drawn to a lot of Moltmann’s focus, in that I very much believe that the future God is bringing us should shape our present. As we understand that God is drawing us to a new heavens and the new earth, and allow that future to shape the mission of the church, we have a good chance of seeing more of the kingdom realized on earth, though Jesus will bring it back in fullness. Until then, we are to pray that God’s kingdom would come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. And thus we are to join God in the renewal of all things – individually, corporately and cosmically (creation).