Why eschatology matters

I have an embarrassing confession to make: when I first started to take my faith seriously as a teenager, I began my theological journey with the likes of Grant R. Jeffrey and Tim LaHaye. My first non-children’s bible was a prophecy study bible. I ate up the stuff that Hagee, Van Impe, and various other dispy-premils were constantly selling. (What this might reveal about my personality or theology now I leave to the reader.)

When my reading in apologetics eventually led to me becoming Reformed, I eventually left the dispy-premil camp for the Reconstructionist camp. Since then, even after having left the Recons, I have retained their postmillennialism. At the same time, as I entered university eschatology in general started to matter less to me. It seemed for the most part to be an interesting but ultimately unimportant distraction from more significant theological matters.

But a number of things have led me to change my mind again. Firstly, the work of NT Wright, and later that of the group of writers associated with Biblical Horizons (James Jordan, Peter Leithart, Tim Gallant, among others) have taught me that eschatological matters are pervasive in scripture. Eschatology is the life-blood of the NT, in many ways, with its discussions of the “new covenant”, the “new creation”, and most directly, the “kingdom of God” or “the age to come”. Talk of “the already and the not-yet” should of course be included here.

Secondly, and very recently, I have begun to realize the importance that eschatology has to play not only in inner-Christian disputes, but perhaps more significantly, in disputes between Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism. Basically all of the things that offended the Jews in Jesus’ message (his changes in the law about food, sabbath, and the place of Gentiles in the people of God) were directly related to his eschatology and the implications it had for practice (the one major exception being the Trinity/Christology). If one ever hopes to witness to Jews, one will have to tackle eschatology in a serious manner.

Thirdly, I have noticed that eschatology is something that comes up (at least implicitly) in debates between contemporary anabaptists and conservative evangelicals. One of the most central aspects of pacifist theology in those circles is the “minority status of the church”, which is basically the doctrine that the church will always be distinct from society and outside of power when it is being the church truly. But this is implicitly a premillennial, or at least pessimistic amillennial, view of the church age in eschatology. And this particular spin on those millennial views has obviously significant results in socio-political theory and practice.

Fourthly, I have learned that in many ways the modern worldview, in both its “liberal” and “Marxist” variants, is strongly based on a doctrine of progress, which some historians have connected (rightly, I think), with Christian eschatology, and in some ways a specifically postmillennial eschatology. It is impossible to honestly deal with these popular views of the world and not in some way get into eschatological issues.

So, I can no longer seriously say eschatology is unimportant. What it is, in all honesty, is complicated and difficult, but that is no excuse to ignore it. Life is difficult.