Saturday, February 28, 2009

a consideration of eschatology and ethics

I have been considering Anderson's article for a month now and as I consider a few threads he brought up in his article it has struck me that whether or not dispensationalism is something evangelicals embrace there is a respect in which a proliferation of "kingdom now" ideas or even post-millenialist ideas could be misunderstood by evangelicals. In other words, there is risk in a prosperous country like the United States for Christians of any confession to not think in terms of eschatology, which is to say that we look forward to a life to come and that that, more so than any cultural or social or political goals we have for this age, is what we can draw upon to motivate our ethics.

Take the subject of marriage and sexuality. As Lauren Winner put it a while back evangelicals have tended to frame the argument for chastity in terms of the wedding day. Now this seems like a compelling argument if your sixteen and think you're likely to get married by the time your 20 or 24. By the time you're 27 and it looks less likely you're going to get married the argument that you should be chaste in anticipation of an unspoiled wedding day stops becoming a compelling argument. The argument that the treaty Neville Chamberlain got with Hitler should be relied upon stops holding any weight after Poland gets invaded.

In fact speaking as a single guy in his thirties I would say one of the biggest failures at a church like Mars Hill specifically has been to articulate a vision of Christian life in which marriage is never on the table. It's not that marriage is bad, it's that marriage is for this age. In the age to come no one will be married. It is useful to mention this once or twice as a salve to singles and another thing to teach in such a way as to expound what it means to say that those who are married should live as though they were not. That obviously doesn't mean to leave the wife or husband and any attendent kids.

I remember the days when I was actually a dispensationalist in my early through late teens. I read Hal Lindsey. I paid attention to Bible prophecy stuff. I actually thought for a while the European Union could be the Beast foretold in Revelation and research that a lot. The more I learne about the European Union's history, its lack of competence and efficiency in getting anything done, or the propensity within the so called European Union to bicker in the same way the member nations did for centuries before the more and more convinced I was that dispensationalism was a dead end in application even if in theory it could ever be demonstrated to be true. And the more I considered the origin of a variety of cults in the wake of dispensationalism the more apparent it became that whatever the historic confessions of the Christian faith were on eschatology, whether Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox, it was not dispensationalist in eschatology.

When I settled that I wasn't a dispensationalist I found myself liberated to recognize that while this present age was passing away it was not passing away so soon as to render anything I did worthless in this age. Surely I would say what I do is of no temporal consequence in this age, still, but there is no despair that Jesus will come back by the time I'm 22 so that therefore there is no reason to contribute anything to society, let alone any basis for the consideration of that task. The paradoxical already but not yet eschatological prsim has been most helpful and most historic in aiding me and it is precisely this kind of eschatology that American evangelicalism can't get too much of. Why? Simply because we must all live with the awareness that our Lord could return tomorrow even while living with the reality that Hemight not return until centuries after we are dead.

It is in this context that Christians can consider the magnitude of decisions and actions that can't be reversed. As someone who was a kid in the 1980s and thanks to thins being progressively declassified let me just pick Reagan as an example of someone who seems to have been considered a hero to conservative evangelicals. We are fortunate that Reagan drastically changed his stance on the Soviet Union and that he was loathe to resort to nuclear war. Allow me to risk some Alan Moore fanboy ire and say the reason Watchmen dats so badly is precisely because it was a British leftist paranoid dystopian present in which Republicans were in charge and someone like Ozymandias thought he had to create a terrible threat to prevent nuclear war from happening. But as Isaac Asimov put it during that era, after fifty years of no one engaging in full scale nuclear war you start figuring it's not likely to happen. We can't keep rewriting variations of Dr. .Strangelove forever you know.

It seems to me every generations burden and opportunity is to reinvent the wheel. We can err on the side of thinking that task is too dull or onerous or simply refuse to reinvent the wheel in our time because we feel it isn't cool enough of a fate to rediscover for our own time what others discovered for us. This may be a uniquely American challenge since we would prefer to come up with something no one has come up with before, head down to the patent office, and get a patent or trademark on it so we can make money off it.

When once we have done that we can be a little too happy with ourselves, holding forth that we have invented the wheel or discovered fire. The Sadducees and Pharisees may represent most readily the dangers in erring too far one way or another on eschatology but I don't feel like unpacking that right now. To me it would be enough to say that the fundamentalists and evangelicals have tended to err on the side of a Pharisaical approach to eschatology (which is to say a culture war or ask that God disrupt the established order for our benefit) while the mainlines are Sadducees (we can compromise just about anything so long as we get along with the imperial state that lets us do what we want and tip our hats to them in exchange for some lenience).

Of course Jesus made enemies of both groups.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The NEWEST Pretrib Calendar

Hal (serial polygamist) Lindsey and other pretrib-rapture-trafficking and Mayan-Calendar-hugging hucksters deserve the following message: "2012 may be YOUR latest date. It isn't MAYAN!" Actually, if it weren't for the 179-year-old, fringe-British-invented, American-merchandised pretribulation rapture bunco scheme, Hal might still be piloting a tugboat on the Mississippi. roly-poly Thomas Ice (Tim LaHaye's No. 1 strong-arm enforcer) might still be in his tiny folding-chair church which shares its firewall with a Texas saloon, Jack Van Impe might still be a jazz band musician, Tim LaHaye might still be titillating California matrons with his "Christian" sex manual, Grant Jeffrey might still be taking care of figures up in Canada, Chuck Missler might still be in mysterious hush-hush stuff that rocket scientists don't dare talk about, John Hagee might be making - and eating - world-record pizzas, and Jimmy ("Bye You" Rapture) Swaggart might still be flying on a Ferriday flatbed! To read more details about the eschatological British import that leading British scholarship never adopted - the import that's created some American multi-millionaires - Google "Pretrib Rapture Diehards" (note LaHaye's hypocrisy under "1992"), "Hal Lindsey's Many Divorces," "Thomas Ice (Bloopers)" and "Thomas Ice (Hired Gun)," "LaHaye's Temperament," "Wily Jeffrey," "Chuck Missler - Copyist," "Open Letter to Todd Strandberg" and "The Rapture Index (Mad Theology)," "X-Raying Margaret," "Humbug Huebner," "Thieves' Marketing," "Appendix F: Thou Shalt Not Steal," "The Unoriginal John Darby," "Pretrib Hypocrisy," "The Real Manuel Lacunza," "Roots of (Warlike) Christian Zionism," "America's Pretrib Rapture Traffickers," "Pretrib Rapture - Hidden Facts," "Dolcino? Duh!" and "Scholars Weigh My Research." Most of the above is written by journalist/historian Dave MacPherson who has focused on long-hidden pretrib rapture history for 35+ years. No one else has focused on it for 35 months or even 35 weeks. MacPherson has been a frequent radio talk show guest and he states that all of his royalties have always gone to a nonprofit group and not to any individual. His No. 1 book on all this is "The Rapture Plot" (see Armageddon Books online, etc.). The amazing thing is how long it has taken the mainstream media to finally notice and expose this unbelievably groundless yet extremely lucrative theological hoax! [Found this web bit - Lori]