Thursday, May 15, 2014

Michael Bird on Why Eschatolgoy Matters

Sunday I am preaching the first of several sermons in Matthew's lengthy Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25). Behind only the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) in length, the discourse provides us with Jesus' most detailed eschatology.

I grew up a premillenial, pre-trib dispensationalists and thought it was gospel. In his book Christ's Prophetic Plans, John MacArthur goes so far as to claim How certain is Futuristic Premillennialism? As certain as the truthfulness and the promises of God in Scripture? (see my review here) I have sense become more agnostic regarding eschatology. Some would call this "panmillenialism" asserting that it will "all pan out in the end." We could also assert the most basic orthodox position, Jesus wins in the end.

In his systematic theology, Evangelical Theology, Dr. Michael Bird discusses why eschatology matters and why simply opting for the "Jesus wins in the end" theology isn't enough. He writes:
Now while "Jesus ins in the end" is certainly true, it is a rather terse and vague slogan and does not capture the full breadth of what eschatology means. Jesus wins because he is winning and has already won! The "end" matters not merely because it is the future, but in Christian theology we have a future that already shapes the president. What is more, this Christian eschatology is "apocalyptic," in that it reveals several dualisms, like those between the present and the future, between earthly events and heavenly realities, and between good and evil. (241)
He then highlights 7 reasons why the church need apocalyptic eschatology taken from Richard B. Hays chapter "Why Do You Stand Looking Up toward Heaven? in Theology and Eschatology at the Turn of the Millennium. I offer the list in brief below:
1. The church needs apocalyptic eschatology to carry Israel's story forward.
2. The church needs apocalyptic eschatology for interpreting the cross as a saving event for the world.*
3. The church needs apocalyptic eschatology for the gospel's political critique of pagan culture.
4. The church needs apocalyptic eschatology to resit ecclesial complacency and triumphalism.
5. The church needs apocalyptic eschatology in order to affirm the body.
6. The church needs apocalyptic eschatology to ground its mission.
7. The church needs apocalyptic eschatology to speak with integrity about suffering and death. (241-242)
Bird then offers a great line summing it all up: Recognizing that we are "not there yet" is a sobering reminder that our world is far from redeemed. Since we are still very much part of that world, individual salvation is incomplete until the redemption of all things. (243).

I believe Bird is right. The gospel is wholesome in that it resolves all the problems of the cosmos and human experience. Just as the Fall affected us as individuals and community, it also deeply affects the cosmos. The cross, resurrection, ascension, and return of Christ is the ultimate answer to these cancers.

* This point deserves expansion. Hays wrote, "If we are to grasp the centrality of the cross, we must see it as more than a propitiatory sacrifice for the forgiveness of the sins of all believers. The cross should be interpreted as an atoning event within a larger apocalyptic narrative where God destroys the powers of the old order and inaugurates the new creation (Gal 6:14-16)." (241-242)

For more from Bird:
Does God Suffer?: Aquinas on Divine Impassibility
The God of the Gospel: A Review of Michael Bird's Theology Proper
The Gospel is From, About, and of God (forthcoming)
Is God Impassible?
Is Karl Barth a Good or Bad Guy
"Evangelical Theology" by Michael Bird Out Today
The Goal of Theology: To Be Gospelized

For more on eschatology:
Why I Am a Panmillenialist: An Introduction
"Christ's Prophetic Plans" by John MacArthur & Richard Mayhue: A Review
John MacArthur on Why Every Calvinist Should be a Premillennialist

Mohler on the Blood Moons
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Eschatology 1
"Exploring Christian Theology" by Nathan Holsteen & Michael Svigel: A Review
No Repentance in Hell?: A Defense of an Important Clarification With Carson's Help
Why Didn't Christ Return on October 21st?: Harold Camping & the Difference Between An Apology & Repentance
Camping Is Not Alone: Secularisms Many False Predictions
McLaren on Hell and Universalism . . . Again
Hades, Hell, and McLaren's Eisegesis
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