Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Dismantling Based on Wrong Criteria

I must admit my bias is that apocalyptic scenarios are largely constructed. Reading historically it seems that the content of apocalyptic scenarios shifts as time marches on unapologetically ignoring the scenario. At a certain moment the US was ripe for a new scenario and in came pre-trib rapture, fine. But as long as the criteria for dismantling the previous scenario (or existing scenarios) is our own construction, we will just be adding to the mess. This is what Ladd does in Blessed Hope. He takes on pre-trib rapture and while he does a good job dismantling it he replaces it with another construct sometime using the same inferential methodology he complains about from the pre-tribbers. I want something that lands outside the scenarios and then can come back to assess the scenario we like best (if we feel compelled to impose a scenario, I'm not convinced that we need to).

So what are the core eschatological notions? Ladd insists that they must culminate with the return of Jesus. I can appreciate that - if we have a Christian hope that is rooted in incarnation/advent then a God who buggers off completely is not an option. God must have the last word in history. Where this becomes a problem is when we flesh this out with gritty details about how this coming will happen. Confession time - I've dreamt several times of Jesus' return, profound dreams that in all cases were answers to prayers regarding what direction I should take next. In one I found myself with a great mass of people dropping everything and heading off to meet the Lord. In another I ran out onto the lawn to see the skies split open. I could easily construct something from these - but then I'd miss the point. I was working through my options trying to find the way my journey could continue to partner with God. Ultimately, God will have the last word, but my conviction (through study, prayers and experience) is that we work towards making that last word manifest even though we only see it dimly, with humility to adjust as God makes it clearer.

All that to say that it is not the clearest thing in my experience - I'm implicated. Yet I still dislike the way we construct end time scenarios. We need a criteria that stands up better than our biased reading of complicated texts. I say this as someone who loves the coming of God, but also someone who has seen how some of these scenarios render the church unable to cope with real life. Pre-trib rapture is a prime example of how destructive a scenario can be.

So here is where I turn to hope. Whatever we say about the future must be said for us here now. It must enable us to navigate the complexities of life, while giving hope for the betterment of society. Scenarios that don't care about society, environment, and the cosmos really will not work in an age where our vision encompasses all of these. To think that the ancient scenarios are sufficient misses that they have always been re-interpreted based on social location and scope of worldview and that they serve higher purposes than laying out a supposed road map to Armageddon. If such a road map were easily constructed there would not be such endless variance in these scenarios. And to be honest, I can construct some pretty Earth friendly readings of scripture if I wanted to (and have in the past).

Does this mean we discard the scenarios in the biblical texts? Not at all. In fact they give us hope that these scenarios can be constructed in ways that give constructive hope to a people. They themselves are often packaged in helpfully complex language allowing each generation to take up the Blessed Hope as a navigating principle leading towards the ultimate salvation of the world. What is even better is that we get to use the energy of such scenarios in our participation in God's work in the world, leading to the day when God will be all in all - the eschatological fulfillment.

Just some thoughts as I process Ladd.


Nicholas Jesson said...

I am not inclined towards speculating on the end times. This is partly because I have never understood the point. Does it really matter how it will come about? My own church tradition does not spend much time on this either.
Since I have little interest in this, I have not done any in depth reading as you apparently have been doing. However, my guess would be that the biblical texts fall into two categories: those that describe the kingdom (milk and honey, lambs and lions, etc...) and those that describe the coming of the kingdom (the apocalyptic texts). Although both categories will use highly evocative imagery, the texts will be subtly different, I suspect. I would expect that the texts that describe the kingdom will be so idyllic that any reader will understand that the kingdom is beyond any human comprehension or design. The texts that describe the coming of the kingdom will be more detailed, not because they tell us precise details but because they communicate an essential message, that the kingdom will come in this world, not in some imagined utopia.

One of Freedom said...

Hey Nick,

Part of the issue is that periodically our ideas of Kingdom get shaken up. Your tradition went through this around Vat II when the notion that the Kingdom and Church are not synonymous started to gain traction. (see John Fuellenbach's excellent work on the Kingdom). In most of the amillenial traditions end time scenarios was really just a fringe notion - but how did a predominantly amillenial Fundamentalist movement become so enamored with a pre-millenial, pessimistic, pre-tribulational scenario? The influence of this on the traditions I study is phenomenal.

I'm not a biblical scholar, but read a lot of them, especially on this topic. The thing is Jesus broke the expectations (what you express) on how the texts should talk about Kingdom. He made them more and less tangible (if that is possible). What he didn't do was spend a lot of time validating the futurist notions (like your milk and honey or your apocalyptic onset) rather centered it on his person. He was the central figure of his gospel of the Kingdom. It was this insight that began to open ways back out of the pre-trib pessimism of the pre-WWII evangelical world (North Am of course).