We Believe: Eschatology
For whatever reason, eschatology has the potential to get people the most angry about – probably after only atonement – even though it also has the least direct influence on our lives of any of the topics covered by systematic theology.
Here’s Bruxy on the topic:
As often the case, I agree with the bulk of what Bruxy was saying. I’m a little more willing to say that some theologies are outright problematic – in this case, premillenial and especially pretribulation for reasons I’ll get into – but I’m also not a pastor so I don’t really have to be as sensitive to the needs of the community as he does.
The Direction of History
Premillenial vs postmillenial or amillenial matters because it changes how we see the direction of history and subsequently how we act since we align ourselves with the direction we see God is moving. If you think that Jesus will only return after the world falls apart enough that he has to come set up his reign, you’ll cheer for the world for fall apart faster to bring that on. If you think that’s overdramatic, we can look at Israel/Gaza right now for a prime example. A lot of people encouraging Israel to commit outright genocide are doing so because of strange beliefs about Israel being able to do whatever they want and that they need to commit those atrocities in order to speed up the parousia. (To be clear, I am definitely not claiming that Hamas is blameless)
On the other end of the literal millennium extreme, if you believe that Jesus will return after 1000 years of God’s reign on Earth, you’re going to live in ways that align with that direction. This doesn’t always work out well, so I don’t want to paint it as some clearly-better option. John Calvin believed this and that fuelled his almost-theocratic theology and leadership, which while well-intentioned brought on significant problems. A lot of Enlightenment thinkers thought similarly, although maybe with less explicit theology behind it. The problem in these cases is that they were creating a vision of the Kingdom of God that looked very different than Jesus. In my opinion, if you are a postmillenialist but that millenium actually looks like Jesus rather than Christendom, you’ll be a part of creating a much better world.
If you believe in amillenialism, you aren’t necessarily cheering for either extreme because Jesus’ return is not dependent on it.
Personally, I’m an amillenial. I don’t think it does much good to try to make a literal number out of an extremely symbolic text that only appears once. I also agree with the general thrust of history being toward God’s Kingdom coming on Earth, just not in any strict millennium sense. I think of the parable of the mustard seed. God’s Kingdom will grow steadily over time. It will be slow, but it will keep growing into a tree that nobody could cut down.
In the Drive Home, Bruxy talks about Hell. There wasn’t a lot of range in topic. He briefly discussed the arguments for Eternal Conscious Torment and why they were not very convincing at all. It really is a theology that came in more from Greek religion and philosophy, such as its assumption that souls are inherently immortal. The rest of the Drive Home was more or less reading a pile of texts that support conditionalism instead. He didn’t touch on universalism at all other than to mention that it is a valid orthodox Christian option.
Personally, as I’ve written about before, I tend to support the conditionalist end-point where some live forever with God while others simply cease to exist, but I’d nuance it a bit to incorporate the universalist view of Hell as being part of God’s grand rescue mission rather than some arbitrary punishment – like purgatory for Catholics, I see Hell as an opportunity for people to burn away the crap in their life and respond to God instead.