Alwyn's Lay Reader Training
Student number U18137. TMM1111 18/19 Introduction to Christian Doctrine.
Imagine that you are asked to contribute to a Christian magazine, either in print or online.
To Boldly Go.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines eschatology as "the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind".
Eschatology is a hotly debated subject among some modern believers. It concerns the study of the “end times,” last things, or future events in God’s redemptive plan. Its scope includes Christ’s return, the rapture, the millennium, future judgment, and God’s kingdom. To those who study the subject they are important issues, so it’s understandable why a lot of ink has been used by people staking out their particular theories.
“To boldly go” the introduction to Star Trek, takes some beating! As an avid fan of science fiction the study of Eschatology got my immediate attention.
Science Fiction often portrays the end of the world scenarios. For example the 1998 film Deep Impact imagines a seven mile long comet traveling at thousands of miles per hour striking earth. This would cause an end of life on earth event, where all life on earth would perish.
Fewer films however seem to deal with any spiritual aspects of global destruction.
The book, by H.G. Wells “the War of the Worlds” first published in December 1897, we see a priest believing the Martians as demons, and in the later film made in 1953, we see humankind’s destruction by the Martians causing a resurgence of people gathering and praying for comfort and protection in a church.
The Left Behind series of books and films by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins are based on the dispensationalist doctrine, (which considers biblical history as divided in to dispensations, defined periods or ages to which God has allotted distinctive administrative principles) and is an interpretation of the prophecies of the books of Revelation, Daniel and Ezekiel and tells a story of the end of times, but set in the present day. The premise of the stories is that true believers in Christ have been “raptured” taken instantly to heaven leaving behind a world shattered and chaotic.
Some American Christians have even have taken the idea of the rapture in the phrase "beam me up, Jesus" because they believe that the way the transporter works on Star Trek is the closest thing we have to the way the rapture will work.
We only have to Google, Eschatology Today to find many pages that want to give us their interpretation of the end of the world. Most of these seem to come from North American Theologians, who seem to gleefully expect the end of the world.
Although you can find similar items from BBC Religions, try finding anything from the Church of England from whom strangely, there is no mention of Eschatology on their site.
Should Eschatological teaching be important to the church? Michael J Vach, a Professor of Theology, Los Angeles, California, in his blog which you can find at www.tms.edu/blog gives us these seven reasons why he believes it should.
1. ESCHATOLOGY IS A MAJOR PART OF THE CHRISTIAN STORYLINE.
2. WE ARE CALLED TO PREACH AND HEED THE WHOLE COUNSEL OF GOD.
3. PEOPLE ARE INTERESTED IN THE FUTURE.
4. ESCHATOLOGY IS A MOTIVATION FOR BELIEVERS.
5. ESCHATOLOGY HAS A PURIFYING EFFECT ON THE BELIEVER.
6. ESCHATOLOGY GIVES PERSPECTIVE TO THE TROUBLES AND TRIALS OF THIS AGE.
7. ESCHATOLOGY WARNS THE UNBELIEVER OF COMING JUDGMENT.
As we look at these main points that Michael Vach makes we could say OK, but is it? Using the Oxford Dictionary definition in comparison I do not think you can claim it as a major part of the Christion religion and we do already preach the counsel of God. I am also, not sure if people are interested in the future, it seems for many, they are only interested in the here and now. Death and Judgement however should concern us all.
We will all have our own eschatological views on this. It concerns the only two possible eternal destinations for every person who has ever existed, Heaven or Hell. “Where will I go when I die?” That is the most crucial question any person can ask. It’s the only facet of our eschatology that we can’t afford to get wrong. And yet too many people ignore that question, and instead become preoccupied with preserving this present earthly life in spite of our inevitable demise.
As someone who is trained in the funeral ministry, I often have to speak about dying and death. When someone dies I need to affirm for those left in this life that, death is not the end of our Christian lives. Within a funeral service, I always say I am not afraid of death, but that I am afraid of dying (as the process of dying can be a messy and painful event).
The Church of England and other denominations devote a lot of time and resources to the funeral ministry. Whilst the reason for a funeral is that someone has died the main focus should be on those left behind. It is too late for the deceased person, but for those left behind, these need our ministry the most. It is quite interesting how many people renew their faith after the death and funeral of someone they knew.
Without the assurance that there is something more after death, then there is little point in living our short lives on earth.
In his blog Cameron Buettel, https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B180328/the-eschatology-of-the-thief refers to the two thieves that were crucified on either side of Jesus. One of them was abusing Jesus with taunts that if he was the son of god then he should save himself and them.
However, the other still had the presence of mind to warn the thief who was verbally chastising Christ, of an even greater danger. “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?” (Luke 23:40). In the face of impending death and eternal judgment, this thief rightly understood that his earthly life was ending and wanted salvation.
Jesus tells us what our greatest fear should be. The thief on the cross is a forceful advocate of that view, his words speak powerfully to those whose primary fear is the end of this temporal life.
It is hard to believe that in the midst of unspeakable agony, the second thief was filled with dread for something else. He was afraid, not of those who were destroying his body, but of God, who would destroy both his body and his soul in hell.
The thief had mastered the most critical essential of Christian eschatology. He knew he was deservedly headed for hell and Christ was headed for His glorious kingdom (Luke 23:42). The thief was acutely aware of his very real and imminent danger.
He didn’t plead with those who wielded the earthly power at Calvary, the Jewish leaders or the Roman government. He turned to the suffering Christ and made one final desperate plea to be saved. Jesus answered him “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
We rightly teach about what is good and how to lead our lives, but we rarely speak about what will happen if we live badly. We are told that as a believers in Christ, he will be our advocate in Heaven. This implies that at some point we will be judged on our actions.
So does the Church of England boldly go, the answer I believe is no! In my opinion, and here I seem to be in the same mind set as the Church of England, there is little need of the study of eschatology.
If, when and how the world is destroyed matters only to those who do not believe in Christ. As Paul says in his letter to the Romans 5ꓽ 1,2 he writes, 1Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we (us) have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access (by faith) to this grace in which we stand;
So is eschatology important to us today? My answer is only the part which concerns death and judgement. Eschatology gives us hope, we know however bad things get, we know ultimately, God is in control of events and as the end of time prophecies are fulfilled, the Bible is vindicated as true.
Is it important to our Christian belief, do we need to know how the end of times effect us?
When we come to rapture and the end of times, let’s leave it to those theologians with little better to do with their time, or to the film makers who show us different versions of the end of our world, and just live our lives for Christ Jesus.
Now will you, “boldly go” through your life believing in Jesus and living your lives according to his word.