Seminary Now recently released my Biblical Eschatology course, where I look at how the Bible’s vision for the end connects with the entire biblical story.
In connection with the course, Seminary Now posted this blog interview in which they asked me various questions about my journey to eschatology, my understanding of creation to the end times, and the role of the pastor as it relates to teaching churches about eschatology.
How did you become interested in eschatology?
I was a 20-year old undergraduate theology student trying to understand God’s purposes for the world beyond the church. Since I wasn’t planning on going into pastoral or church “ministry,” I wondered about how—and to what extent—God cared about life in the ordinary, so-called “secular” world. I guess I was wondering if I could serve God if I wasn’t doing something intrinsically “spiritual” like pastoring.
This led me to study the theme of the kingdom of God throughout the Bible, both where it was explicit—as in the teaching of Jesus—and where it was implicit. I traced the kingdom theme from God as ruler of creation to the consummation of God’s purposes in the new heaven and new earth, when the kingdom fully comes and God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
So, I found biblical eschatology to be very helpful for understanding where history is going and how much God values (and wants to save) this created world. Ultimately, I came to understand that earth is meant to be the sacred realm in which we serve God and that all sorts of ordinary human activities are equally “spiritual.”
What does preaching on eschatology look like from the pulpit? How and why is introducing the church to the concept important for redeeming each day and God’s work in it?
Preaching on eschatology rarely has to be explicit. Mostly it is about communicating a strong sense that God cares about earthly life and wants to redeem us in the fullness of our humanity.
The point is that eschatology (like every other theme and topic in the Bible) isn’t there for our intellectual curiosity. Rather, the entire Bible is meant to empower us to live more faithfully as disciples of Jesus.
But this requires that we frame our lives by the wonderful biblical story of God’s desire to redeem the world he made, centered in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Given that our lives are typically framed by the idolatrous narratives of our culture (which we are socialized into and come to believe at an implicit level), good preaching is meant to ground us in the alternative narrative the Bible tells, while challenging us to let go of those attitudes and practices that are not congruent with this narrative.
So the primary duty of preaching is to reshape the imaginations of God’s people to take this story and its goal (the new creation) so seriously that it transforms how we live in the present. As I write in my book, “Ethics is lived eschatology.”
Many of us find it hard to understand the connection between heaven and earth. What is that connection and why does it matter?
The place to start is Genesis 1:1, which says that in the beginning God created heaven and earth. Heaven and earth in the Bible are the two primary aspects of the created order.
According to Psalm 115:16, “The heavens are the Lord’s heavens, / but the earth he has given to human beings.” Earth is our realm; heaven is not. Heaven is the realm beyond the earth; it is thus “transcendent,” which simply means “beyond.” The Bible claims that heaven is where God has set up his throne (Pss. 2:4; 11:4; 103:19; Isa. 66:1; Amos 9:6; Matt. 5:34; 23:22). Yet heaven is also the realm of the sun, moon, and stars—along with the angelic host (Ps. 148:2–3).
This doesn’t mean that God literally lives “up there” among the stars or out beyond Saturn or Alpha Centauri. Instead, God’s throne in heaven, from which he rules the earth, is a way of speaking of God’s transcendence. Yet, paradoxically, because heaven is part of the created order (in the Bible), God’s throne in heaven also speaks of God’s immanence. Having created the world, God took up residence in part of it. But the earth currently lacks the fullness of God’s presence. The Bible anticipates that God will bring history to its goal at Christ’s return, when God will make all things new.
At that time, God’s throne will shift from heaven to earth (Rev. 21:3, 5; 22:1, 3) and God’s glory will so fill the earth that the earth will finally be conformed to heaven.
How has your own view of God and creation been changed as a result of your study of eschatology?
My study of eschatology was the beginning of a trajectory that led to me becoming a biblical scholar and teacher of the Bible. Biblical eschatology was the starting point for me coming to a more holistic vision of God’s purposes for this world. This vision has inspired and energized me to live towards the vision of God’s kingdom in my personal life and to communicate this amazing vision of God’s unfailing love for his creation (both human and nonhuman) to others.
My study of eschatology led to a more profound understanding of—and love for—God. And it generated in me a passionate desire to share what I have learned with Christ’s church.
So many of us have been confused about eschatology, and I don’t mean just about the crazy predictions of the future that Christians have tried to get from the Bible. More importantly, we’re confused about God’s purposes for earthly life. But it’s really pretty simple. It’s summed up in Micah 6:8: “What does the Lord require of you? / To act justly and to love mercy / and to walk humbly with your God.” Biblical eschatology is focused on helping us to live according to God’s righteous intentions for human, earthly life.