Why is God landing in this enemy-occupied world in disguise and starting a sort of secret society to undermine the devil? Why is He not landing in force, invading it? Is it that He is not strong enough? - C.S. Lewis
This semester, one of my courses covers three areas of systematic theology: pneumatology (the Holy Spirit), ecclesiology (the Church), and eschatology (the last things). Having finished the first two portions of the course, we're about to move on to the lattermost. Part of my final paper is to do a book review. I chose Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America.
I was still in grade school when the popular Christian book series first arrived on the scene in 1995 (I almost said grad school... talk about feeling old). I remember anxiously awaiting each new release. When a new installment was published, I would rush to the library to get a copy, devouring it in a matter of days, sometimes hours. I remember following the storylines with deep intentionality, wondering what it would be like to live through that 7-year tribulation that dispensationalists find an inevitable reality for the world and its inhabitants.
Here I am, almost 20 years later, reading a book about the popular series and the impact it has had on our world today. As I've gotten older and studied Daniel, Thessalonians, and Revelation, I realize how drastically my own theology has changed in such a short time.
I don't believe in an eternal hell
I don't make claims about the afterlife
I don't think Christianity has the market cornered on Christ
...Still reading? Okay, good. Glad to hear it
For many [fundamental] evangelical Christians today, when they hear the word "eschatology," their minds jump to the rapture, to the tribulation, to the battle of Armageddon. To some ambiguous anti-Christ and his prophet. To some B-movie where Kirk Cameron proves to us yet again why he should have stopped with Growing Pains (apparently there's a new version coming out starring Nicholas Cage, Ashley Tisdale, and Chad Michael Murray... just when you think certain careers can't sink any lower).
Yet there's something wrong with this mentality. There's something missing.
A faithful eschatology cannot simply be about personal about salvation, about heaven and hell as the final destinations for all humanity. It has to go beyond modern individualism. It has to be about God's character and nature, that of goodness, love, justice, and redemption. It has to recognize that part of God's mission is to *restore* the earth to its original, untarnished state. It's about humankind living up to its nature as a reflection of God's image and likeness. The good news isn't just "You don't have to go to hell." When that's what we limit it to, we turn our ideas of salvation into golden calves... and we all know how that turns out.
A short while ago, I tried to go back and re-read the famous LaHaye and Jenkins series. I couldn't even finish the first paragraph. Already it was riddled with so much elitism, such an "us vs. them" mentality, that I couldn't continue without fearing for the well-being of the lunch I'd just eaten. Reading this new book by Amy Johnson Frykholm, I'm reminded of the pro-life, anti-gay, misogynistic slants that the NYT Bestselling series is known for in secular circles. I just can't back it anymore.
There is more to the Christian journey than simply getting one's ticket into Heaven punched, more than building up one's storehouse of golden crowns and mansions and so on and so forth
We have a responsibility to care for our world here and now instead of just ripping it apart under the presumption that God's promise of restoration and redemption gives us a free ticket to be ecologically irresponsible. We have an obligation to be a part of God's justice for all people, for where there is injustice God is working to right those wrongs. Most of all, when doing or formulating theology, we have to be humble enough to admit the possibility of being wrong. Just because we believe something about God does not make our belief unquestionable fact. God cannot be fully known (this doesn't mean we shouldn't try to get to know God as best we can).
From before time began until it ends, God had been working on something new, something big, something that goes beyond individualism, egocentrism, and elitism. Yes, there is a promise of a new heaven and a new earth. This doesn't mean we get to be thoughtless pricks who are so self-serving that we forget, no, neglect the needs of the less-well-off, of the marginalized, of the other. Eschatology can be summed up in the famous West Side Story line, "Something's coming." Tony didn't know what it was. Neither do we. But we can know and trust that it will be good. Because God is doing it, God calls it good.