A friend of mine once asked me, while I was a seminary student, “What’s the point of eschatology?” OK, maybe he didn’t say “eschatology.” His point was, what difference does it make what we believe about the end of our present world-situation?
For believers, we currently live in a world in which we have some moderate semblance (hopefully) of the effect and presence of the Kingdom of God. At the same time, we also know all too deeply that this perfect Kingdom is not yet fully present today. Nevertheless, we believers have this vision of a day in which everything will be made right, when peace will abound. Such, ultimately, is the vision of Revelation 21-22. Our currently crappy context will be transformed into a new heaven and a new earth, each filled with God’s glory and goodness.
But the question remains: How does that impact the way we live now?
By Michael J. Gorman‘s estimation, the future vision gives us possibilities to which we should live as witnesses. That is, we ought to live as though that future were already here. “Christian churches and individuals,” he writes in Reading Revelation Responsibly, “are called to bear witness to God’s present transcendent reality and reign, as well as God’s future eschatological renewal and final victorious rule in which there will be true life, peace, and justice for all” (169).
We don’t have an eschatology so that we can simply gather in the bunker and wait for the end. This is a fundamentalist tendency. We don’t have an eschatology that we can somehow force into the present by our own efforts. This is a liberal, social gospel tendency. As Dallas Willard put it, either of these options is “nothing less than a standing invitation to omit God from the course of our daily existence” (The Divine Conspiracy, 12; italics original). God is effectually absent from a life that simply waits for the end. He is similarly gone if I’m trying to accomplish His plan without Him.
But Gorman outlines the alternative:
Because Christians have the true hope that God will in fact do all those things [in Revelation 21-22], and because they have experienced the early signs of that future, complete transformation in their own lives and communities, they attempt, with the Spirit’s power, to live as an alternative community shaped both by the reality of the new creation and by the promise of the fullness of that new creation in God’s future. (170, italics original)
In other words, the new creation isn’t here yet, but Christians are called to live as though it were. Our “bizarre” life will awaken the world to its own ingrained hope for that new world. We point to a greater coming reality. This is witness, whether through word or deed.
So what’s the point of eschatology? If it’s a good one, it will cause you to live as though you were in the future. So what kind of future are you living?