Conflagration…Conflagration!

It’s time for more eschatology, people.  (Just giving the public what they want.)

I was just reading Gale Z. Heide’s (Montana Bible College) 1997 article, “What Is New about the New Heaven and the New Earth?  A Theology of Creation from Revelation 21 and 2 Peter 3” (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, March 1997, pp. 37-56).  It’s a brief study that concentrates on whether John the Seer and Peter anticipated the total destruction and re-creation of the earth from scratch or some kind of renewal or refinement.

Towards the end of the piece, Heide provides an interesting interpretive translation of the controversial 2 Peter 3:10-13.  His translation seeks to provide the insight that relevant research might uncover.

But first, check out the translation the NIV, my governess, provides:

[10] But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.  [11] Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live holy and godly lives [12] as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.  That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.  [13] But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

Now, compare Heide’s translation:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens as we know them will pass from sight with a roar and the order of this world will be refined with intense heat, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare for judgment.  Since all things are to be refined in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, anticipating and hastening the day of God, when the heavens will be refined by burning and the impure order of this world will melt in the intense heat of judgment!  But according to his promise we are looking for renewed heavens and a renewed earth, in which righteousness dwells (55).

There is not space here to go into the details of Heide’s research, though it is enlightening.  Besides you can read it for yourself here.  Nevertheless, I do appreciate the emphasis on renewal and transformation.  Plus, the notion that God intends to refine those things which have been corrupted, as in the flood (cf. 2 Ptr 3:3-7), fits well the God who redeems the righteous, while judging the evil.

What do you think?

More Times and Seasons

A little while back, I had noticed the occurrence of the Greek words kairos and chronos in close proximity in both Acts 1:7 and Daniel 7:12.  Typically, English translations have this as “times and seasons.”  To the average reader, I suspect the phrase is taken as a simple poetic flourish of the pen.  Nevertheless, I suspected a meaning that pointed towards the rise and fall of world empires.

A couple weeks ago, I was doing some study in 1 Thessalonians 4, which is always a dangerous business.  Of course, one cannot adequately study chapter 4 without at least browsing chapter 5, now can one?  And, lo and behold, 1 Thessalonians 5:1 reads, “Now concerning the times (chronos) and seasons (kairos), brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you” (ESV).

So there they are again, chronos and kairos, back to back.  The question then becomes whether a similar approach to “times and seasons” might fit the context of 1 Thessalonians.  Could it be that Paul is writing the Thessalonian Christians regarding the rise and fall of kingdoms, as in Daniel 7?

I believe so.

First, consider that in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11, Paul is concerned to encourage the believers because some of their brothers and sisters have died.  What’s more, there is reason to believe they have died at the hands of persecutors.  Paul had already mentioned in 1:6 that the church had come under “much affliction” as a result of receiving the gospel.  There in Thessalonica were the people of God being oppressed by a dark empire, just as in Daniel 7:7, 19-21, 25.

Second, there is, of course, the presence of the clouds.  In Paul’s expectation of Jesus’ return, he sees the Lord coming down from heaven in the clouds (1 Thess 4:16-17).  This is a reversal of the chronology of Daniel’s vision, in which this one like a son of man was entering God’s presence in heaven with the clouds (Dan 7:13).  It makes sense, though, that if Jesus were returning, he might do so in the opposite sequence.

Third, 1 Thessalonians 5 proclaims judgment on those who belong to the darkness.  This is the message of all apocalyptic literature, after all.  The oppressive kingdoms of the world, which all represent a common kingdom of the night, will all reap judgment in the end.  That judgment against oppressive regimes serves as vindication and redemption for the faithful people of God.  Such is the case in Daniel 7:23-27 as well.

Paul’s message to the Thessalonian believers is the same message faithful prophets of the Lord had been proclaiming for centuries.  The severe oppression exerted on the people of God in the present will not last.  The kingdom(s) of darkness will be overthrown by the Almighty and the faithful will be vindicated.  Even their death will be undone.  Why?  Because a new kingdom is rising to power over the creation, a kingdom of light.

Where Is the Locus of Our Hopes?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been thinking about eschatology lately. (I mean, doesn’t everybody?) There’s a question that’s been rolling around my head lately that I’d like to pose generally.

Are there any Old Testament prophecies, promises from the Lord, which may not reasonably have an earthly object?

Now, I’ve not done any extensive research into the question (yet), but it seems to me that at least most OT prophecies and, indeed, OT prayers are aimed at seeing some kind of result affected here on the earth. It seems that prophets and other godly characters in the Old Testament are primarily concerned with things like justice and well being here on the earth and, if possible, in their own day.

If this is true, it leads me to a second question regarding New Testament eschatology. If it is true that the prophets in Israel’s history foresaw and sought after God’s goodness displayed on the earth, then why have many Christians transferred many (if not most) prophetic hopes onto some kind of future ethereal state? Why do we not apply our eschatological hopes to this world?

Wright v. McKnight

When it comes right down to it, I think Wright and McKnight are basically on the same page. Both maintain a kind of righteous discontent with the state of affairs regarding the gospel in today’s Western Christian culture, and for many of the same reasons. Both believe wholeheartedly that today’s Christians simply do not know the story out of which the gospel of Jesus arose. Nor do they know why it matters that they don’t know that story.

There is no question McKnight reveres NT Wright for his scholarship and the view Wright has taken on many issues related to the gospel. Wright, after all, is quoted several times in The King Jesus Gospel. Wright, for his part, could easily say that McKnight has started this conversation down the right path. (One wonders whether McKnight’s book was the motivator for How God Became King.) Nevertheless, probably each would say of the other he goes too far in certain areas, not far enough in others.

Here are a couple areas I could see them disagreeing.

The Creeds Maybe “disagree” is too strong a word here. Certainly the two scholars use the creeds for different purposes in their work. McKnight, for his part, sees the ancient creeds as real standards to be upheld and rehearsed. He sees the heart of the gospel within the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, for example.

Wright would not disagree that the creeds are extremely valuable, that they contain, for those with eyes to see, the heart of the gospel, but he contends that our own Western Christian cultures have conditioned us from seeing the real story of the gospel within the creeds. Wright would never do away with the creeds – far from it – but he does desire to see them imbued with the meaning they originally carried.

Gospel and Empire This is likely where McKnight and Wright would have a serious conversation and potentially real disagreement. In fact, McKnight devotes a whole section of a chapter questioning the intentional presence of a supposed anti-imperialism in either the gospels or Paul. Further, McKnight is clear that this is in response to the world of folks like NT Wright, among others. McKnight’s contention is simply that any anti-imperial message found within the New Testament is basically there unintentionally because to find it, one has to read between the lines.

Wright and others, on the other hand, have argued that confrontation with Caesar must have been carried out between the lines, for necessity’s sake. One cannot openly oppose the systems of the strongest political power in the world and expect to do so for very long. Jesus himself wanted people to shut up about his identity for a season so as not to attract too much undue attention. At any rate, it’s difficult to imagine how the Jewish tradition might have conceived of their Messiah being simultaneously Lord of the whole world and not have him stand in opposition to the dominant empire of the day.

The Plan of Salvation McKnight is well aware that the typical evangelical plan of salvation emerges from the actual gospel. Nevertheless, he recognizes the deep seated problem that we’ve largely forgotten the story from which salvation has come. We’re left with a message that has no roots.

Wright is noticeably silent about the plan of salvation in How God Became King. He’s quite clear that the gospel is a gospel of salvation, but he says little on 21st century evangelistic techniques. Still, Wright has commented rather powerfully on evangelism elsewhere. He writes in Surprised by Hope of an approach to evangelism that is actually quite similar to some of McKnight’s pleas.

The power of the gospel lies not in the offer of a new spirituality or religious experience, not in the threat of hellfire (certainly not in the threat of being “left behind”), which can be removed if only the hearer checks this box, says this prayer, raises a hand, or whatever, but in the powerful announcement that God is God, that Jesus is Lord, that the powers of evil have been defeated, that God’s new world has begun. This announcement, stated as a fact about the way the world is rather than as an appeal about the way you might like your life, your emotions, or your bank account to be, is the foundation of everything else. (227)

I wish Wright had included this paragraph in How God Became King, even if the sentiment is implicit throughout.

The King Jesus Gospel: Reflections

I had promised some time ago to compare and contrast the ideas of NT Wright’s How God Became King and Scot McKnight’s King Jesus Gospel.  I plan to do so, beginning tomorrow.

Today, though, I want to reflect for a moment on Dr. McKnight’s work on its own.

Let’s start with the positive.  McKnight’s frustration with the current state of the gospel in Western Christianity resonates with me.  Having grown up in an evangelical environment, including attending an evangelical college and and evangelical seminary, the salvation story of sinners needing rescue from their sins in order to obtain eternal bliss resides deep in my inner being.  At the same time, however, I’ve sought always to be a faithful reader of the scriptures, and have therefore long held an uneasy feeling at this approach.  I’ve found myself asking McKnight’s questions again and again: Where is this rather simplistic salvation story in the actual gospels?

Moreover, nearly every evangelistic method I’ve ever encountered amounts to little more than creative proof texting.  That is, we pull individual verses out of context and mash them together to make them tell a story they may not have been telling in their original placement.  We obliterate the full story in order to convince people they need saving.  Then, of course, we wonder why no one in our churches knows how to read their Bibles.  Of course they can’t; they’ve been taught from the beginning that they way to get real truth out of the Bible is to pull one verse from Isaiah, another from Malachi, a third from John, still another couple from Romans and Ephesians, and wham!

McKnight’s assessment of the problem is stellar and timely.  Further, his re-creation of the whole gospel story, including the rich back story of creation, fall, Israel, exile, and return, is astounding and wonderfully simple.  There is no question in my mind that we need more Christians who know the whole story of which they are currently a part.

My complaints with McKnight revolve primarily around the brevity of this work.  Too often, I found myself scribbling in the margins, “Tell me more!” or “Explain this further!”  Many times, I found his arguments gaining great steam and then cut short.  I was constantly filling in gaps in the margins, so I wouldn’t miss it later.  This is such an important topic at the very core of what it means to identify with Christ.  We need to know the gospel in its fullest sense, or at least as fully as any individual might be capable.  I longed for more clarity and deeper investigation.