Culture and Eschatology

 

One of the most perplexing brands of eschatology is “transformational” eschatology. A broad-brush way to describe this view is that the eschaton or last days will be triggered once Christians (under the sovereignty of God) have progressively transformed the earth into what it was meant to become. Part of the reasoning behind this stems from a definition of “redemption” that includes individual persons, yet also encompasses creation as a whole. After all, doesn’t Romans 8:19-23 indicate that creation itself waits to be “set free from its bondage to corruption” (v. 21)? Paul even contrasts “creation” and “us” in that passage, and uses language of redemption for both!1 The million dollar question is how and when that redemption will happen and what parts of creation, if any, it will include.

The Reformed have affirmed an inaugurated eschatology where the last days are here already but not yet fully. Paul tells us that Christ is the “firstfruits” of those who, united to Christ in His resurrection, will eventually be resurrected as He is when the “not yet” becomes only the “already” (1 Cor 15:23). So Christ has paved the way and modeled already what it will eventually look like when we are fully and completely redeemed, given new bodies appropriate to the new heavens and new earth. Until then, our bodies decay and experience the effects of the present evil age and its curse.

But that’s us. What about the rest of creation? Is it being redeemed? Did Christ accomplish redemption for the rest of creation when he died and was raised?

For those who believe that all of creation is currently being “redeemed” in the eschatological sense, there’s a very simple test to see whether that is in fact the case. As a friend of mine puts it, you are tasked to find a single atom, molecule, object, anything that has the permanence of the everlasting, eternal new heavens and new earth. Such a thing would be indestructible, and would most likely exhibit characteristics that literally indicate an other-world. That would be quite a find.

Or take the language we sometimes find within evangelical circles of “redeeming the city”, for example. Is this appropriate language given what we know of the biblical use of redemption? That depends. People are redeemed by the Holy Spirit regenerating their hearts, having faith in Christ, repenting of their sins, and receiving Christ and his saving and renovating benefits from his accomplished work in history. Christ did not directly accomplish redemption for buildings, neighborhoods, cities, towns, or any other particular group or entity whatsoever. Christ’s benefits do not apply to a local diner or run-down gym. They do not apply to capitalism, to philosophy, to Wal-Mart, to the Icelandic courts of law, or any other non-human not made in the image of God.

There may be some warrant for a loose definition of redemption that is non-soteric and can be applied to non-individuals by proxy. First, God cursed the ground in Gen 3:16, 17, the result being toil and struggle in our work from that day forward. That curse, however, will not be redeemed until the last days, so there’s no indication that God, and especially not man, will do anything to redeem that curse before the second coming.

Second, imagine a local coffee shop run by a devout atheist openly hostile to Christ, Christianity and Christians. Offensive art and music are the norm and the clientele share the owner’s hostility toward the church. Now imagine that same owner’s heart transformed by the Spirit. He is starting to attend a good church, is convicted to host art and music that is not overtly offensive to the Christian faith, and shares his new faith regularly with the same clientele. In a very qualified, non-technical sense, a kind of redemption happened to that coffee shop where something that once was so hostile to Christ and the church is now not. I could be persuaded that this may be unwise and confusing language, but there may be times when “redemption” is used and is not intended as a transformational comment but rather non-salvific shorthand for a collective group.

Finally, there is a sense in which Scripture does seem to indicate there will be at least some continuity between this age and the final age to come, the least of which will be retaining who we are as unique individuals in the new earth. Christians will, as distinct persons separate from one another in essence, live together in the new heavens and earth. There does seem to be shadowy pointers indicating that, along with us, there will be other manifestations of concepts we experience here in this life, admittedly in an imperfect way. Although the book of Revelation is not meant to be a descriptive tourist map of the new heavens and earth, the book does include descriptions for a reason, pointing to real, albeit symbolic, things that occur and are present during the last days. There obviously seems to be beauty and radiance (Rev 21:11) and even music and song (Rev 5:9) as “the trump shall resound” (Rev 8:6). So while Bach and The Who may not be heard in the new heavens and earth, it’s likely that we will be singing something in praise and worship. Song will continue.

I haven’t wanted to go into millennial debates, but what is said above, I think, fits most properly within an amillennial, inaugurated eschatology. Thinkers much more capable than I have written reams on that topic, of which most readers here are likely familiar. In this modest post I hoped to communicate just a few preliminary ideas to think about regarding the concepts of redemption and culture.

[1] Paul is speaking in this passage about redemption administered in two different ways. God works through redemptive history with an end toward redeeming all of creation in the last days. He works uniquely in redeeming individual persons as His image, using the Holy Spirit and the Son in ways distinct from how the Persons are used to act within history on non-human creation.

 
 
 

16 Responses to “Culture and Eschatology”

  1. Deryck says:

    Nice work Jared. This is a conversation that needs to develop, particularly amidst the perceived two sole choices of Two Kingdom and Kuyperian transformationalism.

  2. Matt hatcher says:

    Jared I enjoy the work of all you there at reformed forum, especially the Christ the Center podcast. It seems as if you fall into the two kingdoms camp pretty clearly, yet have sympathies or at least can clearly see the scriptural case for the transformational view, or as I would call it postmillenialism. In fact you seemed to reason yourself right into it, but then do an about face and go right back to the two kingdom model! I don’t mean to be snarky but it’s just what I seemed to read. I would recommend to you and others to read both Joel mcdurmon and bojidar marinov at Americanvision.org. They have both dealt with the two kingdom issue quite well there in many blog posts. Some are a little biting but the points are quite good and as of yet have seemed to have gone unanswered other than with a passing disregard. No real responses. Anyway I just wanted to encourage you to keep up the good work and embrace your inner postmillenialism!

    • Jonathan Brack says:

      Matt,
      I didn’t take this posting to be a “but then do an about face and go right back to the two kingdom model” as if Jared is being confused about his “inner postmillenialism”. Knowing Jared pretty well, I believe I can safely refer you to his own position on millennial issues by pointing you to Gaffin, Vos Beale, and Kline.
      “For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world”, no matter how “redeemed” we believe it to be. Maybe to shed light on your position, can you show us one thing besides the inner man of a Human, than has been redeemed? Meaning, that is posses imperishable glory ala 1 Corinthians 15. The problem is that the word “Redeemed” begins to be stretched like the word “evangelical”. Even when Jesus healed the eyes of the blind, their physical eyes perished over time, which is a direct result of the fall. So was Jesus redeeming their eyes? No, he was pointing to the redemption of their true sight. He gave then the eyes of faith. It will only be upon his final return that Faith will become Sight. Until then we live in this already/not yet epoch of wilderness wondering, where we walk by faith and not by sight.

  3. matt hatcher says:

    jonathan thanks for the comments. i agree with you that both the terms evangelical and redeemed have been or can be “stretched” and leave some meanings unclear. however i dont know of any serious, orthodox theologian that would interpret some sort of “glorified” finality to a postmil understanding of a pre-consumation redeemed culture.
    one of the big errors i believe in the two-kingdom/amil perspective is the whole “pilgrim..wilderness wandering” motif. when Christ gave the great commission there was a task given to the church and by extention every believer. part of which is to teach them ( the nations) to observe all that He has commanded! doesnt sound like a wandering pilgrim to me!
    to quote jared…”imagine a local coffee shop run by a devout atheist openly hostile to Christ, Christianity and Christians. Offensive art and music are the norm and the clientele share the owner’s hostility toward the church. Now imagine that same owner’s heart transformed by the Spirit. He is starting to attend a good church, is convicted to host art and music that is not overtly offensive to the Christian faith, and shares his new faith regularly with the same clientele. In a very qualified, non-technical sense, a kind of redemption happened to that coffee shop where something that once was so hostile to Christ and the church is now not. I could be persuaded that this may be unwise and confusing language, but there may be times when “redemption” is used and is not intended as a transformational comment but rather non-salvific shorthand for a collective group.”as he stated the man was transformed and as a result of his sanctification his world is “transformed”, not salvifically but morally, ethically. that is pure postmillenialism as i understand it not amil as jared had stated.
    just as we are a new creation in christ, so also we live in a new creation. a new heaven and earth. dare i say a “new world order”! isaiah’s description is clearly not that of the consummated state, as there is death, chilbearing and other temporal aspects. as this is the description of the age we are currently in there is some sort of temporal, non-salvific , redemption of the earth. i understand the desire to guard against liberalism and aberrant theologies such as the social gospel. the following is a great summary of the power of God displayed in time on earth from greg bahnsen. sorry ive been so long winded and hope i make sense!

    • matt hatcher says:

      The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He shall reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15). The Messiah’s reign has been established on earth (Matt. 12:28; 28:18). He need only ask the Father, and the nations will be given to Him for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession (Ps. 2:8). With that end in mind Christ commissioned the church to make all the nations His obedient disciples (Matt. 28:19-20). Having bound Satan so that He is restrained from deceiving the nations (Rev. 20:2-30, Christ is now despoiling Satan’s house (Matt. 12:29). This is why the gates of Hell shall not prevail against the onslaught of Christ’s church (Matt. 16-18). Crowned with glory and honor (Heb. 2:9), Christ has been enthroned at God’s right hand “henceforth expecting his enemies to be made the footstool of His feet” (Heb. 10:13).

      Do we expect what Christ expects to take place in history? Is His expectation that all nations and all enemies shall be won over to Him which is an expectation based on the Father’s promise, nothing more than wishful thinking? No Bible-believing Christian would say that. However, many would postpone the fulfillment of Christ’s expectation to after His second coming — despite the “realized” nature of the preceding Bible passages (their clear application to this present age). Premillennialists postpone Christ’s triumph to a future millennial age, while amillenialists postpone it to the future new heavens and earth. Postmillennialists, as genuinely “realized millennialists,” expect Christ’s subduing of his enemies to be accomplished before the second coming. So did Paul. “For He [Christ] must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet; the last enemy that shall be abolished is death” (1 Cor. 15:25-26) — pointing to the resurrection of believers “at His coming,” which brings “the end” (vv. 23-24). All other enemies will be put under Christ’s feet, therefore, prior to His coming (prior to the end).

      This is the postmillennial confidence we should all share. It is not enough to be an “Optimistic amil” who believes that widespread triumph for Christ’s kingdom is possible and who personally hopes it will take place. The Bible message about Christ’s kingdom is stronger and more definite than that. “Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon His kingdom to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from henceforth and forever. The zeal of Jehovah of hosts will perform this” (Isa. 9:7). God’s kingdom shall grow from a stone to be a mountain that fills the earth, and “the dream is certain” (Dan. 2:35, 44-45). The confidence of the prophets was that all nations would flow into the church to be nurtured by God’s word, live by His just standards and learn peace (Isa. 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-3). “In His days shall the righteous flourish, and abundance of peace until the moon be no more. He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth … And His enemies shall lick the dust … All nations shall serve Him” (Ps. 72:7-11). “All the ends of the earth shall turn unto Jehovah” (Ps. 22:27), and then shall “the earth be full of the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9).

      How shall this be accomplished? The New Testament clearly points us to the enabling presence of Christ with the church, the preaching of the gospel (Matt. 28:18-20), and the powerful work of the Pentecostal Spirit (e.g., Acts 2:32-41). With such resources the kingdom of Christ will be characterized by surprising growth (Matt. 13:31-33). Christ shall draw all men to Himself (John 12:32) and “lead justice unto victory” (Matt. 12:20). The preaching of the gospel — the sword from Christ’s mouth — shall utterly conquer the nations (Rev. 19:11-16). The fullness of the Gentiles shall be brought in, provoking even the Jews — all Israel — to be received again and saved, signifying veritable “life from the dead” for the world (Rom. 11:11-15, 25-26). We should conclude, then, that Christ has set before His believing and persevering church “a door opened which none can shut” — consequently, that even the most antagonistic opponents shall bow down, and Christ’s church shall enjoy with Him authority over the nations (Rev. 3:7-9; 2:25-27; 20:4). That is not just a vain hope, but the promise of God.
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      • You just persuaded me that there may be times that that language will, in fact, be unwise and confusing. In no way does a recognition of a non-salvific, contextual redemption necessarily lead to post-mill transformationalism.

      • Jonathan Brack says:

        Matt,
        I believe I am tracking with you other than your dismissal of the wilderness epoch of this age. I take 1 Corinthians 10 to be a basic launching pad for this epoch alongside the entire book of Hebrews, meaning that a sabbath rest still remains and even though Joshua entered into the “Holy Land” it was merely earthly and typological. The power of this age is an over coming power, but it is a power made perfect in weakness. Thus, I believe the post-mills all too often spell “triumph” with an alphabet that the N.T. does not know.

  4. Matt hatcher says:

    Jared maybe my defenition of transformational ism is off a little and I need a clearer understanding of the term. But as I said earlier the example you gave of the change in that coffee shop owner and his cultural shift is my understanding of the postmillenialism position. Sproul, Gentry and others of there thinking are where I’ve tried to learn from( and scripture of course). I’m sure I’ve still got a lot to learn and in no way meant any ill to you in my posts. I really enjoy your forum and discussions and have to second Deryck’s comment about having more discussion, lately it seems both sides of this issue talk about each other and not to each other. Thanks for the article!

    • No problem at all! I’m concerned about the use of “redemption” language applied unthinkingly to cities, systems, etc., but I was trying to make the case that there may be a legitimate use for it under amil. I may be wrong on that, but hope others will add insight to these issues. Thanks for the thoughts.

  5. Matt hatcher says:

    Jonathan I understand your interpretation of those passages. If I’m not mistaken that view of hebrews and I cor. 10 probably come from a more Lutheran view then the traditional reformed view. The two kingdoms view espoused recently by many in the current reformed camp, especially the Westminster ” west” , camp is in direct opposition to the robust all encompassing view of Christs lordship in every area of this world, that was the more dominant view held by our reformed forefathers.

    Interestingly the recent Christ the center episode discussing hodge reminded me of an article called ” the Bible, the great statute book of the kingdom” posted at americanvision discussing Hodges view of Christs kingdom here on earth and thE Christians responsibility and expectation of it.

    As far as the power being made perfect in weakness, I agree that thE kingdom is grown not through authoritarian power but proclamation of the gospel and obedience to it!

    Lastly the new testament may not speak as explicitly as we like but we can clearly see in the whole of scripture that Christ kingdom is established to some extent, in fact to quite a glorious level, here on earth, in time by the spreading of the gospel and faithfullness to the great commission. Perhaps the view of wilderness wandering and being mere pilgrims rather than soldiers in Christs kingdom comes from a “futurist” view of some of the prophetic texts of the n.t. Rather then a preterist (partial/orthodox) view of those passages!

  6. Matt hatcher says:

    Jonathan wrong hodge! My bad but good article at av about AA hodge and his view!

  7. Jon says:

    Ok, maybe I am confused here, but I never saw preterism being equal to orthodoxy. Once again, I do not see pilgrim wandering equal to Lutheranism. Instead, the Third use of the Law (contrary to Lutheranism) is part and parcel to wilderness wandering (was not the law given in the wilderness?). It is the postmill position that has Christ abdicating his throne from heaven to reign on a throne here on Earth (glorious?) when in fact Christ remains a high priest forever in the heavenly places, this is both underrealized and overrealized eschatology at the same time. There is no lasting city, nor will there be, until Christ brings it. That city will be non posses non peccare, until then we live in the tension of the already/not yet. Optimism is found in the triumph of Christians in this age, but it is a triumph through suffering, persecution and weakness. It is a triumph through dying. It is a power made perfect in weakness.

    • Matt hatcher says:

      Jon, not sure if you mean you think I intend to say if your not a preterist your not orthodox-by no means! I reject fully hyper preterist as it is a heresy and non- orthodox. I hold to what’s typically called partial preterism ala rc sproul and ken gentry. I just meant that if you take many of the prophetic passages in the n.t. as a futurist ( ie Matt 24, much of rev. , the epistles of Peter) then that I can see how you could see these exile and pilgrim passages as applying to the church in all ages rather than primarily to those who it was written to or spoken to, which I think those passages apply to.

      As we know the passing away of the old age began with the incarnation and work of Christ and fully passed away with the destruction of the temple in ad70.

      Wasn’t the wandering and exiles part of Gods judgement on unfaithful and/or unbelieving Israel? I don’t think that scripture states the blood bought and redeemed church of Christ is to be under his judgement ( evev as we deliver the good news) until Christ returns!

      As far as the idea of Christ abdicating His heavenly throne for an earthly one you know that’s a position of the premise not either of us!

      Lastly no lasting city?!? Is not the church that city the new Jerusalem? With Christ as its chief cornerstone. Christ rules and reigns here on earth through the Holy Spirit empowered church here on earth. How do you handle the new heaven and earth passages in Isaiah? They are of a temporal time before the consummation, without spiritualizing too much?

  8. Nate says:

    Jared,

    This is Nate from Springfield. Long time listener, first time caller. I usually agree with you on everything, but this time I’ve got to put my foot down. In my view, it’s clear that Bach will make it, but I can’t see any reason to suppose that the Who will.

    Hey and anyway, what about abstract objects? Propositions? Properties? Mathematics? Logic? These are eternal right? They existed before the world is created, so they’ll exist after its gone. Essences too, of course.

    Bring it on.

  9. Excellent, Jared. In his first coming Jesus dealt with sin’s depth. When he returns he’ll deal with its breadth.

  10. Adam N. says:

    Great Article! I’m a Pastor of a small Pentecostal Church here in Indiana. I was taught Dispensational Premillennialism in Bible School. After reading after George Eldon Ladd I moved into Historic Premillennialism. Now I’m considering Amillennialism (along with Reformed Theology altogether). Really appreciate good articles like this to help me see these issues more clearly… Please Pray for me!

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I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve. (Romans 16:17-18)

 

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