December 22, 2020 · C.E. Carter
For a significant portion of the foreseeable future (whatever that means), I’ll be devoting myself (mostly) to the examination of Biblical eschatology, for the simple reason that it’s the most frequent topic of discussion among the men I talk to in my church. When I say “the men I talk to in my church”, I don’t mean just those men who are interested in the high academic and theoretical aspects of theology. Some are, of course, but most would describe themselves as “normal guys” with wives and children, who want a clearer understanding of these things. I think this is because these men instinctively recognize the relationship between the household and the cosmos; the former is a microcosm, in the etymological meaning of the word, “small cosmos”. The household, as C.R. Wiley puts it in his book The Household and the War for the Cosmos, is designed to reflect and transform the cosmic order through the structure of the family by being a place of social, education, religious, and economic work; a reflection of the larger cosmic order, and a force to restore it.
History is God’s means to God’s ends. In this way eschatology, a study of “end things”, takes a double meaning. It is a study of “the means at the end”, referring to the timings and natures of events in history, but also of “the ends of the means”, referring to the significance and trajectory of the whole ordeal known as history. Citizens of the West, who are drowning in a poison called “individualism”, don’t see themselves as part of a line of genealogy or as an embedded component in a network of interdependence. They regard themselves as a single point, or rather, as the point, of all that has come before them, and so they don’t see the need to think about what comes after them. Men with families must necessarily think about these things as a matter of daily living. Children are tangible evidence that you will die and be succeeded by someone else, a reality which places great significance on your behavior today. This is a lost concept known as “legacy”. A man who intends to leave one recognizes that his life is a segment of thread that will be weaved into the rest of history, that is, the grand narrative of God’s redemption of the cosmos.
Eschatological meta-narratives change the perceptions of men with respect to their legacies. Most evangelicals have it in their mind that the world is being discarded. Roughly, they think that the powers of darkness will win a temporary victory over the power of the gospel before Christ returns and swaps the whole thing out for a brand new heavens and earth. As such, the tendency is for evangelical men to ignore the idea of legacy. After all, under this pessimistic eschatology there will very little to say of legacy (apart from the souls you converted, perhaps), so the idea is to ride it out and keep your head down for as long as you can before the end of the world comes. As John Piper says, this life is “only 80 years”. What he means by that is that it’s just a short interim period of keeping your money out of the stock market and quietly waiting to die. Don’t get me wrong, glory is glorious, and to us, death is gain, but we have to understand that what a man thinks about the trajectory of history acts affects how he lives his life here and now. The best way to crush a man’s spirit is to convince him that he’s never going to win. For that reason, we shouldn’t be flippant with our eschatological exposition. We shouldn’t just treat it as “the confusing stuff in the back of the book” or “the end-times issues that don’t really matter in daily life” or “the complicated stuff that would go over the heads of the congregation”. The stakes are too high to ignore this kind of thing. A man with a pessimistic eschatology, who always thinks doomsday is just around the corner, is hesitant to invest in his legacy. I know this, because I was that guy. A man with an optimistic eschatology, who thinks the end of history looks like gospel victory over all things, is a jolly guy concerned with what kind of impact his daily life is having on the course of history. This is all to say that eschatology really matters. What I hope to be able to do is shed some light on this topic by expounding what scripture plainly says, which I am increasingly convinced is a message of profound historical optimism.