What if I’m wrong?

I’ve noticed a certain disappointing conclusion in a number of books and sermons lately.  I’m prone to exaggeration, but this thing keeps coming up, so maybe I’m onto something in thinking it’s a trend.  The particular disappointment has to do with the eschaton (end-time eventualities)—particularly, any viewpoint that anticipates a physical, earthly manifestation of everlasting heaven.  The disappointment grows in intensity when the viewpoint is espoused by a person whose scholarship and/or philosophies I respect.

Rick McKinley and Matthew Bates, two new-favorite author-thinkers, have greatly impacted me with important notions around (1) biblical faithfulness and (2) kingdom.  Both of these have apparently arrived at roughly the same place on this eschatological question:  anticipating a renewed earth for all eternity.  Those who agree with them, including a large proportion of evangelicals, can hardly breathe when asked to consider another point of view; the same may be said of those on the other side.

With the latter group, I have throughout my life taken the position that this earth will eventually be entirely done away with.  As I read and hear key thinkers on this, many end up disagreeing with me, although some of them and I do turn out to agree.

Could I be wrong?  (I ask that question both seriously and tongue-in-cheek.  I could falsely find comfort in being in a minority.  You know, “few there be that find the narrow way” and all.)  I’m really not ready to admit it just yet.   The problem for me, on this topic and others, is this:  when I find holes in others’ logic, I may feel justified in ceasing to think logically.  The primary hermeneutical non sequiturs I find in this sphere concern people’s inability to distinguish apocalyptic literature from narrative or didactic literature.  If people assume Revelation is to be taken as literally as one takes, say, Mark or Acts, they may jump to conclusions.  See this Wikipedia reference to interpreting Revelation; the point is that it is a particular way of reading Revelation that results in some theological positions.  What if everyone read most of Revelation as primarily figurative?  (One can do that while still respecting scripture, you know.)  Arguments would be avoided, and more people would agree with me.  That’s good, right?  🙂

→ See here for a brief spotlighting of the different types of biblical literature.

So what if I turn out to be wrong?  I find myself partly aligned with the amillennialists (not postmillennial, not premillennial) and, to a degree, with the preterists.  A friend says he’s an “I don’t care-ist,” meaning he doesn’t really care what the Lord does “at the end” . . . anything is OK with him.  Following his lead, if the Lord disagrees with my present conclusions, I can live with that.  (This is pretty much the case with other  “doctrinal” matters, too.)  What am I going to do—stand at the throne and discuss eschatology with the One who is outside time and planned it all, anyway?!  I’m thankful that my relationship with Him—both the “here and now” and the “there and then” aspects—does not depend on drawing correct conclusions.


Q:  What style of music should be used?
Q:  Which version of the Bible should be in the pews?
Q:  What happens (happened?) on the “Day of the Lord,” in your view?

On the third question above, are you a pre-millennialist or a post-millennialist or an a-millennialst?  Are you a rapturist?  An Israelist?  A dispensationalist?  A preterist?

I have a new friend who uses a term I haven’t heard before.  I like this term. I’m going to start using it myself.  When considering what happens at the end, like my new friend, I am an I-don’t-care-ist. (I’m a closet or not-so-closeted I-don’t-care-ist about the other questions above, too.)

There is another person at our church who interprets eschatological scripture differently.  I take him to be sincere, honest, and a lover of God.  When it comes to these passages, I don’t understand how he supports his ideas, and I don’t think he’s accurate in certain literal readings of some passages.  I think his position on certain eschatological matters is rife with inconsistency.  I’m not even sure why he cares so much.  (But, again, I take him to be sincere.)

About these things, I simply don’t care.  I am an I-don’t-care-ist!

Of times and places

Several years ago, in a state not too far away, I was ahead of my time.

I planned a series of what are now thought of as “worship sets” for an experiential group that was relatively open-minded and very open-hearted.  The planning took many hours (and many cassette tapes, since few had CD burners at the time), but it was some very exciting spirit-time spent.   The actual doing was over in a couple of hours, and it was sometimes not as exciting or fulfilling as the planning for me, but it was worship nonetheless, and as such, it was valuable for all of the participants, including me.

No one was doing this kind of thing then in our group of churches, save this small group of “Contemporary Music Worship Session” friends.  Few were even listening to Christian radio, and although one or two in the group were more hip than I and would sometimes pass along songs to me for consideration for the next set, I was feeling like a trail-blazing leader ahead of my time.

On more than one occasion, a sincere soul approached me, in a vaguely concerned vein, expressing that somehow we were doing things we shouldn’t be doing, or that we should be less comfortable doing, or at least that we shouldn’t be doing yet.  Ironically, these two sisters I call to mind are now beyond me in terms of what they accept and do on a regular basis.  Way back when, they were living in their time, and I was living in “another time and another place” (thanks for the phrasing, Brent Lamb and Sandy Patti).  These sisters were a little uncomfortable doing something out of their comfort zone, but, to their credit, they allowed themselves to be stretched.  (I’m having trouble describing all this; I realize that I’m mixing the conceptual and chronological, i.e., that I’m trying to express ideas and feelings in terms of living outside one’s own time.) Now, my general sense is that these ladies are existing more “in their time and place,” whereas I am not.

Back to the worship sessions this group was experiencing together….  I would prepare the “practice tapes” and distribute them.  I made a point of randomizing the order, so that the gathered worship session had an element of newness.  After having internalized the messages of the songs over a period of weeks, via cassette tape in homes and cars, 10-15 of us in this group would meet in a living room and sing, pray, and bask in each other’s and God’s presence.  One of the worship sets was themed around the second coming; in an over-verbal outburst of parousiac passion, I called it “Expecting His Coming:   Longing To See His Face.”   Nevermind that these days I shy away from the expression “His face” because it receives only rare mention in the scriptures, and more, because of ubiquitous, gratuitous rhymes with “grace” … this was a well-intentioned, relatively well-founded, albeit emotion-driven set of songs and meditations that included

  • Sandy Patti’s rendition of Brent Lamb’s “Another, Another Place”
  • Michael Card’s “Maranatha” and “Know You in the Now”
  • Glad’s renditions of Bob Kauflin’s “In the First Light” and John Keltonic’s “When He Comes Again”
  • “In Majesty He Will Come”
  • the traditional favorite “Jesus Is Lord,” ending with the “Alleluia” stanza and combined with meditation on Philippians 2:5-11

I was, like, this “new music guru” in my small circle.  OK, not a guru — just a champion of the new expressions I was hearing.  I had one foot in my then-current situation, and the other, in another time, another place:   I was interacting regularly with churches and believers of other types, and I was sometimes suspended betwixt two or more worlds.  Some of this duality caused me angst, but mostly, it was a time of joy, purpose, and vibrant worship.

Regardless of the surrounding encouraging presence of relatively like-minded friends and the relative state of inspiration that ensued, I can remember kneeling in my living room and begging Jesus to come back.  Although the clock might have said 8:14 on a  Friday night in November of 1996 or 1998 or whenever it was, and although it was a time and place filled with spiritual comfort and affirmation on all sides, I was — God be praised for dwelling in my heart to this extent! — more interested in being with Him spiritually and eternally than in any creature comforts or human affirmations.  Elusive, humanly positive feelings that might arise within were not merely taking a “back seat” then; I was in another vehicle, on another continent.

Several years ago, in a state not too far away, I was ahead of my time.   Now, I’m not.

These days, I don’t often think as worshipfully of the second coming.   I don’t worship as often, period.   My faith is in a different phase now.   I’m not proud of this, and I’m not necessarily feeling guilty about it, either.  I’m just acknowledging it.

Today, though, after losing a little sleep last night after a very discouraging Wednesday, I hear a faint, wistful voice, tucked far away inside, begging Jesus again.  I don’t have the same expressions within me that I had 12 or 15 years ago, when the group met to worship in my home through verbalizations like “Longing To See His Face.”

These days, it’s more of a desperate, earthly dissatisfaction and restlessness that causes me to long, somehow, for the Messiah’s final return.   My memory is reasonably good for past things that are important, but my longing for promised, glorious future is dull.  Without effort as I wrote this morning, I even remembered the name of the songwriter of “Another Time, Another Place,” not to mention reliving fairly well the feelings I had, years ago, while worshipping on an occasion or six.  But I am unable, now, to recapture those feelings or any that are very much like them.  I long to long.  I yearn to yearn.  But I cannot seem to do either in a direct sense.  Those feelings were in another time, and I’m now “ahead” of that.

Yes, many years ago, in Delaware, I was ahead of my time.   Now, I’m not.   I’m not basking.  I’m just abiding.  Or maybe trudging.  Sometimes, in some places, this is all we can do for a while.

~  ~  ~

Postscript   I understand that in centuries past, the cry of the Christian heart (and voice!) was marana tha (yes, two words) Come back, LORD.  Perhaps this practice has been overstated for the sake of “Christian” gimmickry and the marketing of Christian paraphernalia these days, but it’s inspiring nonetheless, and it seems to be biblical (2Tim 4:6-8; Rev. 22:17,20; and maybe Acts 7:56 relates, too).

I still like the marana tha idea, but I can’t at this point in time utter it with feeling.  Uttering it with well-founded faith may be better, in the long run.  I do feel a disconnected yearning — a yearning to be able, once again, to yearn.

Concluding thoughts and final things

Given this subject line, one might think I’m signing off for good, but this is far from my last blog. Although I suppose there will be a time when this kind of writing will have given way to some other outlet for thinking about the things of the Lord . . . for now, I was thinking specifically about my recent subject line (Jan. 30) that read

Government and Christians (conclusion)

The slug was not supposed to signify that that essay-ette, here on this unassuming cul-de-sac in cyberspace, was the end-all. My thoughts are not the only ones; they are admittedly in a fairly small minority . . . and my opinions and scruples are not even likely to be the ultimate, final ones for me, in this topical area. That “final” Government and Christians post was not to be the “conclusion, for-ever-and-ever-amen.”

What I meant to suggest with the subject line was that this particular mini-series of thoughts on the relationship of Christians to human government was coming to a close, for now, and I was planning to move on to other topics for a while. I still have a couple of books I want at least to scan (John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus, in which I don’t expect to find all that much of interest, and Yoder’s Biblical Pacificism, in which I do (Karly already has). There are also some e-texts I intend to attend to, not the least of which is David Lipscomb’s Civil Government. But these are for another time.

Additionally, I want to take this time to thank all those who read and who comment (on various topics, not just this one), whether privately or publicly. I value highly your honest, God-guided responses and your willingness to consider, or reconsider. (I’ll also note that no one took me to task for this “conclusion” bit. My worry over its possible reception comes out of my own thinking, not anyone’s criticism, though such criticism might have been well-placed.)

To conclude this little piece on conclusion, I’ll offer, as is my frequent M.O., a bridge into scripture or scriptural content. I trust that any false leaps, unwarranted verbal relationships, or crumbling bridge concrete will be noticed and remedied by the worthy intelligentsia out there, before anyone walks out and falls into Royal Gorge. If you haven’t seen Royal Gorge, let me just say that falling into it would definitely be a poor conclusion!

~ ~ ~

In scripture, final things are approached and addressed in several ways. A few I’m aware of:

  • in the NC writings
    • the word parousia (and its cognates), having to do with the final appearance or 2nd coming of Jesus
    • the word teleios (ditto), having to do with the intended or final purpose, design, and missional direction of a thing (this word-concept is a bit more elusive, at least for me . . . I’m in over my head!)
    • apocalyptic passages (some use the expressions “day of the Lord,” “that day,” etc.) in Revelation and in, e.g., Mark 13 and Matthew 24; even Peter’s Pentecost sermon quotes an apocalyptic prophecy from Joel
  • in the OC writings
    • mentions of Sheol (the grave or resting place of the dead are common translations) in the Psalms and in other poetic writings
    • prophetic warnings of “gloom and doom” coming to Israel, Judah, and/or the surrounding nations (someone, check me on this!)
    • apocalyptic passages in, e.g., Ezekiel and Daniel (again, some using “day of the Lord” or other dire predictions about the final judgment)
    • presumably there are Hebrew parallels to the Greek words mentioned above

It might here be noted that “apocalyptic” literature, according to Wikipedia, and jibing with my current understanding, involves “an unveiling or unfolding of things not previously known. . . . The apocalyptic literature of Judaism and Christianity embraces a considerable period, from the centuries following the exile down to the close of the middle ages.” The NC book of “Revelation” is titled “Apocalypse” in Greek, and the title on its own should not connote images of the Vietnam war movie Apocalypse Now or the doomsday 2nd iteration of Back to the Future. There seems to be more of a “revealed mystery” sense of the word than a “horrific terror” one.  (Chalk another one up to Hollywood.)

Last things. Eschatalogy. The Day of the Lord. The fulfillment of prophecy. Some would add “the millennial reign.” The concluding denouement of God. However God handles these things is up to Him. I don’t know much about this, but this I hear from my Rabbi:  no one knows the day or the hour . . . be prepared.

Government and Christians (3): kingdom

Warning: this series of thoughts meanders a bit and is somewhat difficult to follow.

Johnny, an old-friend-made-new a few years ago, has recently offered some views on end times that I don’t agree with — at least, at this point. One of the supports he used was a reference to a familiar line in the so-called “Lord’s Prayer”– “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
For Johnny, that verse appeared to connect the notions of a) the Kingdom of God and b) God’s end-times, gracious redemption of His people.

For others, the Kingdom is more or less equated to The Church, i.e., when the church began (Acts 2), the Kingdom of God had come to earth.

For me, the Kingdom is more the matter of God’s rule in individual human hearts. To pray “Thy kingdom come” means something more along the lines of “Come and take up residence in the hearts of all Your people, God” than “set up your geopolitical situation” or “establish your church.”

[Note: I have uploaded (to the Pages area here) a portion of document here that lists every NC passage in which the word “kingdom” (GK. Baseleia) occurs. This “study” from a few years ago, which includes commentary on how each use of the word might be understood, may inform how we see some of these topics. Later I’ll be attempting to add the actual scripture references, but formatting is taking some work.]

My friend Johnny asked if in a previous post I had been alluding to a “disembodied eternal existence” at the end of time. My response was in the affirmative, but I can’t say I have all these things figured out. Once again, whatever God wants to do when Jesus returns is OK with me!

I’ve been impressed in the past with the emphasis, in past studies of 2 Peter 3, on the utter newness implied by the Gk. word “kainos.” When something is predicted to melt with intense heat, and the “earth” that follows it is said to be completely new, it seems that the anticipated, next life won’t likely be a bodily existence on this planet anything like what we’ve known before. Yet the question of what things will be like then is complex.

Johnny: Do we see in Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances a glimpse of this post-resurrection-bodily-existence that is a body yet different from the one we have now?

Me: What a question! I really don’t know, but it’s intriguing to pursue that line.

Johnny on 1 Cor. 15: For much of my life I thought Paul contrasting physical and non-physical but no, I think that the contrast is between corruptible physicality and incorruptible physicality. Working through this, [Tom] Wright paraphrases the last verse of 1 Cor. 15 this way: “So, then, since the person you are and world God has made will be gloriously reaffirmed in God’s eventual future, …” This way of reading this text lines up with a God that does not abandon creation — the whole chapter echoes Gen. 1-3, transforming it into a theology of new creation.

Me: Your question about the possible “glimpse” given through Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances gives me the most pause. I’m also compelled to read a few less familiar translations of 1 Cor. 15. Your phrase “theology of new creation” is attractive (I hear echoes, as well, of Enya and “How Can I Keep from Singing,” not to mention Cat Stevens’s “Morning Has Broken”!), but I’m not sure yet that it’s warranted.

Johnny: The evil that we read in the Genesis story is not creation but the rebellious idolatry of the humans. What is needed is not annihilation — that is, “scrapping” the earth and starting again from a clean slate — but what is needed is redemption — liberation from being enslaved. Evil is not materiality but rebellion. Paul in Col. 1:15-20 holds redemption and creation together — we need resurrection, which is the foundational event that has become the starting point of the new world. This inaugural event has changed everything — now we are able to live with such amazing hope, anticipating the time when “on earth as it is in heaven” will be reality.

Johnny’s view is in a way quite compelling. At a glance, it would seem to fly in the face of the Calvinist view of the “fall,” because all creation is typically assumed, in that corner of Christendom, to be fallen. But if Johnny is right about the relationship of the first creation and bodily resurrection’s representing a renewed creation, then his reading of “on earth as it is in heaven” would appear on-target, as well. On the other hand, if the coming of the kingdom has nothing to do with the post-2nd-coming “world order” … if the coming of the kingdom has little, directly, to do with the church or the “millennium,” then our understandings are different. These are deep, significant matters, and I am not equal to the task of analyzing them!

These eschatological thoughts on “kingdom,” at first glance, have only an indirect relationship to the relationship of the Christian to worldly government. But upon deeper probing, I have to wonder whether our kingdomview (cf. “worldview”) is of prime importance as we consider various spiritual topics, including government.

For most of the rest of this week, my blog posts will deal with the Christian’s relationship to human government. I make no claims here to comprehensive treatment. I merely have some things to present, share, and ask. A good starting point is to think soberly about preconceived ideas in the thought-arena the Kingdom of God. This is an area that I have for several years been drawn to, but I have not taken the time to pursue it properly yet. I have a paper file labeled “Kingdom Thinking” with a few articles and photocopied handouts in it, plus a copy of a lecture on cassette, but this kind of thing takes more than collection of a few items. I’ll bet it takes a lifetime of living to work through the implications.

Worlds apart

As our airplane attached itself to the stationary jetway in Little Rock, a ding was heard in the cabin. We all began to get up, dislodging our belongings from the seatbacks in front and from under our backsides. Holding Jedd, I stood up and turned around to stretch, and a friendly southern man sitting in the row behind us looked at Jedd and said (and I attempt to quote phonetically),

“Wuh hee gaht BEEEHHG-ouhw-ahhzz!!”

(Which, when translated, means, “Well, he’s got big ol’ eyes!”)

Two days later, we were in a restaurant, and when the hostess looked at Jedd, she said,

“Hee gaht beegh ouhw jawlz!”

(Which, when translated, means that Jedd’s mommy gets to make fun of her husband’s ample jowls-slash-cheeks that said baby boy has apparently inherited from his daddy.)

These colloquial quotes remind me that even travelling 5 states away can make a big difference. Arkansas is worlds apart from western New York.

A couple of mornings later, I watched a food service person eyeing a TV news report about New Jersey, and I wondered if she had any idea what New Jersey was like. (For the record, parts of South Jersey, at least, aren’t all that bad!) For her, Tennessee is worlds apart from New Jersey.

And for the Christian, this life is worlds apart from the eternal one. We’re sort of living in both, but our existence seems to be primarily in the physical cosmos. Paul wrote,

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Philippians 1:21ff

His earnest sense of mission impresses us today, alongside his pushing toward death in order to be with His Lord. But could we also consider the differentiation between the two existences (is that a word?)? Paul refers to this life as “go on living in the body” and would obviously have known what that existence consisted of. I’m caused to wonder what he would have seen as “departing to be with Christ,” though. I don’t suppose there’s a contextual or linguistic means to determine what he thought about that future existence, but it still intrigues me. Even more so, what he wrote to the Romans:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. (Romans 8:18ff)

Even as in the comparison between states in the Northeast and states in the southeast, in this life, we are worlds apart from the ultimate world we’ll inhabit. Whether that new world is physical and stationed on earth, I don’t know. I do suspect the next world — the new existence — will be so radically different as to be unrecognizable.

If I’m right, it would explain the need for the prophets and apostles to write figuratively: we simply can’t presently understand what He has in store, so mechanisms such as parables, apocalyptic language, and expressions like “the whole creation suffers the pains of childbirth” arise. As I’ve said before, whatever God has in mind is OK with me! Praise Him for the redemption He has promised, whether that redemption turns out to result in physical bodies or an eternal, spiritual existence apart from physicality.

Eternal vocation

I remain fairly well convinced that most of Jim McGuiggan’s interpretations of Revelation, as taught in a videotaped series more than 20 years ago, are correct. One of his tenets was that Revelation presents not a future-only image of the spiritual place known as Heaven, but that the book reveals a timeless picture of the eternal kingdom of our Lord.

A timeless picture would seem to span the past, present, and future, right? It includes the here and now!

And the scenes of Revelation chapters 4 and 5 are important components in that timeless representation. I believe Jesus wanted us to know, through the messages and visions revealed to John, that worship is integral in the Kingdom. Every conscious being will ultimately worship God, and we who are willing subjects now (i.e., we who are in the Kingdom before it is fully established for all eternity) would do well, I think, to realize that we should be caught up in worship regularly, just like the “24 elders” and the living creatures who never stop saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.”

So, rather than worrying about whether I’ll actually like perpetually worshipping when that time-to-end-all time comes, perhaps I should get into eternity now, and worship God with abandon.  Worship is my vocation, my voice. . . .

TessaLesson 062909: Grand places, chock full of treasures

Last Thursday evening, I heard a more-or-less scholarly presentation on the afterlife. I appreciated the background and differentiation among ancient cultures’ concepts of what happens when humans die. I didn’t agree with part of this lecturer’s eschatology–namely, that a renewed version of this world is to be the final resting place for Christians believers–but I appreciated his consistent appeal to scripture as basis for eschatological positions, and I know that equally sincere students can come to different conclusions on these matters.

This morning, for the umpteenth time, I went downstairs to our unfinished basement to restock Tessa’s (our doggie) food vessels, from which we, in turn, stock her food bowl. Almost without variation, she stands at the top of the stairs with head and neck outstretched toward the place where I am. She can hear me messing around in the food bag, or in the bag of treats, etc. And then, without variation, I ascend again, with delightful treasures. I can only imagine what’s going through her doggie brain about what the basement is like, based on her limited perception of where I go and what I come back with … grand, endless piles of kibble? Rawhide bones galore? Happy, sunshiney meadows to sit in while enjoying “cookie” treats? Bunnies to chase?

Her imagination is probably not serving her very well. Still, she waits in hope at the top of the stairs, periodically receiving blessings from that happy, mysterious place at the bottom of the stairs into which she has not passed.

“In my Father’s house are many mansions.” “I go to prepare a place for you.”

I bet our imaginations don’t serve us very well, either.  May we, too, wait in hope, knowing that whatever he has in store for us after we have passed through this life into another, it will be truly grand, ever a blessing, and beyond the reality of any advance treats/blessings we’ve received in this life. Marana tha.