Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Cosmos and the Eschaton: Renewal or Destruction?

It's become somewhat of a fashion in the church (and the theological intelligentsia?) to supplement our discussions of ecology with a bit of revised eschatology. Lately I've heard- in popular books on theology, in my college, and in the pulpit- some pretty excited talk about the continuity of the present cosmos with the future one. In keeping with the spirit of theological neology; the latest idea about Heaven and the future of Earth is the real-meal-deal. Any previous doctrines in this respect require demythologisation, discarding or simple neglect. Today it is not uncommon to believe that the orthodox view of heaven has a developmental history that goes something like this: the scriptural narrative was exegetically distorted sometime in the early centuries of the church to keep in step with the influences of platonic philosophy (does that not already reek of absolute ignorance in regard to patristics?). This trend of syncretism saw the body as essentially unworthy of future glory, along with the present cosmos. And so an eschatology was promulgated in which the universe would be completely destroyed and remade in complete (perhaps even disembodied) discontinuity with the previous one.

It gives me shivers and a bit of bile when people attribute every doctrine they do not like to some nebulous outbreak of platonism in the early church (ie. the doctrine of God's atemporality, impassibility, the duality of the soul etc..) But I'm getting a little off topic.

In light of this deconstruction, the fashionable eschatology of our day advances in a manner something like this:

1. God would not destroy his good creation. Therefore the present cosmos will not be discarded.

2. God has taken steps to reconcile the universe to himself (cf. col 1:20).

3. The future age will see a marriage between Heaven and Earth.

4. The universe as we know it will be "renewed"....made exponentially better. It will not be destroyed.

As in all theological trends, there is something to this idea. In one of Peter's first recorded speech's in the book of Acts, he mentions that Jesus "must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago by his holy prophets. (3:21)" Moreover, the book of Colossians speaks of God reconciling "all things" in this universe to himself.

Doesn't this unquestionably call for an emphasis on continuity? This could be. But if we are going to synthesize and establish a biblical definition of continuity, we need to make use of all of the relevant biblical themes. I put this recent trend to the test with a few simple questions:

1. 2 Peter ch.3 provides a number of necessary predicates for our talk of continuity. Is the "renewal" trend ready and willing to make usage of these predicates?

Can they say, for instance, that "the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men"?

Do they agree that "the heavens will disappear with a roar, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare"?

Will they teach that "That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat"?

While holding to the "renewal of all things", do they equally agree that "everything will be destroyed"?

2 Peter is merely an isolated test case. The prophetic texts also use phrases like "dissolve", "rolling up like a scroll", "withered", "shriveled", "shake", "tremble", "darkened", "perish", "discarded", "wear out", "vanish like smoke" and so on.

However we emphasize continuity in our eschatology; we cannot explain away these statements as mere inconveniences. We have to use them. We have to learn from them. They have to formulate a true constraint and a true provision in our definition of the future cosmos.

No comments: