What is Over-Realized Eschatology?

Oftentimes the word “eschatology” is thought of only in terms of the timeline of Jesus’ return. This is one aspect, but certainly not the full meaning of what eschatology is. “Eschatology” means the study of final or ultimate things. It comes from the word “eschaton,” which means “final event” or “culmination.”

The promise of the gospel is that because of what Jesus accomplished in his life, death and resurrection, ultimately, one day, God will wipe away every tear and sickness and death and all of the effects of the curse of sin will be eradicated forever (Revelation 21:1-4 , among others), and that there will be a new heavens and new Earth, a renewed and restored and redeemed creation in which all things are the way that God designed them to be apart from the curse of sin and death. That is the “eschatological (final/ultimate) hope” of the Bible for those who are “in Christ.”

In this sense, all of Christianity is eschatological, in that it hopes in and looks to a final culmination in which certain things will take place. Conversely, any form of “Christianity” that doesn’t have hold to this eschatological hope is arguably no longer true Christianity.

I have been reading Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven recently. I picked it up expecting it to be a tedious read full of sentimentality, but I’ve been plesantly surprised. Instead, it presents a systematic theology of heaven, which reveals that this eschatological hope is much more material and physical than many Christians commonly think. If you haven’t read the book, I recommend you check it out.

Many of the problems with how people understand Christianity derive from misunderstandings about this eschaological hope and our place in relation to it today.

The picture the Bible uses to describe this place where we are at in history is: Dawn. Dawn is that in-between time after the first light of morning has broken the darkness of night – but before the sun has crested the horizon and driven out the darkness completely. During the dawn, light and dark are both present at the same time. But the promise of dawn is that the full day will come, it is only a matter of time.

Another picture the Bible uses to help us understand the world and our place in it, in relation to the eschaton, is Jesus’ Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, in which Jesus describes the world as a field in which God planted good seed, but an enemy came in and planted bad seed. The farmer then makes the surprising decision to allow the wheat and the weeds to grow together until the harvest, at which time they will be separated – the wheat brought into the storehouse and the weeds burned. This is a picture of the world we live in, where good and evil are both present, and God is fully committed to eradicating evil, but the day to do so has not yet come, thus these two “kingdoms” currently exist in the world at the same time, and yet the eschatological promise is that the kindgom of darkness and evil will be eradicated at the eschaton. (I recently taught a sermon on this parable. Click here to listen to it.)

An “over-realized eschatology” is when someone expects that the eschatological hope of Christianity is already here and now. They might say, Well, if Jesus has come and the Kingdom has come, then there should no longer be evil in the world, everyone should be healed of sickness, there should be no poverty or suffering, and everything should be the way that God designed it to be NOW, and if you believe well enough, or have enough faith, you will experience it.

This leads to what is sometimes called a “prosperity gospel,” which is best understood as an over-realized eschatology which expects something which will ultimately happen for those who are in Christ to happen right now. One of the problems with it is that it places an incredible burden on people by telling them, “If you’re not healthy and wealthy, it must be because you are doing it wrong.” It fails to take into account the nature of the world and our time and place in God’s plan of redemption, not to mention the sovereignty of God.

Converesely, there is such a thing as an under-realized eschatology. This is one which does not recognize that with the coming of Jesus into the world, the Kingdom of God has come to this world, even if not yet in fullness.
Both over- and under- realized eschatology fails to take hold of the “already, but not yet” nature of our unique place in time: after Jesus’ death and resurrection and before the eschaton – which is illustrated by the picture of dawn and the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds.

Here is a good explanation of this principle from John Piper. The whole video is good, but the last part addresses this specifically:

Something Worth Listening To

A friend from White Fields Church recently recommended I check out the Eric Metaxas Show podcast. I’ve enjoyed reading Eric’s books and I would highly recommend his biographies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as well as his shorter 7 Men and 7 Women.

I recently subscribed to the podcast and have been listening to it while I drive. If you’re looking for something good to listen to, I recommend it. Below I’ve embeded an episode to get you started, in which Eric interviews someone from Voice of the Martyrs and talks about the life and legacy of Richard Wurmbrand, a Lutheran pastor who was tortured for his Christian faith in communist Romania and became an advocate for persecuted Christians worldwide.

Another great podcast I’d recommend is the Ask Pastor John podcast with John Piper.

And of course, don’t forget to subscribe to the White Fields Community Church podcast, available in the iTunes podcast store.

If you are looking for a good podcast app for Android, I like Podcast Addict.

Here’s that episode:

Advent Meditations: 5 – The Model for Missions

As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. – John 17:18

“Christmas is a model for missions and missions are a reflection of Christmas.” – John Piper

The meaning of Christmas is the mission of God: a God who loves and cares so much, that He left Heaven to come and reach out to us with love and truth.

Christmas is a model for missions: God was so moved by love and the conviction that there is something better for us which we desperately need, that He left what was comfortable to Him and at great expense to Himself, came to us, to speak to us in our language, on our level. That is the model of Christian mission both locally and cross-culturally.

Christian mission is a reflection of Christmas: by going out in mission we are imitating our Father and our Lord. We are doing for others what He did for us, albeit obviously not on the same scale.

The purpose of Christmas is joy. God gave us His comfort, that we might have JOY. What a gift!  What a sacrifice, and what love it is that motivates such a sacrifice for the sake of others – others who do not always (or perhaps often) reciprocate that love.

these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. – John 17:13

Not only is the purpose of Christmas joy, but the purpose of Christian mission is joy!   Joy for those who come to know the love of God BUT ALSO: joy for those who participate in the mission.

We were made for mission, and we will only know true joy when we get on board with the one ultimate mission: the only mission which has significance beyond this life and even this world: the mission of God to bring salvation to the world. It is in this mission that we can be truly fulfilled and that is a fountain of joy.

 

Promises and Proverbs

Take the few minutes to listen to this audio from John Piper. He’s addressing something that I think a lot of people are confused about.

The issue is: what constitutes a “promise” in the Bible, and what constitutes a “proverb”?

The issue in question is that of Proverbs 22:6, which says: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Many people consider this a “PROMISE” from God – that if you raise you kids up right, they will be good people who do right things. In particular, many Christians come to this verse in the hope that if they raise up their children to walk with God, then their children are guaranteed to grow up to share their faith – and if that doesn’t happen, then it is “user error”, i.e. the parents didn’t do a good enough job raising their kids up in the right way.

The problem is, there are plenty of kids who come from great, loving, Christian families, who don’t follow their parents’ faith nor their moral/ethical values.  What are we to make of this?

John Piper answers the question well – concerning the nature of proverbs versus the nature of promises, and how we should understand this verse.

How to Make a Difference in the World

I love the way John Piper speaks about God.

If there’s one thing you can say for the man – it’s that he is certainly not indifferent about the Gospel or the things of God. I may not always agree with everything he says, but when I hear him speak about God, there is no doubt in my mind that he is a man who loves God.

Here’s some classic John Piper for your listening pleasure: