Friday, March 9, 2012

Eschatology and the Mission

Over the past decade or so, the American Church has spent enormous energy pursuing theological renewal in the areas of soteriology and ecclesiology. Movements like the emerging/Emergent church have challenged traditional notions of what it means to "do church" and to be the church in a postmodern culture. They have also brought renewed clarity to our understanding of the Gospel, both what it is and isn't. Through movements like the Gospel Coalition, we are now discussing issues like the place of what is rather inelegantly labeled "social justice" in our gospel proclamation. These debates are all healthy and contribute, I think, to the renewal of the Church.

I think it is time for a renewal in eschatology as well. Among many of my brethren, the study of the last things is regarded as either the province of weirdos with charts or among the "things indifferent," about which Christians may disagree but which really don't matter. But in the New Testament, it is the in eschatological passages in which we most often find exhortation toward both mission and personal spiritual renewal. And so, as we approach the time when there are fewer American missionaries than there once were (as many are now old and starting to retire), I believe it is time once again to remind people of the Bible's great teaching about the last things and motivate a new generation to sanctify themselves and complete the task of world evangelization.

I believe it is simply true that:
  • If we don't really believe in Hell as the Bible teaches, then no one will sacrifice the comforts of home to make sure people they've never met don't wind up going there.
  • If we don't really believe in the coming of both King Jesus and His Kingdom, then no one will be willing to suffer martyrdom to reach the Muslim world (which is most likely the price that will have to be paid to do so). 
  • If we don't really believe that Jesus could return today, then no one will ever develop any sense of urgency about repenting of their sin and reaching their neighbors with the Gospel.
  • If we don't really believe in the Tribulation and God's wrath, then we will never warn anyone about it or share with them the Way of escape.
And that, I believe is the problem. Many of us affirm these things, but we don't really believe them enough to allow their truth to transform our day-to-day lives. So we sleep in comfort as the world quite literally goes to Hell.

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