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Part 5: Our Mission and the End Days

The Relationship Between Missiology and Eschatology (Part One)

When we talk about the fulfillment of the Great Commission, like it or not, we really also have to talk about eschatology. But the question of our end times belief seems an issue many Christians today would prefer to avoid. Sure, we are happy to see the Church grow and for good works to be done in Jesus' name, but let's not talk about anything that reminds us of the countless premature Rapture countdowns, the untold number of failed prophecies, the hastily churned out books and B-movies that combined bad fiction with questionable theology.

Flesh and Blood History

These aforementioned embarrassments are reason enough to want to brush eschatology under the carpet. But it also seems that one of the reasons many Christians are uncomfortable with eschatology is that it is a stark reminder that the Gospel belongs to, and will be culminated in, real flesh and blood history.

It is not relegated to esoteric spirituality; it is rooted in space-time. We seem to prefer a dichotomy more akin to theologian Bultmann's Jesus of history and Christ of faith, where our spirituality is a facet of our lives that can be neatly compartmentalised away from the more tangible aspects of modernity.

Restoration of God's Order

However, we cannot deny that Jesus has promised to return – for real – and assume His rule over the nations. I am confident that almost all thinking Christians feel a longing for this restoration of God's intended order of the world with a bemusement as to what our broken, corrupt world would actually look like when Jesus is fully crowned as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Even if we don't dwell in such thinking, we do have to accept the reality that eschatology is profoundly shaping our world today. A little over a century ago, theologian Ernst Troelsch wrote that "The office of eschatology is mostly closed these days." That is certainly no longer the case.

Apocalypse On Our Minds

One of the most notable developments in 20th century theology is the return to prominence of eschatology, especially after the end of World War II. Stephen D. O'Leary, in his Arguing the Apocalypse, asserts that the proliferation of nuclear weapons capable of rendering humanity extinct, along with the re-establishment of the nation-state of Israel were major catalysts in this development.

This has been intensified by a general sense of crisis and anxiety which has increased with the pervasiveness of news media. So, yes, the end of days and the apocalypse has been very much on our collective minds in recent decades – more so than in centuries.

A Disturbing Quest

In fact, there is an apocalyptic movement that is turning the heads of the entire world in their quest to hasten the Last Days, including the return of Jesus and the full realisation of God's rule on earth. But it is nothing as benign as a pre-millennial Rapture crowd that we are talking about here.

Its name is ISIS/Da'esh, and it is driven by a deep commitment to Islamic eschatology – one that includes the destruction in battle of the armies of 'Rome' and the establishment of a global Caliphate. It is a heart-breaking and sickening example of how an initially small group can turn the world upside down when it is fully committed to bringing about the apocalypse.

Thankfully, it is not only the cruel vision of Da'esh that is being pursued as an eschatological outcome for human history. It has been convincingly argued that the apostles, Paul in particular, were of the persuasion that the return of Jesus was going to happen in their lifetime and that they were working to accelerate its coming.

Bringing About The Return of Jesus

In 2 Peter 3:12 believers are instructed to "live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming." As mentioned in a previous article in this series, many in the Student Volunteer Movement, the AD 2000 Movement, and other such initiatives were no doubt motivated by a similar goal. "The evangelisation of the world in this generation" was not merely to accomplish a task assigned to us by Jesus, but to bring about the return of Jesus.

And while not all of us might subscribe to that same rallying cry, we must recognise that how – and if – we do mission is profoundly shaped by our eschatology. We can hide ourselves away, waiting for Jesus to pluck us out of this crooked generation to meet Him in the air. We can stride forth in triumphalism, assuming that we will conquer all in Christ's name and usher in his return. We can become fixed on numbers and dates and speculation, rather than rolling up our sleeves and engaging the world with the Gospel of Jesus.

If we want to be more effective in mission, then we need to do some serious thinking about our views of the end. Next, we will attempt to merely scratch the surface of this line of thinking regarding the relationship between our missiology and our eschatology.


 

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