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GLOSSARY: Amillennialism | Apocalyptic | Christian Zionism | Dispensationalism | Eschatology | Hermeneutics | Historicism | Idealism | Millennial Reign of Christ | Preterism | New Covenant Theology | Postmillennialism | Premillennialism | Pre-Tribulational Rapture | Reconstructionism | "Seventy Weeks" | Theo-Politics | Parousia | Universalism
"A recognition of past errors can hardly fail to help us in disencumbering from fatal impediments the religious progress of the future." F.W. Farrar
G. B. Caird
(2) EschatologyH (Historical) that deals with the goal of history in a comprehensive manner from beginning to end.
(3) EschatologyK or Konsequente Eschatologie limiting all eschatological references to the end of the world as expected in the near future.
(4) EschatologyR (Realized) viewing that in Christ the eschaton was so complete that it leaves no room for a future fulfillment.
(5) EschatologyE (Existential) as defined by Bultmann who argues that on the one hand eschatology only refers to the transcendent significance of the present, and on the other hand it was the Jewish self-understanding of their corporate involvement through history.
(6) EschatologyN denies that the Greek word for “last” is appropriate for the concept of eschatology.
(7) EschatologyP takes into consideration the OT prophets who believed that God was working out his purpose in history (particularly the history of Israel) and thus it refers to the teleological aspects of historical events." (The Language and Imagery of the Bible, 243-256)
Millard J. Erickson (1977) "Various areas of Christian doctrine had received special attention and development at different periods in the history of the church. Thus in the second century the church dealt especially with apologetics and the fundamental ideas of Christianity; in the third and fourth centuries, with the doctrine of God; in the fifth century, with man and sin; in the fifth to seventh centuries, with the person of Christ; in the eleventh to sixteenth centuries, with the atonement; and in the sixteenth century, with the application of redemption... the peculiar interest of the modern age is eschatology, the one remaining undeveloped topic of theology." (Contemporary Opinions in Eschatology, A Study of the Millennium, MI: Baker Book House, 1977, p. 11)
Daniel J. Lewis (1998) "It is hoped that this volume will persuade Christians that the center of the church's faith cannot be any eschatological system per se. This is not to say that eschatology is dispensable, but that no scheme of eschatology should stand at the center of one's faith. There is a center, but it is the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not a speculative calendar about the end of the world." (3 Crucial Questions about the Last Days, p. 17)
Dr. John MacArthur (1999) "My advice to budding systematic theologians is this: master the fundamental issues of soteriology, hamartiology, pneumatology, Christology, bibliology, theology proper, and other essential points of Christian doctrine before settling into such a dogmatic stance on the eschatological fine points." (The Second Coming: Signs of Christ's Return and the End of the Age, p. 20)
Dr. Lynn Mitchell (2000) “This twentieth-century consensus on the centrality of eschatology is broad based enough to include many different types of theology: existentialist (Rudolf Bultmann, Amos Wilder), realized (C.H. Dodd, John A.T. Robinson), promise and fulfillment (Oscar Cullmann, Werner Georg Kummel), proleptic (Wolfhart Pannenberg), hope (Jurgen Moltmann), political (Johannes Baptist Metz), or revolutionary/liberation (Gustavo Gutierrez)." ("Eschatology: Essential, yet Essentially Ignored", p. 144)
N. T. Wright
2. Eschatology as the climax of Israel’s history, involving the end of the space-time universe;
3. Eschatology as the climax of Israel’s history, involving events for which end-of-the-world language is the only set of metaphors adequate to express the significance of what will happen, but resulting in a new and quite different phase within a space-time history;
4. Eschatology as major events, not specifically climatic within a particular story, for which end-of-the-world language functions as metaphor;
5. Eschatology as ‘horizontal’ language (i.e. apparently denoting movement forwards in time) whose actual referent is the possibility of moving ‘upwards’ spiritually into a new level of existence;
6. Eschatology as critique of the present world order, perhaps with proposals for a new order;
7. Eschatology as a critique of the present socio-political scene, perhaps with proposals for adjustments." ( (Jesus and the Victory of God, 208)
F.F. Bruce (1988) “The term "eschatology" is no longer restricted in theological discussion to the traditional "last things" -death, judgment, heaven, and hell. The concepts of "realized," "proleptic," or "inaugurated" eschatology have brought the future into the present, and indeed into the past, so that one can sympathize with those voices that have recently urged that the very term "eschatology" should be expunged from our vocabulary because of its hopeless ambiguity, and replaced by others, each of which should express precisely one particular subject present in the vague area of "eschatology." ("Eschatology in Acts," in Eschatology and the New Testament, ed. W. Hulitt Gloer, 1988)
Eschatology Comparison Chart
By Kim Riddlebarger
Excerpted From For He Must Reign: An Introduction to Reformed Eschatology
Main Distinctives of Dispensational Premillennialism and Historic Premillennialism.
Dictionary of the History of Ideas
The Concept. Eschatology, or “the doctrine of last things,” is today often employed as a comprehensive term for all religious ideas of the afterlife. In the following, however, we shall employ the concept Eschatology in its original sense: eschatology describes and explains the goal and ultimate destiny of human history. Eschatology thus presupposes a unique linear flow of history from the beginning to the end of temporal history.
Apocalyptics. There are myths among many peoples of the collapse of the world, sometimes also of a time of redemption to be expected upon the ending of the world; and in these, of course, Christian influences are often present. The eschatological beliefs of Western as well as of Islamic cultural history are rooted in late Jewish apocalyptics in which the historical perspectives of the Old Testament are fused with aspects of Iranian eschatology.
Generally speaking, the idea was widespread in antiquity that time proceeds cyclically, just as nature does: history returns, after the expiration of a cosmic year—or aeon—to its beginning; events repeat themselves in perpetual reiteration. In Iran, on the other hand, the notion of a circular pattern was abandoned quite early. History was viewed as a straight line. The content of world events is the battle for men between the good god and the evil spirit. At the end of the world the dead are awakened and judged, the evil spirit is destroyed by the hosts of the good god, and there begins an eternally blessed existence on an earth freed from all evil. This blissful period heralds the finale, the eschaton of history; nothing is said of a repetition of the battle between light and darkness, even if the thought is borrowed from the cyclical view that the eschaton corresponds to the felicitous beginnings of the world.
This Iranian belief concerning the end of time encountered Old Testament piety and was thereby introduced into Jewish thought. This was all the more readily possible because the cyclical view of history had been alien to the Old Testament from time immemorial. God, the Creator of the world, guides the history of His chosen people along a straight line of historical development toward specific goals: He furnishes the Promised Land; He leads them through the catastrophe of exile into a new period of redemption; He promises the people a powerful Prince of Peace out of the House of David, etc. But these ideas were not eschatological to the extent that they were not connected with the idea of the final end of all history.
Under the influence of Iranian eschatology this Old Testament view of history was developed in time into
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an apocalyptic eschatology, the oldest documents of which still made their way into the Old Testament canon (Daniel; Isaiah 24-26). This apocalyptic view now includes not only the history of the children of Israel, but the whole of world history with all its people. Simultaneously, in place of the fluctuating thisworldly ideas of the goals of Israelite history, it substitutes the expectation of a cosmic catastrophe that leads to the end of the old aeon and of its master, the Devil, and passing through an eschatological period of redemption yields to a new world of absolute and perfect salvation. The depiction of the old aeon can in consequence borrow its coloration from the cyclical view of history, and the history of the expiring world can be seen as a process of decline from a Golden Age. But the apocalyptic conflagration of the world at the end of the old epoch does not introduce any repetition of events but, in accordance with dualistic thought, leads into an ahistorical new aeon. The subjects of history are no longer primarily peoples, but individual persons who, if they have already died, are consequently to be raised to judgment at the end of the old aeon. The time and manner of the eschatological turning point are decided by God alone as the master of history, but to some scattered prophetic figures the course of history to its end, as well as the eschatological outcome, has been revealed by God himself in advance (hence apocalypse, from the Greek apokalyptein, “to reveal”). Thus the process of history unfolds inalterably in accordance with a plan laid down by God.
Not infrequently a balance is struck between the historically immanent Old Testament hope and the transcendental apocalyptic expectation such that the apocalyptic end of history is preceded by a final messianic reign within history; hence an interregnum between the old and the new aeons in which the elect rule together with the Messiah. Texts such as Revelation 20 have perceptibly influenced the history of the West in expecting a thousand-year interregnum (chiliasm); for although the eschatological interregnum is conceived as historically immanent, revolutionary movements have often been fired in anticipation of it.
Gnosticism. At about the same time as the Hebrew apocalyptics, and not without some interchange with it, another manifestation of eschatological world perspective arose in the confluence of Iranian and Greek spiritual thought, viz., Gnosticism. Gnosticism is likewise associated with the Iranian dualism of a good and evil God. On this view, a personage from the world of Light fell under the power of Darkness during the battle between the two principles in primeval times. The evil powers then created the world as a place of sojourn and human bodies as prisons to hold this figure of Light captured and divided by them into so many separate sparks of light. The good god now sets into motion the process of redemption in order to liberate the sparks of light from the power of Darkness and to return them to the world of Light. As soon as this process of redemption is completed the world will collapse into Nothing again, so that history comes definitively to an end.
While for apocalyptics God controls the old aeon, it is nonetheless subject to the power of sin so that for the Gnostic the world and history are represented mostly as a work of the Devil. Thus though one cannot properly speak of a goal of history in Gnosticism, yet the notion of an end of history is at the root of Gnostic thought. One can therefore speak of an unhistorical Gnostic eschatology, and the asceticism of this life becomes an adequate expression of an eschatological self-consciousness that strives for liberation from the world itself.
Gnosticism, which was a serious competitor of Christianity well into the fourth century, certainly influenced the thought of the West (e.g., NeoPlatonism), yet in both the West and the East, in opposition to anti-Gnostic dualism, the quest for the meaning and the goal of world history controlled by God proved victorious. The answer given by apocalyptics, that the meaning of history lies concealed in its eschatological goal, incited powerful historically effective forces in the West above all, and influenced both spiritual and world history. The philosophy of history, a branch of inquiry still unknown to Greek antiquity, could spring up only on a biblical foundation. Every current quest for the ultimate meaning of world history springs from biblical faith.
Primitive Christianity. Jesus was an apocalyptic. He was not indeed interested in elaborating the depiction of the final apocalyptic drama, but he foretold the beginning of last events in the imminent future. His exorcisms heralded the end of the old aeon. Even to the impious, provided they were repentant, his preaching opened the way at the last minute to salvation under God's reign, which very soon, without human participation, would appear throughout the earth as a bolt of lightning from God's hand.
When the Crucified One appeared to His disciples after His death, they interpreted Jesus' resurrection as the beginning of the universal resurrection of the dead, i.e., as the onset of last events. Jesus is the first of all the dead to be resurrected (I Corinthians 15:20). It is true that the consummation of apocalyptic last things did not follow; nonetheless early Christianity continued to understand the events surrounding Christ as God's eschatological redemptive act, themselves as a community of the redeemed, and their age as a time of eschatological redemption. In other words: “The
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primitive Christian community did not understand itself as an historical, but as an eschatological, phenomenon. It already no longer belongs to this world, but to the future ahistorical era that is dawning” (R. Bultmann, p. 42). Out of this consciousness, and in view of the subsequent course of history, the problem arose how the eschatological community of the redeemed should live in history, and how historical time should be denominated from an eschatological point of view. As a solution of this problem there emerged the extraordinary dialectic of the primitive Christian concept of time, characterized as it is by the conflict of “It is here now” and “Not yet” when speaking of eschatological redemption. Paul and John dwelt with particular intensity on this problem and each gave it expression after his own manner.
Both understood their time as an age amid ages: the faithful lives already now in the new aeon, even though he is not yet free of the danger of relapse into the old aeon. The unfaithful still belongs to the expiring world, but by faith may still find access to the community of the redeemed. “Faith” means the abandonment of the material word as the basis of life, and living in the grace of God encountered by man in Christ. This faith redeems life: it brings righteousness and peace and joy (Romans 14:17). The faithful is a new creature (II Corinthians 5:17). To him is come the day of salvation (II Corinthians 6:2), he lives in love (I Corinthians 13), and lives and dies unto the Lord (Romans 14:7-9). The demonic forces of the expiring aeon have already been obliged to surrender their power to Christ.
The delay in the definitive consummation of last events is not felt to be a difficult problem in view of this conception. It is even possible for John to renounce altogether the apocalyptic eschatology of the future including the return of Christ to which Paul clings: the believer has already been judged (John 3:18); it is true that he still lives in the world, but he is no longer of the world (John 17:11-16).
The Christian Church. The primitive Christian understanding of the present as eschatological time is soon clearly weakened in the Church. The present simply becomes a time of preparation for the future salvation promised by the sacraments. Hope for the future is less connected with the end of the world than with the salvation of the individual soul after death. The doctrine of purgatory, in which individual souls are purified, displaces the expectation of a cosmic conflagration at the end of time; the Day of Judgment loses ground in favor of individual judgment after death and the tenets of penitence and indulgence connected with it. The teleological mode of historical thought survives all the same, and apocalyptic eschatology is not abandoned, but the end of time is postponed to some indeterminate temporal distance. Already by the time of II Peter 3:8 we read that with the Lord a thousand years are as one day.
At first the Church kept eschatological anticipation alive with the injunction to keep ever watchful for no man knows the day and hour of the end (Mark 13:32f.). But the triumph of the Church in the Roman state caused interest in an indeterminate eschaton to decline. As a legally constituted instrument of salvation the Church bridges the period from the first Coming of Jesus until the end of history on his return. Ticonius and Augustine both equate the thousand-year interregnum that is to precede the actual eschaton with the age of the Church, and thus delay the end of the world by a great interval, even if the number 1000 is not taken literally. The Church has in general regarded with suspicion and has restrained any heightened interest in eschatology and in the revolutionary pathos easily associated with it. All the same, one apocalyptic book, the Revelation of Saint John, finally made its way into the canon of the New Testament in the fourth century despite widespread opposition.
Thus apocalyptic eschatology as the goal of history has remained a significant feature of the New Testament and part of dogma, and can thus reappear in the foreground from time to time. It becomes manifest again in the Montanism of the second century with its acute expectation of an imminent end, but even at this time was viewed critically by the greater Church. Around the year 1000 many awaited the end of the thousandyear reign and therewith the end of the world; as a result there was a temporary increase of interest in the Day of Judgment (Peter Lombard). Joachim of Floris (d. 1202) recalculated the epochs of history in the light of the dogma of the Trinity and anticipated that, following the age of the Father and that of the Son, the onset of the age of the Holy Ghost as the epoch assuring complete salvation would come in 1260. Nicholas of Lyra likewise counts on the imminent beginning of the last events in his commentary on the Revelation of Saint John, written in 1329. In preReformation times apocalyptic speculations were awakened particularly among those theologians who suffered acutely from the unsatisfactory conditions in the Church. Pre-Reformation and Reformation figures saw in the Pope the Antichrist who would appear before the end; thus Luther is able to announce the end of the world as imminent, just as many of the reformers inclined to call their age the final age, the twilight of the world. Under the influence of the humanists, apocalyptic thought retreated wholly in Zwingli, and eschatological fanatics, associated in some places with groups of enthusiasts and the Anabaptist
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movement seeking to install the Kingdom of God for the time being by force of arms, soon discredited all radical speculations concerning the end of time in the eyes of all the reformers. Reformation catechisms contained hardly any eschatological propositions of an apocalyptic nature: Article XVII of the Augsburg Confession denounces the chiliasm of the fanatics as a Jewish doctrine. Luther dissociated himself sharply from the social revolutionary thoughts of Thomas Münzer (who died in the Peasant War in 1525), from Melchior Hofmann, the inspired prophet of the end of time, and from the communistic fanaticism of Bernard Rottmann and his friends in Münster. Despite this, apocalyptic anticipations of the end remained alive and were augmented in times of plague, in the Thirty Years' War, and indeed everywhere that, from the time of the Counter-Reformation, minorities lived under repression and persecution and hoped for redemption from their plight. Above all in Pietistic circles all kinds of speculations concerning the onset of the thousand-year reign constantly reappeared. Following the precedent of Jacob Böhme, Philipp Jacob Spender, for example, combined exegesis of Revelation 20 with the optimistic expectation of a better time for the Church in the future; and the Swabian Pietist, Friedrich Christoph Oetinger drew the entire universe into this hope of historical salvation: for, he says, “carnality is the end of God's ways.”
Many contemporary sects derive from speculations concerning the end of the world in the near future. The group of Adventists, for example, was formed on the basis of the American William Miller's computations that Christ would return in 1843-44 to found the thousand-year reign. In the origination of such Catholic-Apostolics as the New Apostolic Communion lies the conviction that in preparation for the return of Christ twelve apostles must stand ready; these indeed met in 1835 and together awaited last events. The Jehovah's Witness movement was based on the assertion of another American, Charles T. Russell, that Christ returned in secret in 1874 and would begin his thousand-year reign in 1914. Similar expectations of the imminent approach of the end recur frequently, particularly in times of catastrophe and often on the basis of fantastic interpretations of Revelation, without however at once leading to the stable formation of sects.
The remarkable increase in apocalyptic fanaticism since the eighteenth century is connected with the universal emergence of historical consciousness that took place at that time; this in turn led to numerous conceptions of an eschatologically oriented salvationist theology; in the eighteenth century, for example, in J. A. Bengel, who computed the date of the end of the world as 3836, and in J. J. Hess, who—a clear sign of historical interest—was the author of the first Life of Jesus (3 vols., 1768-72), and in 1774 wrote a work of salvationist dogmatics entitled Of the Kingdom of God. An Essay on the Plan of God's Provisions and Revelations; in the nineteenth century, J. C. K. Hofmann, among others, organized the whole of history on the basis of the Bible into a scheme of prophecy and fulfillment; more recently, in O. Cullmann, above all, who takes Christ as the “Center of Time,” ebbing in undulating lines toward its end.
Among the influential theologians of the present whose suppositions are markedly determined by apocalyptic eschatology are W. Pannenberg and J. Moltmann. Pannenberg sees the resurrection of Jesus as a prolepsis of final events. Anyone who relies on the resurrection of Jesus is thus enabled in advance to view it to its end, and hence to grasp history as meaningful including that part of it not yet played out. Beginning with the resurrection of Jesus, Moltmann, in his Evangelische Kommentare (1968), erects a theology of hope teaching that all our forces are to be concentrated on the final apocalyptic goal of history, for Jesus' resurrection heralds the end of the world as the end of misery, injustice, and mortality. “The social revolution of unjust conditions is the immanent obverse of transcendent hope in the resurrection.” Among philosophers, G. Krüger and K. Löwith, for example, associate themselves closely with the traditional biblical eschatology. In all the scholars mentioned, there is, of course, a more or less pronounced association of the idea of progress that has appeared in modern times with apocalyptic eschatology. The conception of the sudden end of history is replaced by the interpretation of history as a process aspiring to a climax.
Idealism. One stream of thought running in opposition to the activation of apocalyptic eschatology is represented by its idealization. By the time of the Alexandrian theologians of the third century, Clement and Origen had already banished any sensual eschatological expectations under Platonic and Gnostic influence. For them, all Being is spiritual. The souls of men are in increasing measure purified and by stages returned to their goal, divinity; until finally all are saved and the old order of the world, the material world, ends.
Such thoughts remained alive in some places in mystical circles, in which there is often some association between the actual withdrawal of spirit from history and apocalyptic conceptions of the end of history. In such circles Luke 17:21 plays a major role: “The kingdom of God is within you.” The authentic eschatological event lies in the union of the soul with God (J. Arndt). Apocalyptics are therefore only of
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marginal interest: “We have enough on the sabbath of a new rebirth... the other we can well consign to God's omnipotence” (J. Böhme). Thus in the last analysis mysticism takes the place of eschatology: “When I abandon time I am myself eternity/ and enclose myself in God, and God enclose in me” (Angelus Silesius).
For Fichte likewise, a leading representative of socalled “German idealism,” man can here on earth everywhere and always, so long as this is his own desire, attain to the rest, peace, and blessedness of the Kingdom of God by conceiving of himself in his own spirit as a part of the Absolute and can thus abide and rest in the One. Still Fichte combines this pure idealism with eschatological aspects: the more men realize the Kingdom of God as a moral and spiritual realm within themselves, the more will it then manifest itself in the world of appearances also. Men must therefore form themselves in accordance with reason “until the species actually exists as a perfected copy of its eternal prototype in reason, and thus the purpose of earthly life would be attained, its goal manifest, and mankind would enter upon the higher spheres of eternity”; “... for in the end everything must surely flow into the safe harbor of eternal rest and blessedness; in the end the Kingdom of God must appear, and His strength, and His power, and His glory” (Werke, V, 260f.).
Following the lines of the Alexandrian theologians, Hegel also found that the Real, the Absolute-Divine, is Spirit. But here, as opposed to Origen, Spirit does not stand as a general idea in relation to natural reality; rather it realizes itself in the particular: everything real is spiritual, everything spiritual is real. In the selfconsciousness of the thinking spirit there is a reconciliation in an ideal unity of the “for-itself” of universal spirit here and the particular which derives from it there. “The goal, which is Absolute Knowledge or Spirit knowing itself as Spirit, finds its pathway in the recollection of spiritual forms as they are in themselves and as they accomplish the organization of their spiritual kingdom,” Hegel says in the final chapter of the Phenomenology of Mind. This process of the selfunfolding of Spirit thus takes place historically, and indeed in accordance with inalterable laws, just as in apocalyptics; but God does not write its laws from without, but the spirit immanent within history writes them from within. Instead of divine providence we find the “cunning of (spiritual) reason,” which is even able to make humans act unconsciously and render seemingly senseless or destructive actions in history serviceable for the purposes of Spirit. The end of history is attained when Spirit comes into its own in selfconscious thought, when it gains absolute knowledge of itself in man, i.e., for all practical purposes in Hegel's own Christian philosophy of religion, on the basis of which both Church and State will be consolidated in a rational social order. The eschatological judgment of the world collapses in unison with world history.
The idealistic view of the Kingdom of God, deriving from Fichte and Hegel, surrenders the notion of a sudden reversal of cosmic conditions by the intervention of God, and favors instead the idea of progress. Furthermore, interest in the definitive end of history diminishes altogether, and is replaced by the construction of a course of history striving to attain its culminating climax. God functions as Spirit in this progressive historical development. The theology of the nineteenth century, from Schleiermacher down to so-called liberal theology, similarly shows itself markedly under idealistic influence. At least the idea of progress exercises great influence. R. Rothe felt he could expect the Christian state, the civitas Dei, as the perfected form of the Kingdom of God. For A. Ritschl the Kingdom of God, the perfection of which certainly lies in the remote future, comes to realization in the expanding community of those acting morally out of neighborly love.
Secularization. The awakening historical consciousness that advanced salvationist schemes in theology since the eighteenth century led in the course of a general secularization of culture to a secular idea of eschatology also. Although faith was maintained in the thought of the end or of the goal of history proceeding in linear fashion, no further consideration was given to divine intervention in the course of history; the goal of history was thought of as purely immanent.
The path to this goal was in part seen as progress to ever greater perfection of the human condition; and—where it clung more firmly to biblical modes of thought—it was interpreted or promoted as a sudden revolutionary incursion. The pioneers of this development were the humanists, above all, Erasmus of Rotterdam, who wanted to see the Kingdom of God as a universal realm of peace already realized in earthly society. Movements of chiliasm and pacifism, with their intensive expectation of such an earthly realm of peace, have thus prepared the ground since the time of the Reformation for the complete secularization of eschatology; Thomas Münzer is one of the “saints” of communism.
The Enlightenment, which led the battle of reason against unreason, was able to view, to the extent that it was open to historical thinking, the worldwide triumph of human reason as the necessary outcome of historical development—not that of history itself (Turgot, Condorcet, the positivists). Compare also Lessing's essay on “The Education of the Human Spe
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cies.” Under the spell of the Enlightenment Kant expects the Kingdom of God in the guise of a worldwide ethical commonwealth, in any case as the end of a “progression stretching to eternity” of mankind involved in “the continuous progress and approach to the highest good possible on earth.” In calling this view “chiliasm” Kant correctly observes the close connection between the devout pietistic and the secularized Enlightenment eschatology of the eighteenth century (Critique of Practical Reason, Book II, Ch. II, Sec. 5).
It is apparent that marked secular influences were at work even in the idealistic systems described above, for in these ideas the divine spirit is identical with the human spirit so that the eschatological climax of history can only be attained by means of human activity, and is therefore conceived of as “this-worldly.” In his book The Kingdom of Christ (1842; 1959), F. D. Maurice takes up the idealistic concept of the Kingdom of God and awaits the onset of God's reign in the immanent moral perfection of mankind. Influenced by Maurice, Charles Kingsley, for example, hopes for the progress of the Kingdom of God in the improvement of the social order. The influence of secularized eschatology had its impact also on so-called liberal theology of the last century which expected progress in human civilization to come about through the education of individual personality after the example of the absolute personality of Jesus, and equated such progress with the Kingdom of God, which it saw in consequence as moral grandeur. Even Nietzsche's hero (Übermensch) quiet naturally represents a secularized form of the “new creature” of Christian hope for the end of time.
The most influential proposal for secularized eschatology to be found after Hegel was advanced by Karl Marx. History develops for him, as for the apocalyptics, with ineluctable lawlikeness. The impelling force of history is neither God nor, as in Hegel, the absolute World Spirit, but instead the process of production with economic contradictions obtaining at any given time, and in connection with which the development of social classes and heightening of class conflict are played out. The ultimate class in world history is the proletariat. The proletarian revolution heralds the end of class conflict and therewith, so to speak, the end of history. Marxist theory computes the objective goal of the course of history in advance: the victorious class establishes the classless society. It renews and redeems the world. With it will come the realm of freedom for all individuals, the end of exploitation as primeval evil, the triumph of the good, the reconciliation of all contradiction between light and darkness, the Kingdom of God without God. The very concept of revolution, hitherto an expression for political upheavals in general, takes on an explicitly eschatological sense in Marx. But while Marx saw history striving with the necessity of a natural law toward the proletarian revolution as its eschatological goal, many of his followers expect the classless society as the outcome of a world revolution consciously provoked by men. These modern Marxist theories of revolution are the most utterly explicit expression of secularized biblical eschatology.
In the 1960's the Marxist Ernst Bloch, in The Principle of Hope (1959), offers the most impressive account of the connection between Marxist expectations for the future and the hopes of religious apocalypse. He interprets Marxist thought about the future as the real sense of Judeo-Christian eschatology, just as, conversely, religious socialism could for a time represent socialist hopes for the appropriate temporal form of the biblical hope for the Kingdom of God. Even at the present time the “feedback” from Marxist eschatology to theology is in some places considerable; above all in connection with the so-called “God is dead” theology, hope of social justice is considered to be the only meaningful form of eschatological hope (Harvey Cox). Increasingly expanded planning for the future, so necessary in the modern world, with the aid of scientific prognosis (“futurology”), is in itself not eschatological, but reinforces the effectiveness of secularized eschatological world perspectives, above all, of communism and socialism.
Evolution. Since the Enlightenment the optimism concerning progress already founded in humanism has broken new ground and, coupled with awakening historical thought, leads to the idea that history strives toward its goal of salvation in constant or in undulating development. This notion of development can be connected, as we have seen, with the apocalyptic idea of the sudden end of history. In idealism it clearly leaves virtually no room for apocalyptic eschatology, and even in secular eschatology ideas of evolution and revolution are in mutual contention.
Evolutionary ideas were particularly stimulated (mostly they had sought the felicitous outcome of history in a remote future, and originally they were based solely on the philosophy of history) in the nineteenth century by Darwin's scientific theories of evolution and by the enormous advances of modern technology. The incorporation of the totality of Nature in an eschatology assimilated to apocalyptic accounts had already been initiated by Oetinger and in Schelling's philosophy of nature, although it had appeared also in a number of Enlightenment figures; and thus combinations of hopes for the Kingdom of God and technological utopias are to be found since the Renaissance. Darwin's doctrine of the higher development of species as well as faith in technological progress then led in the nineteenth century, on the one hand, to purely
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secularized hopes for the Übermensch and a perfected society liberated from material need, and, on the other hand, to theological attempts to reconcile the evolutionary ideas of natural science with the superseded eschatology. Mention should be made in this connection, for example, of the Scotsman James McCosh (d. 1894), the Unitarian Minot J. Savage (d. 1918), and also the English theologian Henry Drummond (d. 1897), on whose views God reveals Himself in a natural evolution that is to lead to a “more divine” man. By comparing the evolution of creation with a column topped by a capital, Drummond takes Christian salvationism as the pinnacle of universal evolution. Among others thinking along the same lines in the twentieth century are the German philosopher Leopold Ziegler and the French Jesuit and anthropologist Teilhard de Chardin, who associates the “God from above” with the “God striving forward,” and whose thinking is not only regarded highly in Christian circles, but also plays an important role in the ChristianMarxist dialogue whenever revolutionary Marxist pathos is corrected by evolutionary thought.
The Abandonment of Eschatology. In the idealization of eschatology under the influence of Greek thought and in its modern secularization there remains, despite the overwhelming role of the idea of evolution, some trace of the influence of biblical thought: the course of history is viewed as goal-directed, and history is therefore viewed as meaningful.
Nonetheless, over the last 200 years there has been, to an increasing extent in some intellectual movements, an abandonment of every form of eschatology. History has lost the structure of a goal-directed process; inquiry into the meaning of history has become meaningless. This abandonment of eschatology in general is to be ascribed in the first place to the scientific mode of thought derived from British empiricism (Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Hume) which, through its views on the death of the world by entropy, by cosmic collision, and the possibility of atomic disintegration, have supplied only a meager alternative to traditional eschatology. With this must be associated, after the rise of historical consciousness and the collapse of the optimistic Enlightenment belief in progress, a form of historical relativism which accepts only discrete causally connected historical events, but rejects any meaningful pattern in the totality of history, all philosophies of history, and all eschatological beliefs (J. Burckhardt, F. Nietzsche). Historical interest can thus be focussed solely on the past and on the modest inquiry: “How things actually were” (positivistic historiography). Or history is understood—mainly aesthetically—as an expression of a unified intellectual and spiritual life (W. Dilthey). When this relativism was converted, as not infrequently was the case, into pessimism viewing history as hastening toward catastrophe (e.g., O. Spengler, Decline of the West, 1918-22; Eng. trans., 1926-28) there was a revival of the cyclical thought of pagan antiquity (as adopted by Nietzsche in his doctrine of the Eternal Return) rather than of the eschatological consciousness of the Bible.
Renewal of New Testament Eschatology. The very meaning of history appears to vanish when, on the one hand, hope for the end of sacred history by the intervention of an external source fades away, and at the same time the optimistic secular eschatology of progress also dwindles; when, on the other hand, the whole question of an eschatological goal for history is abandoned. To the extent that nihilism appears appropriate we come closer to a return to the biblical view of history in which Jesus Christ represents the turning point of the aeon, so that the present at any given period is denominated an eschatological time. This eschatological interpretation of history has manifested its vigor in the course of Church history particularly among those theologians most indebted to biblical thought. Thus for Augustine the battle in world history between the civitas terrena and the civitas Dei is fought out in the history of the individual in such a manner that Christ is already here and now able to live as a citizen of the Kingdom of God through his “rebirth,” even though the palpable worldwide victory of the city of God is still lacking.
Luther's conviction of standing at the end of time is rooted in the existential experience of his own death consummated in the death of Christ; that is, the death of the “old Adam” enslaved in sin; or, as the case may be, in assumption of the freedom guaranteed to the child of God in the sense of the Pauline utterance: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have [eschatological!] peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). Luther is able to place in the future the present eschatological gift of salvation by forgiving grace because it is present in faith, that is, it is simply an unmerited gift of God, and thus can now be seized.
In the twentieth century, so-called dialectical theology relying on Luther and Kierkegaard returned to the dialectical interpretation of eschatology in the New Testament, following on the rediscovery in New Testament scholarship, toward the end of the nineteenth century, of the primarily apocalyptic character of the biblical message concerning the Kingdom of God (J. Weiss, A. Schweitzer). Karl Barth defines the acknowledgment of Christian revelation as an insight into the existential truth “that time becomes as eternity, and eternity as this moment.” Time, for faith, is “the eternal moment, the Now, in which past and future
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come to rest.” The present at any given moment is thus eschatological time, and in this sense Barth writes: “Christianity that is not wholly, simply, and totally eschatology has wholly, simply, and totally nothing to do with Christ.”
Above all R. Bultmann, relying on aspects of Heidegger's existential philosophy (itself in turn markedly influenced by the New Testament, Luther, and Kierkegaard), has fallen back on New Testament eschatology. According to Bultmann substantial passages in the New Testament treat the events surrounding Christ as God's ultimately valid act of salvation. The annunciation of these events thus denominates every present moment as eschatological time. For it liberates man from himself, that is, from the sinful compulsion to locate his life in the actuality of his past and the possibilities of his future, by bestowing on him life out of god's charismatic future. Such existence drawn out of God's future is eschatological existence, for with its coming all temporal history is at an end. Each moment is possessed of the possibility of being an eschatological moment; the faithful actualizes this possibility. The eschaton eventuates constantly in history from beyond history. To the extent that apocalyptic eschatology is retained in the New Testament this mythological conception has the existential meaning of representing futurity, that is, the charismatic, or the character of grace of God's liberating word: new life fulfills itself solely in the acceptance of the “freedom of the children of God.”
Summary. The following may be said in summing up: the problem of eschatology is inquiry into the end as the goal and meaning of history. Since man as an historical being never confronts history but is always moving in history he is never able to answer the question about the eschaton objectively, i.e., as a neutral observer. His judgment concerning the eschaton of history always implies a judgment about himself as an historical being. Regardless of whatever solution has been or will be given to the problem of eschatology we conclude: since history is still an ongoing process at the present time, and nobody is in a position to scan history from its beginning to its definitive outcome, and since the course of history does not itself indicate what its end and goal might be, the question of eschatology remains open as a subject for systematic inquiry and can only be answered as a matter of personal decision.
E. Benz, Evolution and Christian Hope, trans. H. G. Frankl (New York, 1966). W. Bousset, Die Religion des Judentums im späthellenistischen Zeitalter, 3rd. ed. (Tübingen, 1925). R. Bultmann, History and Eschatology (London, 1957; New York, 1962). R. G. Collingwood, The Idea of History (London and New York, 1946). B. Croce, La Storia come pensiero e come azione (Bari, 1938); trans. Douglas Ainslie as History: Its Theory and Practice (1916; New York, 1960). O. Cullmann, Heil als Geschichte (Tübingen, 1965); trans. as Salvation in History (New York, 1967). J. G. Fichte, Werke, ed. F. Medicus, 6 vols. (Leipzig, 1908-12; reprinted, 1954—). G. Krüger, Geschichte und Tradition (Stuttgart, 1949). K. Löwith, Meaning in History. The Theological Implications of the Philosophy of History (Chicago, 1957). H.-J. Marrou, La Connaissance historique (Paris, 1956); trans. as The Meaning of History (New York, 1965). J. Moltmann, Theologie der Hoffnung (Munich, 1964). W. Pannenberg, Offenbarung als Geschichte (Göttingen, 1961). O. Plöger, Theokratie und Eschatologie, 2nd ed. (Neukirken, 1962). E. Staehelin, Die Verkündigung des Reiches Gottes in der Kirche Jesu Christi, 7 vols. (Basel, 1951; 1965). A. J. Toynbee, A Study of History, 12 vols. (London and New York, 1934-61).
What do YOU think ?
Date: 30 Jan 2006 Time: 06:35:58
Comments: IF WE AS CHILDREN OF LIGHT CAN TAKE GOD AT HIS WORD AND NOT ADD TO OR TAKE AWAY FROM THE SCRIPTURE, WE WOULD HEAR AND SEE CLEARLY WHAT THE MASTER HAS SAID FROM THE BEGINNING,( ISAIAH 46:9-10).IN GENESIS CHAPTER 1 IT IS CLEAR WHAT HAS HAPPENED, WHAT IS HAPPENING NOW AND WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN. THAT IS WHEN GOD DECLARED THE END FROM THE BEGINNING. BE BLESSED MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS, AMEN,AMEN.
Date: 26 Aug 2007
Date: 09 Aug 2010
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