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Eschatology

Overview

A complete introduction to the Christian view of the future.

What does the Bible say about the future, about death, about human destiny and heaven and hell? This volume presents a clear and comprehensive introduction to the Christian hope for the future that is particularly relevant to today's world.

Hans Schwarz guides readers through the range of opinions on this fascinating subject, showing how our understanding of eschatology has developed ...

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Overview

A complete introduction to the Christian view of the future.

What does the Bible say about the future, about death, about human destiny and heaven and hell? This volume presents a clear and comprehensive introduction to the Christian hope for the future that is particularly relevant to today's world.

Hans Schwarz guides readers through the range of opinions on this fascinating subject, showing how our understanding of eschatology has developed and laying out the factors that must be considered when speaking meaningfully about the Christian hope here in the twenty-first century. He surveys the teachings about the future in both the Old and New Testaments, discusses the views of Christian and secular thinkers throughout history-including the challenges posed by science, philosophy, and New Age beliefs-and explores the major themes of eschatology, including death, immortality, and resurrection.

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Editorial Reviews

Richard Bauckham
With the decline of the idea of progress and with growing threats to the survival of human civilization and all life on earth, Christians urgently need to retrieve the eschatological hope of the new creation. Hans Schwarz here shows how hope can adequately be grounded only in the Creator and Redeemer of all things and how ultimate hope inspires us to live hopefully now, succumbing neither to resigned pessimism nor to dangerously unrealistic utopianism. Schwarz's dialogue with scientific and secular views of the future is an especially valuable aspect of his comprehensive treatment of eschatology.
Ted Peters
"In this bread-and-butter survey of the entire field of eschatology, Hans Schwarz makes a solid case for "proleptic anticipation" as the most convincing perspective. He constructs his case on a foundation of Scripture and the history of thought, and he argues his case before advocates of contending views. Everywhere illuminating!"
Kurt Anders Richardson
"Hans Schwarz is one of the finest evangelical theological educators in Germany today, as this outstanding volume on eschatology aptly demonstrates. The book's comprehensiveness, readability, and intelligently shaped conviction are very impressive. Dealing with a wide range of "eschatological" perspectives in both Christian and secular thought, Schwarz eminently expounds the Christian doctrine of the last things."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802847331
  • Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 9/1/2000
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 307,585
  • Product dimensions: 1.00 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Introduction: Who Still Cares about the Future? (from pages 1-21)

"This is the end — for me the beginning of life." These are the last words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-45), handed down to us before he was executed by the Nazis during the last days of World War II. Bonhoeffer was not an otherworldly person. If he were, he would not have been accused by the Nazis of being part of the resistance movement. As we can glean from the letters he wrote when he realized the Nazis were not going to release him from prison, he had a passion for this life and agonized about wasting it behind bars. His last words show us, however, that this life was not everything for him. There was something else to come, something to long for, to trust and to rejoice in. In this way he stands in strong contrast to many people today.

In many European countries such as France, Great Britain, and Germany, the majority of people do not believe in life after death and even fewer believe in a final judgment. The USA is different in this respect, because people there are believers. Surveys show that most Americans believe in the Bible as the inspired word of God; they believe in the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth and in eternal life. Yet the appalling fact is that most of these so-called believers are very ignorant when it comes to content. Most cannot even enumerate four of the ten commandments. They seem to follow one of the great American heroes of World War II, and later president, Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), who reportedly once said: "Everybody must believe in something and I do not care what it is." Yet if we do not care, we do not put that much emphasis in it either. It is not surprising that our lifestyles run counter to what the Bible expects from us.

Biblical Eschatology contra the Obsession with the Present

The evangelist Billy Graham (b. 1918) once wrote:

That's the way a Christian should live his life, in constant anticipation of the return of Christ! If we could live every day as though it might be the very last one, before the final judgment, what a difference it would make here on earth! But we don't like to think that way! We don't like to think that our carefully made plans, our long-range schemes may be interrupted by the trumpets of God! We're so engrossed in our own little activities that we can't bear the thought of having anything spoil them! Too many people would rather say, "Oh well, the end of the world hasn't come yet, so why think about it — it's probably a thousand years away!"

This quotation shows in a nutshell the contrast in which most of us live. I have occasionally jokingly said that church executives and bishops have their date books filled so far in advance that if Christ were to come they would probably plead with him for a different date, because they already have an appointment for that date. Most of us are little empire builders who resemble the rich fool who decided to pull down his barns after a good crop and build larger ones. Jesus said to the rich man, "You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?" (Luke 12:20). We conduct our lives as if we would live forever. But this is no surprise.

When do we ever have the luxury of sitting down in solitude and thinking — about our own life, about our family, or about anything of ultimate concern? We are too busy to think. The academy of Plato (427-347 B.C.) and Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) was a place where one could enjoy a leisurely walk or simply sit there, exchanging views with others or focusing on one's own thoughts. Yet today a professional academy, such as the American Academy of Religion, is as different from those of antiquity as day is from night. When it convenes its annual meeting, thousands of people gather for three or four days of what could very well be the busiest days of their whole year, with one important event joining another or running parallel to it from early morning to late night.

We have been accustomed to think from date to date. A politician plans from one election to the next, and a salesperson from the spring to the fall collection. We are like the factory workers on the assembly line who never get the full picture, but just small segments of the whole work process. We encounter only segments of time. We are glad to know that we end the year in the black, that we have not been laid off, or even got a raise. In the same way as lifelong allegiance to one job and one company is a thing of the distant past, we are never confronted with the question of what the whole thing is for. Only occasionally, when something severely interferes with our mindless rushing through the present —when we are confronted with a divorce or a heart attack, for instance — do we take stock of our lives. For a moment we come to our senses. Perhaps then we tell ourselves that if we would have to do things over again, we would do them differently. But life must go on, and soon we are pushed back into "reality" and its demands of the immediate present.

Many of us are church people, and we sing from our hymnals, "Refresh your people on their tiresome way;/lead us from night to never-ending day." But once we leave the church service, our thoroughly commercialized world quickly takes hold of us again, telling us where we can get a special bargain. Life is not supposed to be a vale of toil and tears. It is supposed to be fun, and emotional upsets are cured through psychiatric treatment, pills, or, less expensively, through our pastor. If we do not have enough money to enjoy life, we can get an instant loan and instant credit. While people of past generations had to hope for a life beyond, because life here was short and filled with drudgery, for the majority of us there is no such need. The claim of Karl Marx (1818-83), that "religion is only the illusory sun which revolves round man as long as he does not revolve round himself " and that "the task of history, therefore, once the world beyond the truth has disappeared, is to establish the truth of this world," is already an historical fact for us when applied to eschatology. We have almost succeeded in forgetting the last things and instead devote exclusive attention to the present, meaning to life here on earth.

Our noneschatological lifestyle also shows in our trivialization of death. Decades ago, news reporters were excited when they could report about a murder. But in our metropolitan areas, so many murders and violent deaths occur that only in very exceptional cases do they make headlines. Death simply belongs to our modern society as part of urban violence, the drug culture, and the traffic conditions. We are used to these daily death reports in the same way we have become accustomed to violent movies and the daily death toll on TV. Sudden death has not just become a by-product of modern living, it is also a term in sports language. It is hardly understood as something leading up to the last things, to life eternal or to judgment.

Even when death hits us personally —for instance, when one of our loved ones dies — things remain under control thanks to the comprehensive care of funeral homes. A special color for mourning (usually white or black) that is worn by the immediate relatives for one year or longer disappeared long ago. Moreover, hardly anybody dies at home. Even when hit by a fatal heart attack within our own four walls, we are rushed to the hospital and "pronounced dead on arrival." We have managed to shut away death into the sterile white walls of the hospital room and the intensive care unit. What was normal for the patriarchs of the Old Testament —dying in the midst of their families, with both parties saying farewell to each other —is hardly any longer a possibility for us. We have no immediate encounter with death, except through its trivialization in TV programs, its facticity in news services, or in the euphemistic version offered by the funeral home, where the diseased often look better than they did during their lifetime. Thanks to cosmetology and embalming practices, perpetual care will be extended to the dead in our cemeteries.

Until very recently many women died in childbirth or shortly thereafter. Diseases during infancy, such as measles and smallpox, heavily affected infant mortality rates until virtually the end of the nineteenth century. It was normal that people died, young and old, and usually they died at home. Death had an impact on everyone. In some countries the bride was given a shroud as a wedding gift, reminding her how precarious her future life would be. When people such as Martin Luther (1483-1546) asked in the medieval period, "How can I find a gracious God?" his question was certainly not unrelated to the general outlook of that time. Life was precarious, threatened by natural disasters and diseases of all sorts. One wanted to make sure that at least at the gate of death a gracious God was awaiting the deceased. When Luther discovered by studying Scripture that Judgment Day did not need to be conceived as a day of wrath, but as one of joy, this was a great liberating move. One need not be afraid of death. One no longer needed to do all kinds of penitential rituals to placate a God of wrath. In the letters of his later years, Luther showed that he was longing for death and for a better hereafter, and that the craving for life had no attraction for him.

Yet we do not want to look that far. Actuarial tables tell us how many years we can expect to live. At the same time, we are aware more than ever of the sudden possibility of death. We know that a heart attack can terminate our life in the blink of an eye, and we are still consciously bothered by the possibility of a nuclear disaster. Nonetheless, outlook on life is neither positively nor negatively determined by the uncontrollable fact of death. We would prefer to shut out death completely. Therefore, the possibility of cloning humans has received immense attention. It is not so much the medical angle that fascinates us (for instance, that we could develop spare parts for an aging population), but the hope that we could duplicate ourselves and in this way live forever. The possibility of removing the death barrier seems to emerge, and we are again hoping for eternal life here on earth. Medical doctors are already doing their best to prolong life and would rather "pull the plug" too late than too soon. Many people sacrifice the pleasures of gourmet cooking and try through dietary asceticism to escape from threatening heart attacks or from shortening their lives, while politicians spend billions of dollars each year to save us from the conceivable attacks of other nations.

We have made ourselves so much at home here that the last things are no longer appealing. The Bible frequently describes eternal life and heaven in the picturesque language of a celestial banquet. Such imagery has little attraction for people who watch their daily diets. And the prospect of streets paved with gold, gates of pearls, and celestial choirs does not mean much in an affluent society. They would be interesting museum pieces or something you could visit while touring Disney World or other amusement parks. But to live there would be a different matter. We prefer to enjoy our own modern amenities.

Our life here is in stark contrast to any life beyond. While life beyond should be devoted to eternal worship and service to God, we tell ourselves that we enjoy our busy lives, and even good church members hardly find time for daily devotions. We read in the New Testament that in heaven there will be neither male nor female, while our life here is hardly worth anything if sexuality is excluded, whether through impotence or some disease. In heaven, we are told, we will mostly sing hymns and adore God, while here, as anybody who has been active in a church choir knows, one of the most frustrating jobs is to recruit new choir members. Above that, Sunday school attendance is declining and agnosticism and self-made religions are increasing all over the world. While access to life beyond death depends on God's grace, access to life here on earth depends on our own success; and while forgiveness of sins is the essential prerequisite of heavenly bliss, earthly blessing is determined by our own efforts. We have become mature, we have taken our time into our own hands and no longer rely on what many consider the vague promises of a life hereafter.

Idea of Progress Is Grounded in Christian Eschatology

The Jewish Christian philosopher Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy (1888-1973) wrote: "Christianity is the founder and trustee of the future, the very process of finding and securing it, and without the Christian spirit there is no real future for man. Future means novelty, surprise; it means outgrowing past habits and attainments. When a job, a movement, an institution promises nothing but treadmill repetition of a given routine in thought and action, we say correctly, 'There is no future in it.'"

Rosenstock-Huessy claims the obvious here: to understand any thing we must consider its context. The context for modern life, at least in the West, and through our global civilization even beyond that, is the Judeo-Christian tradition. As any calendar, sales chart, or bank account statement shows, our modern life and its progressiveness presupposes a linear concept of time, a time arrow that has a definite starting point and a definite goal. This linear understanding of time originated in the Judeo-Christian religion. As far as we know, all other worldviews and religions, with the exception perhaps of Zoroastrianism, a religion not unrelated to the Judeo-Christian tradition, are confined to a cyclical understanding of time.

For instance, in the Canaanite religion of Israel's neighbors, the most important active figure of their pantheon was Baal, a weather and fertility god. The local differentiations of his name and his being notwithstanding, he is the Canaanite god "with whom the nomadic tribes of Israel who confessed Yahweh came into contact from their emigration from Egypt till after the exile." We can still discern several festivals in which Baal played a prominent role. The most important was the new year festival in the fall, where most likely the return of Baal from the underworld and his enthronement on Mount Sapan, at the Orontes River near Ugarit, was celebrated. In spring there was the feast of mourning for Baal, and finally in June the feast of the destruction of Mot, the death god. Baal battled with the god of death until Mot (death) conquered him and took him down to the underworld, from which his sister and sometime consort Anath freed him by destroying Mot after a violent struggle. As William F. Albright (1891-1971) writes:

In the Baal epic it is recorded that at the beginning there was a victory
of Death over Baal, which was later followed by a triumph of Baal over
Death, at the end of which the sad refrain,
Truly I know that Triumphant Baal is dead,
That the Lord of the Earth has perished,

is changed to

Truly I know that Triumphant Baal lives,
That the Lord of the Earth exists.

The cult of Baal reflected the cyclical events of nature, which had great significance for the agrarian society in Canaan. "The Canaanite could explain the change from one season to another and the differences between good and bad years only by believing that sometimes Baal was weak, sick, or even dead. This was a basic assumption of their religion. But such ideas were foreign to monotheistic Yahwism." In the beginning of summer, the people lamented the death of Baal and the triumph of the death god Mot, because in the summer drought vegetation dried out and perished through the merciless rays of the sun and the scorching winds of the desert. Later in the season people rejoiced and celebrated the death of Mot and the "resurrection" of the fertility god Baal when the fall or winter rains drenched the dry ground and promised a good crop.

Such a seasonal rhythm between "life and death" does not provide much incentive for long-range planning, because humanity feels subjected to the power of nature. The Indian religions of Buddhism and Hinduism provide even less stimulus to engage in intensive planning for the future. Again, they portray a cyclical worldview and advocate as one of the main goals of this life the negation of all craving for life in order to break out of the fatal samsara (wheel of life) of birth, death, and reincarnation. Any interest in the future and any appreciation of life here on earth would only jeopardize the release from this world and its troubles. While there are significant differences between these various traditions, "the dominant trend is towards a belief that the true self (Atman) is unborn and never dies, and that the ultimate goal of the human spirit is to escape a continual cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, and attain either absorption into the Absolute or union with God."

One might argue that the Greeks are an exception, because they reached a very high cultural level without a linear concept of time. There may be some truth in this. But when we penetrate the cultural facade, we realize very quickly that the Greek view of life, similar to that of Rome, was quite pessimistic. Indicative of this is the fate of the two kouroi, Cleobis and Biton, whose statues we can admire in the Museum of Delphi. The ancient historiographer Herodotus (ca. 484-ca. 425 B.C.) tells us the myth connected with them. They were two well-liked young men. Their mother was a priestess of Hera and had to drive into the Heraeum for the Hera festival at the ancient city of Argos, south of Corinth. When the oxen were late in coming from the fields and time was running out, the two sons took the place of the oxen and pulled their mother in the cart to the Heraeum, which was five miles away. They were praised by everyone for this deed, and their mother prayed to Hera that they should receive the best that is available in this world. The reward was that on that day "the two youth fell asleep in the temple. They never woke more, but so passed from the earth."

This world and the life connected with it have no actual value. Even Aristotle despised manual labor, which was left to the slaves, and preferred to concentrate on eternal issues. Plato, too, recognized this world as only a reflection of the eternal and unchanging world. He postulated a release from this earthly prison by which the eternal soul could return to its origin and destiny. The Greeks "were primarily concerned with the logos of the cosmos, not with the Lord and the meaning of history." The logos was wisdom and the eternally unchanging; history, however, was singular and accidental. Only in Christianity did the logos become flesh and was understood as the Lord of history (John 1:14). During the classical period of Greek history, however, the gods of Homer (eighth century B.C.) looked like deified people and were themselves subject to the destiny of the world. In later Hellenism the mystery religions indicate an unfulfilled yearning for immortality in which the Christian hope of the resurrection of the dead easily found open ears. Friedrich Nietzsche, in his Birth of Tragedy: Hellenism and Pessimism, detected a pervasive pessimism through which any optimism eventually "suffers shipwreck."

The British historian Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) even suggested that the "cyclic view of the process of history was taken so entirely for granted by even the greatest Greek and Indian souls and intellects —by Aristotle, for instance, and by the Buddha — that they simply assumed that it was true without thinking it necessary to prove it." Yet Toynbee himself opted for a "cyclic movement of civilizations round the cycle of birth, death, birth." One civilization emerges, attains its height, and provokes another civilization to originate. The latter conflicts with the former, gains strength while fighting it, and finally prevails until a third emerges. Like the waves of the sea crashing against the shore and receding, one civilization after the other is doomed to death without any evident progress.

Why is the Judeo-Christian religion so different that it can provide the ground for the modern emphasis on this world and the concern for the future? The reason can be found in two basic convictions: (1) the belief in one God and (2) the identification of this one God as the creator and redeemer of everything that is. Often the people of Israel were attracted to the polytheism of their neighbors, but their religious leaders always brought them back to Yahweh, the only God. Though Yahweh was, in a special sense, regarded as the divine head of the Hebrew community, this theocracy tended to be universalistic. Especially under the influence of the prophetic movement, that is, from about the middle of the eighth century B.C. onward, the Israelites thought of Yahweh more and more as the divine head of all humanity, while the neighboring nations still worshiped their respective particularistic gods.

How decisive this monotheistic and universalistic view of God is, can be shown by comparing the Judeo-Christian religion with Zoroastrianism. Both conceive history as a forward movement, but the strict dualism between the two main gods, Ormuzd and Ahriman, while finally resolved in the eschaton, prevented Zoroastrianism from pursuing the idea of progress. The Judeo-Christian belief in historic progression is largely due to the understanding of history as salvation history (Heilsgeschichte) . The God of Israel is not a God of the past but of the future. This is already indicated in the Old Testament covenant concept, and is emphasized further in the apocalyptic periodization of history in the intertestamental period.

Greco-Roman thinking was past oriented and mainly interested in the eternal laws beyond and above history out of which historical events flowed in eternal occurrence and recurrence. Thus the Greeks were not concerned about the Lord of history, but about the regularity and steadiness of the cosmos which they first perceived in the movements of the heavenly bodies. In the Judeo-Christian religion God was conceived as the agent of history, who works in and with history. Though the God of Israel was undoubtedly first understood as the redeemer of Israel, the consequent development of the universalistic view of God led to the understanding of God as the creator of everything that is. One should realize, however, that the gradual understanding of Yahweh as the creator of the world did not evolve to replace other creation stories that might have been prevalent within the Israelite community. As soon as the concept of creation emerged, the Israelites assumed Yahweh as the creator.

When the Israelites moved into Canaan, they encountered a religion which had much to say about creation. We notice this, for instance, when Abraham returned from rescuing Lot from the hand of the four kings and met King Melchizedek of Salem, probably the ancient name of Jerusalem. Melchizedek is called a priest of God Most High (in Hebrew, El Elyon). He blessed Abraham and said to him:

Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
maker of heaven and earth;
and blessed be God Most High,
who has delivered your enemies into your hand!
(Gen. 14:19-20)

In this city a god with the name of El Elyon was worshiped, who was said to have created heaven and earth. When Israel was confronted with such a godhead in the land they had occupied, the question was inescapable: How should they respond to such a claim?

Was El Elyon the creator of heaven and earth and Yahweh only the rescuer from Egypt, meaning the God of history? Such specialization of gods was quite common in the environment of Israel. Fertility statues of Astarte and many other symbols of the worship of gods and goddesses in Israel have been discovered in archaeological excavations. From these discoveries we may conclude that the Israelites were not immune to worshiping other gods. Yet the official line was different. Abraham responded to Melchizedek: "I have sworn to the LORD [Yahweh], God Most High [El Elyon] , maker of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal-thong or anything that is yours" (Gen. 14:22-23). Abraham immediately identifies Yahweh with El Elyon, the creator of heaven and earth, because it was inconceivable for him that any god but Yahweh could be the creator of heaven and earth.

The understanding of a creator god did not develop as a separate belief system parallel to the notion of Yahweh as the redeemer. The Israelites were practical people, even in their religion. If Yahweh had brought them out of Egypt into the Promised Land, then he had also provided them with the goods of the Promised Land. Yahweh was its creator. As the Old Testament scholar Gerhard von Rad (1901-71) said: "From the earliest times this was Israel's view of Yahweh's relationship to the land, and to its way of life. This was the blessed plot given to the nation by the saving activity of Yahweh, the mighty Lord of history, and it still remained Yahweh's land." Yahweh provided the origin of the world; he is active in it and will provide its redemption. This latter part came to its fulfillment in the Christian faith when the history of Jesus of Nazareth was understood as the decisive redemptive act of God. Thus history had a definite beginning (its creation), a definite course (the present acts of God), and a definite goal (redemption in and through Christ). History had a goal worth living for, and the present gained its well-deserved recognition too because it was the arena in which the faithful could prove themselves eligible for that final goal.

There was no emphasis on humanity, though. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, it was clearly understood that humanity could never reach the final goal without the saving grace of God. This emphasis on the grace of God is already expressed in the covenant concept. According to Jewish thinking, a covenant is always offered by a stronger power (Yahweh) to a weaker power (the Israelite community) and not vice versa. When the Christian church saw itself in continuance with the Old Testament community, the church found it impossible to accept the prevailing humanistic anthropology of the Greco-Roman world. In the Greco-Roman world, history was seen as a record of human deeds, purposes, successes, and failures. "The gods have no plan of their own for the development of human affairs; they only grant success or decree failure for the plans of men." Christianity, however, rejected such optimistic ideas of human nature. The inability to achieve clearly planned goals was no longer understood as accidental but as a permanent element in human nature, arising out of the condition of humanity as a fallen creature. Especially Augustine, with his concept of a corrupt humanity, influenced the thinking of the Western world for at least a thousand years.

At the same time, this did not indicate a rejection of humanity. Admittedly, the historical process is not the working out of humanity's purposes, but of God's, because it is basically salvation history. We do not determine the course of history — God does. But God's purpose is not self-gratifying. It is a purpose intended for us, embodied in human life, and achieved through the activity of human wills. God predetermines the final goal, and he sees to it that everything will eventually move in this direction. But each human being is an historically important and responsible agent. We know what we want and pursue it, though we often do not know why we want it and therefore might stand in the way of obtaining it.

God still works through us, even when we resist his purpose. We receive ultimate dignity and importance only as vehicles of God's redemptive purpose. All hope is founded and centered in God, and not in the belief in progress or in humanity. The acting and active God who provided the beginning, who controls the present, and who will provide the future is the decisive center of all Christian and Jewish hope. Even now Christian churches still emphasize human unworthiness, though sometimes more out of tradition than conviction, and it is questionable whether the hope in an active and gracious God still determines the life orientation of most church members.

Estrangement between Eschatology and Progress

During the Middle Ages God-confidence prevailed over self-confidence. The pope ranked higher than the emperor, and everything was done to the glory of God and through God's grace. Gradually, however, humanity became more confident in itself.

One of the first documents that shows that self-confidence prevailed over God-confidence is René Descartes's (1596-1650) Discourse concerning the Method (1637). He writes that, while in Germany at the beginning of winter, he was put up in a place where he had no conversation partner. "I remained all day near a stove, where I had complete freedom to weigh my thoughts." The result was the introduction of radical doubt into modern philosophy and Western thought. He realized that it is possible to doubt everything except the fact that he was doubting. If that were denied too, there would be nothing. Consequently, the starting point for reestablishing reality was "I think therefore I am" because "from the very fact that I was thinking of doubting the truth of other things, it followed very evidently and very certainly that I was." Consequently, the "I" of the solitary human being became the foundation of all reality. Though Descartes still needed God to guarantee for him the reality of the world outside him, the decisive point was made.

One hundred fifty years later Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) went a decisive step further in his essay "Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment?" (1783) by saying: "Enlightenment is man's leaving his self-caused immaturity. Immaturity is the incapacity to use one's intelligence without guidance of another. Such immaturity is self-caused if it is not caused by lack of intelligence, but by lack of determination and courage to use one's intelligence without being guided by another. Sapere Aude! 'Have the courage to use your own intelligence!' is therefore the motto of the enlightenment."

Kant is advocating human freedom in political and religious matters and the dominance of human intellect and reason over any outside force. Humanity should no longer be dependent on someone or something else. Kant calls such dependence immaturity. We have become mature and are capable of determining our own destiny. This optimistic attitude prevailed throughout the Enlightenment era.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-81), in The Education of the Human Race (1780), draws an important analogy between education and revelation. Education is revelation made to the individual, while revelation is an education which has come and still continues to come to the whole human race. Nevertheless, education does not give a person anything one might not have derived from "within oneself," but one merely obtains it more quickly and easily. By the same token, "revelation gives nothing to the human race which human reason could not arrive at on its own; only it has given, and still gives to it, the most important of these things sooner." Thus, according to Lessing, the goal of human progress is no longer found beyond humanity, but in humanity itself. But Lessing did not yet realize that his insistence on the rediscovery of "innate ideas" as the goal of progress must necessarily exclude true progress in the sense of creative novelty. Still, the optimistic trust in the newly established self-confidence continued.

Charles Darwin's (1809-82) theory of evolution in the nineteenth century made humanity even more optimistic, because now the door seemed to be open for new and unprecedented human progress. If we had evolved so high above the animal world, we could evolve much higher. While Kant emphasized human autonomy, that we should have enough self-confidence to determine our own views, here the next step was taken with the implicit hope that we are able to evolve beyond our present state.

Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) shaped the outlook of North America in the second half of the nineteenth century unlike any other writer by converting the theory of evolution into "an instrument of unbridled optimism." Development was for him a cosmic principle that pertains especially to the human species. Universal development has to be made fruitful for humanity to drive it to further progress. Nothing can be excluded from this progress: no knowledge, no value systems, and no feelings. Humanity is in control of its future; it can determine its own progress and need no longer rely on an active God.

Along with the change from God-confidence to self-confidence, another important shift emerged which contributed to the belief in progress induced by humanity: the secularization of the kingdom of God. The root for this shift lies in the Calvinistic theory of double predestination. We are predestined at birth either to be received into heaven after life on earth or to be condemned to eternal damnation. Of course, we want to find out as early as possible what our destiny is. In popular understanding the fact of election could be seen in earthly success. Thus Calvinists worked tirelessly in an ascetic manner to prove to themselves and to others that they were on the right side. The results of this work, of course, could not be enjoyed but had to be added to the constant increase of the employed capital. Max Weber (1864-1920) and Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923) rightly called Calvinism the forerunner of modern capitalism.

Surprisingly, Pietism played a similar role with its radical orientation toward otherworldliness. Their otherworldliness, by necessity, led Pietists to responsible use of their time here on earth. Time was not to be spent in worldly joy and amusement, but in self-crucifying work. The housefather who presided over devotional meetings is at the same time the forerunner of many industrial endeavors. In the nineteenth century, the centers of the Pietistic movement in Germany, namely, Rhineland-Westphalia and Württemberg, became centers of industrial development. The religious convictions of the Pietists led to the splendid material success of their grandchildren, most of whom long ago discarded the religious convictions of their forebears.

In America the development was similar, partly in direct connection with the immigration of German Pietists. One of the best-known American steel companies, the Bethlehem Steel Company in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, was begun by a blacksmith who had emigrated from Herrnhut, Germany, at the beginning of the eighteenth century. He settled in Bethlehem, a Moravian missionary settlement in the forests of Pennsylvania, and started a small blacksmith shop there. Quality and industriousness helped to develop his workshop into a huge enterprise. Though the name Bethlehem still points to the pietistic and pacifist origin of what was once one of the largest steel companies in the United States, it was turned into a huge conglomerate without regard to its religious premise.

In his book The Kingdom of God in America, H. Richard Niebuhr (1894-1962) pointed to an important factor that caused this loss of the religious premise. He claimed that the spiritualistic and Calvinistic groups favored a heaven of their own design. They considered humanity to be virtuous enough to acquire such a heaven. Also, the radical transformation of life on earth eventually undermined the expectation of heavenly bliss. Through hard work, conditions on earth became attractive enough to cause them to forget life in heaven, especially when they felt that humanity was on its way to bringing about the kingdom on earth.

For the Sake of Sanity: Recovery of an Eschatological Outlook

Is secular progress sustainable? A few years ago I was dumbfounded when I saw a divorced woman student on campus carrying a coffee mug with the logo: "Life is a bitch. And then you die." The philosopher Karl Löwith (1897-1973) phrased the same insight less crassly when he wrote: "Neither antiquity nor Christianity indulged in the modern illusion that history can be conceived as a progressive evolution which solves the problem of evil by way of elimination." As the psalmist realized, life is short.

The days of our life are seventy years,
or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
(Ps. 90:10)

While marketing and advertising agencies tell us that we will enjoy perpetual youth and that everything is within our reach, the terms "rat race" and "making ends meet" speak a different language. There is hardly a student who has not confessed that he or she does not have enough time to do all the assignments properly and to be adequately prepared for exams. And many people mutter in surprise at the end of the year: "I don't know where the year has gone!" We have ceaselessly segmented time into terms, quarters, and semesters, or into months and years, that seep past us in quick succession. As Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy reminds us: "Meaningful history depends upon having one beginning, one middle, and one end. If our data are not oriented by single pillars of time in this way, history becomes a mere catalogue of changes." By secularizing life we have stripped time, and therewith history, of its creator on the one hand, and of its fulfiller on the other. Even the present is no longer supported by God, but by our own efforts. Therefore, similar to cyclical thought, we are only confronted with changes without beginning and end. Yet, as Buddhists tell us, such running in circles is unbearable. We need to break out of it to attain true fulfillment.

Our rushing toward the future would be more bearable if we could discern true progress. Yet, as anybody realizes, the vision of self-perpetuating progress is an illusion. We cannot obtain larger and larger pieces of a pie that is not increasing in size. Since we are finite creatures living on a finite earth, we will sooner or later encounter boundaries; in some areas we have already. For instance, as our population increases, land is becoming more and more precious. With California being the most populated state in the USA, the old slogan "Go west" no longer makes sense. If we go far enough west, we either drown or, avoiding that fate, are confronted with other human beings on the other side of the Pacific Rim. Humanity is basically thrown in upon itself.

We have abandoned God-confidence to gain self-confidence. Yet this hard-won autonomy stands on shaky ground. How can we as finite beings be true granters of time and history as God had been when he was understood as creator, sustainer, and redeemer? Either we must pretend to be infinite, something we are not, or we must endow time itself with the attribute of infinity and thereby divinize it. Our immense attention to everything which seems to point to the future, such as the stock market or other economic indicators, seems to show that we have taken the latter option. Since they are, however, derived from our finite world, they are finite too and cannot grant us true future and ultimate meaning. They are, at the most, temporary pointers to a precarious temporary future. Moreover, the undue attention on them makes us oblivious to our actual situation, a situation without an ultimate goal and unaware of the true meaning of history.

The loss of a meaningful goal makes more and more people push the panic button. They ask to what end we are progressing and if there is anything worthwhile to hope for except uncertainty. The slogan that anything goes as long as it makes you happy or, even worse, the wide acceptance of a pervasive nihilism are indicative of a vacuum that could easily be filled with new ideologies and even totalitarianism. As long as God provided the goal at the end of history and beyond it, progress had a definite goal. This focal point was understood to determine the destiny of our life but could not be reached within it. Once this God-provided destiny is denied, the goal must be found within time. However, it can never be reached, because then there would be nothing left to hope for. It has to recede within the ever farther progressing horizons of history, and the speed of its recession must be at least equivalent to the speed of our own progress. The idea of never ending progress is already indicated in Lessing's remark that if God offered him a choice between the possession of truth and the quest of it, he would unhesitatingly prefer the latter. Kant went along similar lines in interpreting life immortal as the endless advance toward a perfection that can never actually be attained.

But what happens when the god of progress falters? What happens when the clouds on the horizon of history darken more and more the bright prospects of the future? It should at least arouse our suspicion when we notice the increasing number of people of all ages who resort to alcohol and to drugs, whether illegal narcotics or prescribed tranquilizers, to escape from an uncertain and progress-demanding future. Perhaps we have created a world of standards without meaning and goals without ultimate direction. Though we are transitory beings, we do not receive our identity from transitoriness and steady change, even if they might allure us to an ever better future, but from something beyond change and transitoriness. Humanists readily admit this too when they refer to the infinite (i.e., unchangeable) value of a human being. But what are we doing? Are we trying to catch our own shadow that the idea of progress is projecting in front of us? It might even be that we shall some day discover that there is no ultimate hope for us as long as we try to provide it (penultimately) for ourselves, because it is constantly superseded by our own rushing into the future.

At this point Christian eschatology gains new significance.

1. It shows us that the modern idea of progress alienated itself from its Christian foundation. Though it maintained a linear view of history, it deprived history of its God-promised goal. Consequently, the progressive character of history became an end in itself. At the same time, we promoted ourselves from God-alienated and God-endowed actors in history to deified agents of history. Then we slipped into the dilemma of how to assert convincingly a linear progression of history while still denying the metaphysical origin and goal of this progression. Our present situation of environmental exploitation, human deprivation, and the threatening meaninglessness of life seems to indicate that we are unable to achieve self-redemption, a goal that the pursuit of steady progress demands.

2. It provides a hope and a promise that we are unable to attain through our own efforts. Eschatology is not obsolete, nor can it be replaced by any secular or religiously colored idea of progress or self-fulfillment. But it endows our life and even the idea of progress with new meaning. Secular endeavors for progress have to be related to and based on Christian eschatology. On the basis of the Christ event, they can be understood as the proleptic anticipation of the God-promised eschaton which at the same time is their incentive, their directive, and their judgment. Secular endeavors for progress and a social and ethical transformation of the world are legitimate and necessary, but they are preliminary and inadequate, and they yearn for their final completion through God's redemptive power. Apart from Christian eschatology, they miss not only God, but humanity too. Instead of leading to freedom and new humanity, they lead to new slavery and potential self-destruction. This is the reason eschatology is crucial in our time.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Who Still Cares about the Future?

Biblical Eschatology contra the Obsession with the Present
Idea of Progress Is Grounded in Christian Eschatology
Estrangement between Eschatology and Progress
For the Sake of Sanity: Recovery of an Eschatological Outlook

PART I : THE DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE

Expecting Life Beyond as a Primal Human Phenomenon
The Scope and Shape of Eschatology

Chapter 1: The Old Testament View of Eschatology

  1. Developing an Eschatological Consciousness
  2. The Human Destiny
  3. a. Emphasis on the This-Worldly Aspect of Life
    b. Translation and Resurrection
  4. The Last Judgment
  5. a. Responding to a Holy and Gracious God
    b. The Day of the Lord
    c. Universal Scope of Salvation
  6. The Coming of a Messiah
  7. a. The Significance of the Term "Messiah"
    b. Main Sources for the Concept of a Messiah
    c. Expansion of the Messianic Hopes in the Apocalyptic Period
  8. The Iranian Connection

Chapter 2: The Eschatological Proclamation of the New Testament

  1. The Jewish Context
  2. The Eschatological Figure of Jesus
  3. a. Jesus' Eschatological Message of the Kingdom of God
    b. Jesus' Self-Understanding
    c. Jesus and the Question of the Future
  4. The Eschatological Proclamation of the Gospel Writers
  5. a. The Interim in the View of the Synoptics
    b. The Emphasis on the Present in the Gospel of John
  6. The Eschatological Message of Paul
  7. a. Paul's Eschatological Call
    b. Our Life as a Life between the Aeons
    c. Eschatology beyond Spiritualism and Disappointment
  8. The Eschatological Scope of the Early Church

PART II: THE MANIFOLD FACES OF ESCHATOLOGY

Chapter 3: Present Discussion of Christian Eschatology

  1. The Rediscovery of the Eschatological Perspective
  2. a. The Kingdom of God as an Eschatological Concept
    b. The Consistent or Consequent Eschatology
    c. A Noneschatological Jesus
  3. Present-Oriented Approach to Eschatology
  4. a. Existential and Ethical Approaches
    b. Transcendentalistic Approaches
  5. The Future-Directedness of Eschatology
  6. a. Exegetical Considerations
    Eschatology as Fulfillment and Promise
    Delay of the Parousia
    b. Systematic Proposals
    Prolepsis of Eschatology
    Theology of Hope
  7. The Liberating Power of Eschatology
  8. a. Eschatology from the Underside
    Problematic and Legitimation of Liberation Theology
    Eschatology in the Context of Liberation
    b. Feminist Perspectives
  9. Christian Eschatology in a Universal Context
  10. a. Process Theology
    b. Eschatology among the World's Religions

Chapter 4: Confronting Secular Varieties of Hope

  1. The Impact of Science
  2. a. The Option of Scientific Materialism
    b. The Evolutionary Perspective
    c. Facing a Possible Ecological Holocaust
    World Come of Age or an Aging World?
    Greenhouse Effect
    Pleonexia
    Overpopulation
    The Eschatological Context of Ecology
    Future-Directedness of Eschatology
  3. The Impact of Philosophy
  4. a. The Option of Secular Existentialism
    Life Bounded by Death
    Humanity Thrown upon Itself
    b. Utopia from the Left
    A New World through Revolution
    Concrete Utopia
    The Right to Be Lazy
  5. The Impact of Religiosity
  6. a. A Homespun Eschatology
    b. Ambivalence of Secular Humanism

    Faith in Human Reason (Humanist Manifesto I and II)
    A Modest Assessment of the Future

PART III: WHAT CAN WE HOPE FOR?

Chapter 5: Approaching the New World

  1. Death
  2. a. The Ambiguity of Death
    b. Death as the Gate to the Eschaton
  3. Immortality—Yes or No?
  4. a. Immortality and Occultism
    b. Immortality and Near-Death Experiences
    c. Immortality and Greek Philosophy
    d. Immortality and Christian Faith
  5. Resurrection
  6. a. Decisive Character of Christ's Resurrection
    b. Creative Newness of Christ's Resurrection
    c. Christ's Resurrection and Our Resurrection
    d. Resurrection of the Body
    e. "Between" Death and Resurrection

    Time as a This-Wordly Entity
    The Eternity of God as Fulfillment of Time
    Death as Finality and Transition

Excursus: Reincarnation and Transmigration of the Soul

Chapter 6: Controversial Areas of Eschatological Hopes

  1. Setting a Date for the End
  2. a. A Fertile Tradition
    b. Bringing About the End by Force
  3. Hope for the Millennium
  4. a. Origin and Growth of an Idea
    b. Joachim of Fiore and the Rise of Millennialism
    c. Keeping the Fervor

    Historic Premillennialism
    Postmillennialism
    Amillennialism
    Dispensational Premillennialism
  5. Universal Salvation (Apokatastasis Panton)
  6. a. Origen and the Origins of the Apokatastasis Idea
    b. The Apokatastasis Idea in More Recent Theological Reflection
    c. Apokatastasis or "Christ's Descent into Hell"?
  7. Purgatory
  8. a. A Narrow Biblical Basis
    b. The Human Component to Salvation

Chapter 7: The New World to Come

Beyond Resignation and Futurist Activism
  1. Proleptic Anticipation of the New World
  2. a. The Church as Reminder of God's Future
    The Symbol of the Future
    The Whole People of God
    The Anticipation of the Heavenly City
    b. The Signs of the End
    Anticipating the End
    The Birth Pangs of the New World
    The Antichrist
  3. Entry to the New World
  4. a. Consummation of the World
    b. Final Judgment
    c. Paradox between Justice and Love of God
  5. Disclosure of the New World
  6. a. Disclosure of the Kingdom of God
    b. Heaven and Hell
    c. Completion

Index of Names
Index of Subjects
Index of Scripture References

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