In this final lecture, NT Wright called out the distinction that is currently being made in contemporary notions of eschatology (the theology and study of the end) between popular—usually fictionalized—beliefs about the afterlife and the final consummation of Christ, and those things that are actually said in Scripture. The distinctions are notable. We are actually told very little about what happens to the dead and how the end will come, and what we do have in the Bible is highly metaphoric. The thrust of Wright’s analysis lies not on the dualistic idea that heaven is good and the earth is bad, but that heaven and earth are much more closely linked than we like to believe, and that God is doing an ongoing work of redemption and re-creation that will one day be consummated and completed in the victorious and triumphant return of Christ. The problem of future-casting eschatological events and activities, as well as speculating about life after death, is particularly a problem—even an obsession—with Americans.
Here are a few quotes and paraphrases from Wright's lecture.
"If God raised Jesus from the dead, everything else is rock n roll."
The great Western dream of the disembodied view of heaven for the afterlife is still the dominant Eschatological belief. Paul continues to help his people think about God in new patterns.
The Jewish notion of the afterlife never included a vision of living forever in eternal bliss somewhere “up there.”
It's dangerous to think about apocalyptic as dualistic. It isn't. It's the story of God doing the work on earth of battling the illegitimate powers.
To give the creation up to the forces of entropy or evil is to miss the point of God's redemptive vision. The ancient vision of the Jews is for the world put right. God puts us right in the present so we can share in the work of putting his creation right.
Gen 1&2 is not a tableau, but more like a prescription for what was supposed to be and what will be.
The creation will be made new from the old, just as happened to Jesus. Resurrection is a vision for both Jesus and creation.
If you can play around with the harmonies and meters of those old hymns, feel free to adjust the words as well. (Speaking about bad theology/eschatology in hymns. Ex: How Great Thou Art: “when Christ shall come….)
Paul is teaching people to think theologically so that people will represent God with body and mind in preparation for the coming of Christ's kingdom.
The now and not yet challenge. God has done everything he has promised in Jesus, and will continue to complete that work in the presence of the Spirit. The two ages overlap. Creation is renewed in Jesus’ resurrected body and the covenant is renewed in work of the Spirit. This all comes together in the temple, and then in the temple of Christ's body.
God displaces supra-human powers and illegitimate human powers as he brings his kingdom in the Old Testament.
Paul's context for explaining eschatology. Rome would send out citizens to live in cities at the edge of the empire. If they encountered hostility, they would not be recalled to Rome, Rome would come in greater force to right the wrongs and restore order to the city.
The defeat of death means resurrection bodies for his people amidst a resurrected creation.
Where are the dead? That's the question that Love asks. New Testament says very little about the dead.
Resurrection is not life after death. It is life after life after death. There is some kind of intermediary stage we are not given many clues about. These bodies are shadows of the future self.
Heaven is never referred to as a place for the afterlife.
America is fixated on the afterlife and the destinations of heaven and hell. Why are we so fixated on the in-between stage? Heaven is wonderful but it's not the end of the world.
New creation has already begun and that must impact our theology and practice.
God wants us to be in and amidst the pain of the world and thus bring God into that pain so that his love may be displayed.
The good news is not that we have a secret way to leave the world but that God has a secret way to continue bringing his kingdom to the world. Unity and holiness of the church and its people serve the kingdom to this end.
The earth being burned up in act of consumation probably has more to do with a refining or revealing kind of fire.
The dangers are not so much whether one believes in pre- post- or amillennialism, the danger is in the driving agenda behind the belief in those schemes.
NT citing Tertullian: if a cannibal eats a Christian which bits go where in the resurrection [uncontrollable giggling from Mark Labberton] :-)
Hell: as long as you have in your mind that hell is some kind of torture chamber, that's not accurate. "No, I'm not a universalist."
Question: (Note: the questions asked of Wright at the end of his lecture were quite disappointing. This may have had more to do with the screening process. The questions Wright were asked to address focused on many of the popular issues that he was desperately trying to get us to think past, i.e. “what is hell?” “are you pre-, post- or ameillennialist?” and even completely out of the blue, “what about homosexuals?” The questions are certainly a reflection of the issues that people are consumed with these days (especially in America). It would have been nice to have some inquiries that actually reflected the theological methods Wright was using or the implications of his proposal. The following is one of many questions I had. I texted this one to the conference leaders, hoping to have it discussed.)
Environmental forecasts are dire these days and most Western Christians have very little interest in creation care. Theologically speaking, is there any hope for the ongoing restoration of creation, especially as Christians themselves may be significant contributors to its demise? This seems to be an insurmountable paradox.