Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A tale of two eschatologies: Horton and McLaren on the Kingdom

Here is a tale of two eschatologies concerning the future of the kingdom and its present advance.

First of all consider Brian McLaren's view on the first and second comings of Christ in his recent book Everything Must Change:

Simply put, if we believe that God will ultimately enforce his will by forceful domination, and will eternally torture all who resist that domination, then torture and domination not only become permissible but in some way godly. The implications for, say, military policy (not to mention church politics) are not hard to imagine.

If we believe that Jesus came in peace the first time, but that wasn't his "real" and decisive coming--it was just a kind of warm-up for the real thing--then we leave the door open to envisioning a second coming that will be characterized by violence, killing, domination, and eternal torture. This vision reflects a deconversion, a return to trust in the power of Pilate, not the unarmed truth that stood before Pilate, refusing to fight...This eschatological understanding of a violent second coming leads us to believe (as we've said before) that in the end, even God finds it impossible to fix the world apart from violence and coercion; no one should be surprised when those shaped by this theology behave accordingly.

This is why I believe that many of our current eschatologies, intoxicated by dubious interpretations of John's Apocalypse, are not only ignorant and wrong, but dangerous and immoral. (p. 144)

This section of the book raises a number of questions. One wonders if there is an implicit move away from any climactic second coming, or if the second coming is the climax of a version of the post-millennial global triumph of the kingdom. One also wonders, and this is seen elsewhere in the book, if the approach to Jesus and the God of the Old Testament resembles that taken so long ago by Marcion.

At the same time as reading McLaren I am also reading Mike Horton's book on worship, A Better Way. What is so interesting about these two authors is that they both comment on the conversation between Pilate and Jesus, and both probe the nature of the spreading kingdom in relation to the State. Here is Horton on over-realized eschatology:

In an over-realized eschatology...the believer is regarded not as a justified pilgrim under the cross, walking toward the Promised Land, but as a conqueror in glory, reigning over the Canaanites (unbelievers) in the New Jerusalem (often identified in history with one's own nation or group)...The mission of the church today, in that perspective, is to "redeem culture" and make it subservient to God's reign. In this perspective, Christ is forced to recant and to tell Pilate that his kingdom now is very much of this world. Christians are not to view themselves as pilgrims in a weary land but as kings in the Promised Land, judging the world and ushering in divine government. (p. 130)

Horton's perspective of the "now and not yet" kingdom is very important, as we will see, when the first and second comings are considered. Horton's approach does not issue in what McLaren fears will, or logically implies should, happen. Consider Horton's unpacking of this:

Jesus rules over a kingdom of grace, not yet a kingdom of glory. Just as he came in humiliation, suffering and weakness, the kingdom advances not through the noisy or violent clashes of guns and tanks, nor through legislating the transformation of an earthly nation into God's chosen people. It does not come to earth in such a way that people can say, "Here it is! There it is!" Jesus cautions (Matt. 24:23-28).

But when Jesus returns to earth, it will no longer be to offer his treaty of peace. The day of salvation will give way to the judgment. "Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory" (Mark 13:26 NKJV), as the quiet kingdom of grace will become the ominous kingdom of glory, and the reign from heaven will be consummated upon the earth. God's will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven. (p. 129-30)

Horton's approach avoids McLaren's fear of the spreading of the kingdom by utilizing violence. Christ's return in glory which will involve his dispensing of retributive justice is not a ministry that is presently carried out by his people to advance his cause. Part of the reason for this difference in the spreading of the kingdom now is because Horton conceives of the purpose of Jesus in his first coming to be quite different to McLaren's version. From what I can see in this book, and in others, McLaren's soteriology as well as his eschatology is radically different to Horton's.

The logical implication of a final judgment by Christ and a present effecting of that judgment by his people is not one that we have to entertain as a possibility if we wish to hold on to the Day of the Lord being one of the revelation of his righteous wrath (Romans 2:2-11). In fact it is "hard to imagine" if your view of the kingdom is as nuanced and biblical as Horton's.

Beyond these comments it is worth mentioning that McLaren's view doesn't seem to have a place for the Creator/creature distinction in the way that Horton's does. Quite simply there are things that it is righteous and appropriate for God to do that are not appropriate for private individuals, or the church, to do. This is woven indelibly into the fabric of Romans 12-13. Retributive justice is a matter for God to dispense and not the church or the individual. The State (not the church) in Romans 13, however, is given a limited remit to enforce retributive justice in the present.

In order to overturn the classical biblical view of the Lord Jesus who will judge the living and the dead (whether that can be equated with McLaren's "conventional view" of eschatology), and to replace it with an emerging view that denies a different (judicial) dimension for the second coming of Christ, will in the end be a matter of superior exegesis. For that to take place there would have to be an entire recasting of the meaning of Biblical language and categories such as the Day of Lord, the wrath of God, the wrath of the Lamb, judgment, retributive justice, hell, vengeance etc. It would also require that the righteousness of retributive justice be shown to be unrighteous and immoral, and therefore wrong for God to be directly involved in either at the Cross or on the Last Day. But that very much appears to be the project that McLaren is working on.