Q & R: Just some vague hope in the distant mysterious future?
Here's the Q:
i have read several of your books, the most recent one being 'a new kind of christianity.' i love your take on how to view the future, but what do you really think about Jesus' returning again? will it happen? or is just some vague hope in the distant mysterious future?
i suppose i am still nursing my scars from fundamentalism, but the real return of Jesus offers me genuine hope. is it just a mirage? a possibility...perhaps, maybe...some distant foggy guess? in your understanding, will this [excrement] ever come to a real end? or do we just pursue the kingdom of goodness forever and that is our 'return of Christ?' seeing my dead family members is no small hope.
perchance i have not read the right book of yours yet? please respond.
Here's the R: Thanks for your question. It's an important one. Bad thinking about "eschatology" has caused horrible damage in the past, is terribly problematic in the present, and could cause even worse trouble in the future.
First, let me push back a bit on some elements of your question. I don't think it's helpful to create two options - "a vague hope in the distant mysterious future" or "it will happen." There's another possibility - it has happened in one sense; it is happening now in another sense, and it will continue happening in the future too. If you've never thought about the possibility that Jesus was right when he said, "This generation shall not pass" - there's a world of information for you to grapple with. Here are just three (of many more) sites that will challenge your thinking in this regard:
Riley O'Brien is doing important rethinking on the subject of "the second coming" and related matters - here: http://livingthequestion.org/coming-of-god/
So is Andrew Perriman - here: http://www.postost.net
As are the people of Presence Ministries, here: http://www.presence.tv
Second, one of the negative consequences of traditional eschatological thought is that it often reduces a beautiful though sin-scarred world into little more than "excrement." It devalues this world as just a station on the train to heaven. It will soon be destroyed and "left behind" while the souls of people who matter evacuate to heaven. That kind of thinking is terribly self-defeating in a world plagued by the kinds of long-term problems our world is plagued by. (The kid who thinks the world will end at midnight tonight is unlikely to spend the evening studying for his big test tomorrow.)
Third, I think it's a mistake to give us only two options: hope in God or despair in humanity. How about expanding your options to: a) hope in God apart from humanity, b) no hope in God or humanity, c) hope in humanity apart from God, d) hope in God at work in and with humanity. Many traditional Christians choose a, many cynical folk choose b, more humanistic folk choose c, and I would recommend we look more seriously at d.
That's why, if you mean "will human evil and injustice come to an end," I think the best answer is not "yes" or "no," but "what are you and I doing about that question in our lives right now?"
My current writing project (We Make the Road by Walking, which will be published in June 2014) attempts to articulate a better eschatology (without using that word) into a fresh reading of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. I think you'll find it helpful ... but it won't fit into the standard binaries of "traditional eschatology" versus "vague hope for distant future." It will present a dynamic hope in every present moment, along with the confidence that ultimately, God wins, which means (as Rob Bell put it so aptly), love wins - and hope wins, and goodness wins.