An Introductory Word
Eschatology—the systematic study of the last things—has become a subject of raging importance all over the church. The battle lines are flung wide—from the fields of fundamentalism and the rocky wastelands of cultism to the broad plains of liberal theology.
Eschatology is a relatively new word in the vocabulary of Christian scholars, for it is only a little over 100 years old. Before the Millerites took the field in America and the Darbyites in Great Britain, and before Albert Schweitzer stirred up the subject among a more liberal class in Europe, the church did not seem to know much about eschatology. It would seem that the average Christian could have written all he knew about it on the back of a postage stamp. But each age of the church has had a special area of theology to hammer out, and that not without conflict.
The early church was preoccupied with the first things of theology—matters like the canon of Scripture and the Trinity. Then the battle moved on to Christology, until the issues of the two natures of Christ became pretty well settled at Chalcedon. In the sixteenth century the battle was on the front of soteriology. None of the old issues are dead by any means. We need to know of battles fought and victories won in the church's history.
Today the action is on eschatology. That is, we believe, inevitable for the simple reason that the great day of God and the events of the last days are so close that they cast their shadow before them. As the navigator needs to look more closely at the map of the end portion of his journey as he nears the desired harbor, so it is providential that the church should look more closely at her chart and compass as she begins to scan the contours of the approaching terrain. The worldwide interest in eschatology, even though often misdirected, is a great sign that we are nearing the eschaton.
Recent years have seen some exciting developments in biblical study and research. In his introduction to The Pattern of New Testament Truth, Ladd claims that the old way of presenting biblical truth by using a few "proof texts" will never do. New light on the form of biblical documents, the study of the patterns of Hebrew thought, discoveries concerning covenants in the ancient world, the relation between the enthronement Psalms and the temple ritual, and above all, renewed study of the Old Testament as the necessary background to understand New Testament expressions—all these things have resulted in a new theological ball game in many respects.
The problem that often arises, however, is that many of us who hue to conservative Christian thought are often the most terrified of any new ideas. We like to polish and garnish the sepulchers of our great spiritual fathers, but forget that they were great because they were not unwilling to plow some new ground in their own day. We need to look back, but how sad when we cannot also look forward — when we laud the old trailblazers, but are against any new ones! We are often quick to damn anyone who does not shout our own shibboleths, but forget how our revered forefathers refused to repeat popular shibboleths of their day. We tend not to realize how much of our talk is made up of tired cliches or how easily those cliches set like concrete, as do those who are addicted to them.
Sometimes Present Truth Magazine receives letters complaining that, while the material presented is appreciated, we should not quote scholars whose pedigree is suspect. While it is often admitted that the quotations may be good in themselves, the idea of using anything from someone who smells suspiciously like a liberal is considered something that should not be done. Some fundamentalists who jump up like a startled rabbit at any new thought are quick To cry, "Liberal," "Neo-orthodox," "Modernists," when they are confronted with anything that is different from their petrified creed. The fact is, we must acknowledge that there are some scholars outside our own holy city who have been doing some homework. We remember Luther's remark that God once spoke through the mouth of an ass. Truth is truth, regardless!
As our readers well know, we are thoroughly committed to the time-honored verities of the Christian faith — such as the Trinity, diety of Christ, virgin birth, blood atonement, bodily resurrection and ascension, second coming, final judgment, justification by faith alone, sanctification through the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit, and glorification at Christ's soon return. Yet we also think there are areas where we need to plow new ground, that we need to be challenged to rethink vital portions of the faith. It is hoped that the reader will be stimulated by a number of suggestions throughout the following articles to investigate some areas seldom considered in many sectors of the church.
If the reader is expecting that this essay on eschatology may contain wild-eyed speculations about future events in Palestine (or anywhere else), we hope he is pleasantly disappointed. The presentation is preoccupied with the meaning of Christ and Him crucified. If there is a basic premise in the essay, it is simply this: Christ crucified and risen from the dead is the truth of eschatology. We must determine to know nothing of end-time events save those which are mirrored to us in the Christ event.
We cannot arrive at the truth about eschatology by taking the Old Testament utterances and then jumping clear over the New Testament proclamation of the entire fulfillment of the Old Testament in Jesus Christ. We must stop gazing at Palestine or Russia to understand eschatology and fix our eyes on our great High Priest. Wherein the presentation in this essay does not glorify Christ or detracts from the meaning of the triumph of the cross, it is not worthy of acceptance. If the reader finds some things too tough to chew, we hope he will enjoy the entree.
The editor, who has written the following articles, has tried not to be too heavy. But we should also be reminded that there are times when we need to put the Bible up on the bench and work at studying it. To be sure, salvation is by grace. Yet in the area of human responsibility there are no gains without pains.
Come, let us reason together.