This is the first of a series of posts written originally as an article for “Partnership Perspectives” in Spring 2018.
C.S Lewis famously once wrote, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them” [C.S. Lewis. The Screwtape Letters, 1941, p. 3]. Something similar might perhaps be said concerning attitudes of Christians in the UK to eschatology. On the one hand, there is a tendency to expend much time and energy in plotting and mapping out detailed charts and timelines, bringing in angelology, typology, symbology and numerology (to name but a few) in an attempt to unlock the ‘secrets’ of prophecy, and especially of apocalyptic literature. On the other hand, there are those who look at some of the passages concerning the last days and decide that understanding them is either beyond them, or simply confusing. Each of these positions is dangerous for the health of the church.
An over-concentration on – even obsession with – the intricacies of prophecy can lead all too easily to disagreements and disputes concerning particular interpretations. The result is that instead of the scriptures being searched for what they reveal about God and his dealings with humanity, they can be used to bolster or ‘prove’ one particular interpretation, which then becomes the touchstone of whether someone is a ‘real’ believer or not.
To go to the other extreme, however, and avoid, or ignore, prophecy and apocalyptic literature, for whatever reason, is to deny that God speaks through all of his word and that he does so for our benefit.
The “Study of What is Last”
The word, ‘eschatology’ is made up of two Greek words, eschatos and logos, and means ‘the study of what is last’. In this article, I want to argue that studying eschatology is vitally important to the health and well-being, not just of individual Christians, but to churches and fellowships as well. It is, therefore, too important a subject to allow it to be either hijacked by one particular school of interpretation or ignored because it is too complicated and can lead to disputes. It needs to be seen for what it is, an important topic for study and for Christian life and growth, but not one where particular interpretations should ever become the deciding factor of someone’s orthodoxy of belief, or even of their salvation. As Richard Krejcir says, “God is far more concerned with our faith formation and practice than our debate techniques and quibbling.” [Richard J. Krejcir.]
There are many reasons why studying eschatology is important, but I want to look at just five. These reasons are not comprehensive, neither are they totally unrelated to each other. Rather they are intrinsically linked and serve as a starter for further thought and study. At the end of each section, I will pose a simple, but hopefully challenging, question for us to consider about our Christian lives, as an encouragement to both study eschatology and to allow the Spirit of God to change us so we no longer “conform to the pattern of this world, but [are] transformed by the renewing of [our] mind” (Rom 12:2).