Reflections on an Escatological Lovefest
I spent last weekend attending and participating in a unique gathering of leaders in Minneapolis. It convened to share differing views of Eschatology: the study of last things.
A friend of mine called these leaders together, asking each one to come in the spirit of Christ and share their unique perspective on this somewhat difficult topic.
In over forty-five years of Christian ministry, I have never participated in such a gathering. Eschatology is not something I readily share, due to its being the most controversial aspect of our theological convictions. There was a time when I would have viewed such a conference as superfluous anyway: (after all, isn’t it sufficient to know that Jesus is coming back again)? I would have humorously referred to myself in those days as a ‘Pan-Millenialist’ (it’s all going to pan out in the end’).
But over the years, I realized how important eschatology is to our theology. That’s because how we understand the end determines not only our ability to be prepared for the end but live in the present as well. I agree with the statement of Jeff Purswell who said: “Eschatology is not an add-on or something to be ignored, but it is the crown of our theology—the study of the consummation of the purposes of God.” So eschatology is more than trying to figure out when the Rapture occurs. It determines what our hope is in the Gospel.
I am sure that I was not alone in feeling trepidation coming to the conference. If there is an area of theology that causes considerable rancor among believers, it is eschatology. We have all seen fights break out when people defend their eschatological views. But whatever trepidation I had was relieved at the opening of the conference with a powerful exhortation from the leader to share our personal theological convictions with humility and the spirit of Christ. It was a needed reminder that while each man was free to share his personal conviction, he must maintain the spirit of Christ in doing so.
The next day, from morning through evening, I saw men stand and passionately share their personal eschatological perspective without rancor or ill-will. A genuine spirit of cooperation and a willingness to hear prevailed throughout the day. I can honestly say that at no time was there even the slightest hint of pride, arrogance, or lack of teachableness. I believe God was greatly glorified.
I’m not sure that anyone’s personal view was changed through participating in the conference (mine certainly wasn’t). There were certainly challenges to our personal views issued. But I am sure that everyone was as thoroughly blessed as I was by the attitude that prevailed throughout our time together. It proved to me (and I’m sure to others) that it is possible for mature men to come together, discuss and even disagree over theological issues, yet do so in a spirit of humility and teachableness. It reminds me of the fact that the Puritans were men that could come together and vigorously debate the issues, even disagreeing profoundly, while maintaining a spirit of unity.
I took away two things from attending the Berean Eschatological Summit. First, debate, if carried out in the spirit which characterized the Summit, is good and healthy. It is good, when holding a particular theological view, to subject it to other views with an open heart. Presently, I am reading a book debunking my personal eschatological views. The end result is that I will either be more established in the view I presently hold or else be helped to realize the truth more fully. Either way, it’s a win-win. That was why I was not intimidated in the least by attending this conference where I was exposed to different views.
The second thing I took away from the Summit is best expressed by the phrase Paul uses in Ephesians the fourth chapter where he speaks of our attaining to “the unity of the faith” (Ephesians 4:13). Faith there is not a reference to personal faith but to “the faith”— that body of teaching which characterizes the Gospel. Surely, if we are to ever attain to that unity meeting together to examine various aspects of truth as we did in the recent summit might be a common occurrence. Like our Puritan forebears of old, learning to have healthy debates around the Word of God can only be a good thing.
Debate is a word that has taken on bad connotations. But the dictionary defines it as “a formal discussion on a particular topic in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward.” While it is rare to see political debates carried out with respect and kindness in our day, the body of Christ has an excellent opportunity to conduct such debates in a way that brings glory to God.