Saturday, February 27, 2010

Kingdom Theology: Part 1- Inaugurated Eschatology

My housegroup has started doing a short course from the Vineyard Biblical Institute called "The Nature of the Kingdom". Its one of the basic 'School of Ministry Level' courses. We're doing one session every few weeks, so we won't be getting through it in a hurry. But I'll post my thoughts on each session as we go.

The only really theological part of the first session consisted of the assertion that Jesus message was one of 'Inaugurated Eschatology' - a phrase that clearly baffled some members of the group.

Eschatology is: "The branch of theology that is concerned with the end of the world or of humankind."

Inaugurate is: "to make a formal beginning of; initiate; commence; begin"

So Inaugurated Eschatology is to formally begin the end of the world. Which sounds a bit worrying.

I understood the point of the explanation (there was a video of a talk explaining all this), but I'm not sure I totally agree.

You see, in my opinion, Jesus' teaching of the Kingdom is only inaugurated eschatology if you assume that 'the Kingdom of Heaven' is the thing that is only fully realised after you die, if heaven is your future state after the end of the world.

Is this what Jesus taught? Is this what his listeners would have understood by the phrase 'the Kingdom of heaven'?

I don't think so.

I used to think that way. That heaven was the place you go when you die (if you've been good). But now (and for a few years now) I have understood that the place of future hope is not heaven, but a restored 'new earth'. So heaven is not an unrealised future ideal, but heaven is the place where God rules now.

This is somewhat supported by the fact that the gospels use the phrases 'the kingdom of heaven' and 'the kingdom of God' reasonably interchangeably. God isn't a future hope, he's a present reality, so the kingdom of God isn't some future thing, its a present reality.

Does this actually change things? Well, perhaps not much. But maybe it does - if your hope is fixed in some (far?) future event your actions will be different than if your hope is fixed on some achievable near future event - the kingdom being (at least partially) realised on earth now...

Larry Norman once sung "I'm only visiting this planet. This world is not my home. I'm just passing through..." but I'm not sure if that's the way things are - this world is our home. This world will be redeemed and transformed and will continue to be our home. My hope is to see the kingdom established here, not to endure here until I can go elsewhere to the kingdom.

Surely by imagining the kingdom as a future thing we are changing the message of Jesus - who proclaimed that the kingdom is near and the kingdom is here?