Is there any hope for a balanced view of prophecy?
The writer has been involved with the Church of God for 29 years. He pastors the Kingston and Ocho Rios, Jamaica, congregations of the Church of God International, with a combined average attendance of 195. Mr. Boyne is a journalist and television-talk-show host who has done graduate studies in mass communications. He reads widely in philosophy and theology.
By Ian Boyne
KINGSTON, Jamaica--There are two discomforting extremes in Christianity. One became particularly intense leading up to the year 2000 and involves an obscurantist, fanatical obsession with apocalyptic prophecy that resulted in many Christians' expecting Christ to burst the skies at the dawn of the American millennium.
That Christ is still in His place is cause for further scorn and cynicism to be poured on the Christian faith, but the Christian fanatics simply won't quit. They will just rework their timetable.
Another extreme has been the wholesale downplaying of eschatology in many established churches and even among many charismatics and evangelicals who focus on the Christian's immediate, personal and existential relationship with Christ and the present benefits of the salvation experience.
To hear many of them speak, this is the Kingdom of God, and the blessings of prosperity and fullness are all here. Eschatology is minimized or "realized."
Hope Against Hope: Christian Eschatology in Contemporary Context, written by the gifted theologian Richard Bauckham along with theologian Trevor Hart, is the book you need if you crave sanity on the issue.
Published in 1999, it is one of the finest pieces of philosophical and theological writings on eschatology: the student of end-time events.
Critique of postmodernism
The 233-page work begins with "The Decline of Secular Hope," a chapter that chronicles the failure of the "Modern (Enlightenment) Project." It then moves into a first-rate critique of postmodernism.
The book is not one of Christian triumphalism. It is written in a spirit of humility, though ever so subtly making the point that the rivals to Christian transcendence--secularism humanism, postmodernism, New Ageism--have no firmer foot to stand on, in spite of the arrogance of some of their proponents.
Hope Against Hope will give you ammunition to slay the sacred cows of anti-Christian contenders.
"The modern age opened with the destruction of God and religion," write Bauckham and Hart.
"It is ending with the threatened destruction of all coherent thought. The age was held on course by stories of progress and emancipation. But these stories are now exhausted. There are no new stories to replace them . . ."
Devastating to hedonistic ideology
Hope Against Hope details the "Hermeneutic of Suspicion" that characterizes much philosophical and theological discourse.
The book offers a devastating critique of the tyranny-of-the-present ideology of hedonism:
"Like visitors to an art gallery who arrive 20 minutes before closing time, we rush from exhibit to exhibit, fearful that we shall miss something worthwhile.
"The horizon of our finitude haunts us and we rush to cram as much as we possibly can into the available space travelling ever faster and further, seeing and tasting more, trying out as many options as we can . . ."
This is the kind of book you give to educated secularists or non-Christian religionists who believe Christians are like the preachers on television. Bauckham and Hart show that a concern about eschatology is not escapist and doesn't detract from struggling with the poor and oppressed; rather it infuses the struggle with hope--against hope.
Dedicated to one of the most renowned theologians alive, theologian of hope Jurgen Moltmann, Hope Against Hope is at once an inspiring, enthralling and philosophically and theologically delightful work. Don't leave your bookstore without it.
© The Journal: News of the Churches of God