How my eschatology influences my life
I am in White River at the moment, (or just outside, actually, not far from the Kruger National Park) at the Africa School of Mission (ASM). They are training mostly young people eager to get involved in mission in some part of the world and the present batch of students come from countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, England and Croatia. I’ve been asked to take the week’s lectures, speaking on eschatology and the book of Revelation.
I can still remember distinctly where and when I had one of the most mind-shattering moments in my life. I was in Ovamboland, in the desert of then South-West-Africa (now Namibia) in a tent, trying to survive the hottest days and the coldest nights I’ve ever experienced, doing compulsory army service in the South African war against Angola. I took some books with me for the four months that I was there that I hoped to read. I was busy with the thesis of one of my favourite South African theologians, Adrio König and was absolutely intrigued by the way in which he discussed eschatology. And then one sentence caught my imagination, something (and I have to quote from my memory) like: “The end times only have meaning as long as we are involved with mission.” That was the moment that I decided to start working on a PhD with the theme of mission and eschatology. (If you’re interested in the topic, you can try and get a copy of the book: The Eclipse of Christ in Eschatology: Toward a Christ-Centered Approach )
Later, as I started working on my PhD, David Bosch (I had the privilege to work closely with him, although not under him) referred me to an article he had written in which he said the following: “I wonder whether the real difference between “ecumenicals” and “evangelicals” (and, may I add, between different brands of “evangelicals”), does not lie in the area of eschatology… Until we clarify our convictions on eschatology, we will continue to talk at cross purposes.” Once again I had one of those “a-ha” moments, knowing that my thoughts on this topic was changed forever. (If you have access to an academic library, you can search for this article: Bosch, D J. 1982. How my mind has changed: Mission and the alternative community. Journal of Theology for Southern Africa. 41 (December) pp 6–10)
As I’m getting older (and hopefully more mature in my theological thinking), I still realise the truth of these words. As we are busy with the discussions in the lecture hall at ASM, I can absolutely see how these two topics are linked to each other. I started my lectures by making the remark that many people refuse to read the book of Revelation, because it makes them afraid. Immediately a number of students in the classroom confirmed this. What I’m hoping for is to give them a more balanced viewpoint on eschatology so that, by the end of the week, they will be able to read Revelation, not with fear, but with excitement, in the same way as the first Christians to whom this book was addressed, probably read it.
Yesterday I did a short introduction on eschatology in general and then started with Revelation 1 this morning. When we read Rev 1:7: “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen”, I said that, for the early church, the return of Jesus was the ultimate hope they had. They were living in wicked times. Their friends and church leaders were being persecuted and often fed to the lions. They had little hope that a change in government would make things better. And therefore they kept their eyes focussed on the return of Jesus. Yet, these early Christians simultaneously kept their eyes focussed on the world in which they lived, becoming involved in social issues, feeding the poor and caring for the sick, better than the government could do.
And this, it seems to me, is the key of a Biblical eschatology – keeping the balance between a real expectation of the second coming of Christ and being involved in the world in which God has placed us to live. As I spend a week in the lives of these young wannabe-missionaries, I hope that they will be able to keep this balance, wherever they may end up in the years to come.
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This is a blog where I would like to share some of my ideas about contemporary mission. I have more than 25 years experience as a full-time missionary in Swaziland, have done a PhD on the theology of mission – specifically on the relationship between mission and eschatology – and am presently specialising in the problem of HIV/AIDS and how the church should approach this problem. You are welcome to respond and share your ideas on this blog.
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