Friday, 21 August 2009

eschatological expectation

Is a fancy way of talking about looking forward to the end of the world. Rather too many Christians are rather too preoccupied with this, either wasting hours on numerology or so-called ‘interpretation’ of biblical prophecy, or peppering conversations and e-mails with dark hints as to imminent turmoil (as if there hadn’t been enough and wasn’t enough already) and apocalyptic upheaval across the globe. The fact that people have been confidently predicting all sorts of things concerning the return of Christ for centuries and have always been wrong so far does not seem to provide any sort of deterrent! Today’s rant was sparked off by this one from the 18th century, not usually considered a time of millennial fervour.

In a letter (c.1755) to William Perronet from his father Vincent, a leading Methodist, we read…

The season is by no means healthy: your B. Briggs has been ill at Canterbury; poor Charles, at the foundry; and poor Jacky at Shoreham. It is no wonder that individuals are in disorder; when all nature seems to be in confusion. Indeed we are only at the begninng of alarming providences; a few years will produce still greater events. Happy would it be for a sinking world if they could see that the end of all things is at hand; and would therefore grow sober to watch unto prayer!

I don’t remember the years 1745-1755 being particularly doom-laden, but, then, I am getting on a bit, I suppose… 

[Quoted in Kenneth G.C. Newport, ‘Methodists and the Millennium: Eschatological Expectation and the Interpretation of Biblical Prophecy in Early British Methodism’, Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 78:1 (1996), 103-22 (107). There are many other 18th- and early 19th-century examples given in the article, ranging from the more careful and scholarly to the more wacky and wide-eyed.]

Any number of similar portentious statements (sounding eerily like the stuff of seaside palm-readers) can be found on the Internet today. All rather cartoonish and silly in comparison to the excitement that real biblical eschatology should bring us. Of course there have been and are many millions of godly Christians inspired to zealous preaching and faithful living by the thought of imminent armageddon, but there are ways of thinking about what the Bible does say about the future that avoid wasting time on over-confident predictions and messing around with Daniel and Revelation. Less worrying about trying to interpret historical events and more focus on being with Christ and how that transforms us now would help.