Generous (evangelical) Orthodoxy: Eschaton and Back

This post will be the most radical I will present on generous (evangelical) orthodoxy.

The best of Christian theology begins at the End, at the Eschaton, when God wraps all of history up. And this means that the best understandings of the Church and the Christian life and the meaning of my life today begins at that same End.

Orthodoxy

While our creedal faith seemingly wraps things up with affirmation of the Parousia (or Second Coming), that affirmation is actually a gate into the bigger belief in the the finality and completion of the Kingdom of God.

I see two major themes in the Bible about the final Kingdom.

Theme 1 Theme 2

Worship and Fellowship
Union with God and Communion with others
Love of God and Love of Others.

If this is the Eschaton, then everything needs to be shaped by these two themes.

The implications are radical. I think Doug Pagitt’s new book, Preaching Re-Imagined, on which I will blog soon, attempts to radicalize this eschatological vision into what preaching means for today, though I’ve not read the book completely enough to know whether or not he undertakes to see how the Eschaton shapes preaching.

The radicality comes from going to the Eschaton and thinking our way back into this world. To the Eschaton and Back re-shapes everything.

Generosity

A truly generous orthodox faith in an Eschaton like this begins by shaping everything in life and in the life of the local church by these two goals: the promotion of the love of God and the love of others, of union with God and communion with others, and of worship and fellowship.

This means that Departments like Christian Education or Children’s Ministry or anything else have got to be re-framed so that they promote one of these two facets of the Eschaton.

The generosity of all this is clear: what we are after is not power or control or efficiency or growth or expansion or anything but first and foremost loving God and loving others. It offers us the freedom of moving in the same direction and in the right direction.

What educational theorists teach us today is this: we have to think of what we want people to be able to do when they are done with our classes and shape everything to that end. Direction is what education is all about: knowing where we are going and staying on course. That is what a pastor and a parent does.

I have griped on occasions about the spiritual disciplines, not because I don’t believe in them, but because I do. And what I believe about them is that they are not a proper end or goal. They are a means, an exercise, a way of doing things now but they are useless if they do not lead us to union or communion. When done with this end in view, they are profoundly liberating; when does as an end in themselvs, they become a sophisticated and trendy form of legalism.

What I am suggesting is that a genuine fourth way in the emerging movement must shift its focus from the means, which is the seemingly constant focus of most presentations of both Christian life and Church life, to the eschaton, and think back. Everything has to be re-shaped in light of that End.

Preaching then is not simply information about old texts, or motivation, or exhortation, or anything like these: preaching needs to be seen a means to lead ourselves and others into union with God and communion with others, into worship and fellowship, into love of God and love of others.

Now what all this means is that we have to do a lot more thinking about outcomes and how to get people to love God and love others and how we expect them to live than we have done.

Let me suggest what we should have “departments” of in our churches (and I don’t like that term “department” because it is a business term, and I do like “ministry” but it tends to be clericalized, and I don’t like that). What we need to do is think back: if Love of God and other is the goal, what are the steps and what are the specific indicators and what kinds of “support” do we need to promote just those?

We need to have discerners — people who can evaluate where we’re at and need to go.

We need to have motivators — people who can encourage others to move on in their journey.

We need to have prophets — people who can speak God’s word in a given situation.

We need to have “linkers” — people who can connect to their world because they have listened, looked, and learned enough to know how to “link” to their local world in such a way to bring Kingdom.

We need to have “lovers” — people who love God and others, people who “do” what we are looking for in all of us.

Think with me: What “departments” or “ministries” would you suggest if we shaped everything by “worship and fellowship,” “love of God and love of others,” and “union with God and communion with others”? What would be the indicators, the behavioral indicators, of union and communion?

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/9548318 John Frye

    Scot, this blog really gets us to thinking and it gives the Eschaton a proper place in community-wide formation. Just a thought: what role do the “imagine-ers” have in shaping echatologically informed ministries?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11700766 Marque

    Scot,First, let me clarify that I am a lay person with no theological training. So my comments will probably be more descriptive and less technical than most of what is posted here. I hope that you don’t mind me adding my two cent into the conversation.In my wanderings I have noticed that a group that seems to be missing are those that “go out”. Lots of churches support overseas missions but don’t do any or very little mission work in their own back yards. They seem afraid to roll up their own sleeves and get their own hands dirty, they would rather pay for someone else to do it for them. They are also afraid that going out makes them “evangelists” and that’s a big scary word to a lot of Christians. How can we possibly show God’s love or love others if we are afraid to leave our churches and go out into the world? I have raised this question and one common response is, “I love God and worship him here at church, I love others, they just happen to be in my church. I don’t know anybody who isn’t a Christian. I’ve grown up in the church.” I would love for a pastor to lock the doors of their Church some Sunday and direct everyone who would normally sit in the pews to go out into the community and complete an act of service or kindness there. Then worship God by giving thanks that they have a fit mind and body that allows them to go out and spread the light of God’s Kingdom in their own back yard.Marque

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/4226999 Jamie Arpin-Ricci

    Scot, I believe we need bridgers- people who can function in the liminal space between traditions, races, generations, classes, etc. and provide context and clarity for each “side” to discover, celebrate and invest in the other. This is truly my passion.Peace,Jamie

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/4226999 Jamie Arpin-Ricci

    Marque, as a “missionary”, I am all too familiar with people “fulfilling” their Commissional responsibilities through paying for other- what I have come to call “Evangelical Indulgences”. It can be a real problem.However, I am not so sure that it is that simple of an issue. As Scot says, as our generous orthodoxy is formed by the Eschaton, congregations will discover the need and possibilities for other missional paradigms. Without these paradigms, millions of Christians have locked themselves into lifestyles that severely limit (though not complete stop) their missional freedom.Therefore, for some, giving is the best way they know how (and one of the few options they know) to support the Missio Dei of the Body of Christ.Again, I see your concerns and affirm them, on some levels, to be true.Peace,Jamie

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/7272764 RonMcK

    I agree that the word “department” carries a lot of baggage. In Eph 4, Paul used the word “gift”, but the word now carries a lot more baggage than when Paul used it. Maybe he was just talking about people.Every church needs:* apostolic people to to bring enthusiasm and push ahead to break new ground * prophetic people to bring vision and speak God’s word in any situation* good news people to link to their local world and share the gospel of Kingdom* pastor-teacher people who love other people and will help them develop and grow to their full potential.Pauls seems to be saying that every a church needs balanced ministry (gifts) to attain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.


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