Christians are People-in-Waiting

Undoubtedly, the tide has turned. Voices like Tom Wright and Brian McLaren have convinced many that we need to quit obsessing about escaping from this world and to rethink our belief that heaven is “out there” in the sky where we go when we die. Surely the vision of Revelation 21–22 ought to convince us that the new heavens and the new earth are not up in heaven somewhere but instead a vision of heaven coming down to earth.

Let’s assume this. Now how do we talk about our expectation if this is our theology? In what sense are we, as Tony Thiselton contends (in Life after Death), people in waiting? How then should we live?

The key term for Thiselton is “expectation.” Romans 8:19, when it says the whole creation “awaits” uses a term that can mean “cranes its neck in expectation.” But what does it mean to “expect”? Does it mean some kind of psychological anxiety and tension or is it otherwise? As a young man I was so persuaded by a preacher of eschatology that I asked my pastor if I should go to college? That’s the psychological tension Thiselton speaks of. (My pastor said “Go to college, in the case the preacher’s wrong.” He said this with a certain look in his eye.)

Thiselton’s contention is that “expectation” is about “readiness” in the here and now, and is not about what goes in our mind, emotions or psyche but how we live in the here and now in readiness. (He uses Wittgenstein to develop this idea, not relying on him but using him, though I think he spends too much time with said German Austrian philosopher.) Expectation is evidence by behaviors that evince readiness.

Thiselton observes two major features of how Christians have understood “expectation” or “waiting.” One side, seen in Augustine, Tyconius, Jerome and Luther, is calm faithfulness in the now. There is a legend that Luther said he if he knew the Lord was coming tomorrow he’d plant an apple tree today — illustrating Luther’s calm about future expectation. The other side, seen in Victorinus, Lactantius and Ambrosiaster, is the apocalyptic view: rev the stuff up and get ready (the psychological dimension of readiness tension).

So Thiselton’s view is that we ought to live faithfully, doing what God has called us to do. Knowing that the kingdom will come.

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  • Jerry

    The kingdom is coming and is now among us. Isn’t that the idea of now and not yet? I would probably tend to fall into the faithful living in the present kingdom/readiness in the coming kingdom camp. The temptation of this side is being so wrapped in the now that we forget to proclaim the coming. The temptation of the other side is to neglect the now and possibly get into “date setting.” God is building his kingdom now (picking up on Wright’s idea that we don’t build the kingdom–we are participants/instruments God uses) but we look for the coming fullness of the kingdom.

  • Albion

    FYI: Wittgenstein was Austrian, not German. And he sometimes brandished a poker.

  • Paul W

    My understanding has been that “the world to come” will be much as it is now but without all the things that aren’t good; without all the brokeness, wrong-doing, injustice, etc. So I look forward to that kind of world even though my imagination can picture it only dimly.

    As for implications for living. . . well, I think that the picture of “the world to come” as establishing something of an imaginative and provocative template to be aimed at now.

    So in the world to come people will not take advantage of each other so I try not to take advantage of anyone now. There will be no tears so I work to ease suffering. There will be abundant housing so I work to end homlessness. There will be no wrong-doing so I try to act ethically. There will be worship so I go to church. The world will be something of a paradise so I commit to recycle, compost, and develop the land I own. And so on and so forth, I think you get the idea.

    At least thats the way I see it.

  • JoeyS

    I prefer to say that we are people of hope.

  • Richard

    Echoing JoeyS in 4, I really think its living in light of future hope. If we have a vision of what God is doing in our midst, then we seek to come alongside and partner with. I don’t think this forces a dichotomy between the “how we live now” and the “psyche and emotional” readiness – probably a smattering of both. My work here always leads me into a deep frustration when I don’t see the Kingdom revealed among us, but I still live in light of the hope that God is at work often beneath the surface and I choose to believe in the hope of reconciliation and restoration anchored in the incarnation, the cross, and the resurrection that compels disciples to live and think differently.

  • Alan K

    If we are to be resurrected, might as well start living the eternal life right now.

  • John W Frye

    An eschatology that produces anxiety as psychological tension is already off the biblical map. Hope is an energy creating a living, loving, and serving Jesus Way now (with expectancy) even in the looming apparent absence of “the kingdom come. We know God is bringing in his kingdom (mustard seed like) according to his purposes and in answer to the Church’s prayers (“…your kingdom come…”).

  • That’s awesome! “There is a legend that Luther said he if he knew the Lord was coming tomorrow he’d plant an apple tree today”. God calls us to both complete rest, and unwavering dedication to Him.

  • Matt Edwards

    In his book The Church Wolfhart Pannenberg suggests that as people of expectation, we should focus more on what God is going to do rather than on what He already did. I don’t know what to think about that.

    A lot of the preaching in the New Testament seems to focus on anticipation–“The kingdom of God is at hand!” A lot of our preaching is about the past.

    Obviously, the cross is integral to God’s plan for the future, but do we harp on it so much that we neglect the future?

    Does our focus on the cross turn our vision backwards instead of forward? Do we need a corrective?

  • Dana Ames

    Paul @3 and Alan @6,

    Exactamundo. That *is* Inaugurated Eschatology.

    Matt @9,

    Yes, we need a corrective – a more robust understanding of the Resurrection and its connection to the Cross. You can’t have one without the other, but it’s all about Meaning. That’s why Wright stands out from the rest of the Protestant pack (the pack I know about, anyhow).


  • Randy Gabrielse

    Matt @9 Yes we need a corrective. This is where I really like Wright’s vision of the church as the culminating act in a play whose other acts have already been written. Our job, drawing from the past and casting the vision forward, is to live out “an act” that is consistent with what God has proven to be up to before.

    Randy Gabrielse

  • As Wright also says, we are Resurrection people. We should be the happiest people around. 🙂

    Joyful, anticipatory, filled with hope, working where we see the Kingdom growing, and when we do not see it, envisioning it and beginning a work.

    Having been a Dispensationalist for most of my life (because it was all I knew…yet was so despondent and fearful – YES, ABOUT JESUS’ RETURN!!! isn’t that odd?) it is a wonderful thing to know that there is another option. Fear is absolutely not godly, so that can’t be part of our anticipation. I think there is SUCH a need to keep the hand to the plow, to keep stepping along, to see with new eyes (those of the Spirit,) to stay steady, to see big picture.

    When my husband and I got married at 20, we did not believe we’d get old. We didn’t think we’d see forty, and we’d certainly never need a retirement account.


    Well, we’re over forty now. We’re glad we went to college, glad we have put money into the retirement account, glad we bought a house, glad we had kids (all the while, still serving the Lord as He has led us.) We’re also so thankful to be able to instill joy, anticipation and hope within our children, rather then consign them to the way we were raised.