Eugene Peterson, in his book Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness (Eerdmans, 1992), talks about two polarities of the pastoral vocation: geographical and eschatological. In regards to eschatology (dealing with last things) he writes:
Eschatology is the tool we use to loosen the soil and weed the field. Eschatology is the pastor’s equivalent to the farmer’s plow and harrow, hoe and spade (but not the developer’s bulldozer and earth mover). We keep this topsoil loose and moist, open to the rain and sun, planted, weeded, tended, cared for, and under the pull of a harvest, fulfillment, a teleioson.
Pastoral work is eschatological. Jonah entered Nineveh, embraced the locale, and immersed himself in the particulars. But when he opened his mout to preach, he didn’t make appreciative comments on the landscape; he let loose with something arrestingly eschatological: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (3:4).
This is not the kind of message we commonly associate with pastoral work. We are more apt to see this message as the province of street preachers or hit-and-run evangelists, not someone who cares about a congregation and is committed to its welfare by entering at considerable depth into its life. But that is caricature; true and authentic pastoral work is eschatological to the core. “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” is a basic and essential pastoral proclamation (140-141).
This is giving me some things to think about. Pertson is right, “this is not the kind of message we commonly associate with pastoral work.” In all honesty, I’m tired of eschatology, at least the false notions of it. I don’t really want to preach or teach about it right now. I grew up with the typical dispensational premillennial/pre-trib futurist view on last things where folks like Hal Lindsey, Tim Lahaye, John Hagee, Grant Jeffries, all had the stage front and center. This burned me out on last things (I think). I got tired of the road map approach to the end of the world and got tired of all the debates about the rapture, or the millennium and all the crazy different views. There was gross misunderstanding and confusion that immediacy meant immediately and that wore me out.
So, when Peterson tells me “true and authentic pastoral work is eschatological to the core” I want to shrugg or wince. Don’t get me wrong, I know the end is near, at the door even. I am just realizing this is an area I need renewal in so that the Lord will give me a new heart for a proper take on eschatology and be able to enter into that in a vocationally holy way. This is what has been occupying my mind of late.
What say you?