on Eschatology and Preaching

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?

(related posts: Bryan, and TC)


15 responses to “on Eschatology and Preaching

  1. If the last days came about in and through Jesus, we cannot help but be eschatological when we preach. If the Kingdom came (already but not yet of course) when Jesus arrived on the scene, if it spreads through the sewing of the seeds, and if the future crashed into the present through the resurrection of Jesus, then we cannot help but be eschatological when we preach. The problem isn’t, usually, eschatology, because we dive into it every time we preach, teach, or read the bible. The problem is usually the categories we’ve fit eschatology into that it was never meant to fit into (and charts and…)

  2. I haven’t read Peterson’s book and can’t see the context. I may be waaaay off on this, but might he be talking about the hope of the end, as opposed to all the various specific views of exactly how it will play out? For example how in 1 Peter 1 he encourages those who are suffering that their faith is being refined so that the genuineness of our faith will result in praise and glory and honor. Or that every tear will be wiped away etc.

  3. Hmm, I thought I commented on this. Oh well…

    I don’t think Peterson is talking about the parousia eschaton. He’s not talking about the end of history. I think he has a more rounded view… The New Testament puts forward Jesus as the Eschaton… the last days were inaugurated in Him and his work. The kingdom was ushered in (already/not yet!) in his person and ministry (Mark 1:14-15). The hope of the future crashed into the present through his resurrection (the substance of the new creation). Whenever we preach Christ, we are preaching eschatology. Peter’s sermon starts by quoting Joel about the last days, and he applies them to the events they were seeing happen before their eyes (Acts 2). As people respond to the Gospel and place their faith and trust in Jesus, they become new creations, themselves a foretaste of THE new creation which God will usher in. They become part of the eschatological community of all nations, tribes, and tongues (Rev 7:9). In fact, this new community is already seated with Christ (Ephesians 2:6). I think this is what he means when he says it must be eschatological. Our preaching should reflect the already/not yet tension of the Bible.

    The problem is that we’ve become sensationalistic in our teaching of the Last Days. Our categories have become confused. And often we tend to interpret the eschatological scripture in light of newspaper headlines. No wonder we get burned out! 88 reasons the Rapture will occur in 1988 is long past gone, but we continue to try and figure out what Jesus himself said he didn’t know… the day when history will come to an end. After all the calculations and charts we all have gotten somewhat burned out, and again, no wonder. We must get back to biblical eschatology–the kind that brings Paul to the kinds of statements about the present such as “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” after discussing the future resurrection.

    We must preach eschatologically, because we are a part of the eschaton now, in the present, through Jesus.

    • Bryan, you comments are awesome, thanks for them! I agree completely. It’s possible I have been preaching eschatologically just not in the traditional way. Thanks for the encouragement. Partly too, I was just musing. But I needed yours, and Jeff’s an TC’s reminders.

      I made a slight edit to say “I am tired of eschatology, at least the false notions of it.”

    • TC, like you I’ve also abandoned the dispy-premill approach to last things. and like you I’ve sided with Ladd on the approach to historical premill – through the amil guys do make many good points.

      • Brian, I would have been amil if it weren’t for the millennium. I’m still seeing it in Scripture.

        Right now I’m not in agreement with the amil arguments against the millennium.

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  5. TC, numbers in the Bible are rarely literal and often more representative of something else so it’s hard to know for absolute certain how to interpret John’s use of 1000 in his Apocalypse – very few of he other uses of numbers are necessarily literal but are instead representative of something else, so why the switch to a literal number all the sudden? Just some thoughts.

    This is one of the significant problems with dispensationalism – it often misses entirely the function of apocalyptic literature (which is almost never literal) – it also make things entirely about the future when for the folks John wrote to, the Revelation had present meaning (as you said in your post, it was about what God was doing now (them for them). It also has present meaning for us now. What is it?

    • Yeah, still wrestling with the millennium, but some HP are open to a just representing an indefinite period of time.

      I’ve found dipys to be using the literal approach to the interpretation of Bible prophecies conveniently. As I told Jason on my blog, it was while working through Pentecost’s “Thing to Come” that I became disillusioned with the whole thing. The arguments were being forced here, there, and everywhere imaginable.

  6. Brian,

    I guess I would be confused on Jonah being “pastoral” or “preaching=pastoral”. I would think “pastoring” was a supernatural gift given to the Church as specified in Ephesians 4, which since Christ had not purchased the church yet Jonah wouldn’t qualify. And when I see “preaching” in like Acts 11 that seems to be the work of the common man, or whomever feels compelled to proclaim Christ’s excellence to a fallen world for the sake of reconciling them to God. I could be off as you read the book, I just don’t understand how to reconcile those two with “pastoral work”. It seems that preaching may not even be a “pastoral” work, but more of an “evangelisitic” work while caring seems to be the primary “pastoral” work.

    • Lionel, no problem, Peterson doesn’t come at it from the organic church perspective. He’s died in the wool Presbyterian – one could spend weeks, months, years critiquing this book from an organic church point of view. You’d have to read the book to see what he is getting at.

  7. (The most stunning Bible prophecy writing I have ever read is “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty” on the “Powered by Christ Ministries” website. Also, I saw the following web item and am sharing it for what it’s worth.)

    Christians & “Hate” Bills

    If “hate bill”-obsessed Congress [and Obama] can’t protect Christians from “gays” as much as it wants to protect “gays” from Christians, will Congress be surprised if it can’t protect itself from most everyone? If “hate bills” are forced on captive Americans, they’ll still find ways to sneakily continue to “plant” Biblical messages everywhere. By doing so they’ll hasten God’s judgment on their oppressors as revealed in Proverbs 19:1. (See related web items including “David Letterman’s Hate, Etc.,” “Separation of Raunch and State,” “Michael the Narc-Angel,” “Obama Avoids Bible Verses,” and “Tribulation Index becomes Rapture Index.”) Since Congress can’t seem to legislate “morality,” it’s making up for it by legislating “immorality”!

    [We are a longtime “underground” ministry specializing in fearlessly airing unique articles such as the above listed ones – and we will give $100.00 to anyone who isn’t “moved” by them! The prayers and help from true Christian patriots have kept us going.]

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