The Eschatology of the World and the Cross: And Some Editorial Thoughts

I am currently reading Michael Horton’s Covenant And Eschatology: The Divine Drama, and I am happy to say that I am being very edified by it. It is somewhat surprising for me to say this, because I have been such a long time critic of the environs that Horton inhabits—e.g. Westminster Theological Seminary (Escondido, California). Yet, Horton illustrates a capacity to think with a kind of critical, constructive, and creative wit that I have found eschatologylacking in most of his brethren’s way. I cannot in the end accept all of Horton’s commitments, but what I am beginning to realize (personally) is that there isn’t the kind of disparity between the post-Reformed orthodox and the so called neo-Orthodox (which has been my vibe for years now), as far as methodology as I once thought. That said, there are still some very fundamental and basic critiques which still leave me on the “side” of the neo-Orthodox (or on the side of Thomas Torrance)—like following a theological method that is rooted in an ‘analogy of faith’ (instead of ‘being’), a method that is grounded in seeing Covenant (God’s life) preceding Creation (instead of the post-Reformed orthodox reversal of this), a theological method that intentionally eschews a natural theology approach, etc. So I am still obviously on one side of this Reformed pendulum. That said, I see things in Horton and some of the post-Reformed emphases—like an emphasis on Covenant (biblically construed), an emphasis on historia salutis (salvation history), etc.—that I can see waiting for a via media of sorts. In other words, I see some general contours of thought and emphases that jive with my own predisposition better than what I have heretofore conceived in regard to the classic approach previously. I wouldn’t say though that my general disdain for the prolegomenon of post-Reformed orthodoxy has changed; it is just that I have become more open to the idea that there are things available therein that have the kind of depth that is worthy of resourcement and retrieval for an evangelical Calvinist project.

With the above noted (caveated), let me now turn to something that almost has nothing to do with what I just wrote; except for the fact that I will, indeed, be quoting from none other than Michael Horton. That notwithstanding, the point that will be being made throughout the rest of this post has to do with a Christian eschatology V. a secular humanist one. And yet embedded in the secular humanist one, there is still a parable therein that is helpful towards the Christian one. That is, the humanist aneschatology has demonstrates where the end of human-centered wisdom terminates; and as such, as corollary, shows the wisdom of God in the wisdom of the cross (and thus the Christian eschatology). Here is some quotation from Horton on this subject:

[C]olin Gunton, for instance, has argued that the displacement of God by humanity and therefore of eschatology by human attainment has left the contemporary person with a “pathological inability to live in the present, while at the same time, as in the consumer culture, it is unable to live anywhere but in the present. Both arms of the paradox alike derive from a gnostic denial of goodness of creation.” Gunton adds the following:

The anxiety to bring the future about is the cause of the frantic rush that is one mark of the modern failure to live serenely in time…. Orientation to a divinely promised future sets human life in context, and is by no means a disincentive to appropriate use of the world. (We should remember Luther’s remark that if he knew that the end of the world was coming tomorrow, his response would be to plant a tree). What mainstream mediaeval eschatology lacked was rather a sense of the interweaving of the times: a way in which the divinely order of destiny of life could, by the work of the Spirit, be anticipated in the present.

If modernity can be characterized by an eschatology of utopia leading to despair, its postmodern successors may find themselves distinguished only by their lustful Nietzschean embrace of this condition rather than the Schpenhauerian resignation that Nietzsche and his disciples have identified with Christianity. Both the modern utopian and the postmodern “active nihilist” share a common metanarrative: “this fading age.” The reign of the autonomous self, whether conceived in terms of reason, consciousness, or will, cannot help but end in either resignation of triumphalism. [Michael S. Horton, Covenant And Eschatology: The Divine Drama, 42.]

Something that further illustrates this kind of ‘displacement of God by humanity and therefore eschatology’ is noted later by Horton as he quotes Rudolof Bultmann:

[…]It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of daemons and spirits. We may think we can manage it in our own lives, but to expect others to do so is to make the Christian faith unintelligible and unacceptable to the modern world. [Rudolf Bultmann, cited by Michael Horton, p. 52]

For Bultmann, using the polarity noted before (between an humanist eschatology in resignation or triumphalism), his is an eschatology that revels in the triumphalism of human championship.

I just think it is interesting how whether Christian or not, we cannot escape the fact that we have an eschatology shaping our approaches and ideas about life and its meaning. There is no critical space where someone can live untouched by the proclivities of their own situadedness in creation. Our only ‘escape’ is available through the cross, where God’s eschatological life breaks in on our resignations and triumphalisms, and confounds the wisdom of the wise with His foolishness. The cross breaks up the indomitable human spirit by putting it to death, and injecting into it a trajectory that finds strength and hope in the weakness of God.

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