Confessing Christ Bloggers
Aug 8

Written by: gfackre
8/8/2008 7:35 AM

“Last things”? This is one way to describe the Grand Finale, the last chapter of the Christian Story, eschatology proper. It comes from the four monumental assertions about the End in the Apostles Creed: the resurrection of the body (0r the dead), the return of Christ, final judgment and everlasting life. We shall use that as our framework for ultimate Hope realized.

Just how much can we say about these assertions? Some take them to be a transparent windows into what will be, with all the details disclosed. Following St. Paul, we treat them here differently-- as translucent rather than transparent. We see through a glass darkly—a mirror dimly—as he puts it in his letter to the Corinthian congregation, not through a “picture window” clearly. They are stained glass windows letting in enough light so we can read our hymnals and sing praises to the End-maker. And like those church windows, they have vivid pictures of what to expect, figural representations each. So there is mystery and modesty in our talk of Last Things. But, for all that, they do disclose to the eyes of faith the ultimate Hope toward which we move.

A bit of an anticipation of our first window that applies to all four. Reinhold Niebuhr tells of long discussions among seminary seniors in his class on the closing phrases of the Apostles Creed. Preparing for their ordination exams, they agonized over whether moderns could confess this part of the ancient faith. The resurrection of the body?

Twenty years later, however, Niebuhr could declare:Some of us have been persuaded to take the stone which we then rejected and to make it the head of the corner....There is no part of the Apostolic Creed which...expresses the whole genius of the Christian faith more neatly than just that despised phrase, "I believe in the resurrection of the body."

Yet, modernity has nine lives. What seemed to have been transcended by Niebuhrian neorthodoxy is still much among us in our own time. For many of our contemporaries, tombs still do not get emptied--not Christ's, not ours.
What then do we do with the second Advent lections ? The Easter texts? The parishioner's furrowed brow at graveside?

Niebuhr would be pleased to know that "postmodernism" has forced some reconsideration of Enlightenment assumptions about what can and cannot happen to the dead. Here and there, prominent theologians are ready to declare once again, "I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting"! And more: "He shall come again to judge the living and the dead." The confidence in reason's ability to know all, and thus to disqualify ancient doctrine, is now seen to be itself a piece of dogma, one with a checkered history. Demythologizers of modernity have encouraged us to relearn our own language and tell our own story. And retrieval of the tradition includes the tale of Things to Come.

Yes, let us recover our own version of how the world works, and see again our forebears's visions of the End. But, not only because postmodern critics have now decreed it safe to do so! Taking our cues from the culture's self-criticism could be yet one more Babylonian captivity. Especially so, when the perspectivism that often accompanies the critique of modernity is reluctant to make truth claims about our "language game." Eschatological rejuvenation, with all the mystery that rightly attends it, has to do with an "assurance of things hoped for." (Heb. 11:1) The "resurrection of the body" is assertable as ontologically so, as well as confessionally proper.The regaining of our eschatological sight is also necessary for making our way past today's various tempting bypaths. Without it, there is much stumbling toward the New Ageisms and millennialisms of the hour. With cultic esoterica and end-time eschatology dominating the airwaves and shopping mall bookstores shelves, the modest assertions of the creed are treasures waiting to be rediscovered. Classical eschatology has now become a countercultural option.

Copyright ©2008 Gabriel Fackre


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