Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Justice and Eschatology

So, I've been taking issue with the view--popular among the last couple of generations of American evangelicals--that says that doing justice (meeting the needs of the world) has little place in what Christians are called to do. I've been interacting with an author who defends this view (without naming him). Another misconception he has involves eschatology--one's understanding of end-time events, of the ultimate disposition of this planet (among other things).

He discusses two eshatologies (again, as if these were the only options): what he calls Covenant Theology and Dispensational Theology. According to that author,
In general, the Covenant churches emphasize social and cultural involvement. The Dispensational churches emphasize evangelizing and discipling people out of the world. The contrast was probably best stated by D.L. Moody, who said, "Don't spend too much time polishing the brass rails on a sinking ship."
For the author in question, Moody was right, Dispensational Theology is right, and that eschatology dictates that we spend little of our time concerning ourselves with issues of justice.

Now, I think there is a great deal that could be argued for the other--Covenant-- view and against the Dispensational one. But for the sake of argument, let's assume that the author is correct--that things in this world are only going to get worse , that the world is a 'sinking ship' and that the "new heavens and new earth" (of Revelation 21) are to be taken concretely. The problem remains that we are not given the time of the end, nor are we given license to ignore all of the biblical mandates to do justice, love our neighbors (and our enemies), and do unto others as we would have them do to us.

Many are the times in the history of the church when things were bleaker than today, times during which Christians had more reason than we to expect the imminent return of Christ because 'things couldn't get much worse.' When barbarian hordes had overrun all of Christian Europe, followers of Christ kept His teachings alive and ministered to their conquerors, eventually winning the right to share with them the good news of Christ's desire for their reconciliation to Him.

When William Wilberforce recognized the inhumanity and cruelty of the British slave trade, he did not consider that the promise of new heavens and a new earth somehow justified his doing nothing to abolish such injustice.

When (again) Europe was overrun by the Nazis, Christians could well have refused to harbor Jews, or to enlist to go to war against the Nazis. Those would have been the sorts of decisions that this eschatological view would have logically produced. Thank God that throughout church history, Christians have not succumbed to the poor reasoning of Moody but have remained at their posts, doing those acts of justice to which God called them.

Indeed, on the view put forth by this author, Martin Luther King, Jr, should have stuck to simply preaching the gospel of eternal salvation and ignored the fact that black people were still being treated as second class citizens.

My point is this... even if Dispensational Theology is the more accurate understanding of Scripture (and I have serious doubts about this), it does not provide justification to disobey the Scripture-wide call upon God's people to do justice, and to have compassion on people (all of whom are made in God's image).

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