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    Entries in Eschatology (5)

    Friday
    Nov272015

    Silent, Until Song

    The Silent Friends from Kauri Multimedia on Vimeo.

    Sing to the Lord a new song;
        sing to the Lord, all the earth.
    Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
        proclaim his salvation day after day.
    Declare his glory among the nations,
        his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

    For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
        he is to be feared above all gods.
    For all the gods of the nations are idols,
        but the Lord made the heavens.
    Splendor and majesty are before him;
        strength and glory are in his sanctuary.

    Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations,
        ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
    Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
        bring an offering and come into his courts.
    Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness;
        tremble before him, all the earth.
    Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.”
        The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;
        he will judge the peoples with equity.

    Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
        let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
    Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
        let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
    Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,
        he comes to judge the earth.
    He will judge the world in righteousness
        and the peoples in his faithfulness.

    - Psalm 96

    HT: Brain Pickings

    Wednesday
    Mar052014

    Future Hope, Our Horizons, and Present Holiness :: A Review of Skye Jethani's Futureville

    Our approach to eschatology has changed. Or at least it is shifting. In articles, books, sermons, and conference presentations, I have noticed that the collective future of the human race is a common theme. That future is no longer spoken of, at the popular level, with a strong emphasis on the unfolding of events running parallel to a charted assembly of Bible passages, or within the framework of a pre-, post-, or a-millennial system. Instead, there is general interest in how we move from the garden to the city, how the vision given at the conclusion of the Book of Revelation is realized, how the death and resurrection of Jesus is itself a hinge, and how the present work of Christian people takes shape in light of our future hope. Along the way, some traditional theological constructs are alluded to and set aside as necessary ground-clearing before raising a related, yet unique edifice. Skye Jethani's Futureville: Discover Your Purpose for Today by Reimagining Tomorrow runs along these lines, and is one more contribution to this conversation.

    This is a book about today, how one lives, and the reality that we all live now in light of some vision of the future. Our choices reveal our orientation. This is true for all people. As Jethani writes:

    This book is not about the future. It is about the present. It is about determining what sort of life is truly meaningful. It is about rethinking the way we relate to the world and our purpose within it. How we decide what matters today, however, cannot be separated by what we believe about tomorrow.

    This is good and right. But our orientation toward the future is complicated, the result of factors within and outside our control.

    To illustrate, Jethani begins his analysis with the narrative of his own upbringing, compared to that of his grandparents, showing how his outlook on family, relationships, marriage, career, church, and more have been absorbed. His grandparents were shaped more by the Great Depression. In 1939, people of that generation were given an alternative at the New York World's Fair. For those living today, we need something even more compelling, more robust. Jethani believes Christians already have been given such a vision, "we believe that a meaningful life is one spent participating in what God is doing--God's mission. But the scope of God's mission is defined by what we believe the future looks like, by what will endure. So we cannot begin to define how we should live in this world without exploring what we believe about the world to come."

    Once Jethani has fixed the gaze of his reader upon God's future, and set their orientation toward the fulfillment of all history, he fills in the details. He tells the story of the Bible, from garden to city, and points us toward our hope, named in Revelation and made certain in Christ, as the moment God makes his dwelling place among people. But Jethani also names the alternative narratives, or dangers, that both compete and pull us off track. He names how assumptions we carry with us after the Enlightenment, and secular applications of evolution as an all-encompassing theory, can lead us toward destruction. He names how theological pitfalls, such as the belief that God will evacuate the faithful from this Earth, and discard it as inconsequential, can lead to apathy and disengagement with our neighbors and the created order, which we are called to steward. Jethani treats the Christian doctrines of resurrection and vocation as antidotes that combat the impulse to discard our weaker members or distance ourselves from the world's hurting, and lend dignity to Christians in their present work and calling. His thoughts on order, beauty, and abundance call faithful Christians to work for the common good of all people, to love their communities, to create in ways that point to the Creator, and to share resources with all who have need.

    The final note sounded is that of ultimate hope--Christ. Christ has redeemed the world, and is working within it through his people to set it to right, until the day he comes to bind up wounds, heal the brokenhearted, give judgment on behalf of the poor, reprove the wicked, and establish peace. Until that day, "we pray for the eyes to see the evidence of the garden all around us in the lives and faithfulness of Christ's people and their works, and we seek to cultivate those glimpses for others as we listen to and obey his calling for our lives."

    Futureville is a well told, compelling theological narrative, marked by sound exegesis and clear illustration of theological truth. Jethani is also vulnerable and transparent, open concerning his own journey. Some readers may disagree with his overall framework, or take issue with his presentation of some Christian theological pitfalls. But, overall, I found this book instructive. Christian people are in need of a vision encompassing the need for personal piety and social engagement. We need a vision that inspires us to work for the good of all people--even those who do not believe like us. We need to see Christ as the redeemer of all things, including souls, yet extending to all of creation. We need to see that the world, though fallen, was created by God and named good. We need an imaginative horizon that enables us to conceive where our world might be headed--and we need this horizon to be defined by the gospel of and about Jesus Christ and his kingdom.

    Most of us doubt we have much power to shape or impact the world in a grandiose way. But Jethani's work reminds us that in our careers, families, churches, and communities, every interaction has the latent capacity to bring healing, flourishing, and a future that more keenly resembles the reality Christ will establish as normative at the end of the age. Let us be agents of hope, faithful and true, committed to Christ, and vehicles of his grace.

    Tuesday
    Nov292011

    EV Symposium :: Birth, Death, the Space Between, and the Space to Come

    Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
    Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
    For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
    Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
    From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
    Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
    And soonest our best men with thee do go,
    Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
    Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
    And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
    And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
    And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
    One short sleep past, we wake eternally
    And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
    - John Donne, Holy Sonnet X

    Matthew Lee Anderson has graciously invited me to participate in a symposium, a first for me.  If you look up the word symposium, you find two definitions.  The first is this: “A collection of essays or papers on a particular subject by a number of contributors.”  The second differs: “A drinking party or convivial discussion, especially as held in ancient Greece after a banquet.” 

    This symposium is obviously the former and not the latter.  Matt asked me to examine the ninth chapter of his book Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith, entitled “The Mortal Body.”  The subject of the chapter, primarily, is death.  Therefore, it might be for the best that this symposium is not of the latter kind, for if it was, when my turn came to contribute to the convivial discussion, too many of my fellow revelers may have grabbed their coats and headed for the door.  Death, both a present and future reality in a fallen world, isn’t the stuff of prolonged conversation and extended reflection, at least not in our day.  As Matt points out in his chapter, rather it is a topic we purposefully avoid.  And that is why Matt’s contribution is so important—he assists us in facing a subject we would rather not face. But to quote Death himself, “You might be a king or a little street sweeper, but sooner or later you dance with the reaper.

    In light of this reality, several questions arise.  As embodied creatures, how are we to consider death?  Further, as a people called Christian, how are we to configure our speech to describe this reality, as well as the hope we hold in spite of its certain coming?  In a death denying age, how do we inject dignity into the aging process?  How do we pull down the idol of eternal youth?  How do we help people to see the superficialities of our bodies as passing away like a vapor, or withering like grass, so that we might tend to the inner realities of the soul and the eternality of our being as those who will one stand before the eternal One, the God we call Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in a chorus of praise, celebration, worship, and fellowship?  How do we prepare our present vessels for the day of its transformation on the last day?  In other words, how does our ultimate future as bodies, “sown perishable, but raised imperishable” shape our present responsibilities to care for ourselves and relate to others?

    These questions extend beyond Matt’s argument, though some of the concerns I have listed are present within his treatment.  I note this to say that “the mortal body” and the questions Christians must face in light of our mortality are both many and complex.  They are worthy of our sustained reflection not only for the purpose of philosophical and theological speculation, but also because our understanding of death in light of our embodied nature as finite, human creatures has numerous pastoral applications for care and proclamation.  And Matt, having asked for an essay that would push his chapter in new directions and extend the conversation about evangelicals and bodies, is receiving what he has asked for.

    A couple of considerations for the reader, and then on to two concerns I had with Matt’s chapter.

    First, what follows assumes familiarity with Matt’s work.  I assume that many of those who choose to read this essay will have read Earthen Vessels, or have long been part of the community at Mere-O.  However, I will do my best to frame my two concerns in a way that won’t require reading the book, though I’m sure Matt would appreciate an additional sale, as well as your taking time to read what he has produced.

    Secondly, the issues I raise below are presented in what I hope is a charitable fashion.  If you wish to defend Mr. Anderson’s presentation, or disagree with me on any point, or seek clarification, I simply ask that you abide by a modicum of charity.  No vitriol, please.

    Now, on to the issues.

    Exposing Death: A Fallen Enemy, Eschatologically Considered

    Suffice it to say, we are mortal, and as such, we will die.  Death awaits us all.  We are born, and one day we shall draw our final breath.  We expire.  Our bodies pass away.  From dust we came, and to dust we shall return.

    Within Matt’s chapter, I’m not completely certain how we should approach death, how to behold it within the imagination.  Anecdotally, Matt speaks of an attempt to define death as a horrendous evil, only to have Philippians 1:21 tossed in his lap as a grenade, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  This leads him to backpedal, believing he must defend Paul.  “Paul wasn’t endorsing suicide,” he writes.  Paul’s work is not through; he chooses to remain in the body despite his desire to depart and to be with Christ.  He will continue his work for the sake of the Philippians, and for other men and women he hopes to introduce to the hope he has found in Christ.  Death’s arrival, therefore, is not to be expedited.  It is rather to be received, and the life that is given until that day is to be regarded as a grace and a responsibility.  It is a gift that is to be stewarded.  Death, then, is not a “horrendous evil,” but a witness to the brokenness and decay of the present created order.  Paul, as he is portrayed here in Philippians, is softened somewhat.  It is gain, but not a gain that is to be rushed.

    Yet shortly thereafter, what Mr. Anderson has given with one hand he takes away with the other.  He tells the story of his friend Justin Key, tragically lost at age twenty six, dead as the result of a blood clot in his lung.  This death is an evidence of “a radical irruption in the goodness of the created order, a brokenness of the world that suggests things are not the way they are supposed to be.”  If things are not the way they are supposed to be, which I would assume to be “good”, then is Justin’s death not regarded as an evil?  Is death not an evil present in the world that has resulted from the sin in the garden, yielding moments where we may truly call death an enemy, as does Paul in 1 Corinthians 15?

    Is death an enemy, an evidence of a horrendous evil still operative in our world?  Has death been defeated, or does it wait for a final defeat?  Resurrection awaits us, yes, but we still must die if our end comes before Christ’s return, and if this is so, what is our posture toward death when it comes?

    This is the tension, and it is a tension that I believe needs further nuance and greater care.  When we say that the body is mortal, we concede we live with this reality in view, and we must ascribe to this reality a reason for its presence.  Death is coming, for the world we have been born into is not as it should be.  The enemy, death, remains, though that enemy has been defeated, so that when death comes, it can be received not with despair, but with triumph.  Triumph comes by way of Christ and his resurrection, who is the first fruits of the resurrection to come.  Though Mr. Anderson asserts the reality of a future hope, asserting strongly a belief in the resurrection, he needs to develop an eschatological line of reasoning, one that develops death as consequence of sin, Christ as victorious over death in the cross, the resurrection as an evidence of future hope, and that future hope as determinative for how we can live without fear of death in the present.  Ultimate hope shapes present outlook, including my view of the body and how I am to live while I remain within it.  Paul’s remaining in the flesh, I believe, was shaped by just this kind of conviction, as was his posture toward death.  Death would come, whenever the Lord so appointed.  Until that day came, however, he could joyfully proclaim what he knew to be true concerning Jesus.

    The Christian Funeral: Liturgy, Worship, Gospel Pronouncement, and the Communion of Saints

    My second issue: Considering Anderson expresses concern regarding trends on cremation and other forms of burial, what is the proper evangelical response?  How do we shape our discourse in such a way that the burial of the dead regains an appropriate measure of theological and formational importance for the people of God?  Anderson suggests the church calendar and a different nuance with regard to the celebration of the Lord’s meal as space for remembrance of those who have gone before us and followed after Jesus.  But he does not expand on our liturgies, our pronouncements, our worship, and our ties to “the communion of the saints,” as expressed in the Apostles’ Creed.

    I believe this rising trend of cremation over burial is an evidence of detachment from our physicality, our embodiment, and an amnesia concerning the stated hope that our bodies will be raised in a manner like the body of Jesus Christ.  How we conceive of heaven as our future hope, in part, has led to a disregard for our body, and how it should be received by the church following death.  And this is very sad to me, as someone who has been adamant that I will be buried, bodily, and that the church will accompany me with singing, proclaiming that one day I will rise again.  I will not be cremated and scattered, though I do not doubt God could reconstitute me if I was.  But like Christ, as Mr. Anderson does offer, I wish to be laid to rest like him, with the hope that I will be raised like him.  The key here, for Anderson and for others theologically considering our mortality, is how this affirmation is captured within our discourse, transmitted to our people, and embodied both corporately and individually.

    Final Reflections

    Hopefully there is a thought or two here that will assist Mr. Anderson and others thinking about the body to articulate with greater clarity Christian hope in the face of death.  That hope is nothing other than the gospel of and about Jesus, the proclamation that on Good Friday Christ defeated sin and death, and three days later he rose again, and by faith in him we may enter in to God’s eternal life both now and in the age to come.  Death, thou hast died and thou shalt die.

    Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.  Because of this, our mortal bodies have hope.

    Monday
    Feb012010

    Brief Book Review :: Dwight J. Friesen's Thy Kingdom Connected: What the Church Can Learn from Facebook, the Internet, and Other Networks

    In Thy Kingdom Connected: What the Church Can Learn from Facebook, the Internet, and Other Networks Dwight J. Friesen explores the power of networks and the lessons the church can learn from observing and understanding how we are bound together through common relationships.

    This book did possess some strengths, among them a treatment of Trinitarian theology, an invitation to dialogue and an openness to critique, and the important recognition that the Kingdom of God possesses an environmental component that supports an "ecological" approach to leadership.  On this last point, Friesen's chapter on "Network Ecology" was quite good.  Likening the church to a natural ecosystem, Friesen explores how the openness of such systems, the need for diversity, and the necessity of death in such systems lead to overall flourishing.  One of the most powerful metaphors I've found for "Kingdom" among emerging leaders has been this very example.  Once a leader sees oneself as an ecologist or an environmentalist, it changes how one relates and navigates various relationships, casts vision, and clears ground for growth.  Of all the contributions in this book, I think this chapter is the most valuable.

    Most of the reviewers I have read have been positive, and because of this I'll offer a couple of words of critique.  Here are two of my points of contention.

    First, is Friesen's account of networks and their applicability to the church based on a gospel dynamic?  Within the first few sentences in his introduction, Friesen states "Many are wondering why so many churches and denominations are in decline when they are proclaiming the gospel," a statement which, prima facie is easily debatable and, indeed, on this very topic much ink has been spilled (with the rise of computing, when will this idiom change?).  After making such a bold assertion at the outset, I was hoping to hear more about what this gospel might be that is failing to gain a hearing despite its proclamation.  Unfortunately, I was disappointed.  Friesen's articulation of the gospel is undergirded by the claim that in Jesus the fullness of life is found, and that the same fullness that is seen in Jesus can be realized in us.  Friesen states, "This is God's mission: that human beings like you and me would live as fully alive, fully networked human beings."

    That sounds nice.  But it needs more fullness.  More robustness.  And, it needs to be accompanied by the avenue through which such a life can re realized.  In other words, I need to know how to get plugged in to the with-God life.  I need a theology of cross and resurrection, a more detailed account of justification and sanctification.  I need something beyond a definition of life as "the relationship between chaos and order," something like "shalom," an ultimate vision of what a life of peace and reconciliation between human beings and between God might look like at the end of the ages.

    To give him the benefit of the doubt, I would think that Friesen's presentation presupposes that the reconciliation found in Christ brings about the creation of a community wherein humanity can flourish through connection.  As we come to know one another, love one another, serve one another, submit to one another, and live according to a collective vision of what constitutes new creation, the "good news" is imaged forth.  While I find such imagery compelling, as I've already stated, I find presentations like Friesen's as insufficient.  I appreciate that Friesen's "connected community" represents an embodied realization of the gospel.  But I think any such community which embodies the gospel must undergird those claims with a discourse, or a language, that goes beyond practices.  Proclamation and practice go hand in hand.  In that sense, I am "And'ing" two concepts that have often been featured as part of the division between traditional and emerging leaders.  At this point, I suspect Friesen would agree with my sentiment that proclamation or discourse is important, but I think I've made clear that I found his presentation leaning more in the other direction, and if his argument is to be strengthened a clearer and more robust articulation of the gospel is required.

    Secondly, I found that the overall idea--that networks define our life and are pivotal for the realization of the Kingdom--was not supported by consistently strong biblical and anecdotal support.  Concerning the former, like many emerging leaders Friesen relies on narratives from the Bible to illuminate his argument.  Most of these examples seemed supplemental, however, and not foundational for Friesen's account, and this is the root of my concern.  Concerning the latter, Friesen does relay a number of stories about his family, about his experiences as a church planter, and his experiences as a professor at a seminary, and his stories do relate to his central thesis, but do not add much to his argument.  

    Friesen's work here is interesting, though I wouldn't enthusiastically recommend it to friends and fellow church leaders.  I picked up a few tidbits here and there (to cite one example, I enjoyed his insights from Martin Buber's I And Thou), but finished unsatisfied for the reasons given above.  I would've liked to see more theological robustness, a clearer articulation of the gospel, and more practical and concrete examples of how his theory has been embodied by church leaders.  Philosophically, the account was fine, engaging, and compelling.  But to really draw me in, I need to see the theological import and warrant, and how these ideas move beyond our current reality to the transcendent.  I think Friesen's goal is to help us see the Kingdom as an eschatological community of connectedness, but he has to take us from here to there, and in order to do so his account must evidence more from the story of Scripture and historical theology.

    The good news, of course, is that Friesen can do so.  And if he doesn't take up the task, perhaps someone else will.  If so, in the end the church will be better off for it, maybe even more connected.

    Tuesday
    Aug182009

    Transient. Distracted. Elsewhere. :: Planted. Attentive. Present.

    Of the pairing above, which set of words resonate most fully with you?

    Our world is changing, and is undergoing further change.  And as changes take place all around us, they form and tailor us to navigate our world in ways that could be healthy but could also be to our detriment, and if not for us, then perhaps for our neighbors.  This is why it is critical for us to engage with our world in a discerning way, analyzing the emerging patterns, habits, and ways of being that define our age.  In many ways this type of quest is an attempt to hit a moving target, for in many instances the moment we grasp a hint of "what is going on," something new is going on.  The landscape changes.  But that does not mean we should stop trying to hit the target.

    Among my hobbies stands the study of sociology.  I love to know how people work, think, act, and relate.  I love to follow trends and read statistics, particularly when they intersect with patterns I've sensed in my own community.  I also believe that sociologists have much to offer us in understanding ourselves.  And it is just such an offering that Dalton Conley has provided us in his book, Elsewhere, U.S.A.: How We Got from the Company Man, Family Dinners, and the Affluent Society to the Home Office, Blackberry Moms, and Economic Anxiety.  The title captures the content well.

    In his book Conley traces the transition of the common American worker from 1959 to 2009.  He notes many changes.  Whereas his grandparents worked hard to retire at 50, today the world of work "means working more and more hours as you move up a towering ladder of economic opportunity (and inequality)."  Whereas his grandparents enjoyed socializing with friends and family, the modern "knowledge worker" has social ties that are normally just an extension of their work, for one has no idea from whence the next project or great opportunity will come (I see this in my own life.).  While his grandparents, whom he describes as having a "relatively progressive marriage," would eat meals at home with family, he observe that his own family never cooks.  They eat most meals at restaurants or on the run.  Conley observes that the modern individual constantly juggles one's calendar, particularly when one has a family, and most move hurriedly about from place to place.  When people are asked how the are doing, the most common answer is "busy."

    Conley observes that even when we are "here," we are often never "all here."  There is always some distraction.  Email, cell phone, or the constant reviewing of the millions of things "to do" that roll through our mind keep us from being fully present with our friends and loved ones.  As a result, we live in an Elsewhere society that blends work and leisure, home and office, investment and consumption, and public and private.  Conley does not decry this state of affairs.  Instead, he exhorts his readers to come to terms with it.  To live it.  To give in to the Blackberry.  This is reality, he believes, and we are best off joining the game rather than longing from some nostalgic yesteryear to which we can never return.

    Conley ends his book by asking, "Do I make sense?"  It is an appeal.  He knows that as a sociologist he can only formulate a theory, propose it to the reader, and the return will be up to his audience.  Does he tell a compelling story?  Does it fit the grid?  To paraphrase Jonathan Z. Smith, "Does the map fit the territory?"  And to all of those questions I would say yes.  We are more transient.  We are more distracted.  We are elsewhere.

    But for Christian communities, our role is to subvert these realities.  Our story is one of incarnation and grounding, attention and focus, presence and care.  Our story is also one of patience, gratitude, and slowness. We are friends of time.  While Conley's story is compelling, it does not constitute a truthful narrative in which we are called to live.  In fact, it unearths dangerous realities which threaten our life as followers of Jesus.  He names for us the principalities and the powers. And we have good news to share in the face of those realities, which are not realities at all.  They are simply illusion.

    Are you transient, distracted, or elsewhere?  If yes, how can you become planted, attentive, and present, and invite others into that same type of life?