July 15, 2009 Posted by David N
Dr. Scott Clark has a great post over at the Heidelblog pointing out one of the hallmarks of American religion: An over-realized eschatology. This is what Luther referred to as the “theology of glory” (against his “theology of the cross”). Basically, an over-realized eschatology is one that thinks you can have Heaven on Earth, in some sense, before the return of Christ and the consummation.
I found this fascinating because I had always looked at Liberal Protestantism primarily in terms of what might be called a “theology of love.” In other words, I only saw one dimension to the problem, namely that liberal theologians tended to focus on the “love” of God (as they defined it, of course) and away from things like wrath and Hell. When you do this, of course, sin gets downplayed as well, and before you know it you’ve accepted homosexuality as merely an alternate lifestyle and you’re pushing for the ordination of homosexuals to church office (as is the case in the ECUSA). But a connection that I hadn’t made before was between Liberalism and an over-realized eschatology. It only makes sense, though, that if you believe you can have utopia on earth, you would make the church’s mission to be one of social justice rather than Gospel proclamation. In fact, when you combine the so-called “theology of love” with an over-realized eschatology, saving people’s souls from Hell (if it even exists) becomes entirely unimportant compared to saving trees and whales.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the alternate problem, that of caring too little about creation. This is a danger that we should avoid, but unlike what many modern people think, it has not always been a problem for Christianity. When asked what he would do if he knew the world would end tomorrow, Martin Luther famously said he would plant a tree! While such a response may be an example of Luther’s characteristic overstatement, it does show that a theology of the cross doesn’t need to be careless about this present age.