The Over-Realized Eschatology of American Religion

Date 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.

Related posts:

  1. Confusion About Science and Religion – Part Two
  2. Maybe Religion is Okay After All
  3. How Todd is Saving England: Part II
  4. An Anselmian Defense of Hell
  5. Is Religion Dangerous?
  6. Confusion About Science and Religion – Part One

2 Responses to “The Over-Realized Eschatology of American Religion”

  1. Gabriel Pagel said:

    Great Post!

    I have also noticed how liberalism in lending itself to the realization of social justice, also seems to promote a lot of legalism… not that this is the only group to get legalistic, but I have noticed there is a connection.

    Again, great post!

  2. David N said:

    Thanks Gabriel!

    Yes, that makes a lot of sense as well. After all, if social justice or environmentalist causes are the primary mission of the church, then there is a lot to DO. And whenever religion becomes primaryily about “doing” you will always end up with legalism.

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