My wife is a big fan of putting lime on watermelon. These two foods - lime and watermelon - are fine by themselves, by the way. Most people don't think about putting these things together. (Or at least I don't.) But when you do put them together, the taste is awesome. Putting these two things together actually makes a better result than when they're consumed independently.
This semester I'm scheduled to be back teaching at Grace University, and I'm putting two categories of systematic theology together that most people may not think about putting together. I'm teaching a class on "Church and Last Things" (or, if you want the fancy terminology, on "Ecclesiology and Eschatology").
As different people have learned what I'm teaching, a very understandable follow up question has been this: "So what do those two things have to do with each other, if anything?" Were random, hermetically-sealed categories of systematic theology just thrown together, or is there a relationship between the Church and Last Things that can be appreciated? What does Ecclesiology have to do with Eschatology?
It turns out there IS a relationship between the Church and Last Things. The two are intertwined, not independent. Just like the end taste of lime + watermelon is actually AWESOME, appreciating the relationship between Ecclesiology and Eschatology can "enhance our taste" for the richness of thinking theologically and why theology matters.
I love how these quotes tease out some of this relationship between Church and Last Things, between Ecclesiology and Eschatology:
Christianity is about more than my personal salvation. Jesu was not simply calling individuals; he was forming a community of disciples who would live out the new values of the coming kingdom of God. He was forming an eschatological community, a community of the last and ultimate days. This community is not called to map out the future using clues God dropped in the prophets of Israel or the letters of Paul. Nor is it called to sit around and wait for the end. It is called to be a colony of the kingdom of God amidst the kingdoms of this world....The church provides an alternative to the kingdom of this world not simply for the future but in the present" (John Phelan, Essential Eschatology: Our Present and Future Hope, p. 13).
...the church is not the ultimate reality in the redemptive plan of God, but as it lives the inaugurated reality of the kingdom of God [inaugurated at Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension], it fixes its hope on the eschatological kingdom to come" (Gregg R. Allison, Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church, p. 99).
The church is the new community called out from the world into what is the beginning of the new age. The resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit mean that God's new world has begun, the future has partially invaded the present, the seeds of the new creation have already begun budding in the old garden, and God's victory on the cross is now beginning to claim back territory in a world enslaved by sin. The first Christians saw themselves as the vanguard of a new redeemed humanity that God was creating in Jesus Christ. For this reason, we can regard the church as an eschatological community.
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