I was first introduced to Kallistos Ware’s book The Orthodox Way on September 2, 2006 when it was given to me after a chance meeting with an Eastern Orthodox priest. This priest, whose name I do not know, gave me five books about the Eastern Orthodox Church after briefly taking to me in a hotel restaurant in Los Angeles. Of the five books the priest gave me, Ware’s The Orthodox Way stood out because of its spiritual depth and simple prose. Twelve years later I can honestly say that this book changed the course of my life by introducing me to the path of the mystic.
The book itself isn’t that long, just six short chapters bookended by a prologue and epilogue. The purpose of the book is to introduce the reader to the “fundamental teachings of the Orthodox Church” without being exhaustive or too technical. Rather, Ware lays out “some of the decisive signposts and milestones upon the spiritual Way.” He does this by addressing six different facets of God as noted by the chapter titles: “God as Mystery,” “God as Trinity,” “God as Creator,” “God as Man,” “God as Spirit,” and “God as Prayer.”
Though each of these chapters are packed with amazing gems, the first chapter, “God as Mystery,” was the one that had the most lasting impact on my life. The overall gist of this chapter is that God cannot be known strictly by intellectual reason or as the “conclusion to a process of reasoning.” Rather, knowing God means knowing him as a person who loves and cares for us. Faith in God is, after all, “not logical certainty but a personal relationship” that embraces the presence of doubt while still embarking on the journey.
At the time of my first reading of The Orthodox Way, I was an associate pastor of a small church and a graduate of Vineyard Leadership Institute (a two-year Bible and leadership training program). The temptation to logically figure out God was strong both because of my previous studies and the demands of the church. Through this book I was able to “embrace the mystery of God without having to understand everything.” It gave me the freedom to embrace the unknown while still using my mind and intellect for the glory of God. As St. Gregory of Nyssa (one of the great intellectual Church Fathers) said, “God’s name is not known; it is wondered at.”
Another gem within Ware’s book is his liberal use of quotes from the Church Fathers and Orthodox service books. Most of these quotes were placed before and after each chapter, though he does sprinkle them throughout the body of the chapters. It was through reading these quotes that I was introduced to the Desert Fathers, although it would be years later before I fully realized the spiritual wisdom of these passionate followers of Jesus.
Time does not permit me to expound on the other gems lying within the pages of Bishop Kallistos Ware’s book The Orthodox Way. For far too long the Protestant church in the United States of America has ignored our sisters and brothers in the East. The time has come for us to learn from the Eastern Orthodox Church for “they have a rich heritage of following God and seeing things that we have never seen.”
 Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995), 9.
Though I wrote a book about eschatology, I didn’t actually address the end of the end. I did this on purpose as I believe it is more important to focus on how we are to live life rather than speculating about the end of the end. However, with that said, I do realize that the manner in which one feels the end of the end is going to come does affect how one views life right now. Accordingly I have decided to briefly summarize the four major end of the end viewpoints along with how they fit or don’t fit with the enacted inaugurated eschatology of Kingdom Theology.
However before we get into the different views, I would like to underscore the fact that the Scriptures are largely silent about how the end of the end is going to happen. In fact, the four views we will be looking at shortly are largely the result of a debate about one (1) verse in Revelation 20:2!!! That is right, one verse in the most cryptic and obscured book in the Bible – a book that was largely, I must state, ignored in the early church and almost didn’t make it into the canon.
I call these facts out ahead of time as I want everyone to know that they will find God-fearing Jesus loving bible scholars on all sides of this issues holding a sundry of Scriptures to support their view. How one views Revelation 20:2 depends a lot on where you start your journey from. Hence tread lightly and ponder not only the end time view but how you got there and the results of said position.
The Four Major Views in Historical Order
Amillennialism – started in 1st century
Classic Premillennialism – started in 1st century
Postmillennialism – earliest date is in the mid-17th century
Dispensational Premillennialism – created by John Darby in the 1830s
A Brief Summary of Each View
Amillennialism is the belief that Jesus’ rule and reign began with is death, resurrection, and ascension with the strong man (i.e. satan) being bound at that time. As such, there isn’t a separate 1,000 year reign or “kingdom” that is to come sometime in the future.
This view is one of the oldest views of the end of the end along with classic premillennialism (see below). The Second Ecumenical Council in 381 AD declared amillennialism as the official view of the church with the line “whose kingdom shall have no end” being added to the Nicene Creed. Hence to believe in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed is to believe in amillennialism; though a lot of Protestant will say they follow the creed without realizing the history of this line. The Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox Churches all hold to this view. Dr. Sam Storms’ (a Charismatic Calvinist theologian and pastor) book Kingdom Come is a good resource on the topic.
Amillennialism fits perfectly with Kingdom Theology as both agree that good and bad will coexists in the world until Jesus comes back. This view, by the way, doesn’t require a tribulation as premillennialism does in both its forms (classic and dispensational). This allows proponents to work towards fighting injustice right now with the goal of having a better tomorrow.
This view believes that after Jesus comes back he will rule the earth for 1,000 years before having one last knock out fight with satan. The renewal of the heaven and earth will follow this earthly rule. Classic premillennialism also tends to include a period of tribulation before Jesus’ coming with the rapture happening at the same time as Jesus’ return.
This view grew up in the early church with amillennialism before being declared a heresy in 381 AD at the Second Ecumenical Council (see amillennialism above). The Protestant reformation’s deny of the church creeds and councils allowed it to come back in vogue. A lot of the older Protestant churches still hold to this view of the end of the end. George E. Ladd, who influence on Kingdom Theology cannot be understated, was a big proponent of classic premillennialism.
Inaugurated eschatology fits okay with classic premillennialism as long as the proponent allows for God’s rule and reign to break into this current age. If they say that Jesus’ rule and reign is limited to the 1,000 year millennialism, then there’s a breakdown of compatibility. Classic premillennialism can (but not always) lead to a ‘it’s all going to burn’ mindset which can cause problems with folks fighting injustice and sin in the here and now.
Postmillennialism holds that Jesus tasked the church with fighting injustice. As such, it is the church’s job to set things right (sometimes with Jesus help and sometimes without). Once the majority (or all) of the world’s population have decided to follow Jesus, then he will come back and establish his rule and reign on earth. Since the church must complete their task before Jesus can return, proponents are dedicated to spreading the good news of Jesus and fighting injustice.
The first record of this view point can be found in the Savoy Declaration of 1658 in Protestant England (i.e. it is a modification of the Westminster Confession of Faith). The Age of Enlightenment helped spread the viewpoint as people thought that science, technology, and logic would solve all the world’s problems. While the great wars of the 20th century diminished this viewpoint, it is still out there. Dr. Jonathan Welton, for example, is a modern day Pentecostal/Charismatic teacher who promotes the concept through is books about the “ever advancing kingdom.”
Postmillennialism does not fit well with Kingdom Theology as it relies on a realized eschatology foundation that is at odds with the inaugurated eschatology of Kingdom Theology. Realized eschatology, for those who don’t know, is the belief that all the promises of the kingdom of God are available to believers today. All that is needed is for the believer to step out in faith, prayer, or some other action and take domination back from the evil one. Because the church has full access to things of the new age, the church can complete their mission – or so this mindset goes. Kingdom Theology, on the other hand, see the church as working with Jesus on his mission while good and bad coexists together until the end of the end with Jesus sets things right.
Dispensational premillennialism is similar to classic premillennialism with some very important changes. Namely, dispensationalism draws a hard line between the people of Israel (i.e. ethnic Jews) and the primarily non-Jewish church of the modern era. At the end of the end, the Lord will remove the church (sometimes just the non-Jewish followers, sometimes all believes at the time) via the rapture before kicking off a seven year end time period. During this seven years, the Jewish temple will be restored with animal sacrifices, priests, etc. as the fulfillment of various Old Testament promises. Jesus will return after this seven year time period and set up a 1,000 reign on earth with the last judgment happening after this millennial kingdom.
This is the youngest of the four major views with a start date in the 1830’s. John Darby, a Plymouth Brethren pastor in Ireland, is credited with starting dispensational premillennialism though it was made popular in the USA by Cyrus Scofield and Dwight Moody. Dispensationalism is currently the most popular end time view among USA Protestants as seen by the success of Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ Left Behind series and the influence of Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Plant Earth.
Kingdom Theology and dispensational premillennialism are at odds with each other on a lot of major theological issues. Kingdom Theology, for example, states that there is only, and has always been, just one people of God who are joined to God through grace and faith and not ethnicity. The various dispensations or ages proposed by dispensational proponent also do not fit well with Kingdom Theology (i.e. historically dispensationalism lent itself to cessationism, though this view has been dropped by more recent progressive dispensationalists).
My Current Understanding
In the absence of clear Scriptural evidence I tend to look backwards to history when considering theological positions. As in, what has the church through the ages thought about the issue at hand? Does that viewpoint draw people to Jesus? Does it promote grace, love, peace, and the other fruits of the spirit? Does it help me make sense of this current world and my experiences therein?
Based upon those questions I have largely adopted amillennialism though there are days when I flirt with classic premillennialism. My adoption of amillennialism represents a huge shift in my thinking as my youth and early adult years was spent learning dispensational premillennialism. However the more I studied the issue the more I released that I could no longer support that position…hence my shift towards amillennialism.
This, like I mentioned at the beginning, does not mean that I’m “correct” and other people are “wrong.” Rather it just means that we approach things differently. At the end of the day I’m a firm believer in the fact that Jesus has followers in many different theological camps. We are to follow the example of Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector in laying down our personal views and support each other in following Jesus.
Very few topics within American Christianity have been so fiercely debated over the past hundred years as the way in which one views the first chapter of Genesis. When discussing the origins of the universe it is assumed that faith and science are at odds with each other. This paper will seek to harmonize faith and science by first defining those terms before looking at lessons learned throughout history. After drawing upon the ancient church fathers, a hermeneutical method based upon the incarnation of the Creator God will be proposed as a way to read the Scriptures, most notably Genesis chapter one.
Words have difference meanings depending on the usage of the word and the person using them. When people say that “faith” and “science” are in conflict, they are typically refereeing to one aspect of the words while ignoring their other definitions. The word “faith” for example could refer to a “system of religious beliefs” just as it could mean the “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.”  The same could be said of the definition of “science” with that word meaning a “state of knowing” as “as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding” or a “system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method.” People who see a conflict between faith and science tend to focus on the latter definition of both faith and science while ignoring or dismissing the former definition of faith.
This confusion about the definition of the two words can be readily seen in how one reads Genesis chapter one. Those who hold tightly to the latter definition of science tend to be very skeptical about the manner in which the Scriptures record the origins of the universe as the record does not fit within the modern scientific model of creation. Within American Christianity, this view is promoted by liberal Protestant theology which has embraced modernity and its focus on science to describe the world rather than a reliance on the supernatural. Protestant fundamentalism represents the other side of the conflict with a literalistic hermeneutic that considered six-day creationism as core to the Christian faith.
What is largely forgotten by participants of this conflict is that they are not the first ones to have debated the method of how to read the Scriptures. The church fathers of the first seven hundred years of Christianity readily “expected to find layers of meaning within a biblical text” which lead them to embrace multiple hermeneutic methods ranging from grammatical-historical to typological to allegorical. This allowed St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE) to embrace an allegorical understanding of Genesis chapter one while concluding that it was acceptable if other people understood the Scriptures differently. It must be noted that part of the reason that St. Augustine used an allegorical hermeneutic method when reading Genesis chapter one was because of the skepticism he and others had towards the way the origins of the universe were described in Genesis. He, similar to some today, preferred to let the scientists of his time describe the origins of the universe rather than staying with a literalistic hermeneutic.
The one hermeneutic principle the church fathers all agreed upon, however, is that the Scriptures must be read “through the prism of Christ’s incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension.” The incarnation in particular is very important when learning how the Creator God speaks to his people. Rather than speaking outside of human culture, God choose to enter into history by taking on the flesh of humanity and enter into the 1st century Jewish-Roman culture. This deliberate choice to speak in and through culture and history rather than above or in lieu of culture and history creates an incarnational hermeneutic that will help bridge the divide between faith and science.
Incarnational hermeneutics recognizes that the Scriptures, as Peter Gomes once wrote, is “not a book of science and cannot, in light of modern science, be made to perform like one.” Rather, the “purpose of the Bible is to teach not science but theology, to reveal God and His will to us” as the Eastern Orthodox Church states. Accordingly the Scriptures should be understood as containing glimpses into the scientific understand of the culture during which it was written. This does not diminish or lessen the value of the Scriptures; rather it allows them to speak more clearly without being chained to the “current scientific consensus, which would mean that it would neither correspond to last century’s scientific consensus nor to that which may develop in the next century.” Incarnational hermeneutics also allows science to test and retest new ideas about the origins of the universe without being bound to the ancient cosmology presented in the first chapter of Genesis.
Rather than being in conflict with each other, science and faith are bedfellows who tell different stories to their listeners. Science, as noted by Dr. Francis Collins, is the “only legitimate way to investigate the natural world” while faith “provides another way of finding truth” in answering the questions of the “meaning of human existence, the reality of God, and the possibility of an afterlife.” Not only can a follower of Jesus fully embrace faith in the supernatural, they can also embrace science as a way of exploring the natural world. This blend of faith and science can provide new ways of understanding the Scripture and life that brings to light the amazing hand of a Creator God who deeply cares for all of humanity.
 Merriam-Webster Dictionary, s.v. “Faith.” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/faith [accessed April 16, 2016]
 Merriam-Webster Dictionary, s.v. “Science.” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/science [accessed April 16, 2016]
 Olson, Roger E. The Story of Christian Theology, (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 539
 Olson, Roger E. The Story of Christian Theology, 554-556
 Hall, Christopher A. Reading Scripture With The Church Fathers, (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 132-133.
 Augustine. Confessions, trans. R.S. Pine-Coffin (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1992), 295-296.
 Collins, Francis S. The Language of God (New York: Free Press, 2006), 156-157.
 Hall, Christopher A. Reading Scripture With The Church Fathers, 192.
 Gomes, Peter J. The Good Book: Reading The Bible With Mind and Heart (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1996), 319.
 Coniaris, Anthony M. Introducing the Orthodox Church: Its Faith and Life (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Light and Life Publishing Company, 1982), 154.
 Walton, John H. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 15.
 Collins, Francis S. The Language of God, 228-229.
“As Christians we are always in tension – in anguish and at the same time in bless. This is mad, ridiculous. But it is true – accepting the dark night just as we accept the brilliance of the day.
“We have to make an act of surrender – if I am in Christ, there are moments when I must share the cry of the Lord on the cross and the anguish in the garden of Gethsemane.
“There is a way of being defeated, even in our faith – and this is a way of sharing the anguish of the Lord.
“I don’t believe that we should ever say, ‘This cannot happen to you.’ If we are Christians we should go through this life, accepting the life and the world, not trying to create a falsified world.”–Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh
As noted before (most recently here and here) I have been thinking a lot about the Sovereignty of God/Free Will dilemma and the different worldviews that grow out of our understanding of this mystery. Today I want to explore what Sovereignty of God would look like if seen through Jesus.
Or to rephrase the topic, what kind of king is Jesus and how would he rule?
Before we start, I must admit to a strong presumption that colors everything I see. Namely I believe that Jesus is the most clear picture we have of the Creator King. To see Jesus is to see the Creator (John 14:9). Or has St. Paul wrote, Jesus is the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).
Practically this means that when I seek to know what God the Creator is like, I will look to Jesus as revealed through the four Gospels rather than looking toward the Old Testament or the letters of the New Testament. I know that this method of theology is frown upon by some people…but at this point in my life, this is where I fall. 🙂
Returning to the topic at hand, let us chat a bit about how Jesus would rule. To do this, let us create two lists with words that we would associate with how we would think Jesus would rule and how we would think we humans would rule.
While we could add more words to each list, I think the pattern has been established. Namely the way in which we humans try to rule is vastly different than the way in which Jesus would rule. Knowing this we can now shift our thinking to the way in which we see the Sovereignty of God as typically promoted by evangelical church in the USA. (Sovereignty, by the way, is just another way of saying Kingdom – as in, how one would rule?)
Sovereignty of God(i.e. the typical view of how God rules within the world)
Control – God is in control of everything; nothing happens within the universe that he doesn’t allow
Coercion – Coercion is the practice of persuading someone to do something by user force and/or threats. Under the typical view of the Sovereignty of God, we see a God who threatens humanity with eternal damnation if they don’t follow his rules. Furthermore, humanity and creation doesn’t really have a choice in the matter as God controls every detail of life, including whether or not someone choices to obey or not.
Intervention – Under this view, supernatural events (i.e. healings, miracles, etc.) are typically seen as interventions by God within the world to make sure things continue to go the way he wants it wants it to.
Sovereignty of Jesus (i.e. the rule of the Creator seen through the person of Jesus)
Consent – To consent to something means giving permission for something to happen. It is the opposite of having control, for rather than trying to micro-manage everything one gives away one’s power and authority to others. This attribute can be further broken down into two sub-groups:
Natural Law – Gravity, weather patterns, atoms, plant life, etc… The typical Sovereignty of God view states that since God has complete control over everything, then the weather patterns we are see are directed by God as is the movement of the smallest ant or bacteria. Under the Consent view, the Creator has granted power and authority to the forces of nature to act according to set parameters. For example, gravity always pulls smaller items of mass towards those of greater mass (i.e. things fall downward). Rain, as Jesus said, falls on the just and the injustice (Matthew 5:45) and towers will fall, sometimes killing people and sometimes not (Luke 13:1-5).
Human Freedom (Free Will) – To have love, one must be willing to face rejection. A view of God who has absolute control does not allows for true love, which is one of that view’s greatest weakness. The Sovereignty of Jesus is a rule that consents to give away the power of choices to humanity and creation. The ant can make a decision about where to go just like a human can choice to love Jesus or not. The four Gospels shows this consent beautifully when you see Jesus gave up control over his mission to 12 guys who, at times, truly screwed up. Yet rather jumping in and taking back control, Jesus work with them and taught them a better way to live.
Participation – This is one of the most powerful attribute of a kingdom ruled by Jesus. We know from multiple sources that Jesus was the Creator God who entered into this world as a human. This shows us a ruler who didn’t just set up the universe and then walk away. Rather, we have a Creator who enters into this crazy, screwed up world to show us the way forward. He didn’t give up on us and take back control over every detailed (a fear based action, btw). Rather he joined himself to us in an act of love.
Mediation – Mediation by definition is the act of stepping into a dispute in order to resolve it. Jesus is like this. There are times when he steps in mediate the actions of humanity and the laws of nature. This is what miracles are – mediations by the grace of God in which he in, through, and around the laws of nature and the consent of humanity to resolve the issue at hand.
If I’m completely honest with myself, I can see the draw of having a God who is in complete control over the good and bad things of this crazy world. I can also see the benefits of having a God who controls and coerce me into doing what I do – not to mention having a God who will step in and fix things when the details get a bit off. Under this view, I – Josh Hopping – really don’t have much to do outside of living. If something goes great, awesome! I’m glad God was there. If things go haywire, great! It’s not my fault so talk to God.
I know that this may be a bit critical of the typical Sovereignty of God worldview…yet I believe it captures the essence of that view. Yes, the control and coercion bits can be dampened down a bit with Scripture verses talking about humanity’s choices and actions. This is what Arminianism tries to do in reaction to Calvinism. There is also a neo-Calvinism movement within the USA that tries to dampen things down a bit while staying true to the five-points. However, I would argue that all these sub-movements are nothing more than, to use a common phrase, lipstick on a pig. They try to make the best of a bad foundation rather than solving the underlining issue.
I fully recognize that embracing a consenting, participating and mediating Creator is scary. Living in a world in which bad things happen for no reason – where we have an enemy who is trying to destroy us (i.e. satan and the forces of evil) can be daunting. It can mess your mind and make you wonder how anything could ever happen….
This is why we have the Scriptures and why we have Jesus. The Scriptures give us a story into which we can join; a story that has a beginning, middle and an end. A story of the Creator participating in and among his creation where he does NOT leave his children alone. Rather he binds himself to humanity with promises that he will and has kept. We don’t have to be scared because we know the end of the story even though we may not know all the details.
Jesus. We can never forget or have enough focus on Jesus. He is the reason we can keep walking. He is the Creator God who enter into our world so that we would know that we serve a Creator King who understands the pain, heartache and troubles of this screwed up world. Jesus is our High Priest to whom we can go when times are hard – when our children is in pain, when our life is out of control, when evil seems to have won – and he will receive us with mercy, grace and love (Hebrew 4:14-16).
Jesus, a consenting, participating and mediating Creator who loves and understands each of us individually. Powerful stuff.
For those who are curious, a lot of the material in this post was pulled from my class notes with Dr. Brad Jersak at St Stephen’s University. His book, A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel, also explores this topic a bit. From what I can tell, the view of a consenting, participating and mediating Creator is the view of the Eastern Orthodox Church who did not embrace the view of St. Augustine like the Western church did. (St. Augustine laid the foundation for the controlling, coercing, and intervening view of God that has dominated Christianity within Europe.)