Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Eschatological Business: Introduction - A Guest Series by Nathan Hitchcock

Christians work toward a future. This is true of humans generally, who go about their business with some sort of telos in mind, possessed by (or searching for) some kind of hope. It is differently true for believers, who live in the light of divine ends. By the Holy Spirit they hope for God’s future in Jesus Christ. They move forward, stretching toward the coming kingdom. When Christians go about their work as welders, as property managers, as actuaries, as network technicians, as mayors, as retail clerks, they do so as end-time laborers.

The present series can be understood as a response to Tom Nelson’s pastoral plea: “If we are going to do God-honoring work, if we are going to be a faithful presence in our workplaces, then we must grasp in a compelling way that our present work fits into the future that awaits us” (Work Matters, 77). The following offers a constructive framework for the members of the Church to understand their work. It pursues the theme of eschatological business through the lens of the Nicene Creed, namely:
We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,
and to life in the world to come. Amen.
The forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead, and life in the coming world: these three elements constitute God’s final work. What He establishes involves the remission of debts, the raising of the dead to eternal health, and the utter renewal of the cosmos. These three purposes also guide human work. While humans do not and cannot perform such great deeds, men and women in the Spirit participate in penultimate expressions of God’s work by remitting debt, lifting bodies, and renewing the earth.

Before moving forward it is wise to entertain two noteworthy concerns about the project. First, why not ground one’s theology of work in the doctrine of creation? After all, concepts of imago Dei, vocation, stewardship, cultivation, and creation care offer a template for various careers and endeavors. Protology appeals to liberals and evangelicals and Roman Catholics alike, as it gets at a universal definition of humanity and humanity’s purposes on earth. Similarly, a doctrine of creation, rightly phrased, casts a common human pursuit among farmers and pastors and chimneysweeps.

One response is to assess holy scripture. Were Genesis 1-2 paradigmatically determinative for business, one would expect the rest of the canonical documents to harken to creation-principles at frequent intervals. This is not the case. Instead the reader finds a protracted narrative of God calling a fallen people to move forward in the covenant. In the Old Testament the Israelites’ work is usually framed within the Abrahamic or Mosaic parameters, prophetically summoned to a future, and oriented to the glorification of Zion. Likewise, in the New Testament the Church’s activities are usually framed within the mission of Christ, who between His ascension and return pours out His Spirit and opens up life in the end times. In the wake of their Lord’s resurrection the disciples must pursue business in the eschatological economy. No wonder John’s apocalyptic visions lead to an insistence on faithful deeds and a damning critique of the imperial marketplace. No wonder that Paul’s letters to Thessalonica, utterly eschatologically conditioned, are concerned with diligent labor in the here and now. No wonder that 1 Corinthians 15, the great resurrection-chapter, should conclude with an assurance that “your work in the Lord is not in vain” (v.58) and a word about finances (16:1-4). The biblical writers theologize work more in light of the end than the beginning.

Another response is . . .


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