Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Combining Wright's Anticipatory Eschatology With a Pentecostal Epistemology

Green Lake Conference Center,
N.T. Wright writes: "The point is this: the full reality is yet to be revealed, but we can genuinely partake in that final reality in advance. We can draw down some of God’s future into our own present moment. The rationale for this is that in Jesus that future has already burst into our present time, so that in anticipating that which is to come, we are also implementing what has already taken place. This is the framework of thought which makes sense of the New Testament’s virtue ethics." (Wright, N. T. (2010). After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters (pp. 65-66). HarperCollins e-books. Kindle Edition.)

To partake of that final, future reality in the present is to live in anticipation of that coming, glorious reality. It would be like a soccer player who "anticipates" that his opponent will kick the ball in a certain direction and therefore advances himself to the place where he believes the ball will be in a brief but future moment. Or the chess player who moves a piece to a certain position in anticipation of his opponent's future move. Analogously, a Jesus-follower will live out the future in the present in anticipation of that future's full manifestation.

If one has a "Left Behind," "rapture," more "heavenly" eschatological hope, then present life looks like this:
  • The goal is the final bliss of heaven, away from this life of space, time, and matter.
  • This goal is achieved for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus, which we cling to by faith.
  • Christian living in the present consists of anticipating the disembodied, “eternal” state through the practice of a detached spirituality and the avoidance of “worldly” contamination.
If one has a more "earthly" eschatological hope, then present life looks like this:
  • The goal is to establish God’s kingdom on earth by our own hard work.
  • This goal is demonstrated by Jesus in his public career, starting off the process and showing us how to do it.
  • Christian living in the present consists of anticipating the final kingdom-on-earth by working and campaigning for justice, peace, and the alleviation of poverty and distress. 
But if one has a more biblical eschatological hope (as Wright sees things), then present life looks like this:
  • The goal is the new heaven and new earth, with human beings raised from the dead to be the renewed world’s rulers and priests. 
  • This goal is achieved through the kingdom-establishing work of Jesus and the Spirit, which we grasp by faith, participate in by baptism, and live out in love.
  • Christian living in the present consists of anticipating this ultimate reality through the Spirit-led, habit-forming, truly human practice of faith, hope, and love, sustaining Christians in their calling to worship God and reflect his glory into the world. 
Here the Jesus-follower lives at the intersection of heaven and earth, in anticipation of the full restoration of all things.

Wright is trying to establish a Christian "virtue ethics" grounded in a certain eshcatological hope that leads to anticipatory living and experience now, in the present. He is looking at Christian behavior in terms of virtue - "virtue as anticipating-the-life-of-the-age-to-come." Such a framework alows us to "grasp the organic connection between what we are called to do and become in the present and what we are promised as full, genuine human life in the future."

Wright writes: "My contention in this book is that the renewed biblical heaven-and-earth vision, for which I have argued elsewhere, sets a framework within which a genuinely Christian vision of virtue stands out as the best way to think about what to do. The practice and habit of virtue, in this sense, is all about learning in advance the language of God’s new world." (Wright, N. T. (2010). After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters (p. 69). HarperCollins e-books. Kindle Edition.)

I'm with Wright on all of this, but want to add the kind of "pentecostal worldview and epistemology" that James K.A. Smith and others are now advocating. Wright's vision of living at the intersection of heaven and earth is, to me, biblical and compelling. This is where, I think, Jesus lived. I do not, however, see Wright addressing issues of the power available when one lives on the corner of Heaven Street and Earth Avenue. Needed: Wright's anticipatory eschatology combined with a pentecostal epistemology.