Our story begins in Genesis 1 and 2. God existed for an eternity before that point, but the story of us and our interaction with the Creator originates at the beginning of the Bible. The Bible then provides, in various genres and from a variety of authors, a developing narrative in which God’s interaction with human beings and creation over time is revealed. Interestingly, the “end” or consummation of the story is also revealed in scripture while the part of the story we live in remains unwritten in any tangible form. This puts us in a fascinating predicament which N. T. Wright in The New Testament and the People of God likens to a Shakespearean play for which we are missing the fifth act. Wright explains,
“The first four acts provide, let us suppose, such a remarkable wealth of characterizations, such a crescendo of excitement within the plot, that it is generally agreed that the play should be staged. Nevertheless it is felt inappropriate to actually write a fifth act once and for all: it would freeze the play in one form, and commit Shakespeare as it were to being prospectively responsible for a work not in fact his own. Better, it might be felt, to give key parts to highly trained, sensitive and experienced Shakespearian actors who would immerse themselves in the first four acts, and in the language and culture of Shakespeare and his time, and who would then be told to work out a fifth act for themselves.”
To modify and expand on Wright’s analogy; what if there were several radically different supposed final scenes floating around which were all proported to be written by Shakespeare? What if, in addition to that, there were several radically different interpretations of the first scene? What if some of the actors, though competent, experienced, and trained, felt that the ending was rather unimportant as long as it ended and they got to go home? Would any or all of these things substantially affect the direction and shape the performance? Would it be possible for there to be several performances of essentially the same play in which the “improvised scene” bore little or no resemblance to one another?
It is my contention that this is exactly the state of affairs we find ourselves in. Within the Christian community there are various and divergent views on Creation. These are not merely surface issues such as the “literal 6 days” controversy. They are deep rooted questions about the nature of creation and God’s attitude toward and plans for what He created. Additionally, there are widely divergent views on the appropriate or intended ending or consummation of the story of God and his creation. Looking at the eschatological discourse on the popular level, one might be led to the conclusion that the most important debate is whether or not a supposed “rapture” occurs before or after a “tribulation” (if it occurs at all), and specifics about the “millennial reign of Christ”. As with the interrelated questions regarding creation, I believe that most of the questions being discussed at the popular level regarding eschatology simply miss the point entirely. I suggest that one’s concept of creation fundamentally shapes one’s eschatology. I further assert that one’s eschatology determines one’s worldview and mission.
(To Be Continued)