Tomorrow I'm preaching part 3 in my series on work and the topic is "Nothing is Secular." Part of my argument, following many theologians I greatly respect (N.T. Wright, Jurgen Moltmann, and Miroslav Volf, who I'll see next week) is that it is important to consider eschatology when thinking about the theology of work. Actually, I often wonder if all theology boils down to eschatology, but that's another subject.
So, in my research I'm reading this great book by Miroslav Volf, Work in the Spirit, and I ran across this quote, which I'm going to type here at length because I think we Adventist pastor-theologians need to grapple with this. Will I get killed tomorrow for talking about this?
Belief in the eschatological annihilation and responsible social involvement are logically compatible. But they are theologically inconsistent. The expectation of the eschatological destruction of the world is not consonant with the belief in the goodness of creation: what God will annihilate must either be so bad that it is not possible to be redeemed or so insignificant that it is not worth being redeemed. It is hard to believe in the intrinsic value and goodness of something that God will completely annihilate.
And without a theologically grounded belief in the intrinsic value and goodness of creation, positive cultural involvement hangs theologically in air. Hence Christians who await the destruction of the world (and conveniently refuse to live a schizophrenic life) shy away as a rule - out of theological, not logical, consistency - from social and cultural involvement. Under the presupposition that the world is not intrinsically good, the only theologically plausible justification for cultural involvement would be that such involvement diminishes the suffering of the body and contributes to the good of the soul (either by making evangelism possible or by fostering sanctification). Comfort, skill, or beauty - whether it is the beauty of the human body or of some other object - could have no more intrinsic value than does the body itself; they could be merely a means to some spiritual end (Volf, 90-91, emphasis in original).
This, it seems to me, is the elephant in the room for Adventist theology and praxis. Volf makes this statement in a section where he is talking about "Work and New Creation" and drawing a contrast between "Work and the Annihilatio Mundi" and "Work and the Transformatio Mundi". Did you notice how evangelism popped up in this conversation? In other words, if you believe in the Annihilatio Mundi, then social and cultural involvement becomes, at best, a kind of bait for some "spiritual" ends.
Is God's purpose to annihilate the world or transform it? It's a questions I briefly wrote about almost exactly a year ago. I'm really coming to think that if we get the end of the story mixed up, we won't know how to live in the story now. How I enter the narrative of God's redemption today depends on where I think this story is going.
I periodically get questions from people who read this blog. They ask me basically, "Okay, so if this is true, what does it mean for our Adventist eschatology?" I wish I had a great answer for that question. I'm not going to try to answer it here, but it needs to be worked on.
Anyone care to get us started? Is Adventism really married to a particular sequence of events that must transpire exactly like we say in exactly the order that we say?