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I mean, it's gotta end sometime, right?
October 12, 2010 6:45 AM   Subscribe

"Eschatology" is, generally speaking, the study of the end of the world, but when most people in the US hear the term, they generally think of Christian eschatology.

Specifically, they tend to think of the barrels of ink and that one movie (previously) which have been devoted to the subject over the past couple of decades. Neither seems to have contributed to a wider understanding of the actual theology involved.

The main text in question is obviously the Book of Revelation, though a couple of chapters in Daniel do get some attention. These are where Biblical apocalyptic prophecies are primarily found, though scattered references throughout both Old and New Testaments do show up.

Well, here's a good introduction with some important vocabulary, and a handy reference chart for most of the dominant hermeneutical traditions. Wikipedia has a decent take on the subject too.

Regardless of what you should believe or what's true, or even if you think the whole thing is nonsense, here are the basic positions and who believes them.

- Idealists take the view that the apocalyptic prophecies aren't really referring to historical events at all, beyond the general idea that Good will eventually prevail over evil. There's some blending with amillennialism here, as both do not consider the prophecies' "truth" to be tied to a specific literal fulfillment, but historicists will generally insist that there's a little more than mere poetry going on. A self-described idealist of this sort is more likely to belong to a more liberal Christian tradition--Episcopalianism, the UCC, the Congregationalists, etc.--or at least the liberal wing of their own tradition, as idealism in a variety of forms is a hallmark of liberal theology. There's also a preterist idealist approach, but that's kind of a different animal than most idealist eschatology.

- Preterists believe that most if not all of the apocalyptic prophecies--all those except the ones predicting the actual end of the world and sometimes even that too--were about the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 by the Romans, admittedly a series of events about which one could plausibly write an apocalyptic book if one had a mind to. Partial preterism is actually pretty common, as one need only believe that some of the prophecies, e.g. the beginning of Matt. 24 have been fulfilled. Most Christians who believe something like this don't tend to think of themselves as preterists. Pantelism or "Full Preterism" is a minority position and viewed by most Christian traditions as heretical, as it teaches that the "Second Coming" didn't involve the end of the world or any resurrection at all, but merely an archetypical inauguration of the kingdom with the destruction of the Jewish nation. Needless to say, this isn't given a lot of serious thought by most Christians today, and since most Full Preterists reject the Christian creeds entirely--what's the point if the end has already come?--the feeling is pretty much mutual. Full preterism can be viewed as a species of Christian universalism, again, a minority position.

- Historicists believe that the prophecies in the Bible are about the church age in general, not any specific, singular event, other than the end of the world, and most of the traditional mainline denominations--the Roman Catholic Church as well as the Orthodox (though there's some idealism in Orthodoxy, to be sure), Anglican, Lutheran and Reformed traditions--fall in here somewhere. The main view here is referred to as amillennlialism, and Augustine was the first major theologian to systematize the view, which has been the dominant eschatological perspective in Christianity since about the fifth century. In its most refined form, the amillennial tradition views Revelation as a series of seven overlapping visions all describing the same general events, i.e. the trials of the church in the world until the end of the age in the sudden, triumphant return of Christ.

- Futurists believe that the prophecies are almost all to be fulfilled at some point in the future, i.e. just before the final end of the world. This view includes postmillennialism and premillennialism. The basic postmillennial view is that the kingdom of heaven will gradually but inexorably be made manifest in the world, things getting better and better, until the return of Christ once the kingdom of perfected. Definitely an optimistic view, and one which actually had a large following among the original nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Progressives. The events between 1861-1865, and then 1913-1945 kind of took the wind out of the movement's sails, but it's still around, mostly located in Christian Reconstructionist groups around the fringes of the mainstream Reformed tradition which have nevertheless had an influence far out of proportion to their numbers.

But futurism also includes the big kahuna of contemporary eschatology, premillennialism. Premillennialism is found mostly in your broadly evangelical traditions, i.e. Baptist traditions, non-denominational churches (Lots in that one), and charismatic/Pentecostal denominations. Premillennialism is where things get... funky... especially when we're talking about dispensational premillennialism, which lends itself to charts.

Dispensationalism is a rather recent theological trend, the wider implications of which are interesting but not immediately relevant. Suffice it to say that dispensationalists tend to read Scripture with painstaking literalism, generally not even permitting other passages of Scripture to inform their interpretations. Dispensationalists focus most of their eschatological attention on two issues.

- The Great Tribulation is identified by dispensational premillennialists as a distinct seven year period to occur at some point in the future, and which has proven ample nightmare fodder for the sorts of scare tactics which have traumatized countless American teenagers starting in the 1970s.

- The Rapture is the event at which dispensationalists believe that Christians will disappear from the world en masse. When the Rapture happens with respect to the Great Tribulation is a point of considerable debate in dispensational circles, but pretty much only dispensational premillennialists believe in a Rapture at all, so the conversation doesn't really extend from there.

Any of these can take on an annihilationist flavor, particularly if you're Eastern Orthodox, which is traditionally more friendly to that view.

So, that's cleared that up, right?
posted by valkyryn (94 comments total) 143 users marked this as a favorite

 
Prosperity theology: Monetize the Eschaton!
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:48 AM on October 12, 2010 [25 favorites]


Two things:

1) If I've misstated your tradition's position, please, feel free to offer a corrective. My knowledge of Western Christianity is decent but uneven, and I'm a little fuzzy on Eastern Christianity especially.

2) I know there are plenty of MeFites who aren't Christians, theists, or even deists, but it would probably be helpful if commenters didn't view this as an opportunity to snark about Christianity per se. I'd like to think there's more than enough to talk about here without going down that road.
posted by valkyryn at 6:48 AM on October 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


Really nicely put together, valkyryn. I've never heard of the Preterists before. I mean, I knew about the ideas, but wasn't aware there was a designation for them - or that a significant number of Christians took that position - which incidentally is the one I lean towards myself.

it would probably be helpful if commenters didn't view this as an opportunity to snark about Christianity per se

This.
posted by AdamCSnider at 6:58 AM on October 12, 2010


Eh, sorry. It just popped into my head. A mod can remove my above comment if it's going to start a flame war. Don't mean to go there.

Millennialism is interesting to me for no other reason than its staying power. There have been Millennialists who thought the end times were at hand for over 1000 years, now. Revelations is so weird and vague that it's not hard to apply it to whatever times you're living in.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:00 AM on October 12, 2010


Kirk Cameron projects don't contribute to an understanding of theology?

There goes my planned thesis: "Predestination in Growing Pains".
posted by Joe Beese at 7:03 AM on October 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Eh, sorry. It just popped into my head.

Dude, that was an awesome comment. I want it to stay.
posted by valkyryn at 7:07 AM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I predict another big wave of this stuff in pop culture as vampires die down.

That's right - I am a prophet!
posted by Artw at 7:07 AM on October 12, 2010


Meh this stuff is so 1999.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:13 AM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


JK, this is a great post. It's weird how I knew this phrase but not where it came from or why. Thanks valkyryn!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:14 AM on October 12, 2010


I predict another big wave of this stuff in pop culture as vampires die down.

It depends if you believe this stuff is cyclical or aggregational. I think there's going be be a boom in morally ambiguous vampires fighting the demon-posessed bodies (which just so happen to resemble zombies) of those who weren't bodily ascended into heaven after the Rapture. Also, werewolves.
posted by griphus at 7:16 AM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


(Also, Christian eschatology is something I love reading about. Awesome post!)
posted by griphus at 7:17 AM on October 12, 2010


This is a really cool post, valkyryn. Thanks!
posted by specialagentwebb at 7:18 AM on October 12, 2010


Devils Rancher: "Prosperity theology: Monetize the Eschaton!"

Let's make that "I'ma Monetize the Eschaton!" and it's perfect.
posted by Drastic at 7:20 AM on October 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'd like to mention a couple of things. First, an alternate, Greek-derived word for Millennialism is Chiliasm, which really, really sounds like it should mean something else altogether.

Second, I like Martin Luther's preface to his translation of the Revelation:
About this Book of the Revelation of John, I leave everyone free to hold his own opinions. I would not have anyone bound to my opinion or judgment. I say what I feel. I miss more than one thing in this book, and it makes me consider it to be neither apostolic nor prophetic.

First and foremost, the apostles do not deal with visions, but prophesy in clear and plain words, as do Peter and Paul, and Christ in the gospel. For it befits the apostolic office to speak clearly of Christ and his deeds, without images and visions. Moreover there is no prophet in the Old Testament, to say nothing of the New, who deals so exclusively with visions and images. For myself, I think it approximates the Fourth Book of Ezra; I can in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it.

Moreover he seems to me to be going much too far when he commends his own book so highly [Revelation 22]—indeed, more than any of the other sacred books do, though they are much more important—and threatens that if anyone takes away anything from it, God will take away from him, etc. Again, they are supposed to be blessed who keep what is written in this book; and yet no one knows what that is, to say nothing of keeping it. This is just the same as if we did not have the book at all. And there are many far better books available for us to keep.

Many of the fathers also rejected this book a long time ago; although St. Jerome, to be sure, refers to it in exalted terms and says that it is above all praise and that there are as many mysteries in it as words. Still, Jerome cannot prove this at all, and his praise at numerous places is too generous.

Finally, let everyone think of it as his own spirit leads him. My spirit cannot accommodate itself to this book. For me this is reason enough not to think highly of it: Christ is neither taught nor known in it. But to teach Christ, this is the thing which an apostle is bound above all else to do; as Christ says in Acts 1[:8], “You shall be my witnesses.” Therefore I stick to the books which present Christ to me clearly and purely.
(Original German; English translation)
posted by jedicus at 7:20 AM on October 12, 2010 [26 favorites]


Here's what I'm genuinely curious about -- I know there were various councils held in the earliest day of Chritianity to decide what to keep in the bible, and what was apocryphal. How is it that Revelations was chosen as a canonical work? I'd be interested in reading a good dipassionate book about how the various councils chose what to put in and what to leave out of what we consider the canonical New Testament today.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:23 AM on October 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


dispensationalists tend to read Scripture with painstaking literalism

Eh, not really. I mean, that's how they'd describe it to you, sure, but if you ask Tim LaHaye to describe his timeline of the End Times, it'll be 'the beginning of this sentence in Revelation 12 followed by three words from Psalms after which you jump back to Revelation 6 and then read two verses from Daniel, then another chapter from Revelation, then a bit from Matthew followed by just a bit of Ezekiel, I mean it's just taking the Bible literally as God's word!'
posted by shakespeherian at 7:30 AM on October 12, 2010 [11 favorites]


... and I feel fine.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:30 AM on October 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Here's a decent discussion of the development of the Christian canon. Revelation apparently showed up on proposed lists of canon books almost right away, but it remained in some dispute through the end of the second century, in no small part due to the fact that it was a favorite text of Montanus, who has condemned as a heretic. By the fourth century, the canon was pretty much a settled issue, and Revelation was on the list.
posted by valkyryn at 7:33 AM on October 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Awesome post, valkryn!

In my copious spare time I collect and (occasionally) review Christian rapture novels. The Thief In The Night, Late Great Planet Earth style stuff has slowly but steadily morphed until there are now discernable sub-genres with their own tropes, as strongly established as "techno thriller" versus "mystery."

My favorite kind at the moment is the "Most Recent Election Projected Forward Twenty Years With Demons" novel. When Clinton took office that genre kicked right up. Another popular subtype -- typified by the popular Left Behind series -- is the Theology Gloat, in which authors who normally write nonfiction about their end-times theology take it to narrative, where they can tell a story in which their ideas all happen to be right.
posted by verb at 7:33 AM on October 12, 2010 [10 favorites]


So, that's cleared that up, right?

Much as I need it to be. Thanks.
posted by Ahab at 7:34 AM on October 12, 2010


That Montanism wikipedia article would be a great start for an alt-religious-history novel.
posted by muddgirl at 7:46 AM on October 12, 2010


I can't think about Eschaton without thinking about Infinite Jest. Which is about the only thing awesomer than this post.
posted by sonika at 7:49 AM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thank God the dispensational premillennialists haven't discovered Powerpoint.
posted by Mcable at 7:50 AM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't think about Eschaton without thinking about Infinite Jest. Which is about the only thing awesomer than this post.

What sonika said. Where, oh where, is Eschaton the board game?
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:00 AM on October 12, 2010


Thank God the dispensational premillennialists haven't discovered Powerpoint.

Oh, but they have.

Which reminds me: dispensational premillennialists are likely to have a Zionist streak about a mile wide. Modern Jews, needless to say, tend to be pretty nonplussed by the whole thing.
posted by valkyryn at 8:02 AM on October 12, 2010


Where, oh where, is Eschaton the board game?

Or even better, Eschaton the iPhone app. Actually, it's probably for the best that that doesn't exist because it seems like if it did, it just might be the Samizdat.
posted by sonika at 8:03 AM on October 12, 2010


We will know we have reached the end of days when earth bears 1,000-mile tall flaming letters stating: "This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments."
posted by chinston at 8:03 AM on October 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thank God the dispensational premillennialists haven't discovered Powerpoint.

Oh, they have. And it's as bad as you'd think.

Shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, really. A lot of evangelical churches use PowerPoint to project the lyrics of hymns and sermon bullet points. It's quite odd, watching hundreds or even thousands of people singing together while staring enraptured (heh) at a projector screen. Even more oddly, in some churches the screen is positioned such that when it's deployed it covers the cross or altar. There's a metaphor in there somewhere...
posted by jedicus at 8:04 AM on October 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm fairly certain that if the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse shows up, he'll have a Power Point presentation to the effect of:

Seal Number: 4 posted by Dr. Zira at 8:16 AM on October 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


And it's as bad as you'd think.

I want that first slide tattooed on my back.
posted by theodolite at 8:17 AM on October 12, 2010


I was raised by dispensational premillennialists (Southern Baptists) and had no idea growing up that other Christian churches had differing views on the "End Times." I've since become (mostly) athiest, but I'm not sure I can ever get over the fear that doctrine instilled in me. I cringe even describing myself as in any way an athiest. The doctrine is incredibly effective at getting people to stay within the fold.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 8:17 AM on October 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, they have. And it's as bad as you'd think.

Eeew. I'm glad I got away from the Southern Baptists before that took hold. It's all too business-managementy to feel right.

I'd like to think Six Sigma is the sign of the true antichrist.
posted by Mcable at 8:20 AM on October 12, 2010


Sure it's immature, but I love eschatological humor.l
posted by Eideteker at 8:26 AM on October 12, 2010 [8 favorites]


I'm fairly certain that if the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse shows up, he'll have a Power Point presentation to the effect of:

Taken from this Revelation PowerPoint presentation: posted by jedicus at 8:31 AM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


As someone raised as outside the millennial fold as possible, learning about the apocalypse (lifting of the veil?) in high school and Paradise Lost in college, I continue to confuse "eschatology" with "scatology"--no offense to anyone inteneded.

(As a child I also confused the radio commercials for "Castro Convertibles" a local sofabed purveyor with the Cuban Revolution and was too shy to ask for an explanation. So probably it's just me.)
posted by emhutchinson at 8:33 AM on October 12, 2010


dispensational premillennialists are likely to have a Zionist streak about a mile wide. Modern Jews, needless to say, tend to be pretty nonplussed by the whole thing.

Aren't some of them searching frantically for a red calf so they can use it to encourage Jews to build a Third Temple and thus begin the immanentization? I can only imagine how well that project would go in the incredibly unlikely event that it got off the ground.
posted by Copronymus at 8:34 AM on October 12, 2010


I am so pleased to see multiple DFW references already. Well done, MetaFilter.
posted by Klieserber at 8:35 AM on October 12, 2010


Suffice it to say that dispensationalists tend to read Scripture with painstaking literalism, generally not even permitting other passages of Scripture to inform their interpretations.

Well, as long as we understand "painstaking literalism" to mean "taken out of context and reassembled to mean whatever the hell I want," yes. Fred from Slacktivist revisits this over and over during his monumental (and possibly eternal) review/takedown of the Left Behind books. If you want to read a Lefty Evangelical's musings on all things Christian, he is your man.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:37 AM on October 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Aren't some of them searching frantically for a red calf so they can use it to encourage Jews to build a Third Temple and thus begin the immanentization?

Weirdly I just read about that in Robert Charles Wilson's SF novel Spin.
posted by Artw at 8:39 AM on October 12, 2010


Aren't some of them searching frantically for a red calf so they can use it to encourage Jews to build a Third Temple and thus begin the immanentization? I can only imagine how well that project would go in the incredibly unlikely event that it got off the ground.

Ah yes, the Red Heifer. Earlier this year there were claims that one had been produced and was 'alive and well in an undisclosed location in Israel.' Of course, they also believe that the Dome of the Rock must be destroyed in order for the Third Temple to be built in its place, which just might present some difficulties.
posted by jedicus at 8:41 AM on October 12, 2010


Well, as long as we understand "painstaking literalism" to mean "taken out of context and reassembled to mean whatever the hell I want," yes.

That is, unfortunately, what "literalism" tends to mean in Biblical hermeneutical terms. I can see the argument for taking things "literally" when the Bible is explicitly recounting what it presents as a historical event, but dispensationalists tend to read the entire Bible as if it were a nineteenth-century historical monograph, with hilariously disturbing results.
posted by valkyryn at 8:55 AM on October 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


For a fantastic work of social history putting medieval millenarianism in context, there's Norman Cohn's classic The Pursuit of the Millennium, which I heartily recommend - it was influential on Debord and the Situationists too, apparently.
posted by Abiezer at 9:02 AM on October 12, 2010


jedicus - Your Martin Luther quotation reminds me of another quote attributed to him. When asked what he would do if he knew the world would end tomorrow, Luther is purported to have said, "I would plant a tree today."

The point, I think, of that quote is similar to what (Anglican) Bishop N.T. Wright has been saying in his recent books about heaven and the resurrection and the end of the world.

Wright argues (and I think this what Luther believed and would have meant by that quote) is that while there may be a "premillennial" crisis, perhaps with rapture and tribulations, at the end of the world, God's ultimate purpose is to create a New Heaven and New Earth which is not starting over with a blank slate, but is more like taking the current broken world and resurrecting it into a state that is good and whole.

Modern fundamentalists and evangelicals have tended to think of the end of the world as dumping this one in the trash, making it pointless to bother too much to take care of it. So you had Reagan's Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, telling Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ.

Wright (following C.S. Lewis and many others) argues that the biblical view is that God's New Earth will be recreated from the seeds of the good things that are done today. That by doing good, by taking care of those in need, by caring for the earth, by showing mercy, by making peace, it is possible to enjoy right now a taste of God's coming kingdom.

Wright differs from the "Futurists." He doesn't think the world will slowly get better until it is perfected. He thinks the ultimate establishment of God's kingdom will require more direct intervention. But because the New Earth will be a resurrection of this world, even the smallest good thing we do will continue and be glorified into something even more wonderful.

Martin Luther would plant his tree, not just too look busy when Jesus gets back, but believing that the good we do now will be the seeds from which God brings forth the heavenly world to come.
posted by straight at 9:07 AM on October 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


It's probably worth mentioning that that Luther quote is apocryphal.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:13 AM on October 12, 2010


(The one about planting a tree, that is.)
posted by shakespeherian at 9:13 AM on October 12, 2010


It's quite odd, watching hundreds or even thousands of people singing together while staring enraptured (heh) at a projector screen.

And they get upset when the President this President reads from a teleprompter.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:13 AM on October 12, 2010


(This website argues that the James Watt story is a drastic misinterpretation of what Watt actually said and meant, and that the most-repeated quotation from Watt is a straight-up fabrication.)
posted by straight at 9:14 AM on October 12, 2010


It should be noted that the Peshitta from the Church Of The East (aka Nestorians) didn't contain Revelations (as well as 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, & Jude), so they were able to sidestep a lot of the ridiculousness that has emerged from that book.

It has been my experience in the time I spent in Lutheran, Episcopalian and even Eastern Orthodox churches, that the amillennial understanding is a mix of preterist and historic categories that valkyryl laid out. I've had many, many discussions about "the endtimes" with a host of different priests and pastors in these denominations, and the overall general understanding imparted to me is that the events in John's Revelation are about the era surrounding the AD 70 destruction of the temple AND is also and exposition on Christ, the Church and the hope that they offer for all believers until Christ returns. And they all also generally believe that the Revelation is given too much attention, is way too easily misinterpreted -- especially by lay-people without the historical and theological background to understand its place in the canon -- and takes away from the most important elements of Christianity as given in the beatitudes.
posted by bionic.junkie at 9:29 AM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hooray, an eschatology post!

I personally vacillate between a belief in some terminal eschaton of global disarmament, (something along the lines of Father Dear's vision) and the late writings of Rev. Dr. King - a more pragmatic approach to a "possible" future destination" - the arc of history terminating in beloved community, justice for all, etc. Perhaps a world disarmed might take one hundred thousand years to manifest itself - in which case all us peaceniks, Quakers and such, might be lauded as the "early Christians." Either way, I do believe the beloved community bursts forth in small sparks, Moltmann writes in Theology of Hope: “The theory of world-transforming, future-seeking missionary practice does not search for eternal orders in the existing reality of the world, but for possibilities that exist in the world in the direction of the promised future...of the righteousness, the life and the kingdom of God.”
Letting my practice influence my theology - I certainly have glimpsed visions of the eternally reconciled family at church, mainly at potluck dinners, or in hospital rooms. Once, clearly, at an SOA protest. Definitely while working with Christian peacemakers in the West Bank. It's exciting, transformational stuff. Either way, for me, biblically - Jesus commissions the seventy to go out ahead of him, spreading a message of peace, curing the sick, and announcing that “the kingdom of God has come near to you.” The Kindom is preceded by Christian laborers and appears to them after they have done the work that Christ has asked of them. They do not go out seeking a destination, rather, the destination follows in their wake. I believe this is how the Christian should be called to act, sowing seeds for a harvest of justice and peace - not idly sitting on their hands, thinking magical thoughts about some great fiery war and a creation in ruins.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:54 AM on October 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Jedicus -- thanks for sharing that Martin Luther piece. I'd never heard of his views on this before.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:04 AM on October 12, 2010


At the risk of sounding like I'm bashing:

When I was a teen, this scared the hell out of me. I believe that was less because I thought the world would come to an end, and more that people who genuinely believed it freaked me out. I have never been a Biblical literalist, even as a teen, but I had more than a few end-of-the-world scenarios floating around in my imagination.

In boot camp, the only "recreational" reading we were allowed (as if we had time!) was religious material. It was in boot camp that I kind of confronted a few of these things that worried me so much as a teen. I pushed myself through reading Revelations... and I never, ever worried about it again, 'cause I didn't see how it could make any sense to anyone.

It's good to confront your fears, I guess.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:12 AM on October 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's good to confront your fears, I guess.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 1:12 PM on October 12


So, uh, not eponysterical then?

Oh, and did you know that MeFi accounts for half the links on the front page if you google that word to get the spelling right?
posted by widdershins at 10:35 AM on October 12, 2010


They do not go out seeking a destination, rather, the destination follows in their wake.

Is that yours, Baby_B? Cos that's a keeper.
posted by everichon at 10:40 AM on October 12, 2010


Where, oh where, is Eschaton the board game?

I'd like to see the ruleset for an acausal board game. (different Eschaton)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:48 AM on October 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Very, very well done post. Thanks!
posted by zarq at 10:49 AM on October 12, 2010


There is only one thing I can say on a thread like this that won't get me into trouble, so I'll say it. Good post.
posted by Decani at 10:49 AM on October 12, 2010


> In my copious spare time I collect and (occasionally) review Christian rapture novels

Are there any that are enjoyable to read, if one isn't a Christian? I love the idea of the Left Behind books, but don't want to read them. Just books like them. But better.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:58 AM on October 12, 2010


The more I studied the Bible, the more I thought the clearest and best line about the eschaton was in Acts 3:21--and it's almost completely overlooked in the books that focus on the end times.

"He [Jesus] must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets."

The Biblical vision (as expressed in Luke-Acts, anyway) is a restoration of what has been lost, a rebuilding of the ruins. I think that's a lot more compelling that destruction and plagues and hordes of scorpiony demon things. But in the end, Revelation gets there, too. "He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!' Then he said, 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'" (21:5)

I think one of the tests for an authentically Biblical eschatology is how well it incorporates the pretty clear teaching that Jesus is coming back and setting everything as it should be. N.T. Wright has been doing some excellent teaching along these lines, IMHO.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:03 AM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Are there any that are enjoyable to read, if one isn't a Christian? I love the idea of the Left Behind books, but don't want to read them. Just books like them. But better.

I'm not sure the themes would translate well without the religious overtones.

Are you looking for apocalypse stories, or something different?
posted by zarq at 11:04 AM on October 12, 2010


I think that's a lot more compelling that destruction and plagues and hordes of scorpiony demon things.

What. How could anything be more compelling than scorpiony demon things?!
posted by shakespeherian at 11:06 AM on October 12, 2010


everichon: Yeah! That's actually all me (though it is by no means an original thought, I mean, millions of Christians pray to God to make them "ambassadors of justice," "Heralds of the coming Kingdom," "instruments of peace," etc.). Pretty much everything else I have to say about the eschaton in my systematics is heavily influenced by Dear, Wink, Moltmann and King.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:29 AM on October 12, 2010


Are there any that are enjoyable to read, if one isn't a Christian? I love the idea of the Left Behind books, but don't want to read them. Just books like them. But better.
The ones that would be interesting to a mass market are thematically indistinguishable from your traditional disaster epics or Zombie Apocalypse stories: the arc revolves around a sudden, catastrophic event and a progression of terrible things happening until the day is saved. The problem is that there isn't a lot of incentive for anyone to write a book like that in the "Rapture Fiction" genre without also stuffing the story full of pet theology like a narrative thanksgiving turkey.

So inevitably it turns into a kind of rarefied kitsch, with a lot of the enjoyment coming from recognizing of specific trope, authorial hobby-horses, and so on. "Ooooh, he's a Lindesy-ite!" vs. "Oh, her work heavily influenced by the Satanic Ritual Abuse stuff in the 80s and 90s..." Eventually I want to be the jscott of Rapture fiction and Charismatic self-help books.

I'm not proud of enjoying as much as I do, but hey, I am what I am.
posted by verb at 11:32 AM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Great post.

As someone who was raised to believe these things as absolute truth with the penalty for doubt being exclusion and expulsion from not only church but family, posts like this are extremely cathartic. It's bad enough this was sold as fact, years later it's hard to tell other people about this stuff without a glazed look in their eyes as they stare and wonder how it was possible to interpret any of this as truth.

I have heard people make comments about how ridiculous this all must seem, and I agree with you. But I'm saying that now as an adult. There were no adults to trust outside of the ones who believed this because they had been labeled "sinners" and were to be avoided, unless we were trying to convert them.

I enjoy reading the information here on Metafilter because it serves a few purposes for me:

1) It lets me know that there are people who know, who remember, who are trying to make sense of this. When it's sold to you as a child as Absolute, it's hard to let go of that without it affecting your view of the world.

2) It's okay to talk about.

3) It's okay to let go.

Thanks again, valkyryn.
posted by hgswell at 12:47 PM on October 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'd like to see the ruleset for an acausal board game. (different Eschaton)

Whatever happened to that causality violating RTS game?
posted by Artw at 12:52 PM on October 12, 2010


Are there any that are enjoyable to read, if one isn't a Christian? I love the idea of the Left Behind books, but don't want to read them. Just books like them. But better.

Would Good Omens count?
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:53 PM on October 12, 2010


Whatever happened to that causality violating RTS game?

Looks like it's still being developed. They just released version 0.6 yesterday.

posted by jedicus at 1:08 PM on October 12, 2010


Oh. Another connection between "Gravity's Rainbow", and "Infinite Jest": now I know what Pynchon meant by Preterite, and what Wallace meant by Eschaton. Thank for the great post.
posted by jetsetsc at 1:08 PM on October 12, 2010


Looks like it's still being developed. They just released version 0.6 yesterday.

Heavy... emphasis... on DLC... sapping interest...

posted by Artw at 1:10 PM on October 12, 2010


Just wanted to throw in that not all premillenialists are dispensationists. I think I am premil but I know I am NOT dispensationist.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:10 PM on October 12, 2010


To be pedantic: it's REVELATION. Singular.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:31 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


What hgswell said, exactly. Thanks for putting that into words. I've felt the same way about most of the discussions about Christianity here on dear metafilter. Once I stepped away from that world, it was *years* before I had enough distance to discuss it openly and honestly with anyone. All better now, I've made sense of it, bruises healed, etc. But still the intelligence, humor, and perspective of these conversations feels really good, and is really helpful. Thanks.
posted by mrettig at 1:38 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Are there any that are enjoyable to read, if one isn't a Christian? I love the idea of the Left Behind books, but don't want to read them. Just books like them. But better.

In the not-really-but-maybe-but-not-really category: The Name Of the Rose, by Umberto Eco. The possibility of the end-times play a major role in the book.

It's definitely better. I don't even need to know what book you are thinking of to be pretty confident that it's better than that.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 1:55 PM on October 12, 2010


jedicus:

Wow. I spent my youth in a Lutheran school but never heard that quote about Revelation, though it completely articulates everything about the book that has ever made me view it kind of askew. Thank you so much for that, it makes me feel far less conflicted about my personal inclination to consider it a somewhat questionable inclusion.
posted by hegemone at 2:01 PM on October 12, 2010


Are there any that are enjoyable to read, if one isn't a Christian? I love the idea of the Left Behind books, but don't want to read them. Just books like them. But better.

I am rather fond of the funky 70s vibe of The Seven Last Years, but I wouldn't call it literature.

The most interesting thing about that book is that it was written by the grandmother of the woman who achieved internet fame by Tweeting her abortion, and now goes by @antitheistangie on Twitter, and is a rabid atheist. Her blog mentions that Grandma was also a crazy child-abusing faith healer though, which takes a lot of the fun out of reading her book.

/nerdy 'bout eschatology
posted by emjaybee at 2:11 PM on October 12, 2010


Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

-Robert Frost

I guess I belong to the Frostian branch of eschatology.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:12 PM on October 12, 2010


Oh forgot to link to Therefore, Repent, a graphic novel treatment of the Rapture/Tribulation from a nonbelieving POV--haven't read it yet but looks interesting.
posted by emjaybee at 2:13 PM on October 12, 2010


I think I am premil but I know I am NOT dispensationist.

St. Alia, that's certainly possible, but it isn't terribly common. Historic premillennialism pretty much died out with the rise of dispensationalism. It is the older view though: anyone described as premillennial before the nineteenth century would have been a historic premillennialist.

Now the view sort of hangs on around the fringes. Most people who aren't dispensationalist tend not to find premillennialism all that compelling.

I'm just sayin'.
posted by valkyryn at 2:18 PM on October 12, 2010


There are lots of different brands of dispensationalists, of course - LeHaye's particular idea that the tribulation starts not with the rapture but with Israel signing a peace treaty, for example, isn't universal.
posted by muddgirl at 2:32 PM on October 12, 2010


Also, as an American atheist who advocates for social and economic justice, and who recognizes the unique place that Christian organizations hold in this struggle (as the Foundation Beyond Belief does, for example), I can't help but feel discouraged when I think that a large minority of the US population nominally believes not just that we're going to hell in a handbasket, but that there's nothing we can do about it -- and I'm not talking about just premillenialists. There are a lot of liberal believers and non-believers who subscribe to this cynicism. I guess the difference is that a minority of folks believe that hastening this journey will quicken their own reward...
posted by muddgirl at 2:45 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh forgot to link to Therefore, Repent, a graphic novel treatment of the Rapture/Tribulation from a nonbelieving POV--haven't read it yet but looks interesting.

I was pretty let down by Therefore, Repent, as it eventually undermines its own premise in what attempts to be a surprise twist.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:59 PM on October 12, 2010


Not very much longer -- the Rapture's coming May 21, 2011 with the end of the world to follow on October 21. It was supposed to be September 1994, but mistakes were made. (One of the things I love about end of the world movements is that the prophets get a free calculation error before the believers give up on them.)
posted by Zed at 4:16 PM on October 12, 2010


They could always hold it annually like X day.
posted by Artw at 4:25 PM on October 12, 2010


(One of the things I love about end of the world movements is that the prophets get a free calculation error before the believers give up on them.)

Sometimes you get a lot more than one. The Watchtower Society, aka the Jehovah's Witnesses, who as far as I can tell don't fit in this analysis at all as they're not generally considered Christians by the rest of the church*, have predicted the return of Christ about a dozen times in the last century. They've got over seven million members worldwide, and though they've stopped picking dates, they're still basically at it.

*Christianity encompasses a remarkably wide range of belief, but if you aren't trinitarian, like the JWs, you're out.
posted by valkyryn at 5:34 PM on October 12, 2010


St. Alia, that's certainly possible, but it isn't terribly common. Historic premillennialism pretty much died out with the rise of dispensationalism. It is the older view though: anyone described as premillennial before the nineteenth century would have been a historic premillennialist.

We covered the main four views of end times in my theology II course. My pastor/instructor (former Catholic, now nondenominational Charismatic/calvinist -yup, that's rare too)-leans toward amillennial. He basically said two of the four views made the most sense, the other view being the historical premillenial that I'm pretty sure I subscribe to. He went into considerable detail teaching us why the dispensationalist viewpoint HAD to be wrong if one was biblically consistent.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:58 PM on October 12, 2010


I forgot to say I will give up the premillenialism way before I would even deign to consider dispensationalism.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:00 PM on October 12, 2010


I can't help but feel discouraged when I think that a large minority of the US population nominally believes not just that we're going to hell in a handbasket, but that there's nothing we can do about it

If the reference is helpful, a goodly number of thoughtful Christians have a perspective very similar to J.R.R. Tolkien's elves. They loved the world they lived in and worked for its good, even willing to die for an important enough cause, despite their knowledge that their hope was always in the West.
"Now thou shalt go at last to Gondolin, Turgon, . . . and I will maintain my power. . . so that none shall. . . any more find there the hidden entrance against thy will. Longest of all the reals of the Eldalie shall Gondolin stand against Melkor. But love not too well the work of thy hands and the devices of thy heart; and remember that the true hope of the Noldor lieth in the West and cometh from the Sea."*
Similar It seems pretty clear that Tolkien was working out his eschatology, among other things, in his mythos, channeling passages like the following:
Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. . . .

. . .For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. . . . I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
That's from Jeremiah 29, of all places,** but it hardly describes the attitude of someone who thinks that we shouldn't care about the world we live in because it's all going to burn anyway. I think you'll find that a lot of thoughtful Christians have a conflicted attitude towards this present age, but it's one that encompasses a love for the world and the people in it, even as it recognizes that the eschaton, however conceived, is where true hope lies. It's a balancing act, a truth within tension, and as is so common in other areas of theology, Christians frequently err by falling off one side or the other. For every Christian that has completely forgotten the love of the world, there's one that's completely forgotten the need for heaven.

Even worse, sometimes you find people who have forgotten both. So you get the sort of fire and brimstone, it's-all-gonna-burn types whose religion is nothing more than civil religion, i.e. patriotism. So not only does he think the earth is gonna burn, but he doesn't even have a solution for it. I'm looking at you, evangelical Tea Partiers.

*The Silmarillion, p. 125

**This is actually applicable. Christian theologians generally associate the church with Israel-in-Babylon, i.e. a people who have already experienced God's great act of salvation but who are still living in the world, apart from the Kingdom.
posted by valkyryn at 7:37 PM on October 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Oh forgot to link to Therefore, Repent, a graphic novel treatment of the Rapture/Tribulation from a nonbelieving POV--haven't read it yet but looks interesting.

Feel free to check out the Clearbits torrent of it instead. I enjoy post-apocalyptic scenarios, and found it an interesting twist .

(also, you can buy direct from the writer rather than Amazon. I bought the digital version of the sequel that way.)
posted by WhackyparseThis at 11:13 PM on October 12, 2010


I'm working my way through this post slowly. Wikipedia tells me that Revelation was written towards the end of the first century - so do Preterists hold that it's basically describing current events rather than making a prediction?
posted by harriet vane at 5:53 AM on October 13, 2010


do Preterists hold that it's basically describing current events rather than making a prediction?

There is a tradition which suggests authorship around AD 68-69, but the majority opinion puts it around AD 95. Preterists would necessarily hold to the former, but as that's the position less supported by the evidence, that's just another reason most Christians are not and never really were preterists.
posted by valkyryn at 7:20 AM on October 13, 2010


There's a good solid run of Historicism that only differs from Preterists in that Revelation is a recollection rather than prediction.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:32 AM on October 13, 2010


YAY YAY YAY YAY YAYYYYYYYY
posted by Greg Nog at 12:29 PM on October 13, 2010


Teleology: the idea that it should mean something in the end?
posted by ovvl at 6:00 PM on October 13, 2010


A white-haired-and-bearded guy in a t-shirt emblazoned YESHUA is on the UC Berkeley campus passing out fliers pretty much every weekday. The other day he had a cardboard sign labelled "220 days."

Oh, I wish I had a zillion dollars so I could immediately hire a documentarian to spend the next half a year interviewing these folks.
posted by Zed at 10:19 AM on October 14, 2010


How did I miss this on first pass? Great post!
posted by klangklangston at 10:42 AM on October 15, 2010


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