Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Review of Hans Schwarz's "Eschatology"

This is my second assignment for ST503 and Dr. Crisp. Its an early draft so be nice. Its my second paper to ever make it to the graduate level.  Enjoy!
A highly recommended book.
In the multifaceted world we inhabit, eschatology can encompass a multitude of disciplines: philosophy, science and theology. Hans Schwarz has offered the world an exceptionally readable volume that attempts to synthesize the best of all the aforementioned disciplines into a broad survey of the last things. He treads where many systematic theologies do not, especially in exploring various secular and progressive worldviews, seeking the truth in all of them. He largely succeeds and offers the reader his findings in three major parts.
Part one engages with the diversity and unity of both Testaments as they relate to eschatology. The historical background of the Old Testament “…was basically a death-driven culture” (32). As is often the case, existentialism and the knowledge of death are never far from each other where “…the living know that they will die but the dead know nothing” (Eccl. 9:5). Schwarz notes the heightened “emphasis on the this-worldly aspect of life” (36) and because of this reality, to live seventy or even eighty years was desired above all else (Ps. 90:9-10), though these years were still a breath. Though his survey is expansive, Schwarz could have shown that the Old Testament attests to a longing for justice and that punishment of the wicked (Ps. 110:6; 139:18-20) does not happen in this life (Job 21:7; Jer. 12:1). Because of the lack of justice in this earthly existence, YHWH will act in the next life to bring judgment upon Israel’s oppressors, thus suggesting Israel and the world’s need for cosmic justice and the possibility of resurrection of the righteous and the wicked (Dan. 12:2; Isaiah 66:15-24).
Based off Schwarz’s findings in the Old Testament, he moves on to show that the New Testament has a more developed outlook on the question of eschatology with special attention placed on fulfillment in Christ. For example, Matthew “wants to show that the Old Testament promises have found their fulfillment in Jesus” (84). Schwarz then rightly insists upon continuity between the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament as both Testaments testify to Jesus and his mission and exaltation, though this was not as developed because the importance of Second Temple Judaism is left largely unmentioned. In regards to Jesus’ messianic understanding, Schwarz correctly claims that, “[Jesus] never delineated a chronology of life eternal nor a geography of the beyond” (80); this biblical obscurity has resulted in over two thousand years of speculation on the part of the Church, and it is indeed the most troubling aspect of Christian eschatology; especially since it lacks any sort of future details and relies on fragments to paint a broader picture. In sum, the biblical portraits are fractured and leave us to gather up the various portions. However, for Schwarz the biblical tensions are less worrisome because “Christ anticipates the resurrection of the dead through his own resurrection, thus providing us with a foundation for hope” (96). The resurrection of Jesus is paradigmatic of our future experience and this is congruent with Paul and John’s teachings regarding this matter (1 Cor. 15; John 5:29).
The End.
Part two reflects the larger debate between science, secularism and philosophy as they all relate to eschatology. Schwarz covers discussions over various theologies including process, feminist, liberationist and pluralism: the advocates comprise Wolfhart Pannenberg, John Cobb, Jürgen Moltmann and Leonardo Boff among others. Each theologian’s perspective is examined and given a place at the table for a fair exchange, though not without critique. Process theology is specifically singled out and one must ask to what extent Christian doctrine is maintained amongst a pluralistic worldview—a point of view decidedly not shared by the New Testament. Because of this, Schwarz notes “Cobb’s proposal seems more akin to the Hellenistic striving for oneness as demonstrated by Platonic and Aristotelian ontologically grounded philosophy. The Christian faith, however, is characterized by individuality in unity” (169-170). This is a successful critique and could be pressed further to include the imagery of incorporation of human beings into Christ’s body, his Church (1 Cor. 12:12-28), illustrating the necessity of all Christians, American and other, citizen and immigrant, and male and female, to be one in status in Christ (Gal. 3:28). Individuality is maintained and corporatized, allowing personality to thrive within community. It is also worthy to note the claim that Scripture appears soteriologically exclusive rather than pluralistic, as the famous Shema  (Deut. 6:4) proclaims a strict Jewish monotheism. Paul also affirms (and expands) this famous text in 1 Cor. 8:4-6 to include Jesus (see Gordon Fee, Pauline Christology, Hendrickson, 2007, 88-94), making pluralism (and subsequent process thought) difficult to accept on the basis of biblical texts as the exclusive divinity of Christ is attested above all other faiths (John 14:6).
With his mind tuned to environmental concerns, Schwarz adds to the discussion concerning the ecological crisis, where “life is sustained only be exploiting the inanimate world” (195). Life feeds on life, and this appears to be an apocalyptic outcome of consumerist exploitation (196), which compounds the problem of the greenhouse effect (196-199) and overpopulation (201-202). The issue is that “humanity elevated itself into God’s place…and ‘for the glory of God’ was replaced by the glorification and deification of humanity” (205). We live in a seemingly limited creation and this brings up an ominous question: was earth meant to sustain human life forever? Human progress has taken a left turn in the dark and Schwarz thankfully recognizes that without hope, humankind has nothing left for itself: “…what can we, as Christians, actually offer in terms of the content of hope?” (243). Schwarz does not despair, and pushes on with the task of offering hope to a dying world.
In the final part of his work, Schwarz covers four controversial areas of Christian eschatology: setting an actual date for the end of all things, the millennium and its various flavors, universal salvation and purgatory. Schwarz flatly rejects any attempt to place a time to the coming of Christ as “not about outguessing the Lord but being faithful to the call” (321), and like many church fathers (Luther, Augustine) he discards the timetable method and opts for hope. In doing so, his points stands well under scrutiny as the New Testament never set a date to the return of Christ. As regards the millennium, He takes the greatest exception with dispensationalism and concurs with Dale Moody; “we could simply discard these [end times] theories as ‘undue speculation over highly symbolic teachings’” (335). The damage done by this apocalyptic teaching is not glossed over by Schwarz and it has no doubt “been misused for political and religious purposes” (336), especially within the context of modern fundamentalism which misses the purpose of apocalyptic imagery: to bring hope to those who are oppressed, “not…in a triumphalistic manner, but as a pastoral comfort” (337). Schwarz is certainly on point with this admonition, and those of us who have come out of fundamentalism will resonate because of the entrenched emphasis on the rapture and fighting culture wars instead of the necessity of justice for widows and orphans (James 1:27).
Oh Camping.
Considering the doctrine of universal salvation, Schwarz pointedly concludes “we have little biblical ground to go on for a universal homecoming or a restoration of all things to God” (337). In light of the numerous judgment texts in Scripture (Isaiah 66:24; Matt. 10:28; 25:41-46; Jude 7), one would concur that universal salvation is indeed a difficult theological proposition to embrace. However, Schwarz does not engage the strongest Universalist arguments from the basic proof texts (Rom. 5:18, Col. 1:20; Eph. 1:10). This reveals a missed chance to answer lingering questions in the minds of many evangelicals who opt for universalism on the basis of such verses.
Because of his his rejection of universalism, Schwarz is committed to the two-fold outcome of human destiny. Unfortunately, Schwarz leaves himself open to criticism from another side in the Christian debate as Annihilationists (or Conditionalists) would affirm the twofold outcome of eternal judgment and share his views of an eternal punishment. However, Schwarz rejects annihilationism in favor of eternal conscious torment (395-97; 402) by means of a question: “how can there be an annihilation of anybody if there is no escape from God, since God is everywhere, even in death and beyond death?” (396). The question is a non sequitur and one could answer it this way: as it took a divine act of creation to impute life into that which was lifeless (Gen. 2:7), so it is also a divine act of destruction when God destroys both body and soul (Matt. 10:28). Human finitude is evident in that only God is immortal (1 Tim. 6:16) and any life given to us is derived from the Creator, a sentiment that Schwarz explicitly affirms (257). Thus any eternal life, a phrase that seems restricted solely to the elect (e.g. Matt 19:16; 25:46; John 3:15-16, 36; 10:28; Rom. 2:7; 5:21; 6:23; Gal. 6:8), is denied to those not in Christ.
Curiously, while Schwarz mentions Oscar Cullmann several times throughout his book (73n, 119, 140), he betrays no awareness of the annihilationist arguments in Cullmann’s Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead? (Wipf & Stock, reprinted 2000). Cullmann’s words are powerful: “For Christian (and Jewish) thinking the death of the body is also destruction of God-created life. No distinction is made: even the life of our body is true life; death is the destruction of all life created by God” (Immortality, 11). Scripture seems to suggest death (Ps. 68:2; Is. 66:24; Luke 13:3,5; John 3:16; Rom. 6:23) and eternal destruction (2 Thess. 1:9) as the end result of the wicked—not their eternal torment.  To suggest the traditional doctrine of eternal torment seems to promote a vision of final eschatological dualism, one that does not seem to fit comfortably into Schwarz’s theological vision of “the completion of the universe” (404).
@thenakedpastor. Wonderful art.
Eschatology must be seen not as despair, but as hope. Proleptic anticipation, which views the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the commencement of the event of new creation, is the operative lens by which Schwarz concludes his volume. We see everything in light of Christ, and we “anticipate proleptically this future along the avenue which the Christ event provides” (407). Schwarz has written a truly magisterial book and there is much to commend. His depth is illustrated by his familiarity of diverse theologians and his ability to faithfully represent their perspectives even though he may passionately disagree is a model of charity. The chapters relating to science, ecology and scientific reason were especially insightful, bringing material to light to readers who otherwise would not have known about external worldly developments. Because of this inclusion, theologians will now be able to further benefit the church, allowing us to both engage and learn more as we progress in mutual respect towards the future. While a reader may dispute his interpretation on certain doctrines (such as his lack of engagement with annihilationism and universalism), his irenic tone epitomizes Saint Paul’s admonition in Rom. 12:9-21, especially since we are called to “love one another with mutual affection” and we “extend hospitality to strangers.” 
It took everything in me to not jump back to old habits by giving this 4.5 stars. 

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