Becoming #TrulyHuman: An Eschatology that Integrates Ecological Concerns and Economic Flourishing

Being a follower of Jesus includes a hopeful vision of the future. In the fullness of the kingdom of God, we will live on a new earth as embodied humans, worshiping and working, married to Christ and in fellowship with sisters and brothers from all nations (Rev. 21-22). There will be no more war, perfect justice, a restored ecology and each person will steward gifts and responsibilities consistent with his or her created design and fidelity during this present age (Isaiah 2; Mt. 25).

The resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit are the historical/personal guarantees of this eschatological vision (Acts 2-3). This audacious Christian hope inspires our covenant fidelity to the Triune God and concrete service to the world. Because of God’s unconditional love expressed in the Cross-and the liberating power of the resurrection, we now serve others sacrificially and all our present good works are signposts of the future.

This vision – eloquently expressed by Scot McKnight, N.T. Wright and Cherith Fee-Nordling among others – avoids utopian fantasy and dispensational fatalism. Our efforts are substantial but partial, for we are saved in hope of the final redemption (Ro. 8:18-27). We are not merely gathering decisions before the Rapture, but making disciples of all nations that work out their salvation in local communities that evangelize and seek the common good (Phil 2:12-16). Our disciples making includes all elements of human flourishing, from the inner life of contemplation to crating value through our work (see Charlie Self, Flourishing Churches and Communities).

Living the Future Now

This vision helps us transcend the unhelpful ideological divides and polemical histrionics that characterize civil discourse. With gratitude to A.J. Swoboda, we can speak in tongues and care for trees, engage in robust ecological action and ecstatic experiences. Biblical creation care does not mean policies that operate on zero-sum economic philosophies and radical wealth redistribution animated by fear. Eschatological hope unites ecological care and economic development, sensitivity to scarcity and the belief that wealth can expand.

In practice, this means hopeful believers are active peacemakers between the warring factions of free-market advocates and climate change activists, between those leaning toward command structures and those that prefer open global exchange. An honest evaluation of the last 50 years of economic history (see Hans Rosling’s “Economic History in Four Minutes”) gives us both concern and hope. The gap between rich and poor remains too wide and the religious and political systems keeping people poor need reformation. At the same time, millions of people have been lifted out of poverty into working and middle-class life.

In our quest for justice/shalom, we must avoid ideological entrapments and political pitfalls that will divide us and weaken our impact for good. The Mars Company recently shared the results of years of research and concluded that there is a way to foster the “triple-win” for people, planet and profits. From the infrastructure needs for Ghanaian cocoa producers to local distributors of M&M’s, it is possible to reward hard work and care for God’s world (See Steve Garber, Visions of Vocation).

I am skeptical of the extreme claims of climate change advocates, especially when some leaders are millions of dollars richer and will not publicly debate their ideas. I also reject libertarian philosophies devoid of environmental concern and the common good. As a historian, I am aware that climate will change and that humankind (not just the West since 1500) has always found ways to ruin (and occasionally steward) the ecology of their locations.

Why does this matter? As we reimagine mission for the 21st century, our fresh visions must include insights for planet care and prosperity, for wealth creation and wise management of God’s world. Our eschatology empowers our ethics. Biblically, there is no gap between personal and social ethics! Our disciple making must include the integration of faith, work and economics and a vision for structural justice that empowers creativity and innovation. Personal stewardship and care for the marginalized are united with a sense of mission and working in harmony with the environment. (See new measurements for assessing integration and progress at www.discipleshipdynamics.com).

We are delivered by grace for meaningful labor and worshipful rest, for transformative initiatives and unselfish relationships that secure the common good. Biblical wisdom heals the disintegrating forces that keep economic developers and environmental activists enemies instead of allies. Change begins with fresh imagination and focused action. Imagine

  • Disciple making that connects Sunday worship and Monday work.
  • Faith displacing fear as the reason for creation care.
  • Economic expansion that nurtures long-term ecological health
  • Executives voluntarily capping their compensation and sharing profits with all that make an enterprise work.
  • Christians in all domains of society listening to the Spirit about their local ecology and economy.

Let’s live resurrectional lives for God’s glory and the good of others, refusing disintegration and embracing new possibilities. When God’s mission is paramount, our communities will be entrusted with natural and supernatural resources. As culture and society implode, we offer integration. As despair threatens liberty, we offer the liberation of hope. As justice goes to the highest bidders, we speak truth to power and advocate for the voiceless and vulnerable. As command-control efforts fail, we unleash a new generation of ethical entrepreneurs. With our biblical eschatology informing our ecological vision and economic creativity, we can lift many from poverty of body and spirit, anticipating the Day when “all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” (Juliana of Norwich.)

— [Photo: mind_scratch]