An important piece of Christian jargon to master (if you want to appear like you know something) is the word “eschatology”. It simply “the last things”, and usually refers to discussions about the final resurrection and judgement, the return of Christ, the nature of the new creation, and so on.
But “the last things” are not only about the future; they have a massive bearing on our everyday lives, because the Christian gospel is all about how the “last things” have invaded the present—how Christ has died and risen to make us members of his kingdom, which is to come.
On this episode, we talk with David Höhne about his new book The Last Things and how understanding God’s plans for the future means everything for our lives now.
Links referred to:
- The Last Things (David Höhne)
- Where to Start with Islam (Sam Green)
- Preacher, Pastor and Evangelist: Essays on the work of ministry, in honour of Simon Manchester
- Thank God for Bedtime (Geoff Robson)
Runtime: 44:46 min.
Tony Payne: There’s a word you hear quite a lot in Christian thought and theology. It’s the word “eschatology”, and it means simply “the last things”. And when we talk about eschatology, we mostly think about what’s going to happen at the last—at the end of the world. What will Jesus’ return be like and when will it happen? How will people be judged? What will the new creation be like? And so on.
But the extraordinary thing about Christianity is that the last things are not just possibilities for the distant future or things that we might speculate about; they intrude on our lives now. In fact, the last things shape everything about our life now, because they tell us who we are and where we’re going, and what our life in the meantime is meant to be like. We need to understand the last things in order to understand our present experience. And that’s our goal on this episode of the Centre for Christian Living podcast.
TP: Hello, I’m Tony Payne, and welcome to the Centre for Christian Living podcast, coming to you from Moore College in Sydney, Australia, where our goal is to bring biblical ethics to everyday issues. And today we’ll be speaking about the last things.
Which is kind of appropriate: it’s our last podcast for 2019 and it’s actually the last podcast that will have me as your host. But I will say a bit more about that later on in the episode.
Let’s get straight to our guest and the author of a new and very significant book entitled The Last Things. It’s regular Centre for Christian Living guest David Höhne, who’s a lecturer here at Moore College.
TP: David, you’ve written this book The Last Things. It’s a hefty book in lots of ways. It’s not a light or simple book; it’s a work of theology. And I’ve started working my way through it and I have to say, it’s a really fine piece of work. I—and I’m looking forward to reading it in detail over the next weeks and—and months.
But it’s different from any other book on the last things that I’ve ever looked at. So when we talk about the last things or eschatology, as it’s called theologically, what do you normally expect to read in a last things/eschatology book?
DH: Well, the standard Reformed theology of the last things would be a description of the sequence of events at the end of the world—that is—
TP: The last judgement—
DH: —the Lord Jesus would return, the dead would be raised to life, there would be a last judgement, heaven for the faithful, hell for the unfaithful, a new creation, and then some subsequent topics: what about an intermediate state between our death and the resurrection? What about the possibility of Purgatory in that immediate—intermediate state? Then what do we make of the millennium? Depending on who’s writing the theology, that might come sooner rather than later. But those are usually the sorts of chapter headings that you would find in an eschatology book.
TP: Well, that’s what I was kind of expecting, if you open a book on the last things. But it’s not what I found at all. You—you took quite—I mean, you do touch on those things at various points, but you took quite a different approach to the whole subject. Can you describe for us what that approach was and why you took it?
DH: Well, in the—during the course of the 20th century, the—some pretty big things happened: World War I, World War II, Spanish Flu epidemic—
TP: I was born.
DH: —Tony Payne was born! And in each one of those instances, people started to wonder whether this was the end of the world. [Laughter] Seriously, and so—
DH: —Christian theologians who had—certainly in Europe and in a lot of places in North America—been affected by a kind of liberal Protestantism that really poo-pooed those original lists of events that I was talking about, all of a sudden, the judgement of God on the fields of the Somme actually seemed like a real thing that we might be experiencing now—
TP: In history.
DH: When the Holocaust was discovered—
DH: —the Nazi death camps—people started to think, “Oh, perhaps what Dante said about hell is feasible. Those sort of things actually do happen.” And so, liberal Protestantism was kind of shaken out of its highbrow of view of Christian faith as the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. It’s not that it had droop—dropped out of it—evangelical theology by any means, but the—the idea of the “now, not yet tension” in Christian theology—particularly eschatology—became very real. That is, God has achieved certain things now—already, in fact, but they’re not yet obvious to us in our daily life.
Since Easter Sunday, the apostles have been preaching that Jesus died and rose again for the forgiveness of our sins, and as the church started to spread that message—that our sins were forgiven already—was fundamental to the Christian gospel, but we are awaiting the redemption of our bodies at the return of the Lord Jesus.
TP: We look forward to a “not yet”.
DH: So that “now, not yet” tension was always in Scripture, but it kept—became more prominent in the 20th century Western experience—the reality of this “now, not yet” tension.
So in thinking about that, and I done a fair amount of reading about that, I started to wonder, well, “Where does that—where does that ‘now, not yet’ tension happen in our lives as Christians? Is there a—is there a fundamental spot in our experience—in—in the experience of every Christian, not any Christian?” And it occurred to me that, really, when we say our prayers, that is the “now, not yet” tension in real life: we pray because of what God has already done for us.
TP: We already have access to him, we can approach him, we feel confident to pray—
DH: That’s right. But we ask for things that we don’t have when we pray.
TP: Otherwise, why ask for them?
DH: Right! Yeah. “Who has that for which he asks?” Or hopes, as Paul says in Romans 8 (Rom 8:24). So it seemed to me, well, there we are: that’s—that’s an everyday experience of any Christian regardless of how strong or weak their faith is. We pray and we embody that “now, not yet” tension as part of the Christian experience.
TP: Every time we pray.
DH: Yeah. So with that fundamental kernel of an idea—and in reading the Scriptures and—particularly various theologians like Calvin—my attention was brought back to the fact that there’s a fundamental prayer in the gospel. It’s the Gethsemane prayer that Jesus prays: “Not my will, but yours be done” (Mark 14:36). And he prays that in order that God’s plans for the gospel can be fulfilled.
But it’s also the—our entryway into the gospel: that prayer is the goal of the gospel story. But it’s also the goal of the gospel, because that’s what we’re supposed to pray to God: “Not my will, but yours be done.”
TP: It’s repentance.
DH: It’s repentance. It’s trusting in God’s will, it’s all those sorts of things. And then I was reminded by Calvin that we need to be taught how to pray. And as usual, the Lord has already seen us coming, because the—the flower bed of our theology is in Scripture itself. When the disciples were unsure of how to pray, Jesus said, “Pray like this” and gave them what we have come to refer to as the “Lord’s Prayer”. So that gave me a bigger idea that our eschatological experience was praying in response to God’s promises and to be taught—we need to be taught how to pray, and so the Lord’s Prayer is what Jesus wants us to pray in response to God’s promises to us in the gospel.
TP: And so, because prayer is the basic—if I can say it like this—eschatological act—thing we do, the fundamental prayer of—of Scripture that Jesus teaches us to pray, teaches us eschatology.
DH: Yeah! Yeah, yeah.
TP: And that’s how you’ve structured the book.
DH: Yeah, yeah! The overarching pattern of the book is that our heavenly Father, or the heavenly Fatherhood of God, will be revealed, realised, or—I use the language of “perfected”—on the earth as it is in heaven. Which is the kind of middle of the prayer.
TP: Aha! And so, the book is structured around the first three petitions being about that—about the perfecting of God’s will on earth in the kingdom of Jesus Christ, and I’ll get you to explain that in a minute. And then the rest of the book is structured about, well, what does that look like in our experience? It’s those second three petitions. And we’ll work our way through those as well.
DH: Yeah. There’s another little idea in there, and that’s what I’ve called “Life in the middle”. Part of going back to the “now, not yet” concept, we know that the Lord Jesus is raised from the dead: that’s what we celebrate every Easter Sunday—or every Sunday, actually, when we’re together. But we also look forward to his return. So our life is in the middle between those two great events—the resurrection of Jesus and the return of Jesus. That’s life in the middle, and it’s that period of the history of the universe that we want the heavenly Fatherhood of God to be made perfect on the earth.
TP: Okay, so, well, take us through those—through the first half of it, then. So how did the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer describe that aspect of what God has done and is going to do?
DH: Well, various grea—of the great and good Bible readers down through the centuries have noticed that the first three things we’re told to pray for are things for God himself, and the second three things are more like things for ourselves. So the first three things that Jesus exhorts us to pray for God’s Fatherhood is that his name would be hallowed, that his kingdom would come, and that his will would be done.
Now, if you look carefully—particularly if you’re a very careful Bible reader—you’ll notice that the hallowing of God’s name, the coming of his kingdom and the fulfillment of his will—Jesus wants all of those to happen on earth as it is in heaven, not just the last one. And fun fact for Greek readers: the way that the Greek syntax is set up means that those three ideas—name, kingdom and will—are virtually, from a syntactical point of view—interchangeable. We could easily pray, “Our Father, your name be hallowed on earth as it is in heaven” and we wouldn’t really be mucking up the intent of the sentences at all.
So we have these three things that we need to pray for God—that his name would be hallowed, that his kingdom would come, and that his will would be done. And these on the earth as they are in heaven.
TP: And that very construction is kind of a “now, not yet” construction.
TP: They’re “now” in heaven, but they’re not yet on earth? Is that what you mean?
DH: What’s true in heaven needs to be made true for the universe.
TP: So how does God answer that prayer?
DH: Well, the simple way that I have tried to describe it throughout the whole book is that our heavenly Father’s name is hallowed when it’s recognised to belong to Jesus in the power of his Spirit, and our heavenly Father’s kingdom comes when Jesus the King takes possession of the universe in the power of the Spirit, and when our heavenly Father’s will is done on the earth—when it’s done in, through and for Jesus the Christ in the power of God’s Spirit.
TP: So a very Jesus-focused eschatology, you might say!
DH: Yeah, yeah, it’s all about Jesus. It’s God, Jesus, Bible! [Laughter]
TP: At one level, David, that just sounds, like, really obvious to me—that all God’s plans—that it all revolves around Jesus—that he’s the centre of everything and that—that it’s in him that the purposes of God are perfected by the Spirit. And yet, as I read this, it’s not like any other eschatology book I’ve—I’ve read. What is your—your focus on the Son and the Spirit and God’s plans to bring his Fatherhood to reality on the earth through them? What’s distinctive about this?
DH: Well, traditionally, Christian eschatology has talked about the kingdom of God, and we want to glorify God and he is our creator, and so when we focus on what we think is the end of the story of history, it’s about God coming. And that’s not false by any means! [Laughter] But if I could just rewind a little bit, one of the things we didn’t mention in talking about the Lord’s Prayer is that another thing I noticed when I was researching for this book, and it’s something that I’ve suspected for a long time, is that the relationship between systematic theology and biblical theology is actually right there in the Bible. There’s a number of purple passages that people might point to. And we refer to them quite commonly, but I—I don’t think we pay enough attention to how systematic they are as biblical theology.
TP: Now, for the sake of some listeners who might not be absolutely sure about the difference between those two things, when we talk about biblical theology, we talk about how the Bible unfolds in its presentation of its own material—how the story unfolds—how the themes—
DH: The big story.
TP: —the big story focusing all in on Jesus—all the themes that gather together, the way the narrative flows throughout—and unfolds throughout the whole Scripture. Whereas when we’re talking about systematics, we’re talking about the key subject or topics—
DH: That’s right.
TP: —that bib—and you’re saying that there are some key passages where you see those two things coming together.
DH: That’s right. So the Lord’s Prayer is one of them, but even more broadly than that, there’s a number of purple chunks that people are probably aware of in Paul’s letters, like Philippians chapter 2 verses 5-11—sometimes referred to as the Philippian hymn—there’s Ephesians 1:3-14—all those fabulous spiritual gifts that God is blessing us with; there’s passages like 1 Corinthians 14:24-28 which give a marvellous description of resurrection.
TP: I think David means here 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 here, but let’s not quibble.
DH: When I looked at those carefully with other serious Bible readers, I noticed that this—there’s actually a system of themes—Bible themes—tightly woven together in a sequence—often it feels a bit like a narrative—a little story. But it occurred to me that here’s biblical systems of theology. And one of the key things that all those have in common is—particularly in Paul and others as well—they—the apostles explain to us why the Old Testament is true, because of what God has done in Jesus, and at the same time, they explain to us how fantastic Jesus is because of all the things that God was preparing in the Old Testament. And so, I thought, well, if I’m going to write a biblical system of eschatology, I ought to try and mimic what I see the apostles doing.
TP: Well, we’ll be back to David and the last things in just a moment. But I wanted to take just a few minutes to tell you about some excellent books that are worth reading over your summer holidays, or if you’re overseas and not enjoying the glories of the Australian summer over whatever Christmas and New Year break you might have. And of course, you might want to give these as gifts, too, to people if—if that’s what you’d like to do.
David’s own book that we’re discussing—The Last Things—is a hefty book of theology. It’s not light, summer reading, but it’s very fruitful and stretching summer reading. So if you want to take some time to dig into something that’s going to stretch and encourage you and get you to think more deeply about these subjects, I really would recommend it. It’s a fine book. That’s The Last Things by David Höhne, published by IVP.
A number of other excellent new publications that are on a range of different subjects that I just wanted to tell you about, the first is by Sam Green. Sam has been working with Muslims and engaging with Islam over the last 20-25 years, and is well known in our circles here in Australia as someone with a deep knowledge of Islam and how to engage with Islam. He’s finally written it all down in a book that’s accessible for all of us. It’s called Where to Start with Islam and it really is an extraordinary book. It’s not like any book on Islam or on engaging with our Muslim friends that I’ve seen. It takes a unique and very helpful perspective on how to start and where to start conversations in discussing Islam, and it also brings out a deep understanding of Islam that has certainly deepened my understanding of—of that religion. I’d really recommend this book by Samuel Green: Where to Start with Islam.
Another completely different book for Christmas or holiday reading is a new one from Geoff Robson called Thank God for Bedtime. And this is a book that you—on a subject that you will have never heard before: it’s a book about the theology of sleep. That’s right, sleep! And when Geoff per—first proposed this book to us at Matthias Media—that “I’ve got—I want to write a book about sleep”, we thought he was mad—until we saw the manuscript. And by looking at what the Bible says about sleep, which is surprisingly a lot, Geoff draws out some really useful and profound insights about God, about us, about our lives, about our busy-ness, about our laziness, about our obsession with things, about our lack of trust in God, about God’s sovereignty through the lens of sleep and what the Bible says about sleep. Geoff’s written a really superb little book about the Christian life and about God. Thank God for Bedtime by Geoff Robson is really worth a read: it’s a light, but profound little book.
And finally, one to recommend to give to your pastor or if you are a pastor or someone in Christian ministry, I’d really recommend this one: Simon Manchester has recently finished his long and wonderful ministry at St Thomas’s North Sydney, and in recognition of that, several friends got together and put together this volume of essays honouring him. It’s called Preacher, Pastor and Evangelist: Essays on the work of ministry, in honour of Simon Manchester and it contains a wonderful selection of essays by people like Claire Smith and Phillip Jensen and David Robertson and—and quite a number of others, about aspects of what it means to be a preacher, to be a pastor, and in all those things, to be an evangelist. A deeply encouraging and very—very helpful set of essays that any Christian pastor will find as food for his soul. So for the pastor in your life, or if you are a pastor, this is an excellent gift. That’s Preacher, Pastor and Evangelist: Essays on the work of ministry, in honour of Simon Manchester.
Now, all of these books—except for David’s book on The Last Things—are available at Matthias Media. That’s matthiasmedia.com.au. David’s is available from IVP.
But back to David, to eschatology and to the importance of the Lord’s prayer.
TP: So in the first half of the Lord’s Prayer and of your book, you paint a picture of the—of the—of the theological nature of life in the middle—that it’s framed by the hallowing of God’s name, the coming of the kingdom, God’s will being done on—on earth—and that’s something that’s happening in history: it’s anchored in the resurrection—the death and resurrection—it’s—it’s coming with the second coming of Jesus. And then in the second half of the book, you say, “Well, what does that mean for—for life in the middle?” and you unpack that in the second three petitions. Tell us about those three. Work us—work us through those three.
DH: Well, I’m—I’m a bit of a fan of the—the old Anglican service called the Litany, where we—where the minister leading the service states certain things about God and the people respond with a refrain, and it works through several different themes of things. And often the—the people call on God to do something for them—“Good Lord—”
TP: “Deliver us.”
DH: Yeah! And so I kind of—as I looked at the three petitions at the end, I thought, “Oh, well they had that kind of litany shape to them: ‘Good Lord, preserve us; good Lord, forgive us; and good Lord, deliver us.” That’s what I—that’s my kind of summary form of what I think Jesus wants us to pray.
TP: So “Good Lord, preserve us” is “Give us this day our daily bread” …
DH: Yeah, that—that’s the part of the prayer that most people, when I try and explain to them about it, go, “Oh, wait a minute: isn’t that about Providence? It’s about Psalm 104: God providing the needs of all his creatures and all that sort of thing.” But there is—again, particularly if you’re a Greek reader, there’s—some of the language around that petition is ambiguous in terms of whether Jesus is actually referring to what we need to survive every day, or what we need to endure into the age to come. So the “daily bread”—the “bread of tomorrow”—is one—another way of translating that phrase. I tried to encapsulate that idea of God’s general preservation of us. But from an eschatological point of view, our fundamental need for God to preserve us is to preserve us through death. We need to be preserved because we’re all going to die. And so in that way, I was able to knit together God’s actions that preserve us and the topic of resurrection of the dead.
TP: And then you’ve got “Good Lord, forgive us”—
DH: Forgive us, which is—
TP: “Forgive us our sins”.
DH: —which is the quest—which is a bit easier to come at. The question of “When does God forgive our sins?” Well, according to the apostolic testimony, that’s in the death of Jesus and in his resurrection. And yet, we are going to face a final judgement. So that enabled me to knit together the idea of God’s final judgement and our need for forgiveness through the cross. But also sequence it alongside of, well, if we’re praying that God will raise us and we talk about the resurrection of the dead, I take it, and I think the New Testament’s pretty loud about this, that everybody gets raised to life again—all the dead are raised to life. Does that mean all the dead live on forever with Jesus as the Lord? Yes they do, but not in the same way. And so, when we consider asking God for forgiveness, it’s actually forgiveness now in light of the coming judgement of Jesus as the Christ who will judge all those who’ve been raised to life again and determine whether they warrant mercy or whether they will receive wrath.
TP: And the final one, “Deliver us from—good Lord, deliver us, deliver us from evil.”
DH: Final one—
TP: —“from the time of trial.”
DH: The final one is where I—yes, “Save us from the time of trial”—that sort of thing: that’s where we finish off an understanding of life in the middle as a period of history, and I took the opportunity to talk about the millennium as over—one of the more prominent topics of discussion in Christian eschatology in the last 200 years. I thought I should finish with that way, and the—one of the key issues about understanding the millennium—understanding Revelation 20—certain parts of 1 Thessalonians or even, depending on how you read them, Mark 13 and Matthew 24—how will God act amidst the chaos to deliver his people? And so, “Good Lord, deliver us” seemed like the obvious way to finish off—the—both the book and making use of that last petition.
TP: So as you—discussing the nature of life now in the middle—life in the light of the glorified Jesus and the Jesus who is coming—how does that relate to, we might say, Christian living? How does it relate to—how do those three petitions, as you say—outlined them—relate to living in the name of Jesus now, or living for Jesus’ glory now?
DH: Well, one thing that we didn’t mention when we’re talking about the first three petitions is that as our heavenly Father hallows his name on the earth and brings about his kingdom and perfects his will, he does that all through Jesus and in the power of his Spirit. And what he does for Jesus in the power of his Spirit is gather a people—the church. So God’s will and kingdom and glory are perfected in Jesus and the Father glorifies his Son with the church. They are constituted in the power of God’s Spirit. That’s where we do our—that’s the “where” of life in the middle—that we are brought into—in the power of the Spirit—the body of Christ—the people of God—the children of God—those sorts of things.
So we’re living together in the midst of God’s people, joining in with the prayers of the Lord Jesus to our heavenly Father in the power of the same Spirit, and it’s in that place that we’re—of life in the middle—that we live together, that we are preserved together in our daily lives, that we need to experience—that is, we need to give and receive forgiveness—because we’re all sinners, and that’s the place in which we wait patiently for the good Lord to deliver us. So church becomes the—the living testimony to the coming kingdom of Jesus.
TP: And so you’re saying church is the—sort of the context or the home base from which what we would call discipleship takes place.
DH: Absolutely! Absolutely. So the last chapter in looking at how the good Lord delivers us, one of the key things that I investigated in the first three petitions was how the gospel story really makes big the relationship between Jesus and the temple in terms of where God will dwell on the earth, and subsequently in that last chapter, where I look at all the ways that both collectively and individually, God’s Spirit makes us into a temple, as Paul tells the Ephesians and the Corinthians—collectively as the temple and the Spirit of God in Ephesians 2; individually, there’s temples of God in 1 Corinthians 6 and so on.
TP: All of which drives an ethic—ethical living. All of which drives a whole new way of being and of—of living out God’s will—
DH: Yeah, yeah! Yeah.
TP: —and of giving glory to Jesus in what we do.
DH: Living our dark—our daily lives become a constant testimony to the coming glory of the Lord Jesus, because when our heavenly Father decides that the jig is up, the Lord—the King will return and the church will be gathered as his special possession. It’s—the church will be his trophy to glorify him, and he will be vindicated against his enemies, as Psalm 110 proclaims quite loudly. That’s our ultimate vision of a—a new creation. But our lives now are a living testimony to that coming promise.
TP: Let’s talk about our lives now in two sort of practical ways. It seems to me from what you’re saying, it really changes the way I think about prayer and what’s going on when I pray. I mean, as you’ve worked through the book and you’ve—it took you seven years or something to write this book, right?
DH: It was a—an eschatological number! [Laughter]
TP: You thought it would never end, but it—yes, anyway, let’s not go down that track. What—what did it mean for your prayers? How did it change the way you thought about prayer?
DH: Well, the first thing that it taught me—and kind of rebuked me—is that my prayers are my actual theology. I’ve a—quite a few degrees in theology now. But what I actually believe is—comes out when I pray. That’s my theology of life—of my relationship with God—my relationship with others: it just comes out in my prayers. And, you know, when I pray well—when I pray godly prayers—then my theology is rich. When I pray ungodly prayers—those spiritual PostIt notes that I try and stick on the Lord’s forehead—then I can see how thin my theology actually is.
TP: Or in the case of no prayers—
DH: Right. Yeah. Then, I actually show what I think of God’s promises.
TP: They’re not worth trusting, they’re not worth verbalising, they’re not claiming, they’re not worth—
DH: —living in.
TP: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I guess the other thing that—that flows out of what you’re talking about here is a way of thinking about life in the middle and how our lives in the middle are sort of constituted and driven and given their shape by these promises—what God has done and is going to do—all in the Lord Jesus. It—it strikes me that often the way we think about our activities now—whether it’s our daily work or our ministry, whatever it might—whatever it might be—we often try to give them dignity or—or make them special or—or make them feel valuable or worthwhile by relating them in some way to the end—
TP: —in some way to the coming kingdom. How have you thought about that issue when it comes to all the stuff you’ve been doing on this—this way of thinking about eschatology? Let’s take our daily work, for example: what is it that makes our daily work valuable?
DH: We’d like to think it’s because it lasts and it changes the world. We want to make a difference, and we want to do things that last. And it’s kind of overwhelming for human beings to want those things. And sometimes—
TP: We all do.
DH: Yeah, that’s right: all human beings—especially those who are relatively prosperous and live in peaceful places like we do—that’s taken as basic for us. But that’s not necessarily a Christian way of viewing our life in the world. Thing—we can do things that don’t last, and they can still be of immense value—both to ourselves, to each other, and even in God’s sight. But there’s a couple of things that we have to keep in mind before then: firstly, the everlasting significance of our words and our deeds—in fact, our lives as creatures is given to us in the gift of the risen Jesus Christ. God likes his creation so much that he decided to bind himself to it everlastingly in the glorified, everlasting Jesus the Christ.
TP: Because Jesus rises as a man.
DH: Right! Right! That’s a pretty big endorsement for creatureliness, you’d have to say. And that’s what God gives to creatureliness: “This is how much I’m committed—I love you—how much I like you.” And so, when we understand ourselves—our daily lives—our life in the middle in that light, our significance is a gift of grace. So everything we do as creatures is significant because it’s creaturely. It’s the creatureliness that the Lord Jesus is coming to claim as his own—as the ruler.
But that’s creatureliness in general in our—in the age of the choosing self. I’m much more interested about my creatureliness than I am about yours! [Laughter] And so the hope that Jesus gives us, and knowing that God is going to sum all things up in Christ—that all things are through him and for him and in him—all things hold together—that’s actually remarkably freeing, because now I have a simple ethical maxim that I can ask in any situation—with any relationship, with any activity, any thought or word that I have—and that is, well, what does the Lord Jesus deserve here? He’s the hero of every story. He’s certainly the hero of my story. What does he deserve when I go to work, when I do my profession, or even if I don’t have professional work—if I just labour and do the same tasks over and over again? What does the Lord Jesus deserve here? What does the Lord Jesus deserve of my aspirations about my work—about what I think I’m achieving with my work and what the purpose of my work is?
Particularly, I think, at the moment, Christians feel pressed to feel like, along with our generation, that they’re making a difference. And, again, the difference that we can make is actually protesting against the world around us by living towards the coming kingdom of Jesus. So I will do what the Lord Jesus deserves today as a protest against the world that is living against him. That’s my social justice, wherever I am.
So I will speak truthfully when others tell lies, because that’s what the Lord Jesus deserves, and that’s announcing to people that the kingdom of truth is coming. I will look to do what is good for others—because that’s what the Lord Jesus deserves, and that’s a testimony that the king of goodness is coming to take back what is his against all the evil that we see around us in the world.
And I will even, where I can, delight in what is beautiful, because that too is what the Lord Jesus deserves and he will come to gather his treasured possession that the Bible uses only the most fantastic jewellery descriptions to describe. That is what I take it are alarmingly generally and yet are perfectly simple moral reason for getting out of bed in the morning.
TP: Now, there’s a sharp edge to what you’ve just said, it occurs to me: if it’s doing what glorifies Jesus—what Jesus, in a sense, deserves of us in any particular moment—if he is the—the glorified Christ, and that the work we do, therefore, doesn’t gain its significance by—by lasting—by what it achieves—by it being durable, but by that—that would also be true of the work we do in Christian ministry, wouldn’t it?
DH: Yeah! Yeah. Yeah. And Christian ministry is good work when it announces the coming kingdom, and the—God gathers churches together so that someone or someones will say that out loud regularly. And, in fact, that people will say it to each other and they’ll live like it’s a reality, so that the church itself can be a testament to this coming kingdom of people protesting against the powers and principalities of this world, and instead, living together—leaning forward—waiting for the return of Jesus, who our heavenly Father will glorify without question, and so our small efforts are some part of the glory we look forward to our Father perfecting in Jesus.
And I think the other thing to keep in mind, too, is that we will fail in doing this. People like you and I live, as I said, pretty prosperous and very peaceful lives, and will forget the urgency that we’re living on borrowed time—that our heavenly Father is giving us to announce the coming glory of Jesus, so the people will receive mercy, rather than wrath. We’ll forget that and settle into a—a comfortable life and see ourselves as doing good things and making a difference and all that sort of thing, and the grace of God is that he forgives us for that. So we pray, “Forgive us now for forgetting that all this belongs to Jesus,” and we pray, “Deliver us from the desire to actually live for ourselves instead of for Jesus.”
TP: I asked that about Christian ministry work, because I have to confess I think I’ve fallen into that error at various points in my life—because I’ve largely been doing Christian ministry work over my life. I’ve sometimes thought to myself, “The work I’m doing is really significant, because it’s going to last—”
TP: “—as opposed to those poor saps who are accountants or build bridges.”
TP: “Which is good, and well and good. You’ve got to do a good job. But it’s not going to last—unlike my work, which will last.” And, you know, I think what you’re saying is a rebuke to that, isn’t it?
DH: Yeah, it’s not going to last, ’cause you’ll die. And once you’re dead, no one will be paying attention to you. The next time your eyes are open, we’ll all be looking at Jesus and everyone will finally see that it’s only ever been his work. That’s why we only announce the kingdom; we don’t bring it in. And evangelists don’t bring in the kingdom; preachers don’t bring in the kingdom; the church doesn’t bring in the kingdom; the church isn’t the kingdom. The kingdom is the King, and there’s only a kingdom when he is actually present. So when the King returns, then there will be the kingdom of God on the earth as it is in heaven, and we’ll be relieved from our self-possessed notion that we’re making a difference to Jesus and realise, actually, how much of a difference he’s made for us.
TP: Well, thanks for joining us today on the Centre for Christian Living podcast. And for joining us this year. As I mentioned in my intro, this is not only the last podcast for 2019, but my last podcast as the Director of the Centre for Christian Living. I’m moving on next year to a new role at Campus Bible Study at the University of New South Wales, where I’ll be doing some ministry training, but also spending quite a bit of time just getting into writing again. I’ll be a ministry trainer and writer-in-residence over there at Campus Bible Study.
Which I’m excited about, but also very sad to be moving on from the Centre for Christian Living. I’ll be sad to leave this podcast, which I’ve enjoyed enormously. It’s been great to send this material out and to interact with you as listeners, and to hear from so many of you—that you’re appreciating and enjoying the work that we do.
I’m also sad to be moving on from working with Karen—Karen Beilharz, my loyal and efficient assistant here at the Centre—and with all the rest of the team here at Moore College, who have made the Centre for Christian Living and this podcast possible. I’m really grateful for the opportunity they’ve given me to launch the podcast and to grow it, and to do everything we do at the Centre. It’s all only possible because of the sponsorship and support of Moore College and its community.
But the good news is that the Centre will continue, and I’m sure will grow to new heights under its new leadership in 2020. Dr Chase Kuhn, who works here at Moore College in the theology and ethics department, is going to be the new Director of the Centre for Christian Living. Chase has been a guest on the podcast on numerous occasions, and I’m sure he will take the work of the Centre in new and exciting directions. And Karen will continue on here as well and keep making everything possible.
I’m really grateful to you, especially, our listeners for being part of the Centre for Christian Living community and for participating in this podcast—not just in receiving and listening, but in getting back to us in all sorts of different ways to give encouragement and to ask questions.
And don’t stop asking questions! You can get in touch with us at any time at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can also check out everything that we’ve done in text, audio and video form, including the archive of this podcast, at the website: that’s ccl.moore.edu.au. If you check out the show notes on our website for this episode, you’ll find links—not only to David Höhne’s book on The Last Things but to the essays in honour of Simon Manchester—Preacher, Pastor and Evangelist—Sam Green’s new book on Islam, Where to Start with Islam, and Geoff Robson’s extraordinary little book about sleep, Thank God for Bedtime.
Thanks again for joining us on the Centre for Christian Living podcast. I’m Tony Payne. ’Bye for now.