Justice and Eschatology – A Response to Dr Dewi Hughes.

Author: Dr Jonathan Ingleby, Honorary Fellow, Redcliffe College


Dr Hughes‟ Redcliffe Lecture, „Global Mission and Justice‟ raises, in the context of justice, the long and difficult debate concerning Biblical eschatology. Does post-millennialism (the „Puritan Hope‟) actually work? Are we really in the process of establishing „the peaceable kingdom‟? What about Isaiah 11 with its sweeping promises? Is this simply a vision of the millennial reign after the return of Christ, that is, are the pre-millennialists essentially right? What then do we do about justice issues in the here and now?
William Carey‟s case is both inspiring and perplexing. His vision was truly magnificent and in some ways he lived it out – see the range of achievements associated with the Serampore fellowship as described by Dr Hughes. But even here hard realism demands that we take notice of the fact that the long-term effects were limited. His „kingdom community‟ was undoubtedly „a sign of the kingdom‟ but this is not quite the same thing as leaven that is destined to spread until it „leavens the whole lump‟ (Matthew 13:33). As far as India is concerned while we can still hope for signs of the kingdom (and these to be given not only by churches and mission organisations) will India „be won for Christ‟ as Dr Hughes suggests still might be possible? If this question itself sounds faithless, what about past claims that the kingdom of Christ had indeed been established on a territorial and universal basis? For example, the Holy Roman Empire in Western Europe thought of itself in this way. The truth is, however, that the idea of Christendom lies in disarray, and nobody is making such claims today. Indeed many Christians view the passing of the idea of Christendom with relief.
Does „the kingdom now but not yet‟, the idea, popularised by George Eldon Ladd that the Kingdom was inaugurated by Christ and we can already experience its manifestations, but we must await the Second Coming for its consummation, help us here? I believe it does though it does not resolve all our dilemmas. What this amounts to is a two phase approach: demonstration and achievement. The sobering thought is that as far as justice is concerned, and indeed for any other matter, the first is much easier than the second. As Dr Hughes points out, there have been some significant demonstrations in our day. He was understandably enthusiastic, for example, about the work done by Jubilee 2000. What tends to be less impressive is the level of achievement as a result of these demonstrations. Has the debt situation (the main focus of Jubilee 2000) improved significantly and is it seen as „kingdom work‟ when it has? Similar questions could be asked of the Make Poverty History movement and the Micah Challenge. Has demonstration led to achievement? More widely, what about the universality of Isaiah 11? Consider the saying in Revelation that „the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ‟ (Revelation 11:15). To put it rather simplistically, when can we expect that to happen?

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