Eschatology is important in answering the question of what we are here to do. It particularly matters if you think we are living “in the last hours of the last days” or not. If the world will end soon, then let’s not waste time. But if the earth will be around for many more generations, then that’s different.
I grew up as a dispensational premillenialist. I read the first few Left Behind books, and stopped only because I found them boring, not due to any theological objections. In that school of thought, the end is really at hand, and every event in Israel, every political and economic alliance in Europe, every new UN program, is a clear sign that the end is near.
But as I studied eschatology a bit, I realized that there is no compelling reason to believe Jesus will come back soon. RC Sproul, Jr writes
Here’s where the soon return of Christ runs into problems. God promises to bless those among the children of Israel who obey this command to a thousand generations. A generation is roughly forty years. This promise was made roughly 4,000 years ago. Do the math. We have another 36,000 years to go. Oh, it may not be exactly that. 1,000, after all, could be a symbolic number, or a round one. But if Jesus comes back tomorrow, 1,000 symbolizes 100.
Whether or not we have 36,000 years to go, there is no reason for me to believe Christ will return in my lifetime. Despite what the preachers from my youth said.
For my purposes, it doesn’t much matter if there will be a rapture or not. A-, pre-, and postmillenialism all sort of converge if you assume Christ is not returning in the near future. Perhaps we are living in the millenium now and the conflict between good and evil will only intensify. Perhaps the world will get worse and worse, with ups and downs. I might as well do what I can to make this one of the “ups”. Or perhaps the postmillenialists are correct, and the kingdom will grow until Christ returns to consummate it. In any case, I have a responsibility to help build the kingdom of God. But what does that mean?
In Genesis 1:28, God tells man to take dominion over the earth. Reformed folks have referred to that as the “dominion mandate” or the “cultural mandate”. Dispensationalists point out that in Genesis 9:1, God tells Noah to be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth (echoing the original commandment to Adam) but does not say anything about taking dominion. Arguments from silence are weak, but still, there is a point there.
My question, then, is if we aren’t supposed to be “taking dominion” over the earth, then just what are we supposed to be doing until Jesus comes back?
One answer is that we are supposed to be winning souls. True, but what else? And what are we winning them to do? Win more souls? Are we only self replicating Von Neumann machines?
To put it another way, when Jesus told us to make disciples of all nations, what was He telling us to do?
Someone (I have seen it attributed to Henry Van Til, RJ Rushdoony, and George Grant) has said that culture is religion externalized. A simple thought experiment can demonstrate this. Imagine taking 100 committed Christians and dumping them on an uninhabited island, then taking 100 unbelievers (with similar characteristics as the first group in terms of politics, race, class, intelligence, etc) and dumping them on another uninhabited island. Over time, would they not develop two radically distinct cultures? If Christianity actually means anything, the answer has to be yes.
Or on a smaller scale: is it not generally true that a devout man and woman will have a very different (better!) home than unbelievers? Won’t parents who understand their authority and responsibility under God create a different sort of home than parents who don’t?
Unless Christianity is objectively meaningless, Christianity must produce some sort of culture (and I use culture in a broad sense). Something different from what Satan’s children will produce.
We can look to the Old Testament to see this. God’s laws were not restricted to morals and sacrifices. He regulated what Jews ate. He regulated what they wore. He ordained several festivals. He dictated significant economic policies. His laws, to a large extent, explicitly dealt with Jewish culture.
I cannot think of any signficant part of life that God has not addressed in His law. Not everything is perfectly spelled out for us, but God has at least given us criteria that we can use to evaluate elements of our culture.
I believe that Christians are to be about advancing the kingdom of God. This includes evangelism, because unless a man is born again He can’t see the kingdom of God. But it’s more than evangelism – or at least, more than preaching justification by faith. It includes externalizing our religion, and bringing all things under the authority of Christ. You might even say we are to be busy discipling the nations.