The Need for an Eschatological Spirituality
On October 22, 1994 I attended the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Bergen, Norway. I recall receiving a copy of Ministry Magazine that was dedicated to “The Great Disappointment." As a newly converted Adventist Christian I had read a number of books on the atonement, sanctuary theology, and how early Adventists interpreted Daniel 8:14. I remember sitting in church musing about all that I’d studied as well as the experience of those pre-millennial Millerites, poised on the brink of eternity, waiting for the return of Jesus. As they watched the sun sink into the earth, light turned into darkness, for Jesus hadn’t come.
Mervyn Maxwell likened the crushed messianic hope of the disciples after they saw their Lord hanging on a tree to those early Adventists in the autumn of 1844. If that were the case, devastated is a far more accurate description of William Miller and friends than disappointed. However, my thoughts were jarred into reality when I considered that, 150 years later, the church is still waiting.
Fast-forward sixteen years later to the present: though most of us have outgrown our date-setting tendencies, are we not still faced with the same perplexing dilemma? We’ve preached the imminent return of the Lord, yet Jesus hasn’t come.
I’m certainly not alone in recognizing that many of the problems we face today within the Adventist church stem from the fact we’re still here. Over the years Adventist publishing houses have churned out a plethora of books attempting to make sense of the apparent delay. Yet, despite the prognosticators and futurologists’ analyses and predictions to provide insight, there is sparse effort to tackle what I would call “eschatological spirituality.”
In response to this dilemma, I have a proposal. Instead of asking ourselves why Jesus has not yet returned, I believe our focus must shift to a more basic question: How shall we live in light of the second coming? Moreover, how do we hold in tension an unsustainable state of expectancy with a myopic and secular vision of the here-and-now? What does an eschatological, or last-day, spirituality look like for Seventh-day Adventists who continue to believe they’re living at the end of time?
Peter and Patience
Fortunately, the God who reveals the future has foreseen our earthly hang-ups with heavenly time. Upon turning to the ancient texts we discover that our predicament is not new. Listen to the apostle Peter’s summative exhortation for believers weighing the reality of the apparent delay: “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things [i.e., the coming of the day of God], be diligent to be found by him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Pet. 3:14-15).
It is quite clear that even in the earliest days of the church there were those who took the delay to mean that Christ would never return (2 Pet. 3:4). In his second letter Peter exposes the errors and reveals the ultimate destiny of such teachers, as well as those who follow suit. Considering these mockers, Peter reminds believers that God’s view of time is quite different than ours. He writes, “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day,” and “God is not slack as some count slackness” (2 Pet. 3:8-9). Peter seems to be saying that our relationship to time should be like God’s—an opportunity for salvation, which is characterized by patience.
The problem is that patience is a very difficult discipline to cultivate; it counteracts our natural tendency of flight or fight. Nevertheless, patience is the alternative to fighting or fleeing—it is the third way. It calls for discipline because it goes against the grain of our natural tendencies and our fast-paced consumerist culture that wants everything to happen now. Patience involves sticking with it, living through it, listening carefully, and stopping when someone is in need. In short, “patience is a willingness to be influenced even when this requires giving up control.” Herein lies the heart of patience.
Throughout the New Testament, hypomone, the Greek word for patience, is translated in a variety of ways, all of which are filled with a portfolio of meaning. Patience, like all fruit of the Spirit, is rooted in God’s character. For example, the Old Testament consistently portrays God as long-suffering and slow to anger (e.g., Ex. 34:6; Ps. 103:8; Joel 2:13). When God exhibits patience, it represents God’s willingness to yield control. To this end, Jesus Christ is our great exemplar. Having been called to suffer for us, Jesus yielded control to the powers that be so that through his death we might die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Pet. 2:21-23).
Jesus’ willingness to yield control also demonstrates how God is not in a hurry. God isn’t in the business of coercion and forcing our hand. Instead, the Lord waits for us to respond to the Holy Spirit’s initiatives. God’s love is patient and does not “insist on its own way” (1 Cor. 13:4-5). In this manner,
The cross is a startling and humbling reminder that the Lord of the universe does not reign with an iron fist; rather, this sovereign reigns from a tree. Is it possible to imagine a more stunning example of long-suffering than this: the Creator hanging on a tree on behalf of creation?
Thus, Peter links patience, God’s character, and the character of believers together. “Like the Holy One who called you,” he urges, “be holy yourselves also in all your behavior, because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet. 1:15-16; Lev. 11:44).
The return of Christ to this earth is not some curious piece of information, or even a doctrine built upon a mound of texts proving the manner of the Lord’s return: literal, visible, audible, and glorious. “Indeed,” George Eldon Ladd reminds us, “the fundamental meaning of the nearness of the Kingdom is not chronological but is the certainty that the future determines the present.” For Peter, the second advent is an incentive to holy living patterned after the God who patiently waits.
The parousia, or second coming, is God’s way of forming Advent keepers ready for the promised land. I contend that belief in the doctrine of the second advent is itself a spiritual discipline, similar to prayer, fasting, Bible study, and Sabbath observance. It shapes our attitude and how we live in the here-and-now in view of Christ’s return. Thus, the parousia is not just an event waiting to happen, it’s a way of life for God’s people in the last days. “Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12, emphasis mine).
Erik Carter, D.Min., is working on a Ph.D. in Practical Theology at Claremont School of Theology. _________________
 For an archived edition see: http://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1994/October.  C. Mervyn Maxwell, Tell It To The World (Boise, ID: Pacific Press, 1977), 40f.  A sampling of a few books on my shelf include: William G. Johnson, The Fragmenting of Adventism (Boise, ID: Pacific Press, 1995); George R. Knight, The Fat Lady and the Kingdom (Boise, ID: Pacific Press, 1995), and most recently: The Apocalyptic Vision and the Neutering of Adventism (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2008); Jack W. Provonsha, A Remnant in Crisis (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 1993); Arnold Wallenkampf, The Apparent Delay (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 1994).  The word “secular “comes from the Latin saecularis, literally meaning “this worldly.”  Donald P. McNeil, Douglas A. Morrison, and Henri J. M. Nouwen, Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life (New York: Random House, 2005), 91.  Ibid.  Philip D. Kenneson, Life on the Vine: Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit in Christian Community (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1999), 110.  George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2001), 209.  D.A. Carson, Douglas Moo, and Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1992), 443.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2610