The Rediscovery Of Eschatology -- By: Werner Petersmann

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 089:354 (Apr 1932)
Article: The Rediscovery Of Eschatology
Author: Werner Petersmann

The Rediscovery Of Eschatology

Werner Petersmann

Eden Seminary, Webster Groves, St. Louis, Mo.

I. Decline

Eschatology, the doctrine of “last things” i.e. of death and eternity, of the last day and the last judgment and the coming of the Christ in glory, has indeed been the “last” chapter of dogmatics in the “liberal” period of Christian thinking just passing away. Eschatology meant to this “liberal” period scarcely more than an appendix, and, often enough, the “pointing to a great perplexity.” Even with the more conservative wing, it simply signified a more or less finishing touch. A “helpless scholarship contented itself with the letter of the Bible and with dogma” in the “prophetic doctrine” “On Last Things” in a time which was by no means minded any more along the lines of early Christian Eschatology. Thus Dr. Martin Rade expresses it pointedly in his Glaubenslehre. There has always been a certain characteristic lack of eschatological perspective and tension in ecclesiastical Protestant theology and preaching. This was due to two factors. In the formative period of the Reformation official Protestantism had to do with, and directed itself against, an “enthusiasm” that lacked all sober reflection. By its own genesis and nature it has, furthermore, been driven to concentrate upon, and has almost been absorbed by, the personal ethical focus of “justification” and “good works”, of individual sin and grace here and now in space and time. This trend stimulated a rather uneschatological incorporation of the “doctrine of last things” into the dogmatical system; in a belated conclusion faith “postulates” the “perfection”, perhaps only the “finally completing perfection”, possibly even merely the “indestructibility” of that present salvation of personal forgiveness and sonship which it experiences

and possesses already here and now on earth.1 Fundamentally the present communion with God is understood as already offering the realization of salvation. To an ever diminishing degree eschatology has remained the “crowning chapter, the sounding finale of God’s paean of victory over the world” (Karl Heim), but has ever more become that outsider, that “attempt, after one has spoken on all possible things, to add also something on death, heaven, and final establishment of the world”, as Karl Barth ironically remarks. Especially with the influential and dominating line of culturally and ethically interested Protestant theology, the doctrine of the last things becomes that poor stepchild, that “harmless eschatological little chapter”, and “insignificant appendix” of...

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