Eschatology And Social Concern -- By: Wilber B. Wallis

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 24:1 (Mar 1981)
Article: Eschatology And Social Concern
Author: Wilber B. Wallis

Eschatology And Social Concern

Wilber B. Wallis*

The principal emphasis of this our Thirty-Second Annual Meeting has been on our evangelical responsibility for social concern and action. As might have been expected, there are differences among us. Yet we thought it worthwhile to use the forum furnished by the Evangelical Theological Society. Kenneth Kantzer has reminded us that

evangelicalism has a built-in corrective in the norm provided by Christ and Holy Scripture … Therefore, however badly they may practice it, the duty of the Evangelicals is clear—in obedience to Christ and to His Word, to preserve unity in essentials, in nonessentials to foster liberty, and in all things to love as only God can teach us how.1

In this spirit I invite your attention to the theme of eschatology and social concern. First, I shall argue that though we hold differing end-historical eschatological schemes the weightier demands of eternal life or eternal condemnation require us, in loyalty to Scripture, to have as our primary aim in all social involvement the presentation of the gospel. I hope that a brief historical survey of eschatological thought in the Church will help us find unity in essentials and charity in nonessentials, which we cherish in the Evangelical Theological Society. Second, I wish to trace in 1 Corinthians and Romans the striking correlation Paul assumes between eschatology and ethics. Finally, I wish to present for our reflection the challenge of seriously grappling with our differences in eschatological schemes so that we in the Evangelical Theological Society might adopt appropriate attitudes and goals.

I. Tensions And Differences In End-Historical Conceptions

A brief historical survey will help us to understand the origin of the differing end-historical eschatological schemes so that we may deal with them constructively. First, we glance at the trajectory of Augustinian thought. In taking over the scheme of Tyconius, including the idea that the millennium is the present age, Augustine made this view dominant for 1300 years. Harnack has an acute analysis of Augustine’s eschatological thought. He sees that Augustine, carried away by the power of the Church and moved by the fall of the Roman empire, whose existence was continued in the Church, felt that the millennium of Revelation 20 was being presently fulfilled in the Church. He radically restructured the chiliasm of the ancient Latin Church. The Church was elevated to the throne of supremacy over the world: Through the Church, Christ reigns supreme. This

*Wilber Wallis, professor of New Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, delivered this pr...

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