Jacques Ellul Challenges My Eschatology

As a child growing up around Methodists, Baptists, and Charismatics, I soaked up a hodgepodge of End Times theories. The most common End of the World issue was “The Rapture”, and whether it would come before the great tribulation, during the great tribulation, or after.

If you’re not familiar with these age-old religious terms, let’s get that out of the way. The Great Tribulation is the nickname for a predicted period of intense global calamity and suffering yet to come. Just imagine global pandemics, wars, destructive earthquakes, hurricanes, nuclear devastation, and you’ll get the idea. This period of global catastrophe is expected to end with the total destruction of the earth as we know it.

The Rapture is what people call a moment in the Future when Jesus will return from Heaven to gather true believers from Earth and bring them out of pain and suffering to join him in an epic banquet feast. John,author of Revelation, described a vision in which a NEW Heaven and NEW Earth are created which will never be destroyed.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

Revelation 21

 

Why the New Earth Concept Is Dangerous

People of faith seem to feel very little responsibility to steward Earth. Despite the fact that God created this habitat for man and woman to thrive and to oversee. Why aren’t Christians the most sustainable, regenerative, and ecologically active people on the face of this planet? Because why spend time on something that’s gonna just burn.

That’s right. Believers tend to see Earth as temporary, so they treat it like it’s disposable. They litter. They waste. They consume. They ignore.  And then they have the audacity to go out into the world and try to make littering wasting consuming disciples.

The World I WANT To See

People who accept and believe that Adam and Eve were the first humans, and that the garden was created specifically for them to live in and steward should lead the charge to innovate in regenerative agriculture. That means healing the earth, restoring the soil, replenishing nutrients, and fostering a more beneficial ecosystem than they experienced the day they were born.

It makes total sense to me that, if we could honestly reread Revelation and find a predictive path that excludes global destruction, we would discover a mandate to foster the paradise we wish to inhabit for all Eternity.

There are so many reasons why this interpretation would work. Just take stewardship alone. Why hand a brand new Earth to a bunch of worthless unfaithful stewards? Why would they suddenly take good care of Earth 2? Wouldn’t it rather make better sense to reward good and faithful service with an incorruptible version or enhanced version of the garden they have labored faithfully to establish.

That’s the End Times vision I WANT to see.

But am I pie-in-the-sky dreaming? Jacques Ellul seems to think so. In his book, Apocalypse: The Book of Revelation, Ellul makes a convincing case for the standard Earth-will-be-utterly-destroyed worldview.

He addresses my wishful thinking in this passage:

This description of human rejoicing in a universe of nature is not, as we shall see, a small theological error. This is fundamental. We can discern three essential elements: the New of God, the City, the Warning.

The first evidence is that the new creation, which is absolutely new, comes only through judgment and destruction: first, a radical crisis is necessary, annihilation that falls upon all: nature, humanity, history, and the powers. This death is inevitable in order that something truly new appear; this judgment is indispensable for the separation of the wheat and the tares. There is then no continuity. The city of God is not at the end of human progress, at the end of history by a sort of accumulation of the works of man; at this end there is found only Babylon. Our works then are not a linear and cumulative preparation for the celestial Jerusalem.

In the Apocalypse there is no idea of a fulfillment by historical progress. The old things that are effaced (the first heaven, the first earth, have disappeared) are characterized here only by Death, Suffering, Separation. All the rest that was the grandeur of man has never been exempt. All that which was happiness, good, beauty is transitory and passing. All was under the sign of suffering and separation: which was the sign not of pessimism, but of discernment of the most profound reality.

This statement flies directly in the face of the Bethel Church eschatology espoused briefly by Kris Vallotton and Bill Johnson. They’ve shared over the years that they see a very different End Times than the standard churn-and-burn eschatology. They have chosen to live as though believers have been given the mandate to usher in the Kingdom here on earth, and that what we do may establish the New Heaven and New Earth with the old’s complete destruction or disposal.

That’s a future I WANT to see, but I’m in pursuit of understanding what I should believe. As I’ve mentioned, I see the current mode of interpretation leading to a despicable irresponsibility. This result does not line up with what I know of the Father. He fashioned us carefully to be faithful stewards of this habitat he placed us within. Whether we need a new interpretation of Revelation or simply a more mature response to its current interpretation, I do not know.

I know that I see far more symbolism than realism in Revelation than I used to, so I’ve made it my mission to pursue a deeper understanding.

  1. I have followed your wife for years…she is such a blessing! that’s how I found you:)

    last year my husband and I found N.T. Wright (worlds leading NT scholar) and read through “Surprised By Hope” and “Simply Good News”. he has so much to stay about rapture theology and new creation. he has helped shift our focus entirely with regards to what you have written.

    if you haven’t read any of his writings they may help in your quest!

    great post!

    blessings,
    Nicki

  2. nteresting article. I have been giving quite a bit of thought to eschatology lately. (I’m actually including a little on that subject in my book). I’m not convinced any of the current views of eschatology are correct. When you examine them against the scriptures they all have some biblical support, but they all tend to gloss over passages of scripture that clearly refute some of their main points.

    On a side note, I find it interesting how people write about eschatology from their own personal bias. I would assume the author of this article is of the personality type David Kiersey calls the “idealist.” ( 4 of the 16 Myers-Briggs personality types are idealists.) The hallmark of the idealist personality type is that they must always have a cause for which they fight. Some champion the cause of justice, some fight for world peace and the eradication of hunger. This person seems to champion the cause of saving the planet. Nothing wrong with that in itself, but it is good to keep in mind the fact that we all have biases which affect our writing.

    1. I think everyone champions some cause. And I think it’s the limited worldview of salvation and nothing else that has contributed to our global failings. But there’s more than my personal interest at stake.

      Consider whether the new earth is post-destruction of this earth or a continuation and restoration of this existing earth. How you and I see our responsibility for stewardship is radically affected by which view we hold as the truth.

      If we the believers usher in the Kingdom on earth and are the agents of restoration, then all earth is groaning and waiting for us to take the planet seriously. Habitat is an enormously life or death important subject. There is no life without habitat. And I think that we can find the subject of habitat to be a fringe or extremist focus is proof that we’ve adopted a secular greek dualism in our faith that wasn’t intended by God.

      Food for thought.

    2. Thank you for your thoughts. I need the critique to hone and sharpen and clarify my points. I’m still very early in my thinking on this and plan to chart my progress here on this site.

  3. I haven’t devoted that much time to eschatology. Partially, I think there is so much pointing to different sides of the issue that I don’t think my interpretation is going to matter in the end. It is what it is. I had a little trouble following this article. I don’t think that American Christians are any more damaging to the planet than secular Americans.

    To me that is a cultural fault of our society and not a religious fault on the part of Christians. As for the eschatological part of the discussion, I really don’t know what to think. I was raised with the Baptist rapture philosophy and would lean towards hoping that is what is going to result. Not that I understand the Bethel view but I would not think that that interpretation is particularly valid.

  4. I agree with their teachings and understandings of scriptures regarding the new heavens and new Earth. I have sat and listened to those teachings back to 1997 of Bill Johnson, Kris Vallotton, and Danny Silk.

    1. Thanks, Lee. I’ll look into Kris and Bill’s books further and see if I can find a more detailed explanation of their beliefs. I would love to find some solid theological underpinnings.

  5. I grew up as a PK and was very schooled in the whole rapture/tribulation bit. However, even from a small child, it never sat well with me. It came down to the fact that it was all very fear based, which speaks of religion, control, manipulation, not a God of Love that casts out all fear.

    I do not know a single person that holds the beliefs of the rapture/tribulation theory where I am deeply impressed/inspired by their current walk with God or by the fruit they walk in their everyday. No judgement coming from me concerning this at all, it’s just a simple fact. Every person where I am deeply impressed/inspired by their current walk with God and the fruit of their life in their everyday, they are not a person that holds this particular belief system. So I find that interesting.

    I do not embrace any kind of belief of powerlessness, wherever it may be. I love the thoughts you have shared on how this particular set of beliefs creates a different kind of powerlessness and victimization that I have not looked at previously. And I so agree with you.

    I personally am very intentional in creating atmospheres, taking territory around me, etc. There’s great work to do. I’m not sitting here waiting to be rescued. I’m not a victim. Like Jesus, there is Dad’s business to do, mainly about Goodness, ever learning to walk out His nature in greater ways. I believe the Earth is crying out for us to take our places of authority and transform the Earth as a collective body and any “tares” out there, we really don’t have to worry about. If we were about the business of Goodness we were called to, the tares would melt away easily. We are learning to be stewards of His Goodness and nature and the more we do so, the more the Earth will transform in various ways. <3

    1. Love this response, Cherieann! “I personally am very intentional in creating atmospheres, taking territory around me, etc. There’s great work to do. I’m not sitting here waiting to be rescued. I’m not a victim.”

      Your words describe a very real clash of worldviews that needs a resolution. Most professing believers live as powerless victims waiting on a rescue, while Jesus spoke of the Kingdom is HERE and go do what I have done and even greater things. These are not mandates for a powerless victim population. This is a mandate for bold and empowered ambassadors.

      We’ve just begun to scratch the surface on this issue, but I’m going to continue to dive deeper and share my findings on this site.

  6. Quickly I will say that I lean WAY more towards Bill and Kris and Jonathan Welton and most of the ENTIRETY of our Christian history and a victorious eschatology. I think this lines up with the revelation of God in Jesus. I don’t believe in the destruction of the Earth but a redemption of it as I believe our original mandate still holds true.

    I believe most of Revelation is fulfilled in AD 70. Raptureless.com (and free ebook) is something I would agree with 95% of the time.

  7. Daniel, it is clear the Bible discusses new heaven and new earth and that some kind of destruction will precede it (2 Peter 3). What that will look like, I don’t know. It is unfortunate that those who (correctly) understand that all will be made new after some kind of destruction manifest those beliefs by a neglect for creation. We are still called to care for the creation; that has not changed.

    We are going to die (if Christ does not return beforehand), but we take care of our bodies (most try to anyway; and when they don’t they spend $$$ trying to make it well again). So there is an inconsistency. We don’t know when we will die so we take care of ourselves; we don’t know when transformation of heaven and earth will occur, so we should take care it. We are mandated to be stewards of all that God has given us.

    My reading of 2 Peter 3 indicates that in light of coming destruction we should be focused on living holy and Godly lives. Read other eschatological passages in Jesus and Paul and the message is the same; we are preparing for it by our lives.
    Someone might object by saying I am speaking about personal sanctification, but part of that sanctification is being obedient to what God as commanded.

    There seems to be too much of a dualistic worldview among believers (I know you have heard that before).

  8. I do not believe in a rapture of the church the way most Believers have been taught. It wasn’t until I learned a few things from Messianic Believers that I was corrected on this.

    1 Cor 15:50 – 54 – notice the phrase, “AT THE LAST TRUMP.” We know there are 7 trumpets mentioned in the book of Revelation. A lot of people teach about a trumpet sound before the tribulation when the church will be taken out of the earth so that God can reign down judgement on the heathens of the earth. I would remind you of the Exodus of the Children of God from Egypt. The pattern is God judged Egypt but non of the plagues touched His own. It was evident that in the midst of God’s judgement to the ones being judged that God’s kids were spared and even prospered during this time. God’s kids, in the midsts of what was going on, were not harmed. Psalma 91:5-7.

    Jews never taught of a great escape plan, in the New Covenant. They always spoke “THE DAY”

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