Faith Matters

OPINION | Clint Schnekloth: Apocalyptic, in the sense of a ruined world causing fear and anxiety, is not the gospel

The future is not dark, it’s growth, life and feast

Advent, the four weeks before Christmas, is in Christian tradition the season of apocalyptic. The lessons we read in worship weave together all the stories of Christ's coming, his birth as well as his coming again, combined with his preaching about the end.

But Christian apocalyptic isn't, or shouldn't be, popular apocalyptic. Popular apocalyptic entertains us with stark, despairing depictions of how bad it will be at the end. "Mad Max." "Don't Look Up." "The Day After Tomorrow." "Blade Runner."

Whether it is economic collapse, totalitarianism, zombies or nuclear winter, most popular apocalyptic stands as a warning that what has already been, our current trajectories, will result inevitably in collapse, degradation, the disintegration of everything.

Christian apocalyptic is not this. Although Christian apocalyptic does indeed offer stark warnings against harming the marginalized, the poor and the immigrant, it does so within the context of God's promise.

In other words, apocalyptic doesn't warn of what's coming because of what we've already done that is so bad. Apocalyptic reduced to a sense of a ruined world causing fear and anxiety is not the gospel.

Instead, this apocalyptic lives in anticipation of a promise, a word, that the future is in God and God is doing a new thing. Apocalyptic is a revealing of who this God is. Apocalyptic shows us God's promise as it gives life, makes for growth, lifts up the lowly, provides a feast.

This is why the famous New Testament theologian Ernst Käsemann said apocalyptic is the mother of all theology. Not because our future is all zombies and war and death, but because God is so much the God of life that all the worst death dealing still cannot win.

No escape into a dark twisted futuristic fantasy, but rather deepening into quite normal and everyday hope and joy.

J. R. R. Tolkien gets it right on some levels. Apocalyptic is the chance to return to the Shire because the ring is destroyed.

The most trenchant critique of apocalyptic is that it is escapism. A promise of heaven so we need not worry about the earth.

But Christian apocalyptic finds its most dramatic depiction in a vision where heaven comes down to earth, where a heavenly city arrives and transforms what currently is into what could be, in God.

Christian apocalyptic is a universal basic income for all. It's health care for all. It is shelter first. It's a ceasefire. It's the end of anxiety, a theology of worldwide liberation, even including the liberation of creation.

It's an unimaginable imaginable. It is the kin-dom of God on earth wherever the crucified Nazarene, that Palestinian Jew, is accepted. It is our freedom expressed not in acquiescence to the world's insanities, but rather in a revolutionary way of resistance. It is solidarity with those who suffer under the demagoguery of those in power like our current governor, who loves to play the popular apocalyptic in order to crush those she hates and others.

Advent as apocalyptic is the leaving behind of crony capitalism, authoritarianism, settler colonialism, and all the other forms of idolatry, resisting them, and instead proclaiming the promises again that ours is the God of the poor, the outcasts, the immigrant, the One who intervenes on behalf of and with partiality for the minorities and marginalized. The shape of our discipleship in light of this apocalyptic is to emulate this One, resolutely.

Upcoming Events