By Patrick Scriven, Director of Communications & Young People’s Ministries
News of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection’s $90 million plan to overhaul their Leawood, Kansas campus was met with a significant amount of cynicism on social media. While the downward trend lines for church attendance in the United States arguably justifies some skepticism, the volume and vehemence of the commentary suggested something more; a blend of envy with an element I couldn’t put my finger on right away.
Eschatology is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as a branch of theology concerned with the final events in the history of the world or of humankind. While Christian eschatology is often associated with attempts to define a biblical understanding of the end times, this is too narrow of a definition for those who honor the diverse voices found in Scripture. Eschatology is better understood then as the prophetic task of finding and proclaiming hope in the midst of despair-laden situations.
[quote_box_right]COR showed once again that people…can and will respond to a vision.[/quote_box_right]This week brought news that can only be understood as a vindication for The Church of the Resurrection’s (COR) leadership team. Where they set out to secure $60 million in pledges for this ambitious project, they exceeded their goal with $63.2 million. Despite the naysayers, and more open-minded skeptics such as myself, COR showed once again that people, at least 3,800 households in this case, can and will respond to a vision.
The Bible does not contain one eschatological tradition, it contains several. It has been noted, by more than one biblical scholar, that Jesus himself was an eschatological preacher who taught that the current age would soon come to an end (the bulk of Mark 13 for example) to make room for what God would do next.
[quote_box_left]”Wouldn’t this money be better spent on the poor?”[/quote_box_left]While we can disagree about how literally we interpret Jesus’ eschatological teachings, it would be hard to argue that they haven’t caused their share of confusion. It’s also difficult to ignore how our understanding of them, particularly in relationship to Jesus teachings on possessions and wealth, might impact how we perceive any grand building endeavor a church might consider. As many noted on social media, “Wouldn’t this money be better spent on the poor?”
I believe that it is a legitimate and good thing to critique how we spend our money as a church. Care for the poor coupled with the Wesleyan desire to do the most good we can, are incredibly important tools to balance our natural inclinations towards the things that sparkle and shine. After all, how we spend the resources we have is a very public witness to our understanding of Gospel values.
[quote_box_right]I wonder whether we’ve adopted an eschatology of despair; a belief that no matter what we do, the church’s best days are behind us.[/quote_box_right]But I also wonder, in the severest critiques of COR’s plan, whether we’ve adopted an eschatology of despair; a belief that no matter what we do, the church’s best days are behind us. Living in these self-imposed end times, the most logical thing we can do is slowly ride out the clock, divesting ourselves of property and mission so we can keep the pension fully funded and the discontent of the remaining souls in our pews manageable.
Such an eschatology of despair doesn’t allow us to see another’s success as anything but a capitulation to a consumer culture or some other unseemly tendency. Our own attempts to try something new are undercut but the deep reservoirs of cynicism it breeds. A paralyzing doubt of our mission stunts growth and derails our natural connectional impulses.
As I read it, the Bible contains several different eschatological expressions which aren’t in perfect alignment but that isn’t to say that they disagree. There is one common theme that runs through them all, to my simple understanding anyway. And that one thing? Hope.
[quote_box_left]Hope demands that we invest more than our prayers and goodwill toward the future.[/quote_box_left]Eschatology is only Christian in as much as it seeks to embody hope. And hope demands that we invest more than our prayers and goodwill toward the future.
I still have questions about any church construction plan that is pitched as a 100 year strategy, and I think there is always some healthy validity to concerns about modesty so long as they aren’t overly-laden with austerity. But I am genuinely thankful that The Church of the Resurrection is offering its people, and perhaps the larger connection, a vision that is grounded in an eschatology of hope.
In these dark days of connectional malaise, we could all use a little hope.
Now it’s your turn.
- Does this new plan cast by The Church of the Resurrection offer a hopeful vision or is it optimistic to a fault?
- How do we faithfully live into an eschatology of hope while balancing such work with our call toward acts of mercy and justice?
- Are we trapped in our planning by a narrative of decline and an eschatology of despair?
What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below.
Image credit: Screen capture of Sanctuary Flythrough video from the 10,000 Reasons campaign.