A Trinitarian view of the last things (eschatology)

This post concludes a series in the book Life in the Trinity by Donald Fairbairn. For other posts in the series, click a number: 1234567.

We'll look now at Fairbairn's view of the last things (eschatology). A key point made by Fairbairn concerning God's work to redeem humanity, including at the coming eschaton, is this:
...All the arrows point down, not up.... At no point in the biblical panorama is redemption a matter of our rising up to achieve a higher condition ourselves. Instead, at every point, God comes down to us, and at every point, this world is the focus of God's gracious activity. (p225) 
At the creation of humanity, God came down and walked among us in the Garden of Eden. Then, in order to reverse the fall, he came down as one of us to live our life, die our death and give us new, redeemed life. Then when Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, returned to his Father in heaven, he sent the Holy Spirit down to dwell with us, uniting us to Jesus and through Jesus to the Trinity. But what about the next step? Fairbairn comments:
Scripture...clearly teaches that in the next great redemptive event...the Son will come down a second time to this world.... Just as the arrow has pointed down at the incarnation, so the arrow will point down again as the Son returns to this world. (p226).
With this great event comes another: "God the Father will bring his dwelling place, heaven itself, down to this world." (p226). This coming of heaven to earth creates what is referred to in Isaiah 65:17 as "new heavens and a new earth" and in Revelation 21:1 as "a new heaven and new earth."  This place of God's dwelling with humanity is radically new, yet in continuity with what we now experience. God will not bring us "up" to heaven, but bring heaven (his manifest presence with us) "down" to us. Fairbairn comments:
From beginning to end, this world is the focus of God's activity and God comes down to accomplish his redemptive work among us. As stunning as it is to think that God chooses to give us a share in his own intratrinitarian fellowship, it is equally stunning to recognize that God's final act will be to change his address in order to dwell with us in the world he created for us originally, a world that he will re-create for us at the end of history. (p227). 
As Fairbairn notes, these Scriptural truths were taught by the early patristic fathers. Sadly, some of this teaching is under-emphasized in modern evangelicalism, though some like N.T. Wright (in "Surprised by Hope") and Rob Bell (in "Love Wins") are once again emphasizing that God's plan is to dwell with us forever in a renewed earth, merged with heaven.

Many and important implications flow from this understanding, not the least of which is a reminder that the earth matters greatly to God and therefore should to us: "Christianity is not world-rejecting but ultimately world-affirming." (p228). Moreover, this understanding reminds us that "life in this world has direct continuity with the life we will live eternally... Christian life is the task of beginning to live now in the way we will live perfectly later, in the new heavens and new earth..." (p229).

Fairbairn does not go into detail concerning related issues, such as who will dwell in this new heaven/earth and who will not (thus dwelling in hell). I'll take up these topics next time. In doing so, I'll build on what we've learned from Fairbairn concerning the doctrine of theosis, which tells us that salvation is our sharing in the Son's relationship with his Father through the power of the Holy Spirit.


Anonymous said…
Thank you for this continuing analysis of Donald Fairbairn's book. I have found this analysis very interesting and helpful. As I have read this material, I am reminded of an event that recently occurred in my life. You see, recently I decided to treat myself to a delicious snack bar. This snack bar came packaged in a bright, shiny, aluminized wrapper. So to enjoy my treat, I opened the wrapper, folded it back, and began to eat. And that bar was oh so tasty! It was filled with all sorts of good stuff and had a marvelous yellow color to attract my eyes.

Well, I ate what I thought was the whole bar. But then I noticed that I had apparently missed some of my treat because there in the wrapper I saw some of that yellow color reflecting back at me. Seeing this, I tried to pick the remainder of the snack bar out of the wrapper, but I couldn't seem to grab hold of anything. It was then that I noticed that I was not trying to grab my treat at all. Instead, I was trying to grab a reflection of myself, specifically the yellow shirt I was wearing, from the reflective inside of the wrapper!

As I contemplated what had just happened, it struck me that I had experienced a metaphor for our involvement with what has passed for and even now passes for Christianity. You see, the Christianity we see all about us is generally not the faith of the early apostles. It is instead a conglomeration of notions, teachings, and practices that has formed up over the centuries to become the Christianity we now see. The result is that when we seek to grab hold of authentic Christianity, all we often end up doing is grabbing for a reflection of our "Christianized" selves and not for the authentic faith. So, what are we to do to change this?

Well, I feel that we must learn to ask the hard questions about what we have all been taught and, as Donald Fairbairn apparently does, try to comprehend the faith as the early patristic fathers understood and practiced it. For starters, it would be good to ask, "Why was the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, and Luke so demanding, while the Jesus of the books that follow in the Bible so merciful in seeking to save us?" and, "What was in the minds of those, like Paul and John, who God inspired to write about the new faith they had just received, and what did these same men's words mean to those who first heard about and accepted the new faith?"

These and many other questions and understandings can help us grab the faith that was once and for all and for all time delivered to the saints and not vainly grab for a reflection of ourselves based on our present understanding of Christianity. The result of grabbing this authentic faith is that we can then feed on Jesus forever.

All the best!

J. Richard Parker
David Gilbert said…
I've not read Bell's book either, but from what I'm getting in blogdom, the main vitriolic accusation against Bell is that he is a universalist. Of course, that is also one of the main accusations against Trinitarian Theology, as well, though it is totally unfounded.

We do need to be prepared for the same accusations and I would recommend a *free* resource on the subject at Perichoresis Australia.

Stuart Johnson gave a two-part lecture on the subject along with Powerpoint slides detailing how the Church has missed the boat in the Augustinian/Calvin vs. Arminian debate. He then goes on to show what both Barth and T.F. Torrance taught about universalism.

The lecture is called "History of the Gospel" and the link is:


You can download both lecture files and the Powerpoint file by right-clicking and saving to your computer or you can listen from the website itself.

Dave Gilbert
Ted Johnston said…
Thanks Dave for pointing us to this resource.
Ted Johnston said…
For a helpful review from Jonathan Stepp of Rob Bell's book, "Love Wins" see http://theadoptedlife.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Review-of-Love-Wins.pdf
Ting Bejo said…
Hi Ted,

Amen to Fairbairn's eschatological hope.

I've been silently wondering if you would post a review of Bell's Love wins but Dave is more on the dot when he says we need to be prepared for the same charges.

As some observers have pointed out, this could be the tipping point of a big divide within American Evangelicalism that has been simmering for quite some time.