A Trinitarian view of the last things (eschatology)
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.