Thursday 26 January 2006

Reformation eschatology

“[I]t is easy to understand how eschatology could play such a comparatively insignificant role in the theology of the Reformers. They knew how to make so much of forgiveness of sins in particular that to them and their contemporaries anything of decisive importance that is to be said about the resurrection of the flesh and eternal life could be taken as said under that head.”

—Karl Barth, Credo: A Presentation of the Chief Problems of Dogmatics with Reference to the Apostles’ Creed (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1936), pp. 162-63.


Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more. Sometimes I think that you could take the resurrection (and incarnation for that matter) out of Reformed theology and it would still look more or less the same.

Jim said...

Actually Zwingli was quite interested in eschatology. And Barth would have known this if he had been a bit more attentive.


Anyway, see Walter Ernst Meyer's thorough "Huldrych Zwinglis Eschatologie"- TVZ.

Anonymous said...

I presume Barth is talking about the so-called Magisterial Reformers. Could their fear of "enthusiasm" and apocalyptic movements also have something to do with it?

Guy Davies said...

The Magesterial Reformers may not have paid enough attention to eschatology. But the balance is being redressed within the Reformed tradition. (Very) potted bibliography: Geerhardus Vos "The Pauline Eschatology" P & R, Herman Ridderbos "Paul An Outline of His Theology" Eerdmans, Cornelis P Venema "The Promise of the Future" Banner of Truth Trust.

Ben Myers said...

Thanks for these comments. Just to clarify, though, I should point out that Barth isn't trying to criticise the reformers here -- he's paying them a compliment! He thinks they are exactly right to understand eschatology not as something "added" to the gospel, but rather as the gospel itself in its future dimension.

In the same passage, Barth complains only that the reformers were not energetic enough and consistent enough in "repeat[ing] from the standpoint of the future all that has been said [about the forgiveness of sins] from the standpoint of the present".

Of course, this is Barth speaking in the 1930s, and he would later develop a more explicit understanding of eschatological hope. But I think he still makes an essential point here: eschatology does not add anything new to the gospel; rather, it is simply the gospel itself viewed as the promise of the future.

I suspect that we could avoid a lot of bizarre eschatological aberrations if only we were to grasp and remember this basic insight.

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