No, this isn’t a riff on Rob Bell’s latest book. The expression is Craig Hill’s two-word summary of what eschatology is all about in his book In God’s Time: The Bible and the Future (published in 2002). Hill is a professor of New Testament at Wesley Theological Seminary, and his book is an attempt to counter the lurid fantasies of popular Left Behind-style apocalyptic thinking with a more biblically informed view.
Regarding the meaning of eschatology, Hill writes:
When all is said and done…the essential point of eschatology is quite simple. In two words: God wins. God’s purposes ultimately will succeed; God’s character finally will be vindicated. At heart, all eschatologies are responses if not quite answers to the problem of evil. Are injustice, suffering, and death the final realities in our world? Is human history, both individual and corporate, purposeful? Is all this talk about the goodness, love, and justice of God just pie in the sky? Eschatologies differ in how they conceptualize God’s triumph, but they are essentially alike in asserting God’s victory as the supreme reality against which all seemingly contrary realities are to be judged. (p. 4)
Echoing Karl Barth, Hill insists that Christianity is “irreducibly eschatological.” He is thus taking issue not only with the eschatological views of Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, and their ilk, but also with liberal Christians who downplay, or deny altogether, the eschatological significance of Jesus and his mission. (I suspect he has in mind here Jesus Seminar types.) We might also add theologians who qualify God’s power to such a degree that God’s victory is no longer assured.
Hill maintains that the heart of Christianity is eschatological because it is based on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
In his resurrection, the early Christians saw the vindication of Jesus, who despite crucifixion was shown to be God’s Messiah. Even more, they saw in his resurrection the vindication of God. All of this talk of future hope, of God’s final justice and triumph, really is true. They knew it would happen to them because they had already seen it happen to Jesus. (p. 5)
As we’ve recently seen, it’s easy for Christians of a more moderate or liberal bent join their secular friends in mocking Rapture believers and the like. But what’s not easy, as Hill shows, is to separate Christianity from eschatology altogether, even though there are many ways of conceptualizing it. Mainline Christians tend to be uncomfortable discussing things like the end of the world and life after death. these things are inseparable from what we believe God is like and whether God will “win” in the sense that the divine purposes will ultimately triumph over sin, suffering, and death.