by Dayton Hartman
If you grew up in a church, you know that Christians can argue over incredibly dumb things. Sure, Jesus told us the world will know us by our love for one another, but this is serious—new carpet in the sanctuary! It’s amazing! Why wouldn’t you want it?
Now, my own tradition? Well, Southern Baptists’ favorite pastime is arguing. We value the autonomy of local churches and we believe in congregational church government. This can result in some wild and wacky—or just mean and angry—debates over silly issues. Thankfully, most denomination-wide skirmishes have been justified. Our battle over the authority of the Bible was worth “going to the mat.” But there have been other, less-justified struggles, too: whether Baptists officially embrace Calvinism over Arminianism, how often we should observe the Lord’s Supper, and the “worship wars” of the 1990s (fine, Chris Tomlin—you win).
Yet, as our culture veers toward antipathy to Christian faith, perhaps we—as Christians—should fight less and agree more. There should be increasing solidarity within traditions and across traditions.
The more splintered we are over secondary doctrinal issues, the less effective we are in the mission that Jesus gave us. Christian cooperation in gospel expansion must be predicated upon a return to creedal Christianity: we define the essentials upon which all Christians agree by the early ecumenical creeds.
THE CREEDS’ ESCHATOLOGY
Simply put, the creeds are memorable, faithful summaries of what the Bible teaches and what Christians have always believed. For children of the Reformation, the early creeds faithfully present accurate summaries of biblical orthodoxy that reflect sola Scriptura. Creeds can be the rallying point for Christian cooperation because they act as orthodox guardrails for theologians and pastors.
I like to think of the relationship between Scripture and creeds as a highway. Scripture is our starting point. It defines the direction and content of biblical orthodoxy. Our journey in biblical orthodoxy must take place within the lanes provided by Scripture. Within those lanes, Christians can disagree and remain on the safe road of biblical orthodoxy. Think of the lanes as different Christian traditions—Reformed, Wesleyan, or charismatic, for example. The guardrails of the creeds protect those traveling along the highway of biblical orthodoxy. While allowing for diversity on nonessential issues, the creeds prevent us from veering away from biblical orthodoxy. Because the safeguards exist, the only way to leave the safe road of orthodoxy is to do a great deal of damage.
The creeds should serve as the basis for Christian cooperation. Millions of Christians around the globe confess these truths daily.
So what do the creeds say about the End Times? As an example, let’s consider the Apostles’ Creed. The Apostles’ Creed bubbled up from the beliefs of everyday Christians. Australian theologian Ben Myers describes this creed as a “grassroots confession of faith.” Although it bears the name “the Apostles’ Creed,” this text did not originate with the apostles themselves but rather with the sacramental and catechetical practices of those passing on the teaching of the apostles. In reading through the creed, you will note that these are the beliefs of all Christians for all time. There is nothing innovative here. Instead, these are sturdy, ancient truths that have stood the test of time and challenges from heresy.
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
Notice the italicized portions of the creed: these phrases speak to Christian eschatology. There are no charts, no speculation, just confidence that Jesus gives us true life and mends what’s broken—both now and, ultimately, in his return. Beyond this confidence, there is unwavering hope that when Jesus wins, we will rise to resurrected life.
We need to return to the creeds’ eschatology. That’s not to say that our eschatological exploration should never exceed the content of the creed. No! Instead, the particulars of our eschatological convictions ought never contradict nor supersede the uniting Christian hope of Christ’s assured return and victory.
THE HOPELESSNESS OF CULTURAL ESCHATOLOGY
American Christians live in difficult times culturally and politically. We seem to have lost the culture war. And politically we’re wandering in the wilderness. If your hope is tied to political or cultural renewal as the evidence of Christ’s work in the world, then you will eventually find yourself in despair. But eschatology ought to bring hope!
So, why do many feel so hopeless? Here are two observations:
1. The news cycle is always pessimistic. Controversy and scandal drive the news of our day. If it’s not shocking or terrifying, we tend not to pay attention. Therefore, the news media knows it must continue to publish provocative and even fear-inducing content in order to drive subscriptions and consumption. Our theology is far more influenced by our cultural context than we realize. It is cliché but true: theology is not formed in a vacuum. This cloud of despair over our culture drives us toward hopelessness in our theology.
2. We have neglected the simple eschatological hope that Jesus will return, and when he does, he wins. We tend to approach eschatology either as an impulse toward intense, conspiracy-theory-esque speculation or as a subject that should be ignored to avoid debates. Jesus must be at the center of our eschatology, or our best-concocted theories will fail to reflect the truth of God’s plans.
So, what is the answer to our predicament? Should we turn off the news? Maybe! The news cycle will always be a drag on one’s soul. Nevertheless, while ignorance may be bliss, it is still ignorance. What would be most beneficial to us is to interpret the news cycle in light of what we know to be true: no matter how difficult the days become, Jesus is coming soon, and Jesus wins.
THE HOPE OF THE CREEDS’ ESCHATOLOGY
Practically, how do we interpret the news in light of Jesus’ second coming?
Um, maybe not by diving into controversies about amillennialism, postmillennialism, and premillennialism?
The answer to our angst is much simpler. To have hope for the future, we need to look back.
The earliest Christians were the target of a hostile, nearly global empire. The first believers were the subject of vicious accusations from a world that did not understand them. They were wrongly accused of incest, cannibalism, and child sacrifice, just to name a few. Yet they held strongly to an undeniable hope. This hope was not because they had the details and dates of eschatology figured out. If we look to the early church, the first believers were united in the hope-inducing conviction that Jesus is returning—soon—and that when he does, he will be the victor. While this didn’t save them from the pain and suffering of this world, it did give them the endurance to trust Christ to the end.
They endured because they believed in the sovereignty of God. Our God is the Creator who rules over time and the affairs of humankind. When peace rules in our nation or the nations, our God reigns. When genocidal maniacs wipe out villages, our God still reigns—storing up judgment against those who commit injustice.
The Psalms provide examples of holding our pain, anger, and frustration before God and others. Consider Psalm 13: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” (vv. 1–2). The apparent victory of evil over good and the presence of tragedy instead of peace break our hearts. But confession and prayer move us from despair to trust. The psalmist cries out in pain and abandonment. And in his cries he is reminded of God’s steadfast love. Confidence in Christ’s victory doesn’t mean we won’t experience loss, fear, and suffering. But he will bring justice at his second coming, and the One we cry out to in our despair hears us and answers us:
“I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation” (v. 5). No matter the circumstances of national and global tragedies and triumphs, our God is supreme, and the time until his return grows shorter each day.
Resist the urge to despair at the state of affairs in our nation and our world by joining the early church in simply and confidently confessing: Jesus is coming soon, and Jesus wins. No matter how dark the days grow, confidence in the final and ultimate victory of Jesus ought to bring hope to even the most pessimistic of people. Regardless of where we land on the spectrum of eschatological interpretations, we agree on far more than we disagree.
When it comes to eschatology, Christians are united in one hope.
Editor’s Note: This post is excerpted from chapter 4 of Jesus Wins: The Good News of the End Times by Dayton Hartman (Lexham, 2019).
 See Dayton Hartman, Church History for Modern Ministry: Why Our Past Matters for Everything We Do (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016), 14.
 Hartman, Church History for Modern Ministry, 16.
 Ben Myers, The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism, Christian Essentials (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018), 2.
 Myers, The Apostles’ Creed, 3–5.
 For more on the Apostles’ Creed as well as the Nicene Creed, see Hartman, Church History for Modern