by Andrew Spencer
Trevin Wax is one of the most incisive cultural commentators in the evangelical community. He has a talent for moving past pearl clutching about trends in pop culture by asking foundational questions about the ideas that animate to moral activity in entertainment and society. His recent book, Eschatological Discipleship is an overt presentation of the theological analysis that is evident in the background of Wax’s popular books and blogs.
Eschatology is the oft neglected and frequently abused topic in Christian systematic theologies. As Wax notes, discussions of the end times in seminary courses tend to be stuck on the end of the course syllabus and often are the first to get axed when discussions of soteriology and ecclesiology run long at the beginning of the semester. More often, the term eschatology is understood to mean endless debate about the nature and timing of the rapture, the intrigue of the mark of the beast, and various theories on the millennium.
This book gets beyond the most common pitfalls of eschatological debate to focus on the core issue of eschatology as it is woven throughout Scripture. In particular, Wax emphasizes the idea of eschatology as a source for telos; it is the theological topic that provides the best evidence for the meaning of life. In other words, eschatology is not primarily about charts and timing, but about providing a lodestar of eternal purpose to navigate life in ever-changing times.
In Eschatological Discipleship: Leading Christians to Understand their Historical and Cultural Context, Wax does something few treatments of the topic do: he offers an analysis of the eschatologies of worldviews that compete with Christianity. His analysis of the eschatology of the Enlightenment, the Sexual Revolution, and Consumerism are unique in their revelation of the unspoken, but evident meaning encoded in those rival systems of meaning. This book provides a framework for discussing the often-obscured theologies of those movements.
Wax begins the book with a chapter defining the term eschatological discipleship. He argues, “eschatological discipleship is spiritual formation that seeks to instill wisdom regarding the contemporary setting in which Christians find themselves (in contrast to rival conceptions of time and progress) and that calls for contextualized obedience as a demonstration of the Christian belief that the biblical account of the world’s past, present, and future is true.” (p. 41) This definition makes clear Wax’s aim, which is to present a theological argument that unquestionably leads to obedience.
In three chapters, Wax presents a biblical theology of eschatological discipleship, beginning with the Old Testament, then focusing on the Gospels and Acts, and concluding with a survey of the topic in Paul’s letters. It becomes evident through this survey that all of Scripture encourages Christians to ask, “What time is it?”, so they can understand their culture and how they should live in their particular context to the glory of God.
Chapter Five presents the idea of eschatology within non-Christian thought, which leads the way into the helpful analysis of the next three chapters. In the sixth through eighth chapters of the book, Wax performs a critical analysis of the eschatology of the Enlightenment, the Sexual Revolution, and Consumerism, which all compete with Scripture to dominate the worldviews of Christians in our age. In the final chapter, Wax shows how his presentation of eschatological discipleship can enhance the practice of evangelical theology and equip every church member to better respond to the confused theologies around them.
Trevin Wax is one of the most gifted writers among evangelicals. This academic book is no exception. The prose is clear and the arguments careful. He manages to raise concern about the real problems within the dominant culture of the West without calling for withdrawal or reflexive combativeness. Eschatological Discipleship is a specimen of Christian scholarship in its most helpful form: theologically precise and readable.
Those who have read other books by Wax will likely see the connection between another of his recent books, This is Our Time: Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel, and this volume. Eschatological Discipleship makes clear the theological framework that This is Our Time presents in a practical, popular format. The close connection between the two books offer an example for Christian scholars for how to translate scholarship for broad consumption and how to most efficiently steward their research by pitching their arguments to multiple audiences.
Eschatological Discipleship is a useful resource for pastors and scholars seeking to understand the contours of contemporary culture better. Theologically informed laity will likely find this book an accessible and informative volume, too. This is a book that will have enduring value for its analytical content and exemplary argumentation.
Andrew J. Spencer is a member of CrossPointe Church in Monroe, MI. He regularly writes at EthicsAndCulture.com.