Ask A Theologian: Christ’s Second Coming

Written By Boston Avenue

Ask A Theologian

Advice from Boston Avenue's Theologian In Residence

In what ways should my belief that Christ will return again impact my lifelong journey of spiritual growth?

Response:

Well, there are several ways to think about that question. On the one hand, an answer might depend upon what you believe about Christ’s return. But from another perspective, maybe there is an answer that might make sense regardless of what one believes about The Second Coming.

As you may know, there are differing points of view about Christ’s return. Each point of view has its advocates and critics; and each has real-world consequences.

Those who do not expect a return visit to earth. One theologian used the metaphor of waiting for a train. If a train arrives a minute after its scheduled time, okay. If a train is hours off schedule, ouch! If one waits 2000 years for a train to arrive and still it does not, one might begin to think that the train is not coming. Of course, the criticism of this position would focus on “only God knows the day and the hour…”

There are pre-millennialists and post-millennialists. The pre-folk believe this world is doomed, heading for perdition. In this perspective, one should live in constant preparation for the rapture. Be vigilant. Neither try to fix what is broken in society nor make things worse. Pentecostal and fundamentalist churches were representatives of this point of view. This world is but a testing ground for life in the next. One’s spiritual preparation is to avoid all the distractions and temptations of this world, focus on the coming reign of God, watch, and prepare (think “preppers”). And try not to declare a date, stand on a hillside expecting to be raptured, and then go home disappointed too often!

Post-millennialists believe one should prepare one’s society for Christ’s return. Work in all the ways one can to midwife the coming reign of God, in one of two ways: “seek the welfare of the city,” work for justice with love, “build” the reign of God on earth; or seek control over all the domains of society (e.g., law, culture, religion, commerce, family) and use whatever power one can muster to engineer a society fitting for Jesus’ return. The former perspective was represented for decades by mainline Protestant churches, led by our own. The latter is a stance to which many leading Pentecostal and fundamentalist churches have moved in recent decades (e.g., dominionism, Christian reconstructionism). Spiritual work in these perspectives is often intertwined with re-making society into one’s interpretation of Jesus. Critics of this position often use the Tower of Babel story: human attempts to “build” the reign of God on earth are driven by hubris.

But perhaps a Wesleyan perspective on spiritual growth cuts through the divisions between a-millennialists, pre-millennialists, and post-millennials. John Wesley famously taught about the Christian life as “being perfected in love.” All of one’s life is to be lived in a posture receptive for grace. It is God’s grace that opens and increases our ability to love, to do all the good one can in all the ways one can for as long as one can—for God, for ourselves, for others, for the earth/our common home. One’s spiritual practices should prepare us to receive grace. The means of grace—prayer, scripture and other spiritual reading, contemplation, public worship, communion, meditation, doing works of loving kindness—are just that: channels, pathways, vehicles for God to change us through grace. Grace is the self-giving of God; the more grace we can receive, the more godly—and spiritual— we glow.

To be perfected in love, as Boston Avenue’s preachers have told us often over the years, does not mean to become without flaw in every way. No, to be perfected in love means, through receiving grace, one’s desires and powers are more and more oriented toward nothing else than love of God, self, and others. And that kind of spiritual reorientation seems, to me, ultimately worthy and fitting regardless of one’s perspective on The Second Coming.

Our Theologian in Residence

Gary Peluso-Verdend is the President Emeritus at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, OK, an ecumenical seminary affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Since 1993, he served at Phillips as a program director, the dean, development executive, president, and founding director of the Center for Religion in Public Life. For five years (2000-2005), he was the director of church relations at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL. Gary retired from Phillips in February 2023.

Gary is a retired ordained elder in The United Methodist Church (Northern Illinois Conference). He earned his PhD at the University of Chicago Divinity School in 1991. He attends Boston Avenue United Methodist Church in Tulsa where he teaches adult church school classes frequently.

Gary serves on the board of the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice and on working groups for the Braver Angels Alliance in OK and Compassionate Tulsa.

He and his wife live with their daughter in Tulsa, in the fourth (and last) house-in-need-of-updating they have owned. Gary’s three grown children and their families live in the Chicago area.

More Posts