Just recently I heard my minister again refer to people who inadvertently hold to an over-realised eschatology. He made the point that this belief can often be seen in the view taken of the resurrection when preached at funerals. It seems that too often our beliefs are revealed when our humanness is laid bare.
It got me thinking that perhaps an over-realised eschatology is only a symptom of an over-realised Christology.
Now we need to tread carefully here. I am not at all minimizing or downplaying the significance and centrality of Christ. After all, 1 Peter 3 tells us to set apart Christ as Lord in every activity, whether it be in our thoughts or our speech or our behaviour. So let's carefully define the concept.
An over-realised eschatology is one where people think and believe that all the benefits and realities of heaven we have now. For example since there's no sin in heaven I am sinless now. But of course that is so obviously false. I may have positional righteousness before God now by being in Christ, but I do not have practical righteousness and that is made abundantly clear by Scripture itself, in all the commands and exhortations found throughout the New Testament.
Likewise, an over-realised Christology is one where Christ's death and resurrection are made all there is to happen in regard to Christ's work - with sometimes the added phrase that "all we do now is await the second coming." In the vernacular, it says it's all done and dusted, nothing awaits us except the return of Christ and then heaven.
But when we put it that way we start to see the inadequacy of that approach or belief or hermeneutic. Biblically we quickly get into hot water, one cannot have a over-realised Christology if only half of the prophecies regarding the Messiah have come to fulfilment so far. That itself would be a denial of the veracity of God, the God who does indeed keep His Promises.
So how does this belief work itself out in practice? Well the sermons of many Preachers today seem to assume this over-realised Christology.
It's seen when Preachers take a passage of the Word of God and see the application as a call to proclamation, to going and declaring to all people "the Gospel" namely of the death and resurrection of Jesus, totally ignoring what the point of the passage is actually about. I have witnessed Preachers do this, both Anglican brothers and Baptists and it leaves me bewildered. Jesus' ministry did not stop at his death and resurrection. He told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they received the Holy Spirit. There is a progression to His Ministry, His work is ongoing. This is what the book of Acts lays out for us. To imply the Gospel is all there is, is to ignore Jesus' own words and the teachings of the New Testament.
I am certain some would not deny this truth, - that there is indeed more to come in the Plan of God. The problem is that the focus of their preaching actually teaches the opposite. It misguides their hearers and leaves the hearer taking on board an over-realised Christology. To call the hearer to repent and turn to Jesus, or to rejoice in the Gospel at that point when the passage before them doesn't teach this is to not "preach the whole council of God". We must remember that 'The Plan of God' is not some reductionistic gospel!
It is pretty difficult to put the focus on the Gospel message as such when preaching on the qualifications of an elder from 1 Timothy. That however is not to deny one can call upon their unbelieving listeners to repent and believe the gospel, for we need only remind them that one cannot exhibit that kind of character and behaviour without having been transformed by God when one turns to Jesus and becomes a disciple because of His death and Resurrection. But that is quite different to ending a sermon on such a passage by referring to the Gospel or giving the impression that this is the meaning and application of the passage.
Is this over-realised Christology what motivates people when preaching from the Old Testament to quickly jump into the New Testament without having first explained how the original hearers would have understood it and applied it? Too often preaching the Old Testament is really preaching the New under the title of the Old Testament so we might assuage ourselves as having preached to our congregations both the Old and New Testament. Are we really only giving lip service to the Old Testament? the Scripture that Jesus loved.
Let's carefully expound the Scriptures, the whole Plan of God and not merely succumb to some overarching phrase we call "the Gospel."