Once a year I slip away for a few days to do nothing but read. On a hotel desk I spread out a large stack of reading, unpack snacks and drinks, pray the God would bless my time, and then dig into my books with unusually focused attention. I find these experiences to be spiritually invigorating.
As you can imagine a retreat setting like this provides me with many hours to focus on one particular area of study, normally one that is so complex that I really need the extended concentration. At the same time this practice helps me to combat the brain fragmentation that I experience in the world of social media.
By the time this blog post goes life (it was auto-saved) I will be into my next retreat. In this retreat I will be focusing on theme of “inaugurated eschatology,” or the already in the already/not yet of God’s sweeping historical plan of redemption and cosmic restoration. My interest in this topic was sparked a little over a year ago when I began to seriously study the implication of Christ’s resurrection as the dawn of the new creation. God used that season of focused study just before Easter of 2010 to help me begin to see the cosmic scope of the gospel, leaving me with a greater desire to know more about this topic and to read more carefully on a cluster of related themes of the Kingdom of God in the gospels, the two-ages in Paul, the resurrection as the inauguration of the new creation, and the eschatological significance of the arrival of the Holy Spirit. As I see Easter approaching it makes this whole topic more attractive to me for sustained study.
So why this topic? It seems a bit abstract and vague. In many ways inaugurated eschatology is complex, which is why I need the focused time to read. But it’s also a very important topic with consequences for the Christian life. Balanced eschatology is necessary for a balanced Christian life. An imbalanced eschatology can lead to disastrous consequences. For example, to concentrate on the already without the not yet leads to an over-realized eschatology which tends to lead people down the path of moral perfectionism, diminishing the need for future/final transformation. On the other hand, a concentration on the not yet to the exclusion of the already causes us to overlook what God has already accomplished in Christ in past history and to fail to grasp the eternal consequences of his cross and resurrection. In this way sanctification tends to become man-centered moralism in an unhelpful way that fails to appreciate the role of Christ’s finished work in personal renewal. Balance in the Christian life requires some level of equilibrium between living in the already and the not yet, the finished and the unfinished, the started and the yet uncompleted. This retreat will help me appreciate those areas where God’s eternal purposes have been already inaugurated in time and history.
The literature on inaugurated eschatology is expansive and rich, but the literature will also continue to collect dust on my bookshelf unless I take the time to pursue this theme. And that brings me to my reading retreat. With an open Bible, a tall stack of books, and an iPod loaded with some related seminary lectures, I plan to spend my days kicking back and reading, listening, and having my horizons broadened.
As is typical I will bring far too much material than I have time to work through. But my goal is never to exhaust all of my reading. In fact only one or two of the books will be read entirely with great care, some books will be read in parts, other books will be scanned carefully, and a majority of the books will be scanned quickly. In case you’re interested, here is a list of the 18 books and 27 lectures I have packed into a Rubbermaid tub:
- Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology (Eerdmans, 1975), pages 14–100, 183–184, 205–252, 487–562. This is an impressive book and I suspect much of my retreat will be focus here. In his survey of Bible commentaries, Don Carson writes, “of all the books that wrestle with Pauline theology, in some ways the best is still Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology.” Hard to argue with that. Most relevant for me at this point is Ridderbos’s firm grasp of inaugurated eschatology in Paul.
- Herman Ridderboss, The Coming of the Kingdom (P&R, 1962). A classic on the kingdom theme in the gospels.
- Herman Ridderboss, When the Time Had Fully Come: Studies in New Testament Theology (Eerdmans, 1982).
- Herman Ridderboss, Paul and Jesus (P&R, 1977).
- George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1993), pages 31–211, 351–378, 555–575.
- George Eldon Ladd, The Presence of the Future: The Eschatology of Biblical Realism (Eerdmans, 1974).
- Gordon Fee, Paul the Spirit and the People of God (Hendrickson, 1996), pages 49–62.
- Gordon Fee, 12 lectures, “The Life and Teachings of Jesus” (Regent College).
- Gordon Fee, 11 lectures, “Biblical Theology of the New Testament” (Regent College). Of special interest will be his two lectures on the eschatological framework of Jesus and Paul.
- Gordon Fee, four lectures, “Kingdom, Spirit, and the People of God” (Regent College).
- C. Marvin Pate, The End of the Ages Has Come: The Theology of Paul (Zondervan, 1995).
- Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Eerdmans, 1979), pages 3–75.
- Paul Beasley-Murray, The Message of the Resurrection: Christ Is Risen! (IVP, 2001).
- Geerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology (Eerdmans, 1952).
- Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Banner of Truth, 1975), pages 372–402.
- Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Zondervan, 2011), pages 535–547.
- Michael Horton, Covenant and Eschatology: The Divine Drama (WJK, 2006). I’ll give this a scan.
- N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Fortress, 1996). I plan to give this a scan as well.
I make time for fun reading in these retreats as well. This year I’ve packed baseball books that focus on my favorite era, from the birth of American professional baseball in the early 1870s up until the year 1918. On my previous retreat I read Cait Murphy’s delightful book Crazy ’08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads, and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History (Collins, 2008). This time around I’ve packed this trio of titles:
- Timothy Gay, Tris Speaker: The Rough-and-Tumble Life of a Baseball Legend (Lyons Press, 2007). Perhaps the best all-around baseball player in Boston Red Sox history (and the Cleveland Indian’s history for that matter), I simply want to learn more about his life and career.
- Edward Achorn, Fifty-Nine in ’84: Old Hoss Radbourn, Barehanded Baseball, and the Greatest Season a Pitcher Ever Had (Harper, 2011). This appears to be a colorful account of one of baseball’s greatest pitching feats set in the first 15 years of the professional sport at a time when players fielded the ball without gloves!
- Mike Vaccaro, The First Fall Classic: The Red Sox, the Giants, and the Cast of Players, Pugs, and Politicos Who Reinvented the World Series in 1912 (Anchor, 2010). Tris Speaker (the AL MVP) and his Red Sox won the World Series in 8-game showdown (game 2 ended in a tie). The Sox somehow beat the Giants and their unhittable pitching staff (the Giants ERA in the series was 1.59!). I look forward to reading more about the 1912 World Series.
In a previous life I wanted to be a baseball historian. In this life I have the privilege of serving the church. In either case I am a reader, and I pray that this reading retreat will match my previous retreats in education, edification, and delight.