Living the Future Now: The Earthliness of Our Eschatological Task

Wednesday, March 3rd, 1999

(Convocation address held at Kosin University, Pusan, Korea, on March 3 and 4, 1999)

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a signal honor for me to be invited to address this Convocation of Kosin University, and I am profoundly grateful to President Kim Byong Won and Vice-president Kim Sung Soo for the invitation.  I have long wished to be able to visit Korea, and to see at close quarters the great work which the Lord has done in this country in recent decades.  It is a great encouragement and inspiration to North American Christians to see how the gospel is advancing in other parts of the world, notably in countries like Korea.  I am therefore especially happy to have the opportunity to visit this Christian university, which I regard as an older sister to my own institution, Redeemer College in Canada. Please accept not only my heartfelt thanks, but also my fervent good wishes to you as fellow laborers in the worldwide cause of Christian higher education.

Let me begin with an autobiographical comment.  Although I was originally trained in philosophy, my professional field of study since 1984 has been biblical studies.  In my understanding of the Christian academic enterprise, these two areas of study are linked as follows: the Bible provides us with a general perspective on life and the world, a worldview, and this biblical worldview has immediate relevance for the development of a Christian philosophical framework, which in turn impacts the way a Christian ought to formulate and answer the foundational questions with which each special academic discipline confronts us.  In other words, the Scriptures are profoundly relevant to the Christian academic task, but their relevance is primarily mediated through a biblical worldview and a Christian philosophy.  In many areas of academic work the Bible does not have a direct bearing on the Christian task in scholarship, but it most certainly does have an indirect bearing which is indispensable.  Thus the Bible teaches us very little, if anything at all, about nuclear physics, but the biblical doctrine of creation is of foundational significance for any Christian understanding of this scientific discipline.  Similarly, the Scriptures are not concerned to teach a theory of human emotions, but it does teach a view of the nature of good and evil which is indispensable for any Christian theorizing about human emotionality.

In short, the tradition of doing Christian scholarship which I represent--a tradition associated with Dutch Neocalvinism, and such thinkers as Abraham Kuyper and Herman Dooyeweerd--seeks to avoid two equal and opposite errors in defining the relationship of the Scriptures to Christian scholarship.  The one error is that of most fundamentalism, which sees an immediate relationship between Bible and scholarship, and thus treats Genesis 1 as directly teaching scientific geology and astrophysics.  The other error is that of most theological liberalism, which acknowledges no bearing of the Bible on scholarship at all, and thus treats Genesis 1 as altogether irrelevant to scientific geology and astrophysics.  The Kuyperian or reformational tradition of Christian scholarship has sought to steer a course between these two extremes, between the Scylla of biblicism and the Charybdis of dualism.  Instead, it has focused its attention on the task of formulating a biblical worldview, and developing a Christian philosophy in line with this worldview, which can connect Scriptural teaching with the theoretical, epistemological, and methodological roots of the academic disciplines.  This is an arduous task, but a necessary one if we wish to honor both the authority of Scripture over all of life (including the life of the mind), and the unique nature of the academic enterprise.

It is within the context of this general conception of the nature of Christian scholarship that it is not altogether surprising that my own academic development has led me from philosophy to biblical studies.  My interest in doing Christian philosophy developed into an interest in the worldview which must undergird it, and this in turn to the biblical writings which gave rise to the worldview.  As a result, the introductory course in Christian philosophy which I taught for many years at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto began with a few weeks on the Bible and its worldview.  It is the lectures which I gave in those weeks which later became my little book Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview (1985), which many of you know in its Korean translation.  In that book I concentrate on the idea of worldview as a category which provides a link between the Scriptures and the academic world of learning and scholarship.

It will come as no surprise, therefore, that I have chosen to address you today on a topic which again focuses on the Bible and a Christian worldview, and the relevance of the latter for our lives as Christians in the academy.  I have entitled my address “Living the Future Now: The Earthliness of Our Eschatological Task,” and I shall focus my attention on a crucial passage in 2 Peter 3, which I discussed in passing in Creation Regained.  I shall first give a brief exposition of this passage, then discuss its worldview implications, and finally make a few comments on its relevance for Christians working in the academy today.

The passage which I have in mind is 2 Peter 3:3-13, where the apostle writes the following:

3 First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.
4 They will say, Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation. 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thou- sand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his
promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare [literally: will be found]. 11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God, and speed its coming.  That day will bring about destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. (New International Version)

What the apostle is here describing is the Day of the Lord, the great day of judgment which will bring to an end history as we know it, and usher in the glorious eschatological future reserved for the children of God.

There is a great deal that could be said about this dramatic depiction of the coming Day of the Lord.  In particular, it should be noted that this description serves the purpose of answering the scoffers, who were mocking the Christian expectation of the Second Coming (parousia), with its attendant divine judgment.  There will indeed be a delay, the apostle says, but this delay is not because God is unfaithful to his promises, but because he is patient, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (verse 9).  In other words, the delay of the parousia is because of God’s love, his desire to give the entire human race an opportunity to come to repentance.  In a word, the coming of the great and terrible Day of the Lord is being postponed because there is to be a period of missionary activity, when the gospel can be proclaimed to all nations.  But when that missionary period is over, the Day of the Lord will surely come in all its fearfulness.  This is clearly the main thrust of the passage.

Nevertheless, for my present purposes let me restrict myself to highlighting four points which are often misunderstood, and which are important for understanding the worldview implications of this crucial passage.  These are: (1) the correct text of verse 10, (2) the nature of the “destruction” which is here predicted, (3) the underlying imagery which gives it coherence, and (4) the relationship of the present world to the future world.

To begin with, then, we need to deal with a text-critical issue in verse 10.  Many Greek manuscripts have a wording which can be literally translated as follows: “and the earth and the works in it will be burned up.”  That is in fact the translation that we find in most western Bible versions, from the days of the early church to the twentieth century.  The result has been that there has been a long and powerful tradition in the western church which conceived of the entire world, together with all “the works in it” as coming to a fiery end on the Day of the Lord.  God will finally do away, not only with his earthly creation, but also with “the works in it”--an expression which I interpret to refer, among other things, to the cultural achievements of humankind.  It is difficult to overestimate the enormous impact this vivid image has had on the eschatological imagination of Christendom, even though there is no other passage in Scripture which speaks of such a future annihilation by fire of the cosmos.

However, it has become clear since the mid-nineteenth century that the oldest Greek manuscripts have a different wording, which can be translated “and the earth and the works in it will be found.”  Almost all New Testament scholars now agree that this wording is probably the original one, and I am pleased to learn that the Korean version of the Bible follows that understanding of the text.  In other words, what the apostle Peter actually wrote was that the earth and the works contained in it will be found in the future cataclysm of the Day of the Lord.

But what does this mean?  What sense does it make, in a passage which speaks of the entire created order dissolving and being destroyed, to say that the earth and its works will be found?  Many New Testament scholars have found this puzzling, and have even suggested that the text should be changed.  Even though the earliest manuscripts have the Greek verbal form “will be found,” these scholars argue that this cannot possibly be right, and they substitute another verb which they believe is more appropriate to the context, for example “perish” or “disappear.”  Other scholars, who have greater respect for the manuscript tradition, argue that “will be found” in this context means something like “will be discovered,” and thus “will be laid bare” before the searching eyes of God the Judge.  That is the solution, for example of the English New International Version, which was produced by a team of evangelical scholars.  The difficulty with this solution is that it assigns a meaning to the Greek verb “find” (heurisko) which it does not seem to have elsewhere.  It is safer to follow the policy of the Korean version, and simply translate “will be found,” even though this may sound somewhat awkward in the context.

The implications of this rendering are quite significant.  It removes from the biblical picture of the coming Day of the Lord any suggestion that the world and the human culture which it contains will simply be discarded, that it will all go up in smoke like so much firewood.  Instead, it suggests that in and through the terrible ordeal of God’s judgment, accompanied by intense heat and universal dissolution, the cosmos and human culture will not be annihilated or reduced to nothing, but will in some significant sense survive.  God does not discard the earth which he has created, nor even the products of human activity which it contains, but rather he salvages them for his eschatological purposes.

It may be objected against this reading of our passage that it everywhere seems to use the language of destruction.  Consider the following phrases: “the day of judgment and destruction” (verse 7), “the elements will be destroyed,” (verse 10), “everything will be destroyed (verse 11), and “that day will bring about the destruction of the heavens” (verse 12). This brings us to our second exegetical point: the nature of the “destruction” which is here predicted.

In order to understand this properly, we must bear in mind that our passage speaks of three “worlds,” each consisting of heaven and earth: a world before the Flood, which is called “the world of that time” (3:6), the world we inhabit now, between the Flood and the Day of the Lord, which is called “the present heavens and earth” (3:7), and a future world after the Day, which is called “a new heaven and new earth” (3:13).  The three worlds (which are really the same world in three periods of its history) are marked off from each other by two cosmic crises: the judgment by water in the Flood, and the judgment by fire on the Day.  In speaking of the future world judgment, the apostle is explicitly drawing a parallel with the earlier world judgment.  Just as the former world was “destroyed” (3:6), so the present world is facing the day of “destruction” (3:7).  However, just as the “destruction” wrought by the water did not cause the world to disappear (in fact, verse 7 says that it continues to be preserved “by the same word” by which it was created), so the “destruction” which will be wrought by the fire will not cause the world to disappear either.  Just as the second world is the first one washed clean by water, so the third world will be the second one even more radically purged by fire.  In other words, “destruction” in this context does not rule out survival; in fact, it presupposes the survival of that which is cleansed.

Furthermore, it should be pointed out that the Greek verb which the NIV translates as “destroyed” in verses 10 and 11 should probably be rendered “dissolved,” to match the references to melting and heat in the context.  But to dissolve is to liquefy; it is not to disappear.  It presupposes that the substance which has dissolved continues to exist in another form.

Accordingly, what the apostle is teaching us here is that the created earth, including all the “works” which humans have accomplished on it, will be “destroyed” in the sense that it will undergo a radical transformation, but a transformation which ensures its survival into the third world which will follow the Day of the Lord.

We come now to our third exegetical point: the underlying imagery which gives coherence to our passage.  We have already noted a number of features in the text which suggest that the apostle has a specific image in mind: the image of God as the refiner of silver or gold, who puts the precious metal of his earthly creation into the crucible of his judgment, and who does so, not in order to discard it, but to purge and purify it.  This basic image explains the references to fire and heat, to melting and dissolving, and to the survival of a substance despite its “destruction.”  It also explains the suggestion of cleansing which is evoked by the parallel with the Flood, and by the Greek verbs in verse 10 and 12 which suggest redhot metal and smelting.  It is clear that the apostle is describing the Day of the Lord in terms of a cosmic crucible.

This understanding of the apostle’s imagery is clinched by a passage in Malachi, which supplies the Old Testament background to Peter’s eschatological language here.  In a famous passage describing the Day of the Lord, Malachi writes:

But who can endure the day of his coming?  Who can stand when he appears?  For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.  He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.  Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years. (Mal 3:2-4, New International Version)

The great day of judgment will witness the appearance of the Lord as a refiner, one who puts gold or silver in the crucible in order to melt them.  The great question is: who will be able to stand the test of that fiery day of God’s judgment?  What can survive the heat of his anger?  In Malachi’s vision of the Day, the fire will burn until the purification is accomplished, until “offerings in righteousness,” which are “acceptable to the Lord,” are found at the end of the purifying process.  A few verses later the prophet expands on this image: “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace,” bringing a judgment which will mean destruction for the wicked but healing for the righteous (Mal 4:1-2).

In Peter it is the entire cosmos, not just the Israelite priesthood, that is to be refined in the crucible of judgment on the great day of God’s appearance.  In apocalyptic fashion the metaphor is given a cosmic application, for a renewed and purified heaven and earth is found at the end of the purifying process (verse 13).

The image of the crucible now also sheds new light on the puzzling verb “will be found.”  We find the same use of this verb in a similar context in the first epistle of Peter, where we read the following: that the genuineness of your faith--being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Pet 1:7, New Revised Standard Version).

In the Greek, the parallel between the two passages is very striking, since both use the passive of the verb heurisko in an absolute sense to describe the result of a refining process which evokes the image of the crucible.  There is other evidence as well that the Greek expression “to be found”  can have the specialized metallurgical meaning “to emerge purified from the crucible.”

We see therefore that all the details of the text seem to fit the basic image of God as the refiner who puts the sin-contaminated world into the crucible.  Consequently,  Peter’s depiction of the Day of the Lord suggests not only judgment, but also hope, not only “destruction,” but also purification.

Finally, we address our fourth exegetical point: the relationship of the present world to the future world.  In this connection I would like to underscore two features which characterize the way Peter here describes the connection between the two worlds which are separated by the Day of the Lord, that is, between the world in which we now live, and the world of our eschatological hope.  I will label the two features I have in mind: continuity and acceleration.

By continuity I mean the fact that the purified world, the one which is described in verse 13 as “a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” is substantially the same world as the created cosmos which we inhabit, but purged of its sinful impurities.  To be sure, the removal of sin and all its effects will mean a dramatic discontinuity as well; it is difficult to imagine what a sinless world would look like.  But this is a discontinuity which is secondary to the underlying continuity provided by creation itself.  It is the selfsame creation which will emerge purified from the crucible.  God does not abandon the work of his hands; rather, he salvages it.  The restored creation will lose its distortions and perversions, but there is no reason to suppose that it will lose its earthliness as well.  The purified earth will still be the earth, with its physicality and vitality, its time and its space.

No doubt it is because of this fundamental continuity which unites our world with the future world that Peter can make his amazing statement that believers today, by living sanctified lives in our world, can accelerate the coming of the future world.  “You ought to live holy and godly lives,” he says, “as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (verses 11-12).  Apparently it is possible to speed up the coming of the great Day, and thus of the glorious new future, by living lives of sanctity and piety today.  Furthermore, it is clear from the main thrust of the passage (the Day is delayed because God wants everyone to come to repentance) that the holy and godly lives of God’s people is closely tied to the missionary task of the church.  The Day of the Lord is delayed for the sake of the church’s witness to the world; it will be accelerated by the carrying out of that witness in the holy life of the church.

If we bear in mind the four points which we have covered--the correct reading “will be found,” the relative nature of the “destruction” that is here predicted, the image of the refiner’s crucible which unifies the whole, and the strong connectedness between our world and the next--we will have a more accurate conception of what the apostle is teaching us here.  Let me proceed now to elaborate on the worldview implications of his teaching.  Again, I will organize my remarks under four headings, (1) the biblical worldview as narrative, (2) the significance of creation, (3) the reality of the antithesis, and (4) the call to live the future.

I begin, then, by stressing that the biblical worldview is first and foremost a narrative or story, not an ontology or systematic description of the structure of reality.  This is clear from the Bible as a whole, as it moves from Genesis to Revelation, but also from our passage in 2 Peter.  In a few verses the apostle gives us an overview of world history, from creation to the eschaton, punctuated by two cataclysmic interventions by God.  The narrative moves from a beginning to an end, and follows a course through history that moves in a single direction.  This is one of the fundamental features of the biblical worldview, which distinguishes it from almost all worldviews that are untouched by biblical religion, which tend to be cyclical.  History and temporality are given a basic religious validation, as the track along which God accomplishes his purposes.

In connection with this, the unilinear progression toward a future goal is also a hallmark of the biblical worldview.  All of world history is moving forward to what Peter calls “a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.”  The biblical story is fundamentally future-oriented, eschatological, and looks forward in hope to a better future.  And that hoped-for future is not only a deliverance from the ravages of sin, with its sickness, pain, and oppression, but also the attainment of a further stage of development, symbolized by the movement from garden to city in the biblical canon.

The eschatological character of the biblical narrative is also characterized by that peculiar feature of its conception of time: the presence of the future, the incursion into the second world of the realities of the third.  The kingdom of God is “not yet,” but it is also “already” present in the world today.  As the epistle to the Hebrews puts it, we can already “ taste the powers of the coming age” (Heb 6:5).  This is also what Peter has in mind when he speaks of “living holy and godly lives” in anticipation of the “new heaven and new earth.”  It is as though believers on this side of the Day can pull into the present the realities which lie on the other side of the Day.

It is striking to observe how pervasively some of these features of the biblical narrative have left their mark, in secularized form, on western culture.  The belief in progress which has characterized so many European secular ideologies, for example liberalism, Marxism, and feminism, is essentially a secularized version of the biblical belief that history is moving toward a future goal of freedom and happiness. And  I always find it amazing how much contemporary advertising, at least in North America, plays on a secularized version of the “presence of the future” theme.  Countless ads and commercials promote their products by saying that they are “tomorrow’s car today,” or “the computer of the future.”  A prominent electronics retailer is called “The Future Shop.”  The secular eschaton is defined by economic prosperity, scientific insight, and technological wizardry.  At the same time, it is telling that the rise of postmodernism is announcing the demise of the progress ideal, although the latter still dominates the public world of economics and politics.

Finally, the narrative character of the biblical worldview comes out clearly in the way judgment is postponed for the sake of missions.  As we saw, Peter explains the delay of the coming Day as evidence of God’s patience, and of his desire to have all people come to repentance.  The “last days” between Christ’s first and second coming is the era of the church’s mission, of its witness to the entire human family that there is forgiveness and new life in Jesus Christ.  An entire era of world history is opened up to provide an opportunity for all people to come to a knowledge of God in Christ.

I should mention here as an aside that I believe that one of the weaknesses of my book Creation Regained is that it does not sufficiently stress the narrative and eschatological character of the biblical worldview, and specifically the missionary character of the Christian task before the Second Coming.  This weakness can be partially excused by pointed to the original purpose of my little book, which was to provide a worldview introduction to systematic philosophy in the reformational tradition, but it remains true that my sketch of the biblical worldview fails to do justice to its narrative and eschatological character.  I owe this insight to the late British missiologist Lesslie Newbigin, and my colleague Mike Goheen.

That said, it is necessary in the second place to stress that the biblical narrative is all about creation.  The goal towards which everything tends is the “new heaven and new earth” which will emerge purified from the crucible.  God not only creates, but also preserves the world through the three phases of its existence, despite the severe judgment to which it was subjected in the Flood, and will be subjected in the Day of the Lord.  He remains faithful to the work of his hands, refusing to abandon it.  After all, it was the world which he so loved that he gave his one and only Son (John 3:16).  As the apostle Paul teaches in Colossians 1, the redemption which Christ brings is cosmic in its extent.

That God loves his creation, that it is precious to him, is also an aspect of the imagery of 2 Peter 3.  God is depicted as a refiner of precious metal, of silver or gold, who wants to remove the impurities from these very valuable substances.  In this way Peter’s cosmic metaphor reinforces the biblical teaching that the world was created good, and that this goodness is not eliminated by the disastrous effects of the Fall.  Evil can only exist as parasitical upon the good; it needs the substrate of the good creation to have any subsistence at all.  It is that substantial goodness which is recovered and reclaimed in the eschatological renewal of all things.

Furthermore, creation includes the work of men’s hands.  When Peter speaks of the earth which will be “found” in and through the smelting process, he is careful to include also “the works on it,” which I take to be a reference to the products of human activity.  Just as Paul in 1 Cor 3:13-15 repeatedly speaks of the human “work” (Greek ergon) which may or may not survive the future fires of the Day of the Lord, so Peter here speaks of the human “works” (Greek erga) which will also be tested by those same fires.  Human activity is part of the design of creation, and its products are as much part of the created order as the products of photosynthesis.  Humans can do nothing without the possibilities which creation provides.  It is therefore deeply significant that the apostle includes, together with the created earth which is to be purified in the crucible, also the human works which are accomplished on that earth.  Those works, which undoubtedly include also the works of culture, are part and parcel of the creation which God is determined to purify.  There is no reason to doubt that computer technology and jazz music will survive, largely intact, in the future restored earth.

We need to constantly remind ourselves that it is the earthly creation which is to be restored.  Under the tenacious influence of an other-worldly Platonism, Christians have long conceived of “heaven”--or rather, the new heaven and new earth--as an ethereal place which is quite removed from the earthliness of our daily lives.  But there is no biblical basis for this Platonizing conception of the future world.  Christians believe, not only in the resurrection of the flesh, but in the “renewal of all things” (Mat 19:28), and there is no reason to believe that the ordinary things of earthly life--sports, work, art, business--will not be part of that universal renewal.  To be sure, there is much about these earthly activities as we now know them in a sin-tainted world that will be purged away by the purifying fires, and it may be difficult to imagine just what a sin-free world would look like, but there is no evidence that these kinds of earthly activities will themselves be discarded.  In all likelihood they too belong to the good created order which is precious to the Lord, and which he is intent on salvaging.

Although it is necessary, against various kinds of Platonic or Gnostic tendencies in the Christian tradition, to stress such themes as the goodness of creation and the earthliness of the renewed world, it would be a gross distortion of the biblical story if we did not also emphasize the terrible reality of sin and judgment.  I therefore underscore, in the third place, the central place of the antithesis in both the Bible as a whole and in the passage from 2 Peter which we have been discussing.  I mean by that term, following the usage of Abraham Kuyper, the radical opposition between the holiness of God and the perversity of evil.  Sin and its effects are a radical, profoundly distorting reality in us and in the world, and the judgment of God against it is terrible.  The Day of the Lord of which Peter speaks may eventually effect the purification of the earth and its human works, but it will in the first place execute a severe punishment on the sinful perversities and distortions of that earth and those works.  The entire cosmic order, polluted by the Fall and all manner of human iniquity, will be subjected to intense heat and reduced to a molten mass which has lost entirely the shape and structure of its original identity.  What is more, in order for purification to take place, a significant proportion of its original identity (the impurities or slag of the crucible image) will have to be separated and removed forever before it is reconstituted as a renewed entity.  It is not without reason that the prophet spoke of “the great and terrible Day of the Lord.”

Like so much of the Bible’s eschatological language, Peter’s vivid description of the Day of the Lord is couched in figurative terms.  It is impossible for us to translate this imagery of the refiner’s crucible into literal terms.  We have no way of knowing how precisely the judgment of God will strike the earth and the human accomplishments which it contains.  But the picture which the apostle paints is perfectly clear on the essential point: the fearful wrath of God will have an absolutely devastating effect.  There is a great urgency to the missionary task of witnessing to Jesus, “who delivers us from the coming wrath” (1 Thess 1:10).

It is this missionary task which brings us to the fourth worldview implication which we mentioned above: the call to live the future.  The missionary task is to witness to Jesus Christ, and that witness consists, not only in preaching the gospel, but in living the future in the integrality of our lives.  All of that is summed up in Peter’s exhortation to “live holy and godly lives,” literally “to be in holy behaviors and godly acts” (verse 11).  How should we understand these “holy behaviors” and “godly acts”?

First of all, as we have seen, these behaviors and acts are anticipations of the restored earth which will emerge after the Day of the Lord.  They represent concrete instances of the presence of the future.  In such actions we see already embodied, however imperfectly, the future “home of righteousness.”  They are examples of “living the future.”

Peter does not elaborate on what he specifically means by these “holy behaviors” and “godly acts,” but it is probably safe to say that they represent a kind of summary statement of the Christian life.  There can be little question that, in Peter’s mind, they would have included the work of evangelism, since he has just explained the delay of the Day of the Lord as providing an opportunity for all to come to faith.  But the witness of the church is not limited to evangelism; the entire life of the Christian community bears witness to the gospel.  It would have included acts of kindness and mercy, of love and compassion, both among believers themselves and toward those outside their community.  All of this would be a witness, a testifying to God’s great act of redemption in Jesus Christ.  To live the future is to witness to Christ.

But there is no reason to restrict these “holy behaviors” and “godly acts” to the specifically ethical life of the Christian community.  To live the future is to show forth the whole range of the future world, in all its earthly and creational variety.  It is not only acts of kindness which anticipate the future and witness to Christ, but also acts of sanctified good workmanship and efficient administration.  Although the ethical was no doubt central in the behaviors and acts which Peter had in mind, this is unlikely to have exhausted his conception of the Christian life.  Sanctification and godliness are categories which apply to all of human life, not excluding such earthly matters as we mentioned earlier: sports, work, art, and business.  These human activities too, if done in a holy and godly manner, belong to the behaviors and acts which both anticipate the new heaven and new earth, and witness to those whom God longs to bring to repentance.

In short, the call to live the future is a comprehensive call.  The full range of earthly life is to be restored in the eschatological future, and therefore the full range of earthly life belongs to the holy behaviors and godly acts which represent the presence of that future before the Day of the Lord, and which constitute a witness to the unbelieving world.

I come now to the conclusion of my address.  I hope you have been able to follow the line of my thought, as I moved from an exposition of the biblical text to some general reflections on the overall biblical narrative and worldview.  I have sought to show you how the passage in 2 Peter 3 contains, as it were in a nutshell, the grand cosmic story which gives meaning and significance to our lives.  I want now to bring this story to bear more concretely on your lives as Christian students and professors at Kosin University.

The call of the apostle Peter to live the future, to live holy and godly lives which are a witness to the unbelieving world, goes out to you, as it does to all your brothers and sisters around the globe.  You too are called to kindness and mercy, love and compassion--but also to sanctified participation in the full range of earthly human activities, including sports, work, art and business.  Perhaps you are preparing yourself for a vocation in these areas, or perhaps you are involved in them as part of your extra-curricular activities.  In all these areas of human endeavor you are called to live the future, to strive to embody the holy behaviors and godly acts that are appropriate for these areas, and in that way to be a witness to the world.  Do not limit your conception of sanctification to one area of human life, however important it may be.

But there is one area of earthly human life which I have not mentioned so far, and which is of special importance to your life, as it is to mine.  You and I all have a special calling in the area of learning and scholarship.  Whether you are a professor or a student, you are engaged--most of you full-time, I imagine--in an area of human culture which is both crucially important and highly secularized.  Most academic work today is ruled by ideologies which are alien to the Christian gospel, and there is a great dearth of solid Christian scholarship which is inspired by a biblical worldview.  As I said at the beginning of this address, the temptation is great for Christians to take refuge in either biblicism or dualism, and to avoid the arduous task of applying a Christian worldview to the foundations of the academic disciplines.  Kosin University is one of the few places in the world which is institutionally committed to take up that arduous task.

I believe that learning and scholarship will be part of the new heaven and new earth to which we look forward.  But I also believe, in the light of everything I have said to you today, that this is one of the areas where Christians are called to live the future, to engage in “holy behaviors” and “godly acts,” and in this way to be an academic witness to our unbelieving friends and colleagues.  There are some indications, at least in my part of the world, that there are growing possibilities to engage in this kind of Christian witness.  The rise of postmodernism has had this good effect, that it is no longer considered impossible, by many secular academics, to conceive of such a thing as sound Christian scholarship.

So my challenge to you is this: let us join hands in seeking to be a Christian witness in the world of academia.  You students, take seriously the calling that you have during your university years to wrestle with the issues of faith and scholarship.  Do not be satisfied with “covering the material,” or getting a good grade; probe into the depths, to the level of the philosophical presuppositions which determine the shape of a theory, and seek to reshape those presuppositions in the light of a biblical worldview.  And you professors, encourage and help your students to do this, show them where good work has already been done from a Christian perspective, and in your own research strive to forge a Christian way in your own discipline.  The task is monumental, and cannot be achieved by one individual in one lifetime.  So let us stay in touch with each other around the world as we dedicate ourselves to a common task: to live the future in all areas of our earthly lives, especially the area of our professional calling as academics.

Once again, let me thank you for the great honor which you have accorded me in inviting me to speak to you today.  And may God bless Kosin University, and all those who work within its walls, as it strives to be a Christian witness in the world of scholarship.

Thank you.