Trevin K. Wax, Eschatological Discipleship: Leading Christians to Understand Their Historical and Cultural Context (Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2018), softcover, xi + 269 pp.
In 1969, Robert Lamm of Chicago Transit Authority asked “Does anybody really know what time it is?” His question had an existential bent to it; after all, does anyone really care (about time)?
In his new book, Eschatological Discipleship, Trevin Wax argues we should indeed care, for Scripture speaks into the lives of Christians concerning the current time and times to come. Wax aims to unite the practice of Christian discipleship with the theological category of eschatology (2). He defines eschatological discipleship thus: a type of spiritual formation and obedience that takes into account the contemporary setting in which one finds oneself, particularly in relation to rival conceptions of time and progress. (3). Wax argues intentionally seeing eschatology as a necessary component to discipleship will lead Christians into missionary encounters and confrontations with the world. (3)
Wax rightly indicates worldviews other than Christianity possess their own eschatologies. Quoting from another theologian, Wax explains eschatology pertains to all concepts of life after death, including the state of individuals with reference to spiritual and/or embodied existence, divine judgment and punishment, and the end of the world (26).
What could the above possibly do with the day-to-day life we live if the discipline concerns itself with future events? Wax writes, “The reason eschatology matters for understanding Christianity is the same reason geography and physicality matter for understanding Christianity; Jesus entered this world in a particular place and time,” (30, emphasis in original). Put plainly, if you walk down the street one day, you walk down a particular street at a particular time. People through Wilmington, NC at dawn, San Antonio, TX at noon, and Seattle, WA at midnight encounter different experiences, joys, and challenges. How will each individual lead a life captive to Christ given the context?
The first part of Wax’s book develops the reader’s understanding of discipleship, worldview, eschatology, and wisdom, guiding the reader through his own thinking, reflection, and research on each. He arrives at the following definition:
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 (41).
Wax argues his case with reference to the text of both the Old and New Testaments, and he argues well. One particular strength arises from his short discussion of Jeremiah’s instruction to the exiles of Judah. Their time in which they lived gave them much anguish to process, and they bore the task of obeying their God in a way somewhat unique (48). One easily recognizes their obedience differs from our own in its applications to their lives. Wax has a notably (and unsurprisingly) thicker case for his thesis in the New Testament. He writes, “The church lives between the time of Christ’s first and second comings and, therefore, finds itself in the middle of an age to which it must not conform… believer’s obedience must be marked by the horizon of Christ’s second coming.” (55). Rejection of Christ bears eschatological consequences, and the the disciple sees himself not as obedient to a vague or timeless set of rules, but offering a life of obedience personally to Jesus (59).
As if the insights from Scripture did not constitute a worthy read in themselves, Wax provides analyses on three different rival eschatologies (Enlightenment, the sexual revolution, and consumerism) as well as three methods of discipleship often practiced within the evangelical church. I found myself jotting down numerous notes and insightful quotes, and his honest dissections of the rival eschatologies truly stand out as helpful. The chapter on consumerism might make the reader’s toes curl in conviction. Each method of discipleship he discusses proffer its own strengths, and Wax shares how adding an eschatological dimension to them makes each stronger as it seeks to help its adherents better reflect the image of Christ on earth.
Every Christian must answer the question, “What time is it?” The question has an array of applicable facets: how old am I? What kind of world do I inhabit? Has anything changed since I was younger? How am I living for Christ in a way which unequivocally points to him? Therefore, the book proves profitable for any Christian. Some may find themselves needing to move slowly through the book; my own reading certainly would have slowed had I not had seminary training. However, Wax defines his terms well, and one who will face the challenge of a book thick with content should have the ability to understand his arguments.
Wax notes his book has a North American audience. The book assumes the reader has familiarity with the culture of North America and evangelicalism. While many of his cultural insights would have some application outside a North American context, the reader in a place like Southeast Asia might find himself facing different competing eschatologies; however, Wax’s section discussing the Bible’s eschatological motivations for discipleship would remain fruitful, and attention paid to his method would equip the individual to develop his own analysis of his own context.
The reader of Eschatological Discipleship will find himself equipped to engage evangelistically with the world around him. Wax’s presentation elicits the urgent response to see the return of Christ as a goal and destination. He accomplishes the task without descending into sensationalism. On Wax’s account, Christians read the times to better show Christ rather than reading The Times to predict when exactly Christ will return to earth. The return of Jesus to judge the world merits everyone’s attention, for every competing worldview and its eschatologies will pass away. The Christian disciple proves the one who submits his life to Christ, numbering his days and understanding them, in the hope of revealing the Savior to his uniquely broken context.