Review: The Last Things

the last things

The Last Things (Contours of Christian Theology), David A. Höhne. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019.

Summary: A theology of the last things that is Trinitarian in focus, centered on the exaltation of the crucified Lord, and the preservation of the believer.

There are many books about the last things or the end times. This work takes a different approach. The author contends that the Lord’s prayer is an eschatological prayer, that the focus of each of its petitions is the full realization of the kingdom of God in the person of the crucified and risen Lord through the work of the Holy Spirit. This includes the preservation, purifying, and protection of those whose hope is in the crucified and risen Lord.

The book is written for those (all who have ever believed in Christ), are living in the Middle. It is both about what God has promised us for the future but how this is already being fulfilled in our lives. It concerns how God has already established a relationship and a people, and how we will one day be perfected.

The chapters focus around each of the petitions in the Lord’s prayer. At the same time, he discusses these through the lens of interacting with Karl Barth’s theology of the Word and Jurgen Moltman’s theology of hope. The first three petitions for the hallowing of the name, the coming of the kingdom, and the doing of God’s will on earth as in heaven are the what, how, and why of God the Father’s purposes through the Son in the Spirit. The prayers for daily bread, for forgiveness, and for deliverance focus around what we need to make it to the resurrection, and our eternal glory with Christ.

I found this the hardest “read” in the series. I think this has to do with the author’s engagement with Barth and Moltmann throughout, and a conscious effort to emphasize the work of the persons of the Trinity throughout. The introduction to the series speaks of making this accessible to educated laypeople. The author appears to assume a familiarity with Barth and Moltmann that may be true of seminarians, but probably only a minority of others. I founded the presentation stronger where the author connected themes in the Lord prayer to the rest of scripture, establishing the eschatological “arc” of this prayer.

I had looked forward to the completion of this series, this “last” volume of which had been long-awaited. While there were elements I appreciated, particularly the structuring of the work around a prayer many of us pray daily or weekly. But I had hoped for more in a series that had set a high standard of theological reflection accessible to the educated layperson. What the book did make clear is that we will not be disappointed by the God who keeps all his promises both for the exaltation of the crucified and risen Lord, and the resurrection hope of we, his people.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

The Power of a Blessing

Sometimes you get surprised by the familiar thing that you suddenly see in a different light. The word “blessing” gets tossed around a good bit and, I have to admit that when I hear people talking about blessings, I just hear, “yada, yada, yada.” That is until the other day when a speaker made me take a fresh look at the powerful impact of spoken blessings.

The speaker was R. Scott Osborne who has written The Book of BlessingsHis website offers the book in .pdf form for free and also has a link to the App Store for “The App of Blessings.” He shared with us how he got into this as he observed some of the blessings that surround Jewish sabbath observance. He adopted some of this in his own home in a Christian version of this practice, and then began each week to find a blessing in scripture that he would pray for each of his daughters. As these accumulated in a journal, he felt God speaking to him that he needed to research this. Out of this came the conviction, in his words, “When we speak blessings from the Bible, we are literally imparting God’s blessing. The Lord has given us this authority along with the freedom to use it” (from the website). The idea is that when we speak these blessings, we act on God’s behalf. God is the one who blesses but we become instruments of blessing as we speak these words.

At first glance, I’m tempted to think there is something a bit formulaic or superstitious in such things. Yet as I reflect further, it occurs to me that this actually squares with what I believe happens each Sunday when we read the scriptures aloud publicly in worship. In some churches, the congregation will stand as the reader comes into their midst with the gospel. And when this is done, it is not just to read a text, but the belief is that in a fresh way, God is present in the midst of his people speaking to them through this word, written and spoken. In some contexts, this is spoken of as a “performative speech act”, that which when spoken brings into present reality the thing spoken of.

Isn’t this what, in a habitual and not often thought about way, we do when we say “God bless you” when someone sneezes? We are actually praying (or at least wishing) good health for the person whose sneeze may mean the onset of a cold or worse. And isn’t this (if you participate in such things) what we are doing when we pray the Lord’s prayer, or other prayers of the Bible in our circumstances, or even for a particular person. Someone once said in effect that the best way to know we are praying what God wants for a person is to pray the prayers we believe God inspired.

During Scott’s talk he shared this “model blessing” from the book of Numbers:

May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; may the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace. (Num 6:24-26, NKJV)

While I’ve heard this many times, for some reason, when Scott spoke this, I remembered something I’ve not thought of for a long time. This is the blessing my dad spoke over me each night when as a child I said my prayers before bed. Remembering this alone was a blessing. I remember not only the love I felt from my dad but also the deep comfort as I snuggled in bed and thought about the fact that God would keep me through the night, that his face shone with approval upon me as his child, that he looked toward me and gave me his peace. Like many children I had night fears at times, and as I recalled, this was one of the things that banished them.

I can’t help wondering if there was more to it than that. I feel that I’ve lived a blessed life in so many ways and often in my work and, even in pastimes like singing, or writing, or even working in the yard have a sense of God’s pleasure upon my life. I don’t think there is anything special about me in this but rather wonder if in fact my father in these blessings was an instrument of the blessing and protection of God in my life. I know in fact that this was true in many lives he touched and remember even in his last years that there was a particular patient in the assisted living unit where he lived with whom he would pray regularly.

I’ve sometimes spoken of the idea of “blessed to be a blessing”. Often I think of this in terms of my actions, but I am also challenged to wonder if the practice of praying and speaking blessings on those I care for is something I’ve overlooked.

I wonder if any of my readers have stories of receiving or giving blessings, whether in a Christian context or not. I would love for you to add your story of blessing to mine.