Eschatological Song Wars!

220px-Vice_versesI love the old hymns. I grew up singing them, and I wish there were more opportunities for singing them in our modern world. Nevertheless, it’s no surprise that some of them are chock full of bad theology (at least I hope it’s no surprise; you can’t throw a rock without hitting a Christmas hymn that takes all sorts of liberties with the biblical narratives of Jesus’ birth).

But in light of our discussion Monday about the way in which N.T. Wright (and others) have urged a reshaping of our eschatological consciousness from seeking to escape this world to instead seeking to restore it, I couldn’t help think of the following contrast between the 1929 hymn “I’ll Fly Away,” one of the most popular spirituals of all time, and the much more recent, decidedly unhymnlike “Afterlife,” by the modern rock band Switchfoot.

Here are the lyrics of the now-83-year-old hymn:

Some glad morning when this life is o’er,
I’ll fly away;
To a home on God’s celestial shore,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away).

I’ll fly away, oh glory!
I’ll fly away (in the morning);
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away).

When the shadows of this life have gone,
I’ll fly away;
Like a bird from prison bars has flown,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away).

I’ll fly away, oh glory!
I’ll fly away (in the morning);
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away).

Just a few more weary days and then,
I’ll fly away;
To a land where joy shall never end,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away)

I’ll fly away, oh glory!
I’ll fly away (in the morning);
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away).

While it doesn’t quite evince a rapture-tribulation eschatology, its assumptions are rather grim – flying from this life “like a bird from prison bars,” and counting down “the weary days” of this life. I want to be careful with this kind of critique; I’m well aware that for many people, leaving this life would indeed feel like a breakout from prison, and that the days for them do feel weary. And the sense of restoration would not exist without a knowledge that the world remains broken and painful for far too many, a knowledge reflected in scripture (Romans 8 is a big one for this).

Yet it’s not clear from where the notion comes that we will ever “fly away,” nor why we should simply count down the days until our joyful liberation in the form of death. Those assumptions – a general sense of apathy, if not antipathy, toward this life  especially pales in comparison to the robust sense of immediacy Switchfoot portrays in “Afterlife” some 82 years later:

I’ve tasted fire; I’m ready to come alive.
I can’t just shut it up and fake that I’m alright.
I’m ready now –
I’m not waiting for the afterlife.

I’ll let it burn the way the sunlight burns my skin,
The way I feel inside, the way the day begins.
I’m ready now –
I’m not waiting for the other side.
I’m ready now, I’m ready now.

‘Cause everyday the world is made –
A chance to change, but I feel the same,
And I wonder:
Why would I wait till I die to come alive?
I’m ready now –
I’m not waiting for the afterlife.

I still believe we could live forever;
You and I we begin forever now.
Forever now.
Forever.

I still believe in us together;
You and I, we’re here together now.
Forever now,
Forever now,
Or never now.

‘Cause everyday the world is made –
A chance to change, but I feel the same,
And I wonder:
Why would I wait till I die to come alive?
I’m ready now –
I’m not waiting for the afterlife

Everyday,
A choice is made.
Everyday,
I choose my fate.

And I wonder –
Why would I wait till I die to come alive?

Everyday I still feel the same,
And I wonder: Why would I wait till I die to come alive?
I’m ready now –
I’m not waiting for the afterlife.

I’m ready now –
I’m not waiting till the afterlife.

In King Jesus Gospel, Scot McKnight argues the current evangelical soteriology and eschatology discourages the creation of disciples. Why do anything when the whole purpose of Christianity is essentially boiled down to saying the sinner’s prayer and waiting to be carried away from this world destined for destruction? The solution, he and N.T. Wright argue, is in reorienting our notions around the current and future kingship of Israel’s messiah; we are subjects in the kingdom of heaven, which eventually will descend to renew the earth. What will we do today to prepare the world for his renewal? Are we ready now, or are we just waiting to fly away?

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s