Johann Christoph Blumhardt (1805–80) and his son Christoph Frederich were two unusual and effective German pastors who influenced Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Among other things, they emphasized that the kingdom of God was to come and fulfill the earth, that the Christian hope was not primarily about an otherworldly hereafter.
If you haven’t already encountered the Blumhardts, the best place to start is with Vernard Eller’s edited selections of their texts, Thy Kingdom Come (Eerdmans, 1980). The Blumhardts are bracing and even thrilling to read. Their pastoral theology is written in simple language, but is profound. Here’s a taste.
Where in all the scriptures does God comfort man with a hereafter? The earth shall be filled with the glory of God. According to the Bible, that is the meaning of all the promises. Jesus, come in the flesh, what is his will? Of course, nothing other than the honor of his Father on earth. In his own person, through his advent, he put a seed into the earth. He would be the light of men; and those who were his he called “the light of the world” and the “salt of the earth.” His purpose is the raising up of the earth and the generations of man out of the curse of sin and death toward the revelation of eternal life and glory.
Why else did he heal the sick and wake the dead? Why did he exalt the poor and hungry? Surely not in order to tell them that that would be blessed after death, but because the kingdom of God was near. Of course, God has a way out for those who, unfortunately, must suffer death; he gives them refuge in the beyond. But shall this necessary comfort now be made the main thing? Shall the kingdom of God be denied for earth and perpetuated only in the kingdom of death, simply because God wants also to dry the tears of the dead? It is to discard the whole meaning of the Bible if one argues, “We have nothing to expect on earth; it must be abandoned as the home of man.”
Truly, within the human structures of sin, we have no lasting home; we must seek what is coming. But what is it, then, that is coming? The revealing of an earth cleansed of sin and death. That is the homeland we seek. There is no other to be sought, because we do not have, and there cannot come to be, anything other than what God intended for us in the creation.