Barbara Rossing

Tree of Life for the Healing of the World: Scriptural Trajectories for an Eschatology of Abundant Life

Professor of New Testament
Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Biblical Studies
Chicago, Illinois; United States of America

Capstone Conference Talk

SUNDAY (8/6) 1:00-1:20PM

Tree of Life for the Healing of the World: Abundant Life, the Bible, and Hope

Hope for the future—the theological category sometimes called “eschatology“—plays a vital role in religious and spiritual life. Medieval eschatology focused people‘s imagination individualistically on the “four last things”—death, judgment, heaven, and hell. Today, imagination about the future must focus more on community-building and healing, drawing on insights from science and art as well as sacred texts. The biblical image of the tree of life, shared by many religions and also by scientists, can serve as a corrective to overly individualistic understandings of our place in the world. The tree of life can also become an image for hope, inspiring a healing vision for life on Earth.


Capstone Conference Research Laboratory

SATURDAY (8/5) 4:00-5:10PM

Sharing to Enhance Life

The aim of this laboratory is to explore what scholars can offer – from philosophical, theological, historical, and social science perspectives – that might provide ideas about a) what sharing means, b) what is shared, c) how sharing occurs, d) what inspires and promotes sharing (e.g. religion, culture, institutions, economic forces), and e) barriers and limits to sharing (e.g. cultural, infrastructure, habits, systems, individual concerns about trust and equity). We construe sharing in the broadest possible sense, to include the material (e.g.w commodities/products, water, land) and immaterial (e.g. energy, time, culture, community). In this way, we hope to isolate the ways in which acts of sharing enhance personal and social life. 

Research Laboratories allow audience members to interact with a panel of ELP Scholars and Interlocutors in addressing a problem of public relevance. We invite active participation from audience members in the creation of new knowledge.

Academic Biography

Barbara R. Rossing is Professor of New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, where she also directs the seminary’s environmental ministry emphasis and teaches with interdisciplinary colleagues through the Zygon Center for Religion and Science. Her publications include The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation (Basic Books, 2004); The Choice Between Two Cities: Whore, Bride and Empire in the Apocalypse (Trinity Press, 1999); two volumes of the New Proclamation commentary (Fortress Press, 2000 and 2004); Journeys Through Revelation: Apocalyptic Hope for Today (Presbyterian Church USA, 2010); “Revelation” in The Fortress Commentary on the Bible (2014);and many other articles and book chapters on the Apocalypse, early Christian prophecy, hermeneutics, and ecology. As a public theologian, her media appearances have included interviews on “CBS Sixty Minutes” as well as The History Channel, The National Geographic Channel, the Living the Questions DVD series, and numerous print and radio interviews. She is a frequent lecturer at international academic, denominational, and ecumenical conferences. She has served on international boards including the Lutheran World Federation Council and its Executive Committee, representing the LWF and World Council of Churches at international consultations on climate change. Rossing received the BA degree from Carleton College, the MDiv from Yale University Divinity School, and the ThD from Harvard University. An ordained Lutheran minister, she has served as a parish pastor and as chaplain to Harvard Divinity School.

Project Executive Summary

This project reclaims two biblical images sometimes overlooked or submerged in Christian eschatology: the metaphors of abundant life (John 10:10) and the tree of life for the healing of the world (Rev 22:2). Both images can contribute to enhancing life. My project situates New Testament visions of the future within a framework of “dueling eschatologies”—biblical eschatologies versus the Roman Empire’s vision of itself as the eternal future (Roma Aeterna). These dueling eschatologies represent starkly contrasting “counter-worlds” as described in the Enhancing Life project framework.

In John’s Gospel, “abundance” describes the overflowing baskets of bread (John 6:12), countering the disciples’ perception of scarcity. Abundance is an important term for economists and social scientists working on sustainability today. In the book of Revelation, the image of the tree of life for the healing of the world can relate to notions of healing in other scholarly disciplines. The tree of life is a central image in many religions. The tree of life also holds importance for evolutionary biology. In these models of the tree of life—whether religious or scientific—what is pictured is a community of relationships. As such, the biblical tree of life can serve as a corrective to overly individualistic and non-relational readings of eschatology.

The goal for the project is to renew Christian eschatology through reclaiming these life-enhancing images for a down-to-earth eschatology, and to empower communities to work for a transformative vision of hope for our world’s future.