The ‘Theoblogian’ Cometh… ‘end times’ redux

I was listening to Son Volt while driving to give a lecture on Eschatology at Mars Hill Graduate School and was particularly taken by Jay Farrer punching the chorus in ‘Route’ off ‘Trace’:

“Now or never/ too close to the latter/we’re all living proof that nothing lasts…”

When we get to the ‘end of things’ – real life actually starts happening. It has been a difficult couple of lectures actually – I was asked to come into this course to fill in after Stan Grentz’s sudden death, so having a class of students in mourning after the loss of their teacher and then – define ‘irony‘ – being asked to lecture on ‘end times’ and other Eschatological themes proved a difficult thing. One of the issues that became very apparent as we worked our way through the various classic theological typologies of amillenialism, premillenialism, preterist, and postmillenialist views was that ‘theology’ can be a wall and a millstone around our necks rather than a comfort if we are not humble and still amidst the real questions of a community searching for meaning in the dark night of the soul. People weren’t ready for the terms until we did due diligence to the real task at hand – a tragic and sudden loss. This was particularly apparent early on in the lecture when students challenged “whether any of this was necessary? why is this important?” On one level, I admit feeling frustrated – “are students just this anti-intellectual, so quick to be dismissive of learning about history?” – but after reflecting this past week and coming back today, I realized the all-too-hard lesson every teacher needs to go through from time to time… I wasn’t here to necessarily teach THEM as much as they were here to teach me. As they pushed me hard on the topics and railed against the ‘worthiness’ of knowing ‘this stuff’… they broke through the proverbial teacher/student wall and we settled into being humans with each other.

Eschatology gets wrapped up in discussions of time – “when is the second coming…coming?” “Are we in the end times?” – when time is actually the ‘last thing’ (pun intended) the NT writers had in mind. As George Eldon Ladd wrote almost 30 years ago in The Theology of the New Testament:

“There is no New Testament word for “eternity” and we are not to think of eternity as the Greeks did, as something other than time. In biblical thought eternity is unending time. In Hellenism men longed for release from the cycle of time in a timeless world beyond, but in biblical thought time is the sphere of human existence both now and in the future. The impression given by the Authorised Version at Revelation 10:6, “that there should be time no longer,” is corrected in the RSV, “there should be no more delay.” (p. 47)

Eschatology – like the heart of the Gospel – is about relationships that both transcend, and ultimately, give meaning to time. ‘Last things’ help us understand first things in ways that Stephen Covey only hinted at. Sitting there, listening to the students talk and muse about their vocation and desire to make real the presense of God in a way that is both unflinching to suffering yet hopeful in a dynamic way reminded me that ‘theology’ qua theology is a dish best eaten amidst meaningful dialogue and humble repose with an eye on the ‘other’ who is still awaiting the invite in the hedgerows and alleyways. Being a ‘theoblogian’ is a challenge to await the voice of the other and listen deeply to what not only needs to be said…but what needs to be heard. Dialogue – not monologue – is the heartbeat of truth’s methodology and the bridge truth crosses most efficiently and lasting impact is that of an authentic relationship.

It isnt that time is running out – it is that even at the end of time, Francis Thompson’s hound of heaven is still running and pursuing us to finally start living. Too evangelical there? Well… I think we have ‘time’ to talk about it some more…


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  1. I’m still chewin’ on this one, sensei, but just wanted to say how proud I am to see the Son Volt lyric.

    If learning is living
    And the truth is a state of mind
    You’ll find it’s better at the end of the line
    Can you deny
    There’s nothing greater, nothing more
    Than the travelling hands of time?

    What about those “travelling hands”? Is it only a simple forward movement? Then how does anamnesis work? (MWD is cringing.)

  2. The movement is one of deep intimacy of self, other, and God – temporality is too tied to a linear progression mapped on a saptial plane vis a vis a ‘ray’ that emminates from a fixed point on a flat plane toward infinity. I am coming back (of course) to Tillich’s theorem – religion is meaning-giving depth (Gehalt)- from Über die Idee einer Theologie der Kultur. If meaning is ‘depth’ of import rather than expansiveness of being or collapsing of subject and the Divine (ontotheology ala Heidegger) then isnt the temporal context (Steve Miller sing-a-long -“time keeps on tickin’, tickin’, tickin’…into the future…”)the methodology of depth-of-meaning and human freedom (‘Über die Freiheit’) the enactment of depth into being-in-action?

    As for ‘anamesis’, remember (yes..pun intended) is taken from from ‘ana’ (“again”) and ‘mimneeskein’ (“to put in mind”) and this act of ‘put back in mind’ is tied to ‘poiesis’ where memory is (according to Socrates) the “treasury of things invented,” thus linking memory with the first canon of rhetoric, Invention. This alludes to the practice of storing up commonplaces or other material arrived at through the topics of invention for use as called for in a given occasion. In short, without temporality – without time and moving into eternity where ‘all colors bleed into one’ – we cannot remember nor can we engage in the creative act of remembering without time… so the ‘travelling hands’ of Jay Farrer are digging down more than moving out and away…

  3. Not sure if you will read this, sensei JFK – never sure how far back it’s worth commenting on a post. Anyway…

    Just re-reading bits of Dave Egger’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and realising again that it is, indeed, one of the most enjoyable (why say “best” since everyone has their own idea of what qualifies something as good/better/best?) books I’ve read in my short life, ever.

    But this did lead me to call your attention to Eggers’ comments in the addendum to AHWOSG, which if you have the 2nd edition paperback handy is the end-matter entitled Mistakes We Knew We Were Making, wherein Eggers embarks on a thorough unravelling of the concept of irony on pgs. 33-35 (of MWKWWM). I think this might provide a wholly unnecessary but perhaps slightly interesting corrective to your employment of the term in this post about taking over Stan Grenz’s eschatology lectures in the wake of his unfortunate passing.

    I think, if I agree with Eggers here (which I do, enthusiastically), this is a misappropriation of the term. If irony is “the use of words to express something different from and often opposite to their literal meaning,” what you describe here in relation to Grenz is not irony but perhaps a case of “a coincidence that might be called eerie” (relate this to his sample: “It is ironic that [the dog] Benji was on his way to the vet when he was run over by a bus” – not irony). It also might be described as an instance of “dissonance” between the reality of Grenz’ passing (i.e. reaching his own “end time” or mortal “eschaton”) and the students’ need to, perhaps, hear about something other than matters such as the “end times” and eschatology so as to properly mourn and heal.

    But I do not think there is anything particularly ironic about this situation – Grenz’s death or your pinch-hitting for his course. Further, I agree with Eggers that “that word, the one beginning with i and ending with y…is beyond a doubt the most over-used and under-understood word we have.”

    I may have to put together an official blog post on this topic at some point…

  4. I forgot that you are currently lapping at the crystal pool of irony at number 4 – “the great trope of theology is irony” and whatnot. As they say… never bring a knife to a gun fight. As you correctly assert, irony often gets conflated with “unfortunate” and “coincidental” – i.e. Alanis Morrisette’s early 1990’s hit “Ironic” where she lists a number of unfortunate events (“rain on your wedding day/ a fly in my Chardonnay…”) and sings “isn’t it ironic?/ don’t ya think?” when she should be braying “this suuuccckkkkssss….”

    That said – I will stand (at least for a bit longer until the ice beneath my feet gets too thin…) on my use of irony as an instance whereby the ‘literal’ intention of meaning is overturned by the ’employed’ instance of meaning itself. In this regard… oh wait a minute… yeah… your right… “coincidence” would be the more apropos word…

    The ice cracked, my friend… down I go!

    Do put a posting together around “irony” – would be good!

  5. There is probably something purely ironic about the fact that No. 4 The Square is called the department of Theology [leave aside the “and Religious Studies” for now], considering that hardly anyone working therein gives a damn about theology. And let’s not even go there on “School of Divinity.”

    You are absolutely right, though…it is that damned Alanis song that has ruined the English-speaking world on the concept of irony. The guy in the plane, plummeting towards earth?…10,000 spoons when you need a knife?…that’s not ironic, it’s just bloody infuriating!

    Will be working on an irony post, as well as one with this working title: A response to jimmy white shoes regarding the question of the relation between grammar and vocabulary and being a “serious theologian”, or, why Wilco is a great band.

  6. Man, Brannon… I *LOVE* that title, so you BETTER make that blog a reality… I can feel the lyrics of “Theologians” seeping out my fingers to kick into that blog rant/rave…!

    If someone could give me a handbook for “On Being A Serious Theologian” I would probably go back to reading christian Archie comics…

  7. well, of course those lyrics will have to make an appearance. I suppose the title betrays too much, so just don’t beat me to the punch on that post!

    Inlitterati lumen fidei…

    Christian Archie is cool, just don’t read Jack Chick comics…anything but…

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