Sep 242012

Apologies up front – this is yet another ‘brain-dump’ post as I attempt to get my head round some thoughts.

One thing I miss about not having a supervisor is the opportunity for theological discussion. And since I haven’t been blogging much either then I’ve not had an opportunity to engage through that medium either. That’s not to say there hasn’t been ongoing theological engagement, but it’s been in settings where the topics up for discussion have tended to be the same old contentious chestnuts – and it’s fair to say that it’s getting a tad wearisome.

However, I have been dipping in and out of some other theological reflection areas, and one that has my old grey-cells working at the moment comes from some of the writings of Andrew Perriman. In particular, his Kindle book, Hell and Heaven in Narrative Perspective, has got me thinking about all sorts of issues. The Kindle book is a collection of selected blog posts, so it’s not really necessary to purchase it, but it does help having it all in one volume, and with a bit of editorial gloss.

His key premise is that scriptural interpretation of crucial parts of the New Testament ought to be approached with what he refers to as a ‘narrative-historical’ hermeneutic. This, he suggests, is a paradigm shift in approaching these texts. And, to be fair, I’m having a hard time readjusting my perspective to see the texts in that light. And I’m attempting to do so, because I think his approach has some merit.

My own theological progression has moved through a number of stages, and is now a significant distance from the conservative-evangelical approach I was primarily exposed to in my early years as a Christian. I can identify a ‘paradigm shift’ when I first read NT Wright. His writings had a major impact on my eschatological understanding. Exposure to Barth at university reshaped my outlook on revelation. The blog and books of Scot McKnight had a further impact on my understanding of ‘God’s Kingdom’, and also refined what was already my general approach to scriptural interpretation.

Perriman’s work though, challenges me in a new way. If I’m reading him correctly (and this is part of the issue of getting my head round his approach) what he seems to be suggesting is that much of the ‘future-focused’ aspects Jesus’ teaching in particular have already come to pass (but with resonances for a future still to happen). Jesus’ teaching, he is suggesting, is about the consequences of conflict with Rome, and holds a much stronger ‘corporate’ dimension than most western evangelical teaching allows.

It is this ’embedded in (already happened) history’ which shapes Perriman’s hermeneutic. And it does pretty much make sense as he presents it. One can see how the NT’s warnings on future ‘consequences’ have already been played out in the early centuries AD. The implications of this for thoughts on hell in particular are especially crucial. The ‘destruction’ and distress can be found, quite readily, in the historical events of the Jewish revolt (and remember, these warnings have a Jewish context, first and foremost) and its aftermath.

Perriman is not, I think, suggesting that these warnings, and the teachings we derive from them, are ‘time-limited’ – they are pertinent in all ages, I’d suggest. But his eschatology takes a quite different shape as a consequence. Where I’m struggling is how this impacts on our teaching of the Bible in our present day and age. In one sense, there is the danger of history repeating itself, and so that certainly becomes a focus. And his thoughts on hell and heaven fit into those I already hold as a consequence of other theological development. But I guess where I am struggling is how to present such a ‘paradigm shift’ to ‘the pew’. And I think that that is because I’m not fully clear on the implications yet of such a hermeneutic. More thinking required.

  One Response to “Always thinking”

  1. Hmmmm, not really sure if I should comment, not knowing Perriman’s work at all, but I’ll have a go while recognising I may be mischaracterising what he’s saying.

    There’s always a tension in Christian eschatology between the “already” and the “not yet” and often between the individual and corporate dimensions. When people who have overly stress one end of one of these polarities notice the issue they sometimes over-compensate by rushing to the other end. While it would be wrong to neglect the intra-historical aspects of the eschatological and apocalyptic teachings the great danger is losing the “salvation historical” frame within which human history is set.

    Especially the risk, in my view, is limiting our eschatological vision to what seems possible to us. If this means that we forget that we’ve fallen from what we’re supposed to be then our ambition will be constrained. When we preach on the Kingdom we have to remember that what we’re promised isn’t just that things will get a bit better but that sin and death will be conquered and banished and that we will live in eternal bliss with God.

    That, on the other hand, shouldn’t be allowed to devolve into “pie in the sky when you die”, The renewal of all things we are promised is the restoration of the whole created order to its proper state.

    The tensions in eschatology are irremediable this side of the full realisation of God’s rule but that shouldn’t stop us preaching it.

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