Sep 092009

I had a meeting with my academic supervisor today and most helpful it was too. We chatted through various possible approaches to my research project and in the general mish-mash of thoughts and conversation a few ideas began to crystallise.

First up is the idea of language or how we express ideas. This is in relation to heaven and hell. We either get too bogged down in the images of angel, harps and clouds set against demons, pointy tails and lakes of sulphur or it becomes entirely too nebulous and becomes this world a gazillion times better (or worse). But, more particularly, how do we use language that retains the ‘solidity’ of the Christian theological tradition but allows interaction and engagement with the existentialist musings of postmodernism?

Associated with this is the language of death – again tied up with existentialism and issues of ontology. It’ll probably draw from the ‘Death: Perspectives on Thanatology and Eschatology’ course, but may well follow a more independent direction. This is still a woolly one that I haven’t quite decided about yet.

These two make up two thirds of the small (3-4000 words) supervised research essays. The third one will, in all likelihood, draw from the Barth course I intend doing. In all probability I will focus on ‘judgement’ for this one. It’s the final piece of my eschatological jigsaw and Barth is as good a theologian as any to engage with on the subject.

The big problem was always the main dissertation. Not that I couldn’t find something to write about, but rather focussing on a particular area. There’s much that could be addressed when you come form a revised eschatological perspective. I could talk about the language of prayer; or hymnody; or mission and evangelism; of social justice and causes; or any number of areas affecting how we ‘do’ church. But one idea that floated out of the discussions was again the interaction with postmodernism and, in particular, engaging with the Emerging Church movement. I’ve had a bit of a go in the past at EC, suggesting that, rather than confront postmodernism, it colludes with it. I think that inaugurated eschatology and all the associated ‘revisions’ of how we speak of heaven, hell, judgement, resurrection and just generally ‘being’ and ‘doing’ church can speak into this area in a very fruitful and meaningful way. I believe it gives us a vocabulary that steps out of ‘tradition’ and addresses many of the concerns surrounding ethics and morality in the ‘now’ but also retaining the ‘hope’ inherent in a future-looking eschatology. Still a bit woolly, but heading in the right direction.

So, nothing too heavy in that lot then 😉 And when I’ve solved all of the church’s theological language problems I’ll maybe have a cup of tea.

Sep 252008

OK, here it is, the proposal for my dissertation:

Genesis 1:31a And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.
Despite the early scriptural affirmation of the goodness of creation, Greek philosophical dualism, where heaven=good and earth=bad, still pervades much Christian thought. Heaven is to be ‘sought after’ and all that matters in the Christian life is that, one day, we will be in heaven with God. Heaven becomes the ‘be all and end all’ of faith, turning attention away from the needs of this world and its inhabitants.

Yet this theological perspective, with its unfortunate implications for Christian ethics, does not enjoy incontestable scriptural backing. Rather than leaving this ‘bad’ earth behind, the apostle Paul speaks of the redemption of creation, freeing it from decay (Romans 8:20-21). NT Wright argues that Paul has ‘reimagined’ Jewish Messiahship and salvation in the context of an inaugurated eschatology, encompassing the entirety of creation. It is not, nor has it ever been, God’s ‘plan’ to wipe away this ‘bad’ earth and start afresh.

Driven by the scriptural emphasis of redeemed creation and an inaugurated eschatology, our theology and ethics must encompass a better sense of what the ‘new heavens and the new earth’ mean for the ‘here and now’ and not just for some indeterminate future.

Picking up on Wright’s insistence on a ‘reimagined salvation’ encompassing all creation, this dissertation will explore the theological ground of what eschatology means for creation itself.

My supervisor is looking likely to be Professor David Fergusson and he reckons it’s “a worthwhile dissertation topic”. I’m currently trying to put together a possible bibliography, but the names Wright, Moltmann and Polkinghorne seem to crop up with regularity when searching for suitable sources, so I guess they’ll feature somewhere.