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.