Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Dermot Lane on Eschatology

I've been working through Dermot Lane's, Keeping Hope Alive: Stirrings in Christian Theology (New York: Paulist, 1996). While there is much in the book that I find problematic, there are a number important insights that deserve consideration. I thought I'd share a few...

Eschatology has been usually described as the study of the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell which have become known as the eschata. However, this classical account of eschatology is not without its own particular prejudice. For one thing this description seems to confine eschatology simply to these particular items, whereas a fuller account would focus on the advent of the end of time (the Eschaton) in Christ. It is only in the light of our understanding of the appearance of the end of time in the crucified and risen Christ that we can develop a Christian theology of death, judgment, heaven, hell, purgatory and the second coming. The primary emphasis in New Testament eschatology is one the significance of the appearance of the Eschaton in Christ which shapes our understanding of the present and the future. Over the centuries, however, the emphasis has fallen on a treatment of the individual eschata to the neglect of the Eschaton in Christ. Something of a separation has taken place between our understanding of the Eschaton in Christ and its relationship to the individual eschata. Today there is a recovery of the biblical emphasis on the close relationship that exists between the Christ-event and its implications for living and dying in the present and the future.
Furthermore, the classical description of eschatology as the study of death, heaven, hell, purgatory and the second coming could give the impression that eschatology is concerned exclusively with events in the future. Consequently eschatology appears removed from the theology of present-day realities like the Church and the world, the Eucharist and social justice, faith and ecology....

A further point about classical eschatology is its concern almost exclusively with individual destinty, i.e., a preoccupation with 'my destiny', and the salvation of 'my soul'... [pp. 2-3]

Indeed, the demise of eschatology in this century has been caused by the failure to keep alive the symbolical, sacramental and analogical imagination. The death of metaphor in post-modern consciousness is one of the most serious obstacles to a reconstruction of eschatology. Unless we have some sense of inhabiting a universe that carries symbolic meaning and is ultimately sacramental it will be extremely difficult to retrieve the eschatological interpretation of experience. [p 18]

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