Monday, September 2, 2019

Upcoming Intensive: Eschatology (Oct 18-19; 21-22)

Every two years I teach a unit, Readings in Doctrine. And each time a different area of doctrine is the focus. This year it is eschatology.

The intensive will be run at Pilgrim Theological College in Parkville, 9.30-4.30, Oct 18-19, 21-22. Supplementary material provided on-line before and after. Classes will be live-streamed for students unable to come to Melbourne. It is available for credit and auditing.

The first quarter of the unit is an overview of what scholars are saying about doctrine in general: what it is, what functions it performs in the church; its relationship to the bible; its truthfulness. Although 'doctrine' is one of the heavier words in the Christian lexicon, contemporary discussions about it are intellectually lively and theologically generative. We'll explore some of the metaphors presently being used to describe doctrine: rules, prompt, catalyst. We'll also explore how doctrine shapes the Christian 'social imaginary,' paying attention also to what one scholar has called doctrine's "affective salience," i.e., how it engages human emotions and dispositions.

The remaining lectures will focus on eschatology as a case study. This is another area of lively and generative discussion. Although often commandeered by fanatics and doomsday cults, few doctrines enjoyed more focused scholarly attention in the twentieth century. Following renewed engagement with the eschatology of the New Testament, doctrinal theologians began exploring it as something about more than 'last things'. Attention was given to the way weaves it way through the whole fabric of the Christian imagination and shapes the status we give to the present and what it is we hope for. More recent discussions have brought the Christian hope into conversation with cosmology and, of course, with the questions which climate changes puts to the future of life. There are also perennial questions about the post-death existence and universal salvation. Yes, the topic of eschatology really is that broad and that complex.

To sample some of the topics that we'll take up in this unit, here are some discussion starters:
There may indeed be progress in history from time to time, but it is not to be confused with redemption. It is not as though history as a whole is edging steadily closer to the Almighty, clambering from height to height until it glides closer to the glorious finale. For the New Testament, the eschaton or future kingdom of God is not to be mistaken for the consummation of history as a whole, and thus as the triumphal conclusion of a steadily upward trek ... The Messiah does not sound the top note of the tune of history but breaks it abruptly off.  (Terry Eagleton, Hope Without Optimism, 2015).
We'll explore whether Eagleton is correct in his presentation of New Testament eschatology. Does it actually reflect this radical discontinuity? How that question is answered has enormous significance for what Christian hope is taken to be.
[P]atriarchal theology has imaged the female body as being closer to nature and, in its dualistic logic, further from the divine than the male body. Given such constructions, some feminist theologians claim that essentialised definitions of gender have been utilised by patriarchal theology to present a model of eschatology that excludes, devalues, and demonises female bodies.  (Emily Pennington, Feminist Eschatology: Embodied Futures, 2017)
Given the significance of the resurrection of the body in Christian eschatology, critical study of this doctrine requires attention to gender - how it is been deployed and/or ignored in the development of the doctrine and its significance for any constructive contemporary account of it. How does gender shape the development of this doctrine?
The death of biodiversity, the passing points of no return, the irreversible alteration of the earth's capacity for sustaining human communities - these are the scenarios whose finality theology must not dilute, as many Christian millenialists do, via anticipation of a 'new heaven and a new earth.' (Stefan Skrimshire in Northcott and Scott (eds), Systematic Theology and Climate Change, 2014)
How does Christian hope become a motivation for engaging the challenges of climate change rather than an excuse to evade those challenges?

These and other questions will shape our reading of the primary texts: Jürgen Moltmann's The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology, Origen's On First Principles, and Dale Allison's Resurrecting Jesus.

Contact the college for enrolment information.

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