Paul Fiddes: Eschatology Revisited

In addition to his public lecture at the recent ANZATS Conference, Paul Fiddes, gave two further, and equally stimulating, lectures on the conference theme, ‘The Future of God’. In the first lecture, ‘Shaping a New Creation: Realized and Future Eschatology Revisited’, Professor Fiddes briefly outlined the history of biblical and theological interpretation of realised and future eschatologies in Schweitzer, Dodd, Barth, Bultmann and Cullmann, before turning to Moltmann’s notion of the future as adventus. He noted how for Moltmann, the eschaton is an event in which the future happens ‘to’ time. He drew attention to a postmodern challenge of openness to ‘the event of the other’, before turning to give some shape to his own Moltmannesque proposal – drawing along the way upon Bloch, Jüngel, Derrida, Ricœur, Hartshorne, Vanstone, Rahner, Swinburne, and others – of God and an open future. God’s future, Fiddes insisted, is elastic, allowing space for both God and the creature to shape their future together. God allows those who are loved to share in the making of the future life. In this way, space is made for genuine human response to the life of God, for genuine interaction between God and creature. Love means that creatures and God both make a contribution to their future together. He argued that it is not only the creatures who wait for this end – God does too! And God is ceaselessly calling out possibilities in the imagination of the creature towards the possibilities that God himself has for the future – a future which is genuinely open. ‘The end is open – certain but surprising’. God makes waiting worthwhile precisely because the future is open – both to God’s creative freedom and to the creature’s response. This means that we ought to be ‘expecting the unexpected’. Divine omniscience, Fiddes noted, means that God knows everything that there is to be known. God does not yet know, however, the details of the future because the future is not yet there to be known. The future, therefore, is both open and closed. Its details are uncertain and genuinely open. That the end is the reconciliation of all things unto holy love is, however as sure as God’s self. During the question time following, Fiddes stated that it is not possible to speak either of God or of the eschaton literally. Language reaches its limits here. We are driven to metaphor.

Fiddes’ final lecture at this meeting was titled ‘Patterns of Hope: Penultimate and Ultimate Eschatology Revisited’. Herein, he outlined John Hick’s pareschatology, and noted that one of the problems with Hick’s eschatology is its ‘highly individualistic’ nature. Again, Fiddes turned to Moltmann, this time outlining Moltmann’s version of millennialism and identifying some of its more unsatisfying features. Drawing this time upon Derrida, Huxley, Graham Ward, Heidegger, Kristeva, Merleau-Ponty, John Robinson, Barth, John Macquarrie, Pannenberg and Whitehead, Fiddes spoke of the way in which the notion of resurrection functions as an image of ultimate eschatology. He spoke too of the unacceptability of any ongoing simultaneity and oppressiveness, and proposed instead an eschatological vision that concerned the healing of time. Penultimate eschatology, he said, has an identity held in the triune God. There must be a penultimate eschatology if our identity is to be preserved, i.e. if God is to keep communion with who we are. When questioned from the floor about the nature of final judgement, Fiddes responded by insisting that final judgement means being confronted with the truth. This, of course, is a painful process, particularly for those who delight in living a lie.

One comment

  1. There are alternative scenarios of the future in Scripture, one of late that has not been considered is that of a Gospel victory over all the earth by means of a Third Great Awakening involving theology, Presence, and humility (the three key elements in the First and Second Great Awakenings and in the launching of what Kenneth Scott Latourette called, “The Great Century of Missions.”). Seems God has a habit of hiding His hand even in the open. How about a 1001 generations in which every soul on earth is won to Christ by persuasion of the most ethical nature, reaching from one of the Heavens to the other (have we already gone to the stars?)?

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