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Speaking our Eschatology

posted by xscot mcknight

My grandmother, at the time over 90, worried to my father that she was pregnant. Her worries did not come from some kind of Sarah-for-our-time miracle but instead from the gradual loss of her mind. My grandfather, who landed in this world right around 1900 and moved to this good country as a teen and who was seriously wounded with a Jacob-like wound, regularly said “echel macpheckel” to me — it was something he had learned in Scotland and wanted me to know. To this day I don’t know what it means, but I sometimes find myself saying it the way the ancient Hebrews said “selah”.
You will observe that I spoke of my grandparents in the past tense. Which denies my own eschatology. Does your eschatology ever shape how you speak of the dead in Christ?
In James Vanoosting’s And the Flesh Became Word, there is an essay on the communion of saints in which he encourages a few practices that emerge from our eschatology — our faith that death ushers the saint into the presence of Christ and that, truly as you and I are alive, they are alive in the present.
First, refer to all saints in the present tense. “Martin Luther teaches…” and Dorothy Sayers “writes for us.”
Second, he suggests inviting a saint into your reading and talking to them about what you are reading. If they are alive, they are in some sense also present.
Third, connect the dead saints to the living Christ so that we speak of them in the present tense.
I imagine my grandma laughing now about her Sarah-symptoms and my grandpa whispering in my ear, as he limps by, “echel macpheckel.”
“And, because of his Resurrection,” Vanoosting writes, “all the faithfully departed are. English grammar be damned!” His “damned,” I suggest, is a modern presentation of Paul’s “Death, where is your sting?”



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Ted Gossard

posted October 31, 2006 at 4:03 am


Yes. I remember at my grandfather’s funeral, singing “Lift Your Glad Voices” http://www.mennolink.org/books/search.cgi?bk.ha.01.txt&track=1
But I really think of him as present. I hear his laugh and the joy and love of God in his demeanor.
A good thought, here, Scot. To see our loved ones in Jesus as really more alive than ourselves (as reminded from D.L. Moody’s words).



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Beyond Words

posted October 31, 2006 at 8:34 am


My uncle lost both his parents (my maternal grandparents) within a year and suffered agonizing grief. God has brought him through it and now he says he understands they’re not gone, they’re alive in another room we can’t enter. I love that imagery.
My father died in June 2005 surrounded by his family. Over the course of several hours, we all saw the light change, as if God’s realm came into ours to transport him. Afterwards, we timidly confirmed with each other what we had witnessesd–”did you see?…” “so it wasn’t just my imagination?”… Knowing in a “yada” knowing-way that Daddy is reunited with God means to me that he’s powerfully alive. God keeps speaking to my heart that Daddy is His beloved, and so am I.



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David Baird

posted October 31, 2006 at 8:36 am


I remind myself of this fact everytime I read the Evening Office by myself (Episcopal) at the Suffrages with their Versicle and Response setting. It is at this point that your book Praying with the Church had its greatest impact for me. I am praying with the departed, as well as others at that moment, when I read the Office.



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kent

posted October 31, 2006 at 8:53 am


That is interesting. I have never considered that before.That does change way I speak of my in-laws and my grandparents. They are probably moree alive in Christ in His presence than I am in this “tent”.
Oh what is the difference between an essay and an article in a magazine or short story? Just curious.



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Scot McKnight

posted October 31, 2006 at 8:57 am


An essay that I have in mind is “familiar” or “personal,” where you wander through experience and your own life; not expository; not exegetical; not an argument; just plain, personal story with some quotations and some reflections.
As Joseph Epstein defines it: “a line [of thinking] out for a walk.” I like that.
Very few essayists and very few media for essays.



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JohnO

posted October 31, 2006 at 9:10 am


Um, the dead are not alive – otherwise the word death has no definition. This is hardly your eschatology, because it is not concerned with the end times, but rather the now times! (And yes, English grammar be damned!)



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jinny

posted October 31, 2006 at 9:30 am


I’m guilty of talking about people who are alive in the past tense at times. ^_^
Usually in the context of ‘so-and-so said….’
I think it’s a cultural mindset to speak of someone alive in the present, and in the past if s/he is dead.
When I say, ‘Twiggy was a model,’ I’m thinking, ‘She used to be a model and is not currently a model’ rather than ‘Twiggy is dead, and that’s why I refer to her in the past tense’–she isn’t–yet. :-P This example occurred to me because I saw someone rebuked on TV for using past tense when referring to Twiggy ‘as if she was dead.’ The person didn’t defend himself, so he might have thought she was dead (he’s not dead either).
One question: how should we refer to someone who died, whom we don’t know is saved (Is salvation in the perfect?)? Such is the case for me, I don’t really think my maternal grandfather ever accepted Christ, even though he was buried in a Christian ceremony (my grandmother’s choice) in a largely Buddhist/animist society (Taiwan).



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Brad

posted October 31, 2006 at 9:32 am


My son(16) and I were having a conversation on the differences between Catholic and Conservative Protestant thought. Using a golf analogy, he thought Catholics have too many clubs in their spiritual bag and Protestant didn’t have enough. I think he might be on to something.
The previous blog mentioned D.L. Moody. THE REV. J. WILBUR CHAPMAN, stated, “There was genuine greatness of heart in Mr. Moody, and it constantly triumphed over sect differences. When his mother died three years ago the Roman Catholics of the neighborhood asked that they might be pallbearers.”
I think the Catechism of the Catholic Church (cf. 954-959; 961-962) might help us understand the Communion of the Saints. I also believe Catholics might do well to dive into James Vanoosting’s “And the Flesh Became Word”.



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Beyond Words

posted October 31, 2006 at 9:52 am


Can anyone more qualified than me help JohnO with a definition of eschatology that’s not limited to “end times?”



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Matt

posted October 31, 2006 at 11:50 am


May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in eternal peace.
I think I’m close here, at least, in quoting the traditional formulation from the BCP (?) Is there also value in thinking of the Saints as resting souls? They live, and can even speak to us out of time and eternity – but there is also a certain distance between us and them. We listen to their voices, and pray for their peace, but don’t quite think of them as alive and present in a biological sense.
Just a thought.



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Robert E. Mason

posted October 31, 2006 at 12:48 pm


Scot,
It was Dr. Johnson or John Milton, I forget which, who characterized an essay as a “sallying forth of a mind.” I do think an essay has to have a central conceit or point of view, but the essayist ruminates on it, bringing in personal anecdotes, illustrations from literature, etc. to shore up the point.



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steph

posted October 31, 2006 at 2:37 pm


Very interesting piece. Becoming Anglican [from non-denom Evangelical Land] meant that at the Prayers of the People I’ve been forced to contemplate ‘praying for those who have died’. Admittedly, it’s not a practice of most mega-churches. :) But it has stretched my soul in important ways — it started as an intentional remembering, and now it is a time of thanking for — though I still think it’s a mystery to pray for those who no longer have any needs… do they?



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James Gregory

posted October 31, 2006 at 2:56 pm


eschatology is the study of the eschaton, which means “end” {Grk: eschaton (end) + logos (word)}
however, there is a future eschatology and there is a realized eschatology (cf. C.H. Dodd)
the future is all about the end times and what will happen then
the realized is all about how the future eschatology impacts or is realized today in the here and now



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James Gregory

posted October 31, 2006 at 2:56 pm


Beyond Words:
eschatology is the study of the eschaton, which means “end” {Grk: eschaton (end) + logos (word)}
however, there is a future eschatology and there is a realized eschatology (cf. C.H. Dodd)
the future is all about the end times and what will happen then
the realized is all about how the future eschatology impacts or is realized today in the here and now



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Phil

posted October 31, 2006 at 5:29 pm


Martin Luther does not “teach us”, nor does Dorothy Sayers “write for us”. Luther’s writings teach us, and Dorothy wrote for us.
Is there really anything useful to be gained here by this playing with semantics?
This kind of thinking, taken to extremes, leads to errant practices such as praying to or for those who are departed (as have been expressed by some in the above comments).
The departed surely leave us a legacy. However their presence with us is no longer a reality apart from our memories and they way they have shaped us.
They were with us, now they are not with us. They are, if in Christ, with Him.



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Scot McKnight

posted October 31, 2006 at 5:32 pm


Well, Phil, your view is clear and straightforward. I wonder if by casting the dead in the past tense we do not, in subtle ways, suggest they are merely in the past. What does it mean for us to affirm the communion of the saints? (Do you?)



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Phil

posted October 31, 2006 at 5:52 pm


Scott, I absolutely affirm the communion of the saints. I have come from an evangelical background (doesn’t mean quite the same here in New Zealand as it does in the US) that eschewed tradition, and am now rediscovering the richness of the history of the Church.
I very much believe in identifying with historical Church – we are part of the same unfolding of God’s plan and share the same core beliefs. We rest upon the faith and hard work of those that have gone before us.
I believe though, it is possible (and preferable) to consider oneself within the context of the Church (past and present) without considering those with Christ as present with us.
BTW, although this is my first comment I am a long time reader and have enjoyed much of your writing. The “Do Calvinists understand Arminianism?” series in particular has been great! Well done.



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Kevin

posted November 1, 2006 at 10:58 am


Scot,
It was the doctrine of the communion of the saints that led me to give up my previous commitment to a gappy view of existence–that we come into existence, go out of existence at death and then come back into existence at the resurrection. The doctrine is a one that for some 1600 years was never a subject of controversy.
With respect to praying to the saints now departed, I think like this: if I have no problem asking you or another brother or siser to pray for me, why should I have difficulty asking a departed saint to pray for me? Suppose there is a departed saint who has a reputation for having cultivated a virtue that I desperately want to see incarnated in my own life. I think it reasonable to ask that saint to pray for me with regard to that virtue.
Some who know me may chalk this up to “you can take the boy out of the Catholic Church, but you can’t take the Catholic Churh out of the boy”. Whatever. I simply think that I am part of a communnity–a very large community–and that the saints who have departed enjoy some kind of intermediate, conscious (and embodied even) existence b/w their deaths and the final resurrection. So, why not consult them?
Kevin



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Phil

posted November 1, 2006 at 4:26 pm


Kevin,
Just out of interest (assuming you *can* “ask a departed saint to pray for me”) – why would anyone want to as a departed saint to pray for them when we have the Son himself to interceed with the Father on our behalf?



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Scott M

posted November 1, 2006 at 4:52 pm


We do you ask your local church to pray for you? Why do we ask for prayer sometimes from broad communities of people, many of whom we may not even know? Are we not people who believe that prayer is powerful? And do we not also believe Jesus’ words that we will never die? And do we not believe that, as followers of Jesus, we have been given life now will endure forever?
If so, then the body consists of all saints, on either side of the veil of the death.



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Virgil

posted November 1, 2006 at 5:09 pm


What an excellent and fresh perspective on eschatology (be it fulfilled or otherwise). Thanks Scot! Sometimes we truly forget the importance of ongoing relationships and how real they are, regardless of prophecy being fulfilled in the past.



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Phil

posted November 1, 2006 at 10:07 pm


Scott,
That is true – and a good point. We do ask others here to pray for us. So I guess it would not be a big leap to ask the departed to pray for us if in-fact they are able to hear such requests.
So why am I uncomfortable with the thought of asking the departed to pray for us? I will have to think about this some more, but I my gut reaction comes from several places. This comments section is obviously not the place for debate or long discourse, and I don’t wish to be argumentative so I will send you and email privately.



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Paully Mac

posted November 2, 2006 at 11:46 pm


I think it a little naive to assume that communication in eternity is less advanced than what we have achieved hear on earth. Is prayer–yes, even prayer to saints–less reliable than email? I should hope not.



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Brian

posted November 3, 2006 at 7:32 am


Scot,
I’m a bit late with this thought, but there are some connections between this discussion and how the NT refers to the OT (i.e. “If they will not hear Moses,” “Abel still speaks,” etc.). Some discussions of bibliology pick up on this kind of thing.



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