A reminder… Zoom tonight

There is an open zoom – all welcome. It is the second Zoom on eschatology, with a focus on Matthew 24 (Luke 21; Mark 13 parallels). It will be helpful if you plan on coming if you have either read a pdf that I wrote covering this chapter with also Paul’s cryptic comment on ‘the man of lawlessness’:

The pdf is here:

The Second Horizon

or watch a video (interview):

The Zoom link is:


ID: 572 803 9267
Passcode: 5GkMTA

And the time is 7:30 UK time.

15 thoughts on “A reminder… Zoom tonight

  1. A little voice from another place…

    Or, just to suggest that I am still listening.

    Much of my thinking, of which there is less than there used to be, is influenced by those who are honestly confronting the issues that must arise from contemporary trajectories. This means people from, for example, Yale like Dale Martin, John Collins, Joel Baden as well as more of the expected voices. The idea of biblical horizons has, of course, been a feature of this. Horizons, that encompassing line beyond which you cannot see from where you stand, that journey whose horizon moves with you over time but remains beyond reach. Remembering, perhaps usefully, that no horizon is further than three miles away depending on how tall you think you are. Horizons are important.

    It’s great to hear you talk like this, Martin. I suspect that I might locate those horizons even earlier than you but we’re clearly going in similar directions. But here’s some of the questions that fascinate me at present.

    Why do the NT writers show so little interest in the validation of Jesus prophecies when their expression was so clearly already in view when they wrote. Why do the prophecies over the validating sources of identity (temple and city and the priesthood whose role was utterly dependent on them) and their demise never get validated by their fulfilment. The point being that pretty much every writer was speaking after the beginning of the war and most after the destruction of the temple.

    The exploration of such questions is no longer the preserve of high-end academics and is becoming widespread. But it is interesting that Paul as the earliest NT writer spoke without the benefit of having the gospels to hand. What awareness did he have of Jesus’ prophecies? We can only take the internal evidence from some of his letters but the colossal eschatological implications of the fall of Jerusalem surely should have left some mark on his thinking.

    This, surely, should give us a little pause. But when we realise that the same is true of all NT writers, except, perhaps, the writer of the fiddly bit at the end of the NT, (which was not the end of the NT at the time because there was no NT at the time and nobody had decided the matter and would not for a very long time). Surely there is behind the whole construct a question about historical realism. It’s just odd is all.

    This forms part of a wider enquiry for me which is to do with the nature of our relationship with scripture and the nature of our responsibility in terms of the nature of orthodoxy. Like you I am pressing towards a thoroughly earthed heaven, an interpretive process that takes responsibility for what and how we believe. That seeks the skill to learn through application of allusion and implication how to be orthodox beyond any reasonable horizon. I’d love to be able to put this tidily in the fashion of John Milbank but, bluntly, his writing tends to sit just over the horizon of my poor scholarship, except, perhaps for those fascinating conversations between him and David Bentley Hart. Even so, and inevitably perhaps, the framing of this gospel has become increasingly political for me as this is the only shape that allows for a fully social, economic, environmental and religious quest for peace.

    If I have a single point to make, it is to point out that the complex shambles of thinking that we find as our context probably feels much the way it did for the writers of the NT before the bishops succumbed to the desire to homogenise everything. And because our world is so very small today none of us is as remote from the terrors, or the hopes, as we might wish.

    1. That’ll teach me to scribble without editing! Paul, of course, was dead before any of the gospels was redacted, and probably before the source gospels were widely available. What I should have said is that it is odd that none of the editors made any connection with events. If only seven of Paul’s letters are really clear in their source and others felt so free to write in his name. (Hardly a big problem at the time.) It is mostly odd that none of the gospel writers set Jesus’ words in the context of events (drawing a strong distinction between the function of a gospel and history, perhaps)

    2. Excellent set of questions. And to be honest, I never thought of them before. Why didn’t the writers set the NT writings in context? To what had happened between presumed prophecy and presumed fulfillment and afterwards? Writing style? Genre? Agenda for the narrative?

      Does that perhaps give guidance to us? That our theological writing and thinking need to be contextually based, that it is important today for our situation? For us to be more grounded (literally) and therefore useful to the world and creation, we need to be consciously contextual. Full circle for me. . . in 1988 I did an internship in Toronto with the Baptist church and wrote a contextual theology for the neighborhood where I was based. I’ve tried to be grounded ever since.

      Chris, haven’t seen you post in a long time. Really lovely to read your thoughts. I am always challenged by you to think better and have missed you.

    3. Hi Chris – echoing Anne: missed your wonderfully ‘annoying’ comments (not sure the word annoying is correct – but wanted another word after ‘wonderful’!!!!!!!!)
      Great input.
      I might still be too caught up in a conservative dating for the Gospels – Robinson but much more recently by Bernier of whom James McGrath responded with ‘Bernier makes a strong case for dates that are often earlier than the scholarly consensus’.
      Anyway earlier dating or later (John – not so early but still has a reference that seems current in 5:2 to the sheep gate as in existence… not conclusive but even for John has Jerusalem been ransacked and collapsed…).

      I love the shambles of thinking (NT) and ours. Are horizons so clear cut?

      Keep your comments coming!! Invaluable.

  2. Anne, that is kind of you, thank you.

    Martin, you are, as ever, generous. Are horizons clear-cut? The cheeky answer would be only if we could see both sides of the limitation, so, by definition not. It is horizon as limit that I find interesting. And if Dale Martin is right in his quip that all exegesis is eisegesis, the later it gets the better or worse it works, depending on what we are drawing from. I guess it has never been more urgent that we are aware of our sources, until tomorrow, and the next day.

    Bernier is interesting, I guess, and awareness of the destruction of the temple is probably the main determinant for him. I’m just not convinced that he is establishing that awareness that clearly. But this is not the aspect that is of most interest to me. I’m not sure if Bernier’s post doctoral work engages heavily with Revelation but a post destruction narrative could more easily be made here. In some ways the function of Revelation as a whole could be a response to the catastrophic awareness. This makes me smile because it reverses the common reading of Revelation as reaching thousands of years into the future only to replace it with the idea that it might be, by a very long way, the most topical and timely writing in the NT.

    What triggered my comment was your points, Martin, about the task that has faced the church for at least a millennium and a half of living beyond any biblical horizon and how this changes our ability to draw straight lines from texts that have clearly drawn their lines way behind us. Like you, I found the historical criticism of people like Wright fascinating twenty five years ago, I just didn’t realise how interesting he wasn’t being until exploring further.

    Whatever our views on the inspiration of the text, we need a revised view of inspiration beyond the text. It gets more interesting still now that we have to frame the shape of our meaning without the presumptions of Christendom and even consider the possibility of church functioning in a future that could find itself without conservative evangelical influence, at least in its current form, and perhaps if Trump’s capacity for disgrace is followed by those who can’t tell the starched quiff from a halo. The possible demise of that sort of evangelicalism, to my mind, adds richness to the possibilities for renewed Christian imagination. What do we get, for example, if we have to find a way to dissociate any ideas of a kingdom for God from the conceited ambitions of a church so obsessed with power that it would crush its way to dominance? Christendom Mark 2 is simply too Orwellian a prospect.

    I don’t want to go too far with this because this sort of thinking is only adjacent to what fascinates me lately. You might know that I have been wrestling for decades with the implications of Wittgenstein’s idea that ‘ethics and aesthetics mean much the same thing’. Briefly, what if the mental capacities, imaginative potentials, rational perceptions and so on that we bring to bear whenever we engage with aesthetics are the same tools that we use when thinking about ethical matters, those questions of balance, proportion and equity that establish the foundations of fairness and even justice. What strikes me is that such a challenge is something that can only be engaged by whole people. By that I mean that it is not amenable simply to logic, to science, to mathematics or to philosophy largely because the whole meaning of persons has to be brought into play.

    For example, at the core of these capacities in aesthetics lies our particular capacity for wonder. Similarly it brings with it a frequently pre-verbal enjoyment of any notion of goodness or ‘the good’. (I am trying to steer clear of Keats’ urn and its slippery binary form) If such things are closely related to our responsibility as societies to define ethical reasoning, why not to theology? What might a truly aesthetic theological imagination look like if it grew from the history of God that we think we are part of? How do we account, for example, for the moral development that today could achieve what the biblical writers failed to achieve in terms of slavery, of justice for women, of race. How can we find a Christian response to the absolute zero sum game that America, and now the whole western world, has made of the issue of abortion where two distinct ethical issues are faced off in a way that insists that one can only succeed at the expense of the destruction of the other? It might be true that the only genuinely ethical position would be total commitment to being pro-life and absolute commitment to pro-choice. And when told that this is impossible, to reply, simply, ‘So? Deal with it!’ The aesthetic response has to break the impasse and insist on a new imaginative formulation. In this case, it might be a deep reimagining of gender (not the trivial individualistic playground of current ideas) and mutuality and hence of an economics founded on the meaning of persons.

    Having totally confused every issue at hand and several that never were… I’ll sign off and have some tea.

    1. Hope you enjoyed your tea!! You brought a lot to the table in that comment(s) (not sure how I write those / that – but hey ho).

      Seems a lot of traction in the aesthetics / ethics and (I think significantly related) economics founded on the meaning of persons. Is there a small and somewhat barely visible arrow pointing in that direction from the ‘good to look at’ and so I consumed…? With the sight somewhat confused, for the trees were always designed to be ‘good to look at’. All of that mess (narratively) seems to lead to an economics not of persons (Gen 4-11). Maybe it went wrong… and therefore could go right with a true evaluation of aesthetics, and a true evaluation coming from persons in community, not from an elite, nor from a purely personal perspective.

    2. Chris, I find your comments about aesthetic theological imagination interesting. I teach future planners at university. I have told them for their first project to toss out all that they know about planning and imagine a new earth, with new rules for living (climate change and its extremes). They wrestle with this even when given permission to craft new visions. The thing that we lack in addressing the future is imagination, a right imagination that will lead to us engaging rightly with the world and each other. We have all the tools we need to accomplish what we need to do but the climate crisis demands radical transformation of our vision and (nod to Martin here) our perspective. Only imagination will get us there.

      I love the thought of the ‘history of God’ and our part in that narrative or story. What will that be 50 years from now? I do know for us to move on imaginatively and to address the level of need for transformation adequately, that most forms of the church that are hanging around need to go, die, implode, cease to exist. We need to be free to think in fresh ways. My planning students have this problem as the legacies that exist in real cities hold them back from the radical transformative required, hence my first project they are currently wrestling with. . . design a settlement on a new planet. Key also will be resisting authoritarianism in any form as it limits and kills imagination. We cannot afford that at this point.

      Ooo, so much to think about as we stumble our way forward. But rather than tea, I need to go make supper.

  3. Martin, thank you. I hadn’t thought of the Genesis scenarios in this context and don’t have any real thoughts. It seems that the couple were mostly living within their place much as was intended, with sustenance growing on trees. I’ve always been intrigued about why, into the apparent sufficiency and the goodness of creation, God would elect one tree to anathema. Why, into perfection, sow the possibility of the failure of the whole project? It can’t be a device just to swing the idea of free will, surely. The nearest I could get to an answer was to say that this is God abandoning his control of creation, perhaps, or of the future. Setting it free so that love could be love which, of course, is only valid when free. It could also be to do with a sort of handing over to the Adam what had been entirely God’s.

    That God should choose to restrict the only aspect of creation that is an arena of appetite or desire is obviously asking for trouble. Or, as one highly educated doctor, after becoming interested in the Bible said to me, quite outraged, ‘The whole thing is a set-up, this is entrapment!’

    I do feel sorry for early Genesis, we demand so much from it and make it work so very hard, even when its mythic qualities, deliberately sloppy editing and so on are reasonably well understood.

  4. Anne, thanks. I do remember you talking about your work and it always drew my interest. A long time ago a friend, rather over-egging her prophetic omelettes, asked me terribly seriously, ‘Chris, if you could do absolutely anything that you could dream of, what would it be?’ My instinct was to be a bit glib, and I nearly was, until I heard myself saying, without thinking, ‘I would build cities.’ The sort of thinking that I am enjoying here has always been foundational to my work as a designer. And I have always understood design as a conjecture, the ability to imagine how things might be, plus the small matter of being able to help make them so.

    I might be misremembering, but did we not talk before about how useful genres like science-fiction can be in unleashing the imagination? World-building is probably the most fun you can have in front of a keyboard

    Why, given emerging technologies, do we assume that cities need to be centralised? Why do they need to be big? Why the brutally hard lines between rural and urban? Perhaps a more open dialogue about what drives us towards the rigidity of geometry, that sort of arithmetic form of order, that intensity of occupation might open people to asking better questions about building within and among what the earth would do if we did not excavate quite so enthusiastically. Tying this back to Martin’s reply above, is our aesthetic of the idea of the city not really a way of controlling the hostility of creation to our labour? (Wow, that last is a bit of a stretch!)

    One little pass-time that helps me deal with the small practical things is following some channels on YT with people who have adopted Germany as their home and have useful hints on dealing with the protocols of being here. One, called Type Ashton, is an American woman who moved with her family to Freiberg. She is a social geographer and her comparisons between the US and Germany are fascinating. She describes, for example, how the single biggest factor in the urban planning of American cities does not derive from any need that is essential to the function of a city. American cities, especially on the hinterland between completely urban and completely rural, are the way they are solely because of the car. As a result they are profoundly inhumane, inefficient and much too big.

  5. Anne, another renegade thought just popped up. The British critical journalist George Monbiot has written extensively on forms of economy that could well be part of a vision of an economics based on the meaning of persons. One of his climactic phrases is a campaigning motif calling for ‘Private sufficiency, public luxury’.

    Obviously this represents a reversal of the framing of economic principle, but I am wondering, what might happen to planning if local governments could design their environments with this as a guiding approach. Cities for people would have to provide publicly what we currently yearn for privately. Such a democratising set of priorities might question why retail is the first driver of central planning, social connection would be the obvious alternative. The recognition that consumption is not the meaning of persons could serve to elevate our expectations for the whole person, creative opportunity, performance and practice space, distributed communities of public learning and celebration and so on.

    What excites me is how this act of flipping the dominant seems to produce an energy that very quickly brings more humane design approaches to the fore. The obvious difficulty is, given that this is such old thinking, in so many ways, why are we so reluctant to take the steps. Perhaps another aesthetic shift might be considered. So much urban planning centres on the assumption that our activities are most valid when they can be called work. What might happen if we could face the consequences of elevating play to what I have always thought should be at least an equivalent level. I vaguely recall that Jürgen Moltmann, a theologian at Tubingen, wrote on a developing theology of play but I suspect that some of my artist friends might have an even better grasp of the topic. (Wow, just discovered that he is still with us as a youthful 97 year-old!)

  6. The issue with urban planning, especially in North America, is indeed the principles upon which it is founded historically. Many cities were only really begun in the age of the car and hence the car rules. However, there is a process at work that makes planning livable cities very difficult. For example, here in Canada, cities are corporations owned by their provinces and have little real power over the stuff that matters. Thus cities cannot easily take initiative in things. The result of this is that developers, who often fund provincial political campaigns, lead the development of the city. Planners zone out areas according to broad desires for density and land use within the parameters of provincial planning. Then planners simply have to react when a developer submits a plan for a site. Depending upon the site, location, zoning and plans it may all come together easily or provoke conflict and have to be worked through. Communities are allowed to weigh in if they are seen to be affected by the proposed development. And that really is it more or less. That’s what planners do. They set rules within larger rules and then try to enforce them often with the province undermining them along the way. Most planners I’ve ever known were depressed.

    Some of that is changing. I spoke at a small city last fall about climate adaptation. The conference had been put together by a planner who wanted to explore how his city needs to respond to climate extremes.

    But most planning programs at universities are way behind in all of this. Not just climate adaptation but, as you point out, the goals of city planning. They are driven by the economics of retail and housing construction. And the people who lead those initiatives are not terribly concerned about building good cities. They simply want to sell things.

    Climate change gives us a tremendous opportunity to address this. Our failure to address it so far means that we may well face economic struggles going forward. If people cannot assume to own a car, how do they get around? Transit is one answer. The politically charged (at least in parts of North America) 15 minute city is another. Communities are where we create resilience. One way is to decentralize food production. Everyone needs to grow some food. And we will decentralize energy production as the grids cannot withstand the extreme weather. All of this hands power back to communities. But I also advocate for beauty. To create beauty is a radical act in an age of disasters. So it isn’t good enough just to reorient back to community for social life and for meeting needs. We need to be intentional about creating beauty through building design, street design and gardens. Green spaces are essential for mental and physical well being. Why make them all mowed lawns? They should be well developed gardens that supply food as well as pleasure for the soul.

    Our cities are going to be transformed by the climate crisis anyway. We should grab the opportunity to make them work much better for all who live there. And I could certainly support a theology of play. Play is critical not just for children but for all of us. It allows us to experiment and take risks. It develops confidence. That is why a design approach to just about anything can produce something so much better than just following the rules. Design is really simply grown up child’s play!

    1. You get no argument from me on all this, Anne. I have sat on various consortia over the years, engaged in the conceptual planning phase, sometimes of large city centre areas in need of redemption, sometimes of single structures, even of global heritage sites like Stonehenge. They called it master planning, which always made me smile. What should have been the phase of greatest liberty and imagination, largely because such projects are often quite speculative, almost always began with the parties using their elbows to ensure that they secured their seat at the table for what would, in very short order, become a warmed-over me-too piece of banality but with more glass.

      Right wing thinkers are strange creatures. Exercising endless imaginative energy in engineering the narrative and none at all in proposing real alternatives. That the meaning of the 15 minute city should be treated as a communist plot is beyond absurd. But then this type of thinking is horrified at the prospect of anything that levels the field.

      So, your initial question seems to be how you might give permission to your students to engage imaginatively.

      Within the current systems, designed and operated by us, we need permission to imagine something better. I agree, environmental issues should be sufficient to allow such thinking. What can you do if the response is tepid or defeatist? If the environmental questions do not inspire that must be a huge challenge. Increasing the role of transit while simultaneously reducing the need for it, which at least in part is what the 15minute city aims to do, ought to inspire planners and engineers and architects and manufacturers as an interdependent supply chain of low impact opportunity.

      Following another previously explored line of thought… if Brueggemann is correct in his work on prophecy, and prophecy is the counterintuitive contradiction of the dominant story, what does prophecy look like for the community of planners? What are the subversive stories like, where are the images, where is the declaration of hope and what shape is that hope? Who talks like this, imagines like this?

  7. I think it is sad that we have to be given permission to play or engage creatively and imaginatively. I try to do that with my students. In fact, I actively push them to think in new ways. I construct my courses to be student directed research. Everyone researches different things. And my class times are short and all about engagement.

    The key is to not penalize ‘failure’. You would be amazed at the number of anxious emails I get asking if they can do this or that. They want desperately not to get things wrong or have to pay the price of that. So my policy is that if the grade is below a B-, they can resubmit. They get feedback that tells them what they missed and the chance of a do-over. That is what it means to learn. You cannot imagine how radical this is within academia. I used to regularly get in trouble for my policies in the classroom. I’m old enough now and near enough to retirement that I don’t much care about reprimands any more.

    But per academia as a whole, while there are scientists in academia doing all manner of research on climate and environment, on the whole any undergrad can get through four years and hear none of it unless they self-select into a program that emphasizes climate change. It is a moral failure of academia that students can exit the university and not have much of a clue about their professional or personal futures in a changed world.

    Hence my focus with my students – the world you will live and work in is not the world as it was. There is no going back. Be bold and brave and design a new world, one where all of us, including other species can prosper. It is not easy. Many resist for fear of getting it wrong. And then I have to make sure my TA’s, the teaching assistants, also understand what is important. I don’t care how many words students write, in fact, I try to limit them. I don’t care about the font size. I care about informed critical thinking and imaginative engagement. First project is due tomorrow. It will be interesting to see what they submit.

    We all face the most amazing challenge and opportunity right now. Everything must be transformed. The climate we are heading into will not support the civilization we have built over the past 10,000 years. So lets make something better. Lets allow an aesthetic theological imagination to run loose and see what comes up. We have to be daring. But to hold back may be to lose much. Nostalgia is not a viable alternative in this case. So play, explore, adventure, experiment, repeat when you fail, and lets build this new world together.

    1. Wow! Yes!

      Drawing solely from your descriptions of approach, assessment, challenge and response, I hope you realise and enjoy (if that is the word) the fact that your stance, pushing back slightly against the dominant ethos which seems more geared to rote learning or at least rather simply packaged reductions. If retirement approaches, you get to decide how big a bang to go out with, and over what particulars. Wisdom and courage to you, Anne. And thank you for what you shared.

  8. I was just doing some work on the topic here, thinking about the faculties that we bring to bear when making different types of business or social decisions, and about how an aesthetic approach demands that no faculty be excluded, and was reminded of this. There are several versions of talks given by Ken Robinson, this is the fullest and probably funniest talk he gave at TED. I do miss him, he really understood.


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