Posted by: HAT | September 5, 2008

Prophecy and Apocalyptic

In a conversation yesterday we got on the topic of utopia briefly, and I said my dissertation is really about these folks’ thinking about how to represent the possibility of radical change, the possibility of imagining a different situation from the extant reality (to use Adorno-via-E.B. Ashton’s words), which is related to the possibility of working for change/towards that radically different situation, from within extant reality. 

 “So, like prophetic . . .”

 Indeed — and in fact, more like “prophecy” than like “apocalyptic”, eschatological visions.  Even though many people would probably think of the New Jerusalem of Revelation as a utopian precursor, there’s not much people can do in the present about the apocalyptic vision.  The eschaton is just something one has to wait for, and perhaps prepare oneself by being sufficiently whatever (pure, orthodox, member of the appropriate community . . .) 

 But in the prophetic imagination, there’s a concern with the relationship of the present situation to the future; not that activity in the present necessarily brings about the messianic reality or the peaceable kingdom, but turning and doing-justice-loving-kindness-walking-humbly and stopping selling the poor for a pair of sandals and all that is the practical activity of anticipation, a kind of pre-figuring or embodiment of the coming condition, so the prophetic description of the new world serves as a touchstone and criterion for present behavior and possibilities, in a way (I think; I would argue) that the apocalyptic vision of the radical break/reconstruction doesn’t. 

So then, I think on my way home to pick up my daughter and fix dinner and so on, I wonder whether this has something to do with the relative emphases of different Christian denominations (and maybe other faith communities, too), and their action profiles — whether it is the case that pre-millenial Christian belief goes along with more emphasis on apocalyptic and less emphasis on social justice activism, while post-millenial Christian belief goes alone with more emphasis on prophetic content and more emphasis on social justice activism. 

[Well, its oversimplified, but there’s probably some evidence to support that story.  The Left Behind books, e.g., are not utopian, and there’s no sense from them that there’s anything worth doing in the world, to improve or transform the world, other than making sure people know the truth so they can make the right faith affirmations so they can benefit from the rapture.  Or get through the tribulation/last chance to heavenly salvation.  Compare this to N.T. Wright’s new Surprised by Hope, which is all about the link between resurrection, the transfigured world, and the link to prophetic missional activity in the present.]

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