Posted by: rogermitchell | January 27, 2010

we mostly live in misconceived time

I’m not planning to say much more about this tonight as my head is fairly reeling from a day spent immersed in thinking and writing up my thesis and its eschatological hermeneutic – now there’s a phrase! I’ve only stopped because I was ceasing to make sense! Nevertheless the burden of the day’s work is that we mostly live inside a misconception of time. Put simply, one of the core aspects of my research is that the espousal of the Roman Empire as a sign of eschatological peace by the fourth century church began a process of the de-eschatologisation of the gospel testimony that continued almost unabated throughout the history of the western church. Eschatology in the Hebrew tradition was not primarily about life after death or the precise nature of future events. It was the portrayal of the purpose and plan of God for his people and through them to the rest of humanity. As such the work of the eschatological and apocalyptic prophets  was to provide a counter-political, anti-imperial critique of both the rulers of Israel and their enemies. This was exactly the nature and context of Jesus announcement of the good news of the kingdom of God. De-eschatologisation means the removal of this radical political purpose and function of the prophetic and amounts to the neuturing of the good news of the kingdom of God. Once the eschatological vision of peace was identified with the Roman empire and the hierarchical operation of the fourth century ecclesia then the inherent counter-political dynamic of the gospel narrative was effectively eliminated. This eschatological move constituted a serious over-realisation that identified the present ecclesiastical and political order with the fulness of the kingdom of God. Those aspects of daily experience that fell short were resolved in an under-realised doctrine of a coming heaven where the earthly hierarchical order was mirrored and confirmed. This amounted to a de-eschatologisation which effectively locked time into an imperial tool and a means of political and economic captivity and it has remained so pretty much unchanged throughout the history of Christendom until the present day. It is misconceived time and the purpose of the prophetic is to break it open and break out of it. It is time for the people of God to get out from under imperial time and live out the words of the psalmist “Our soul has escaped as a bird out of the snare of the trapper; The snare is broken and we have escaped” (Psalm 124:7-8).



  1. Now, this I can get into Roger. Yes, the Kingdom is now and we do not realize it, or live it, or act on it, because for many of us, well, the Kingdom has come. For many of us Westerners’ the Kingdom obviously has come in that we live comfortable lives with most, if not all of our ‘needs’ met. So done.

    But isn’t that so like the enemy – get us to believe the job is finished when all that is really there is a facade of the real thing. And over time we can see it is an ugly facade. Its especially ugly when my ‘kingdom’ lifestyle is bought at the price of the lives of others. That is not a price I want to pay. Though since I writing this on my own computer, in my own apartment, I have obviously paid that price (I am thinking of the mining of Coltan and the Congo at the moment).
    So we were seduced into believing the peace of Rome was the ultimate thing, the final victory and we have been trying to recreate and hold onto it ever since. We don’t really care what the label is on the empire as long as it suppresses violence, enhances trade (colonialism can be valorized by the colonizers) and gives me what I want in life.
    It is like a hall of mirrors, reflecting me back to myself.
    So yes, let us break into prophetic time with all its urgency and all of its rest. Afterall prophectic time is all the time of the Sabbath, that rest of belief in God’s ability to manifest the Kingdom truly and fully. Amen to that!

  2. Wow. Look forward to your thesis being published, Roger.

  3. One more comment on time – I was thinking some time back on the spirit of the religious right in the USA. And I realized they seemed entirely nihilistic. They had no hope despite all the ‘Left Behind’ books and other ‘eschatologies’ and theologies that assure so many that they will get to where they want to go. So clearly, an end time theology that promises the end of the earth (not in a re-creation but in total destruction), and some other kind of existence apart from our planet, does not promote a hopeful spirit. I suspect a prophetic call, demonstrating the breaking in of God’s time and God’s ways of doing things brings forth much more hope in human beings. I know it works for me! c.

    • Thanks for this Cheryl. Sadly it is not possible to regard the American evangelical right as anything other than subject to imperial time and power. Their commitment to American sovereignty exemplified in their idolatrous allegiance to the flag and the sacrifice of their children to preserve international capitalism gives the lie to their apparent concern for the unborn and the moral high ground of marriage and sexual purity. This is true of course of the British and Canadian evangelical right although it takes slightly different forms.

  4. Hi Rog,

    I’m still processing the stuff on time, but it reminds me of some things God impressed on me a while back. I took a personal retreat to the coast of Donegal to an old cottage and when I got there God told me to fast during the day and feast at night! Strange one, but the revelation in this for me was from Matthew 9: 14-15:

    Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.

    For me this is about presence and absence, celebration and yearning and is connected to time and to eschatology (bridegroom imagery). The fasting is about looking (longing) to what is to come, the breaking in of the eschaton (hopefully using your own language correctly), but the feasting surely is the breaking in, the kingdom at hand, what has been termed eternity interfacing with time. I find it interesting that the question to Jesus comes from John’s disciples who were fasting (along with the Pharisees – dominant power system dictating time?), still in the mode of waiting for what John pointed to, but were missing the key issue (because wedded to the pharisee/system time?) that they needed to catch up the the present reality and live like Jesus is here, ‘cos, glory be, he is. So I see time in this interaction being about orientation to Jesus – presence/absence – to the eternal, like a dance of wonderful presence almost simultaneously mixed with yearning because of absence… but is this not the dynamic of relationship, love and perhaps the reason for temporality in the first place in our relationship with God, each other and the creation in it’s glorious seasons… (ok, got a bit carried away there:-)) (as an aside, Pete Rollins makes some interesting points on absence and presence in ‘How (Not) to Speak of God’)

    So, back to Donegal, what happened as I engaged in the fasting/feasting dance was a changing awareness and relationship to the world around. For example the grass around the cottage literally became more alive. I wonder as we engage in the time/eternity relationship of God connection, and with the creation (as we are more fully sewn into it), then we align not with the imperial time/power dominance but with the kingdom at hand, not missing our time/s of visitation, nor losing the opportunity of yearning which renews our experience of presence but rather gain the fulness of this eternity/time dynamic and on we go in an ever increasing cycle of the kingdom coming, the kingdom at hand and a different history left behind (excuse the pun:-))

    The following two verses after this talk about wine skins old and new, another round in temporal mechanics a la Jesus, but my head’s a bit fried already so I’ll leave it there – I’ve ran out of time:)


    • Hi Pete, I love all this, perhaps especially the thought that God’s temporality is a positive in love relationship as in the idea that absence makes the heart grow fonder. So it may not just be that our temporality is a necessary consequence of being created by someone eternal but that it is a part of the nature of love, a characteristic of love. It would follow that the incarnation was not just God rescuing us from our sin and the fall but a choice of love that he would share our temporality too. Ever since then God has been temporal as well as eternal!
      Another quick point is about the eschaton. What I’m suggesting is that a primary purpose of a future event where justice and peace triumph is as a political critique of the present. Not that it won’t ever come, or that we don’t enter into it in eschatological moments or sustained visitations but that this is a vital aspect of its now importance. Contemporary historical work on the Hebrew prophets and the context of Judaism in the time of Jesus such as N. T. Wright’s certainly seems to bear this out.

      • It occurs to me that it is important not to see time as an opposite reality to the eternal. There is absolute conception of times, seasons and eons from eternity, I think. Temporality for me has always been the facilitator of choice and of moving on or not and Peter’s articulation of the fasting and feasting bears that out I reckon. I’m sure someone has already said this but time is here for us and like space it may be reclaimed and redeemed… Not necessarily “oh Sabbath rest by Galilee” but to be emptied of the exigencies of power.

        Absence for me is the most exciting temporal experience because there time/space is least colonised and the eternal presence may then break in. Which is possibly why when we are weak his strength is made perfect and why “late in time behold him come”. Just rambling til now but now thinking that time is implicit in love because love implies a present participle which is the closest thing we have to eternity in our conception of language/the world. Love, true gift, justice, peace etc. These are what we are the eternal thongs we are here to live for and die for and be resurrected into. They are all present/absent and we are the Back/forward slash. Time and love go together. What else could life-laying down love imply? Did love necessarily create time, which went wrong without it (empire time), and then engage with it in full in order to open up resurrection etc?

        Ok, maybe too theoretical? But I may be starting to get this properly.

      • Oops, I mean eternal *things*. I have nothing to say about eternal thongs! Writing on my phone may be dangerous.

  5. Since I don’t really “have time” today to post, I think I’ll subvert that temporal misconception and start writing! 😉

    Loving the discussion and especially the things that Peter brought up about the feasting/fasting and presence/absence. That resonates with me because when I think about time, I think about the validity of both “progression” and “cycle”, and “kairos” and “chronos”, and as Stephen says, “time” and “eternity”. Jesus came to reconcile ALL things to the Father…which is why we who lean “left” and who lean “right” both need to be careful in our critique of the “other side”. The beauty and the power is released in the RECONCILIATION…which is another way to say that that something has been “made whole”…which is another way to express “fullness”. Perhaps we need to strike “either/or” from our vocabulary and replace it with “both/and”…just to see where we end up!

    Time is such an incredible gift from our infinite Father to help us to learn about and to steward and to celebrate life…our own and all that we see around us.

  6. I like to think of time as a space/time continuum as Einstein talked about it. That is, first of all there is 4 dimensions, and then, since God inhabits all time and space, we, in Him, are able to shift around a bit. So in the prophetic we shift time but also maybe shift space a bit as we see what can be in that place/space. I think that is part of the fun of God, this ability to shift around on the continuum. And depending upon where we are shifted at the moment we experience different things, ie, the grass gets more lively because we have been shifted to a new place and time. It all makes life much more interesting than the dreary tedium of fulfilling empire time and living by its restrictions (always on a line there, just 2 dimensions and that’s why we all feel diminished by it). That’s the theoretical thought for the day. Time to pay my rent to a large institution — oh,oh, empire time just broke into my life again. Sigh.

  7. I do love this stuff! Love all the responses – and Cheryl, I always like what you write here and on 3 generations.
    When I lived in Kenya, one of the most common phrases I heard preached was ‘time that is lost will never be recovered’. Bollocks! We so need to grab hold of the deep truths of what is being discussed here, because fear and time are so interconnected and lead to utter slavery.
    One of the things I’ve been hoping for since about 2005 is a hung parliament. There was a discussion on radio 4 the other day about how many laws new labour have pushed through since they came to power. (now don’t mishead me, I’m not a left basher – my work mates call me red Andy!). There were some comments that this was done out of fear. They didn’t want to lose a moment of time they had to push their agenda through. The discussion turned to the possibility of a hung parliament and how this could be a brilliant thing for british politics as it would mean things would have to be properly debated again and time would have to be taken not to force things through, but to really engage with the issues.
    We (I mean this in the broadest sense of the western populus) don’t have time for people to be broken, or people to be sick. We need them back in the machine to drive the state forward. We don’t have time for children to be taken out of school or educated more widely, or in a way that releases the very substance of who they are. We don’t have time to stop and consider how our rageful expansion of technology destroys the very planet we live in. We don’t have time to ask some very difficult questions about our exploitative economic and global trade policies………..
    BUT, once more, He IS shaking the heavens and the earth! There is a need to understand what it means to be a prophetic people who can stand in the midst of a world that cries ‘tempus fugit’ and say, we don’t submit to that notion of fear. There is time, and it is here. Yes, there is a groaning and a waiting for the future when all is fully and finally made new, but here and now, we say Maranatha!
    I have so many questions of what this can practically look like in so many areas of society, but this whole area is a major thing for us to break. It was for freedom after all………….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: