Neal DeRoo and John Panteleimon Manoussakis, eds., Phenomenology and Eschatology: Not Yet in the Now (Ashgate, 2009).
Reviewed by R. Alexander Tracy
Alex Tracy is the Associate Pastor at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah, Georgia. He received both his B.A. in philosophy and his M.Div. from Emory University, and will receive his Ph.D. in Religion from Vanderbilt University in May. His research focuses on the intersection between preaching, pneumatology, and eschatology.
The subtitle of this book is an interesting play that reflects a central ambiguity in its subject matter. On the one hand, it can be read as saying that the “not yet” is already in the “now;” on the other, it may reflect the phenomenological lag that accompanies the shift from facticity to reflective thought and, therefore, be interpreted as saying that reflective thought has not “caught up” to the now. Both of these interpretations make appearances in the essays contained in this volume.
The book is divided into four main sections, plus an appendix. The first part, “Phenomenology of Eschatology,” contains essays by Jean-Yves Lacoste and Claude Romano that undertake phenomenological analysis of two main eschatological themes: “anticipation” and “awaiting,” respectively. Lacoste explores the way in which the future shapes the present through expectation and hope, specifically the hope of presence (parousia). While enjoyment can only accompany presence, he argues, through anticipation we can have enjoyment as an act of fidelity and hope even in the midst of only partial experience. Romano meanwhile asks how one can balance the themes of anticipation, through which the future becomes present, and surprise. He suggests that expectation does not give us the future as such, but only the future “…inasmuch as it is determined by what we might say of our expectation” (42).
Part two turns to “Phenomenological Eschatology;” that is, eschatological models that have been influenced by phenomenology. Richard Kearney draws on sacramental theology and the work of Merleau-Ponty to locate “micro-eschatology” in the everyday world (56); the result is an a-theology of immanent transcendence grounded in radical embodiment. Manoussakis brings together themes from Moltmann and Zizioulas to argue that standard “protological” models of temporality that build from cause to effect do not do justice to eschatology. Against this constructive approach he places a model of receptivity in which the present is given by the future. Finally, Douglas Knight examines the intersection of personhood and eschatology in the work of John Zizioulas, locating the center of human being in a freedom that is only available eschatologically through communion in Christ.
The third part turns to the influence of eschatology on phenomenology. Ilias Papagiannopoulos exegetes Sophocles’ tragedies based on the story of Oedipus as a story of refusing a “call” from otherness. Oedipus rejects otherness and seeks to impose his creative will on his situation with tragic results. Eschatology, Papagiannopoulos argues, is “…nothing other than the gradual reception of alterity as the very meaning of experience and of being-created” (118). Jeffrey Bloechl locates a kind of faith in Martin Heidegger, albeit of a thoroughly philosophical (rather than theological) nature. The truth of Being that Heidegger seeks is only available on conditions that transcend human (mortal) existence.
Finally, part four examines the “historical confluences” between phenomenology and eschatology. Judith Tonning explores the influence of Christian eschatology on Heidegger’s early work, especially in his reading of Schleiermacher and other Protestant theologians. In these works, Heidegger located an open-ended expectation and waiting that mirrored his own existential questioning and lack of closure. Both Jeffrey Hanson and Kevin Hart analyze the realized eschatology of Michel Henry in which “life” or self-affection is the truth of Being and hence the eschaton. The eschaton is not related to the transcendent world, but rather to the self. The appendix to the volume is a reprinting of Jean-Luc Marion’s “The Present and the Gift,” the concluding section to his work God Without Being.
Rather than attempt to critique each of these essays, or even simply highlight selections from them, in what follows I want to ask how well this volume accomplishes its stated goal of exploring the conjunction between phenomenology and eschatology (1). In this regard, one cannot help but be struck by the vast territory that the volume covers: time, protention, the self, otherness, freedom, and historical influences on key phenomenologists, to name just a few categories. The result is that readers will find nuggets scattered throughout that will prompt reflection and further exploration. The number of such insights would be greatly increased if one did not come away from the volume as a whole with a sense of redundancy. The two essays on Michel Henry, for example, though not identical, cover similar enough territory that one wonders whether some of that space might be better used in other ways. Moreover, the terrain is littered with the technical and often convoluted language of contemporary phenomenology, which will make the search difficult for those who do not bring a prior familiarity with phenomenology to bear.
While the volume aims to bring together phenomenology and eschatology, the contributors are heavily weighted toward the philosophical end of the spectrum. This fact no doubt contributes to the tendency toward phenomenological jargon. It also prevents the dialogue between these two concepts from being all that it could be. The main theological work takes place in part two; much of the rest of the volume is written from the phenomenological point of view. The historical convergences in part four run consistently in the direction of eschatology influencing phenomenologists. Heidegger, Henry, and Merleau-Ponty take center stage throughout the essays and theologians such as John Zizioulas seem to be sidelined by comparison.
The most significant shortcoming of the collection is its failure to systematically engage the primary text of Christian eschatology: the Bible. While there are references to specific biblical passages scattered throughout, these are subordinated to articulating the positions of later thinkers. One will look in vain for exegesis of Paul or Jesus’ parables along the lines that you see, for instance, in some of Marion’s work. This oversight has some unfortunate consequences.
First, the specific shape of Christian eschatology is lost and replaced by a generic interest in “the future,” “otherness,” etc. As Jeffrey Bloechl points out in his contribution, the specificity of Christian eschatology is what distinguishes it from Heidegger’s thought, despite the latter’s eschatological overtones. While Bloechl is not the only contributor who acknowledges the gulf between Christian eschatology and a phenomenological interest in “the future,” that difference is largely bracketed once acknowledged; a robust eschatology informed by Scripture is not allowed to interrogate phenomenology as deeply as it should.
Second, the lack of attentiveness to Scripture means that the ethical dimension of eschatology – so critical in Paul’s distinction between the new creation and the “present evil age” (Galatians 1:4) – is overlooked. Emmanuel Levinas’ writings show that phenomenology and ethics are not mutually exclusive realms, but this avenue is not pursued in this collection. The essays that come closest to addressing these questions are those by Manoussakis, Knight, and Papagiannopoulos, but greater attention to the ethical side of eschatology would be welcomed.
Finally, the overriding theological leitmotif in this volume is the Incarnation. Such an emphasis is understandable, given phenomenology’s concern with the question of appearance. But one might argue that the Incarnation takes a secondary role to the Crucifixion and Resurrection in Christian eschatology. This is particularly true, again, for Paul, whose proclamation is “Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). An eschatological phenomenology grounded in the Cross and empty tomb would need to address a rather different set of phenomena, such as death and resurrection.
Overall, this book does raise some interesting questions and might prompt worthwhile reflection; but in light of the shortcomings named above, its hefty price tag of $89.95 means that it is not likely to find its way beyond philosophers’ bookshelves into the studies of pastors and non-specialist theologians.