"... to imagine a life freed from teleology."

The title is a quote from Sam Adams' paper at the Theology and Apocalyptic session about Jacob Taubes on Sunday night. It struck me as poetic -- an aphorism worth preserving. This phrase holds the key, for me, to the prior evening's confusion over Mark 13, and whether its language is literal and imminent, or symbolic and deferred -- a false dichotomy. And whether he meant to or not, Sam reveals the missed point nicely. There is always a deep difference between teleology and eschatology -- between perfect ends and terminations. Apocalyptic isn't about perfect ends. It's simply about ends.

And yet we routinely make a teleology out of ultimate eschatology -- the end for which all things are destined. The consummation of all things. Perhaps we should prefer the consommation of all things -- simmering them over heat with acid and egg until the impurities float to the top and the broth becomes clear and concentrated! Even as a joke, it has some scriptural resonance, no?

But, culinary humor aside, I think the teleologizing of the eschaton results from our understanding of the delayed parousia, the end that didn't actually come. The indefinitely postponed end of the world. We talk about "eschatologizing" in this context as though it meant such an indefinite deferment, the transfer of the revolution from time into its ultimate end. And in the process, we make the proximate necessity for rebirth into the ultimate death.

All this, because "the fathers have eaten eschatological grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge," to twist a phrase. And the new phrase deserves the same response as the old: "What do you mean by making this analogy? Because I live, says the Lord YHVH, you will no longer make this analogy. Know that all lives are mine -- the father just as the son -- and only the sinner will die." We understand the generations of the first century to have expected an imminent end -- a judgment and a sorting-out. And yet we believe that they did not receive it. Why? Because we're still here. The universe keeps right on going. Creation continues to exist.

But why should the end of the world be the end of creation? Why should what God has made good, what God continues to supply with infinite providence and grace, be arbitrarily terminated? The semantic confusion here is between world and creation. World, as I have argued before, is about order, and not creation -- kosmos has to do with demiourgia and not ktisis. Worlds rise and fall in creation. The eschaton is always apocalyptic, historical, and local. It is mediate, not ultimate. And in missing this point, what we so often also miss is that eschata are hopeful for the people who desire them! And they are not hopeful as ultimate last resorts, but rather as ends after which just and ordinary life can resume for the people of God.

The correct eschatological paradigm, as Virgil Bower pointed out in the same session, is not immortality, but resurrection. Not death in spite of which this life continues -- the teleology of perfecting what is -- but death after which life is reborn. Immortality evades death; resurrection requires it. It is the process from the psychic to the pneumatic, by way of death and resurrection. The result is new life -- even new creation -- rather than the ultimate end of all things.

This resurrection framework is truly apocalyptic -- because what's so revelatory about the expectation that death is the end? What does such a perspective reveal to us that no other in history has seen? What power of our God does the ultimate end of all things demonstrate? No; resurrection is to be preferred, because it reveals that the death that all fear, is not the end. That the end of the world, which all fear, is the beginning of new life. It is the eschatological transcendence of ultimate eschatology -- the demonstration of all of those places where teleology only pretends to be eschatological.

This is the problem with all eschatologies that insist -- implicitly or explicitly -- that the world is all there is. That the cosmos is ktisic, so that God created the world. This is likewise the problem with all protologies that insist that God created the world, and is responsible for its order. (And it is the problem with Marcion, who attributed to the God of the Hebrews the demiourgia kosmou, the ordering of this world that Christ opposes.) Genesis is not the story of the creation, but the story of the fall into world orders, and the beginning of the restoration of creation in Abraham. And so the undoing of the ordered world is the revelation of creation, not its undoing! It is the rending of the veil -- to reveal what truly is. To remove the veil, as Paul says, that we have insisted upon in order to hide the truth in its brilliance from our eyes. Because we cannot look on the truth, and tolerate the world any longer. And we prefer the world!

The joy of apocalyptic, for me, is precisely its ability to envision a life freed from teleology -- unbound from the perfection of this order. A life that is no longer obliged to pursue the gods and ends of this world. A life for which their end is of no consequence except that it reveals God as the true and faithful God. As the only rightful God, deserving of thanks and praise and worship. And, in fact, as the only deity left standing in the demolition of the cosmos. As the God to whom belongs all life, and to whom belongs the judgment upon the sinful orders of this world, and their ending. The orders of this world are ours; we are the demiurge. God is the God to whom belongs the whole creation, which has no end, and to which God is eternally faithful and good.


  1. Nice. Now free us from ontology as well.

  2. One thing at a time. :) Next, you'll want me to free you from theology...


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