Discipleship and Imagination: Christian Tradition and Truth

By David Brown | Go to book overview

3 Heaven and the Defeat of the Beast: Social Aspects of Discipleship

In the two previous chapters I considered two rather different ways of appropriating Christ for the present. First, consideration was given to how effective a device an expanded version of the figure of Mary Magdalene might be in enabling us to participate in the story of Jesus: her growth in discipleship and in communion with Christ could also be our own. Then we observed how the stories of saints have functioned in the past, and in particular the major role they acquired in bridging space and time, together with what I labelled 'metaphysical distance', but I ended by observing that different strategies might need to be employed in our own day, as we seek to apply Christ's example and teaching under quite different historical circumstances. Some of the most important issues raised by the two chapters revolved round questions of narrative: in the case of Mary Magdalene the desire to place ourselves in that original narrative of Christ's life; with regard to the saints the need to tell a different narrative as new questions and challenges arise. Customarily, however, we expect of narrative that it should have some appropriate ending, and so it is to that question of the end or conclusion of discipleship that I now wish to turn.

For most of Christian history there has been a tension between two different sorts of ending, one that speaks of heaven as a present reality to which some go immediately after death; the other of the final resolution for all occurring at the end of history. Much contemporary theology rejects the former view as irrelevant or even perverse; instead, it insists, all our emphasis should be on an eschatological hope to be fulfilled in this world. While in no way

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