The Shape of Things to Come: Toward an Eschatology of Literature

By Griesinger, Emily | Christianity and Literature, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

The Shape of Things to Come: Toward an Eschatology of Literature


Griesinger, Emily, Christianity and Literature


Elie Wiesel, recipient of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, has characterized the twentieth century as a century in desperate need of hope. What began in a spirit of optimism brought on by economic prosperity, technological advances, peace, and good will ended with death camps, bombs, and, for many, a sense of despair. "When I look around the world," writes Wiesel in one of many books on the Holocaust, "I see nothing but hopelessness" (qtd. in Schuster and Boschert-Kimmig 63). Andrew Delbanco, a professor of humanities at Columbia University, sees a crisis of hope as the defining feature of postmodernism. In his book The ReaIAmerican Dream: A Meditation on Hope, Delbanco contends that society has lost faith in any transcendent vision of the future, whether it be commitment to the Christian God, with its communal ethic of loving one's neighbor, or commitment to citizenship in a "sacred" nation. "While we have gotten very good at deconstructing old stories," Delbanco worries, "when it comes to telling new ones, we are blocked" (106). In today's consumer culture "instant gratification is the hallmark of the good life" (96), and "hope has narrowed to the vanishing point of the self alone" (103). Though Delbanco does not write from a Christian viewpoint, his insights are pertinent to my purpose here, which is to present a perspective on story that is grounded in Christian eschatology, appropriately defined by German theologian Jorgen Moltmann as a "theology of hope." According to Moltmann, "if it is hope that maintains and upholds faith and keeps it moving on, if it is hope that draws the believer into the life of love, then it will also be hope that is the mobilizing and driving force of faith's thinking, of its knowledge of, and reflections on, human nature, history, and society" (Theology of Hope 33). Commenting on this passage, Oxford theologian Alister McGrath observes: "It is therefore imperative that Christianity rediscovers [sic] its eschatology and realizes [sic] its enormous importance to a world which is longing for hope, and seeking hope outside the Christian tradition. Only by rediscovering its own theology of hope can the [C]hurch hope to gain a hearing in a secular culture" (Christian Theology 565). Could this be true in literary studies as well? By defining and making central a Christian theology of hope that pertains to the study of literature, might Christian scholars offer something hopeful to those who have lost faith in the meaningfulness and value of literature? In the pages that follow I want to consider an approach to literature that foregrounds Christian eschatology, an approach that does not "follow [...] after the Zeitgeist and bear [...] its train," as Moltmann says, but carries a torch before it, enkindling and enabling hope (Experiment Hope 46).

Connections between eschatology and literature have been the focus of several studies, including two recent books by Paul Fiddes: Freedom and Limit: A Dialogue between Literature and Christian Doctrine and The Promised End: Eschatology in Theology and Literature. Fiddes analyzes modern and postmodern theorists Frank Kermode, Northrop Frye, Jacques Derrida, and Paul Ricoeur to enrich the emerging dialogue between theology and literature. What these theorists have in common, according to Fiddes, is a growing awareness that all narrative is to some degree eschatological (Promised End 5). To approach a literary text eschatologically means to consider whether and to what extent the narrative ending organizes the whole (Kermode); expresses a desired world (Frye); disperses, defers, or unravels meaning (Derrida); or opens up hope (Ricoeur) (Promised End 55). The endings of humanly created stories may or may not have anything in common with the "promised ending" of the Christian story. Obviously many stories today deal more with despair than hope. While postmodern theory emphasizes indeterminacy and openness, Christian eschatology offers varying degrees of openness and closure, but in either case provides a coherent and hopeful "sense of an ending. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Shape of Things to Come: Toward an Eschatology of Literature
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.