New Testament Eschatology for the Emerging Church
Paternoster Press, 2005, price £17.99
A Fulcrum review by James Mercer
This is a fascinating book that repays serious study. It is certainly no casual bed-time read. Andrew Perriman's argument is based on a close study of scriptural texts and other ancient sources. Subtitled 'New Testament Eschatology for an Emerging Church', the author, drawing his inspiration from N T Wright's pioneering work on the historical origins of Christianity, argues that much New Testament apocalyptic was fulfilled in the events of the first century. Perriman proposes that in significant sense we have moved beyond eschatology into 'the age (aioni) to come'. (There is much transliterated Greek within Perriman's narrative). Whilst inspired by Tom Wright's historical sensitivity, Perriman's exegetical style is not exactly 'as smooth as fine chocolate'- but the picture he creates as to what the authors and readers of New Testament texts expected and imagined as they contemplated the future is gripping and breath taking in its vision and clarity.
Perriman explores the motif of the 'coming of the Son of man' from Daniel through to Revelation, seeking to describe what it would have been like to receive the story of this 'coming' within the cultural, religious and political milieu of first century Palestine. Perriman disentangles eschatology from its end-of the-world connotations, defining it as both narrative and historical and engaging with the believing community's expectation that God will intervene decisively within the course of history to bring something to an end and to start something new. Eschatology is therefore, theology oriented towards the future, but within a certain context and from a certain perspective - which may not be ours. 'Apocalyptic' then, is a particular form or style of eschatology - a way of speaking about the end and a way of imagining the future from within a specific religious or political crisis, embracing the concrete and urgent hope that God will bring the crisis to the end and inaugurate a better state of affairs.
The book explores how the foreseeable future would have appeared to Jesus and his followers and why they used the language that they did in speaking about it. As Perriman argues, this view of the future is of great significance as to how we understand the outcome of Jesus' death - if he died to set the historical people of God free from satanic oppression and the consequences of their sins so that YHWH might be king and not Caesar, (Wright's thesis) we should expect this freedom to be manifested historically, concretely, politically - it is not merely a spiritual matter. This, argues Perriman, is precisely the vision of Daniel 7 - which is why it became so important to the early church.
It is Perriman's hope that as we come to understand differently and more exactly, how the future appeared to the early followers of Jesus, we will also understand more clearly what it means to be the people of God today, grasped by "resilient hopefulness for the whole of creation". This is the justification for offering the book as an "eschatology for the emergent church". It taps into the undercurrent of dissatisfaction with what is, in some circles at least, considered an outmoded eschatological paradigm, and seeks to offer a perspective which is more congenial to a post-modern mentality, whilst claiming, successfully in this reviewer's reading at least, to be authentically and excitingly biblical.
We are, according to Perriman, 'the Church in the Age that has Come' (Chapter 10). If I have a frustration with the book it would be that the implications for working through the tasks to which the 21st church is called in the light of this exegesis are only lightly touched upon - but that was not the primary focus of the work and is for others to explore. However, Perriman offers the hope that
"[w]ithin this narrative [we will] find a grounding for the sort of earthy, holistic, creational notions of community, spirituality, and mission that characterize the thinking of the emerging church."
If you wish to be challenged and disturbed, puzzled and excited, both intrigued and encouraged - read this book!
I look forward to discovering new threads exploring these ideas on the Fulcrum website.
Andrew Perriman currently works with Christian Associates International in London, exploring new approaches to missional church. He also manages the Open Source Theology website.
James Mercer is the Associate Minister within the Benefice of St Aldhelm, Purbeck.