Potential Prolepsis, Pt. I: Outline

I haven’t read the entirety of Jürgen Moltmann’s corpus (or even close), but I hope to. I’m slowly working my way through his Theology of Hope and am quite intrigued. That said, I’m a pretty big fan of Richard Kearney and his thinking about possibility, and my current theological position is some mixture of the two. (Ernst Bloch is on my radar now as well.) Both Kearney and Moltmann keep us focused on the future without ignoring the past and therefore provide hope as a framework.

I’m intrigued by Moltmann’s (and Wolfhart Pannenberg’s) notion of eschatological ontology wherein the future determines the being of the past. I don’t want to adopt this idea, as I’m not convinced of its logic nor its seeming requirement that the future in some sense exists, but there is a sense in which it can be reasonably applied: when a possibility made possible by the past (which necessarily exists as possibility in the past and present) is actualized, it can be understood in retrospect as proleptic. In that sense maybe this view could be called retrospective prolepsis. In some way and for some reason past events ended up prefiguring the future, even though originally as possibility and not as inevitability. They turned out to prefigure the future. I’m speaking of prefiguring here in a strong sense, not a weak one wherein, of course, all past events have influence on the present (a la process theology’s notion of prehension).

Like Moltmann I root my faith, perhaps much more strongly than Kearney, in the life, death, and resurrection (hold off on what that means for now) of Jesus of Nazareth. In New Testament language the Kingdom God is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus writ large. What I mean by rooting my faith in Jesus is that I hope for Jesus to be proleptic, I hope the Kingdom of God will be. Jesus’ life and project are, centrally, hoped for possibilities. My Moltmannian-ism is therefore uncertain, too uncertain for him (it seems inevitable for him). I see all past events – including Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection – as potentially proleptic but none as inevitably so.

Any past event is potentially proleptic in a strong sense, in that it could be championed and idealized by a person or group of people as her/their project in the present and for the future. Being a Christian, for me, is orienting my life so that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus might be (here’s Kearney’s influence) proleptic, so that it might prefigure what will come. It’s championing the cause of Jesus and his project (the Kingdom) in the hope that they might turn out to be retrospectively proleptic, that they might indeed end up being prefigurations of the future.

Why not just say in a traditional liberal way that Jesus is the model for ethical behavior, or in a social gospel way that the Kingdom of God is our project to build on earth? Partly because I mean both of those things, but not only those things. I’m interested in looking at things from what Kearney would call the perspective of the eschatological possible, which keeps us looking at the present in light of what might be. In that sense it’s an intrinsically hopeful posture. In so doing, especially by thinking in terms of possibility, a way is opened which doesn’t limit or close off the tradition to the ongoing complexification, dynamics, and context of the changing world along with the project of actualizing the way of Jesus. It doesn’t flatten the tradition or the world to full immanence. Thinking of the Christ as possibility opens the closure of limiting Jesus to a model by recognizing the transcendent affect of ideas and ideals on people’s lives. Yes, this is a materialist theology in that it’s focused on this world and this life, but mystically so. The power of ideas and possibilities cannot be limited to ethical prescriptions or models. And spirituality, the individual life of faith, takes on new meaning because of the affect ruminating upon and championing ideals and possibilities can have on someone. The possibility of love and justice is transcendent, it isn’t reducible to a schema, and its power may very well be what I mean by the power of God.