Prolepticism

The Futurist Theology of Ted Peters

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Lauri T. Jäntii
  • Helsinki, Finland: 
    Luther-Agricola Society
     2017.
     243 pages.
     $30.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9789527259009.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

In Prolepticism: The Futurist Theology of Ted Peters, Lauri T Jäntti studies prolepsis as a central concept in the theology of Ted Peters (34, 35). In so doing, Jäntti’s method is one of systematic analysis. Through a close examination of Peters’s writings, Jäntti extracts Peters’s key concepts and then determines how they interrelate among themselves and with the broader world. Because Jäntti’s interest is systematic rather than historical, he seeks to determine the central role played by prolepsis within Peters’s theology and is not primarily concerned with the development of this theology over time. Thus, examining the historical and broader theological contexts of Peters’s thought is a secondary issue which Jäntti pursues only when needed to clarify Peters’s theology.

To make sense of Jäntti’s project, we must first consider the big theological picture. Like Pannenberg, Ted Peters adopts a futurist theology in which God is out in front of us rather than above us. God inhabits the eschatological future and interacts with creation retroactively by breaking into its present from the future. This means that creation is a pull from the future rather than a push from the past (86, 87). Moreover, creation is not a once-and-for-all event in the past, but a continuous process that is completed eschatologically. In this process, God’s ongoing creation (creatio continua) is a continuous creatio ex nihilo (93, 94, 98). God continuously draws the creation out of non-being and into existence with an aim toward a redemptive future (18). Thus, creation and redemption are two sides of the same coin.

Although the eschatological future is unknown to us, we get glimpses of it from the in-breaking action of God (7). When the future invades the present, this in-breaking prefigures the future in advance of itself. Such prefiguration is called prolepsis and is analogous to a movie preview (18, 19). Of the various prolepses that occur in history, the most significant is the resurrection of Christ (17). This event is eschatologically significant because it foreshadows the New Creation in which the dead are raised to new life. Jäntti argues that this correlativity of proleptic anticipation and eschatological fulfillment provides the governing structure of Peters’s thought in three main areas: his theology, his dialogue with the natural sciences, and his ethics. 

In regard to theology, Jäntti holds that the results of prolepticism are mixed. Prolepticism does best when discussing creation, eschatology, and ethics, but does not do well in areas such as christology (5, 107-110, 213, 214). The reason for this deficiency is that prolepticism depends only upon what happened to Christ in his resurrection but has little to say about the ontology of his being, his atoning death, or his second coming. Thus, Jäntti argues that prolepticism can lend itself to an adoptionist christology and/or a denial of the atonement. However, within the framework of Peters’s prolepticism, Christ’s resurrection reveals his divine-human nature retroactively. Contra Jäntti, this is not adoptionism. Moreover, Jäntti would have to admit that the structure of prolepticism lends itself quite nicely to a Christus Victor idea of the atonement.

In regard to the theology-and-science dialogue, Peters adopts a position of hypothetical consonance. He hypothesizes that theology and science will converge eschatologically since both fields study the same reality and since the fullness of this reality emerges eschatologically (5, 26, 136-39). Thus, the limited consonance that theology and science share today is but a prolepsis of their future consonance. Here Jäntti challenges Peters at two points. 

First, Jäntti argues that Peters is inconsistent in his rejection of the two-language view. This view was set forth in differing ways by Kant, Schleiermacher, and Wittgenstein (122-26). In its essentials, it says that science and theology are entirely separate from each other and have nothing to say to each other because they have different sources, methods, and objects of knowledge. As a participant in the theology-and-science dialogue, Peters rejects this view. 

Yet, when Peters opposes Intelligent Design, he faults it for invoking a purpose within nature (143-47, 166-71). Peters says there is no discernible purpose within nature, but that God has a purpose fornature. For Peters, purpose is an appropriate category for theology which deals with primary causes but not for science which deals with secondary causes alone.

Jäntti here accuses Peters of wavering for adopting the two-language view that he previously opposed. However, there is a difference between saying that two fields have different things to say about a common referent and holding a two-language view which wrenches two fields apart. As an example, chemistry and biology offer two complementary perspectives on living organisms. Biology uses terms such as teleonomy while chemistry doesn’t. Contra Jäntti, this is not a two-language view.

On a second issue, Jäntti’s critique is more accurate. Scientific cosmology predicts the thermodynamic death of the cosmos while prolepticism posits a glorious future. Prolepticism reconciles this divergence through divine intervention/cosmic transformation (153-59). But such an appeal only underscores the divergence between prolepticism and scientific cosmology since science undercuts the core doctrine of prolepticism (i.e., the eschatological future) and can only be squared with prolepticism by an “unscientific” appeal to divine intervention (215, 216).

Jäntti’s final topic is Peters’s proleptic ethics, the goal of which is to realize the future Kingdom in the present (177, 178). According to Jäntti, proleptic ethics is situational and pragmatic (205, 206). It has no fixed norms because the ethical situation evolves over time. Moreover, proleptic ethics is teleological and utilitarian since it is oriented to the Kingdom as a future good (206-209). Accordingly, proleptic ethics promotes beneficence, a positive imbalance of good over evil (199). In so doing, humanity participates with God in the ongoing process of creation since: 1) humanity bears the image of God as created co-creators (189-91) and 2) nature is not fixed but open to change through human intervention (179). Consequently, since creation is itself redemptive, humans participate with God in redeeming the cosmos (173,174) through their ecclesiastical, political, economic, and scientific activities.

In regard to Peters’s ethics, Jäntti’s presentation is lucid and concise, but he has left a couple of significant issues underdeveloped. First, I wish that Jäntti had expanded his discussion of original sin (191) in regard to Peters’s concept of created co-creators. Because his discussion is exceedingly brief, some might falsely assume that Peters posits the goodness of humanity rather than its fallenness. Second, Jäntti should have pursued Peters’s views in regard to the continuing validity of the Ten Commandments (206, n.85). Because he did not do so, he gives the false impression that Peters dispenses with God’s law in favor of situation ethics alone.

About the Reviewer(s): 

John B. King, Jr. is an Independent Scholar and freelance writer. He earned a PhD in Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering from Oregon State University as well as a ThD from the Graduate Theological Union and a DMin from George Fox Evangelical Seminary. He is currently in the process of becoming a pastor in the North American Lutheran Church (NALC).

Date of Review: 
January 7, 2019

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