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Systematische Theologie: Dogmatik


Teglbjærg Kristensen, Johanne S.


Body and Hope. A Constructive Interpretation of Recent Eschatology by Means of the Phenomenology of the Body.


Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2013. X, 306 S. = Dogmatik in der Moderne, 5. Kart. EUR 74,00. ISBN 978-3-16-152913-9.


Deena M. Lin

Johanne Stubbe Teglbjærg Kristensen received her doctorate in 2009, and Body and Hope emerges out of her dissertation. It addresses traditional eschatological themes of death, resurrection, the Second Coming, and judgment by way of a phenomenology of the body. She describes this as a »soft neo-metaphysical« eschatology that is more ontological in its emphasis by focusing on an in-be-tween, embodied movement of the flesh (3).
Classified as a radical eschatology, it critically engages with Paul Tillich, Jürgen Moltmann, and Wolfhart Pannenberg, while also serving historical and classical eschatological interests through the themes it discusses. Her aim is to cure eschatology of its incorporation of dualistic matrices of intelligibility that do harm by juxtaposing self and world, humanity and God, body and mind, individual and community, and life and death. She joins these thinkers on a quest to free theology from situating Christ as word over being, setting eternity as opposed to time, and deeming individuals as complete only by overcoming the world. Radical theologians have failed to emphasize the importance of history as the place where God is revealed. Importantly, Tillich, Moltmann, and Pannenberg discuss classical themes of death, judgment, immortality, and resurrection through a lens that is not anthropocentric or dualistic, but advocates the salvation of history. Through critical observa-tions of their work, T. K. constructs a systematic move with the body so that the »ultimate fulfillment of embodied history« may be pursued in eschatology (30).
Part One addresses the question of how to cope with negativity in relation to the conceptual problems the body presents in eschatology. Tillich’s existential-ontological method of correlation, Moltmann’s biblical-political approach, and Pannenberg’s philosophical-historical hermeneutics uphold a deep continuity be-tween negativity and positivity. They maintain that death is not something to overcome, but must be recognized and engaged with. T. K. finds dualistic paradigms in their intellectualizing of death, however, and remains sympathetic to Pannenberg, who is most congenial to Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology.
A major problem for her is continuity, where new life arrives through a negative notion of the body. Merleau-Ponty interprets the continuity of life and death as a movement that manifests itself in concrete experience, i. e. through the body. We cannot give the world meaning, or give life or death any intelligibility without considering how we experience such engagements with the world. Death should not be understood as a separation of body and mind, but as a disengaging of the subjective body from the personal embodied unity that is perceived and is doing the perceiving itself. Such an interpretation does not incorporate dualisms of God and world or life and death. Rather there is continuity between life and death, where death is not absolute or partial, but simply conditions the embodiment of personal existence. T. K. articulates a new no-tion of hope for eschatology within the concrete movement of life and death.
In Part Two she takes up traditional eschatological themes to address hope for new life. Here she takes her previous discussion of the movement taking place between negativity and positivity a step further to propose an embodied means to consider new life. She elucidates how Tillich, Moltmann, and Pannenberg have de-scribed, conceptualized, and discussed the experience of new life, and follows this up by addressing it in the context of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of the body. Her aim is to conceptualize an open-ended union of life and death, and does this through a careful correlation of positivity with the body.
Through Merleau-Ponty’s notion of the flesh, T. K. unravels traditional means of dealing with eschatological questions, and ar­-rives at an understanding of new life as a unity of past, present, and future. The flesh is designated as intersubjective, and is embodied in the in-between. Through this notion, historical and cosmological eschatology become synthesized with the personal, such that themes like the Second Coming of Christ becomes understood not as mediating the transcendent and immanent, but is reinterpreted as part of a »concrete Trinitarian life of love« (242). Life is about a reflexive relationship with God and takes place as an open, em-bodied movement, where there is continuity between the old and new.
Rather than maintaining the traditional view that emphasizes transcendence or destruction of the body, she argues for continu-ity to be understood as a movement where »the old is in a certain sense already new and the new already old« (270). Bodily continuity involves an open and reflexive relationship between not only God and humanity, but God and community, past and future, positive and negative, and absent and present. Having previously been considered as dichotomies, these notions are now understood as united in an embodied movement that reconciles them as mutually crossing one another within it. In this vein, the Second Coming of Christ becomes transformed from centering on one disruptive moment, to being a process where new life is embodied through one’s open acceptance of the Spirit.
T. K.’s attempt to redeem the body has made the flesh significant, for she understands new life as occurring by way of a transformation of one’s present experience, thereby meeting individuals where they are. This offers an alternative to thinking solely in terms of dipolarities, and allows for an emphasis on eschatological ex-perience to occur. Taking place in-between negativity and positiv-ity, or life and death, this experience is a movement where the body transitions from old to new, and is the place where hope becomes realized.
This in-between eschatology treats identity as something other than an immortal soul or resurrected body. For Merleau-Ponty, identity is about consciousness as movement. So, rather than considering identity in terms of what we are in any absolute sense, it is more about what we intend. Uniting what we are and what we will become, intentions are contained within the open, embodied, continuity of Trinitarian life that is T. K.’s focus with this project.
The matter of intention brings forth a critical comment, how-ever. Given the significance of one’s engagement with God, I find that T. K. is a bit thin when addressing our intentions. Intentional­-ity is crucial for the movement she aims to elaborate, and yet it seems that a stronger account of the character of our intentions is needed. As it is, we are left questioning what our intentions would look like if united with God’s, as well as what could happen if they go awry. It seems that T. K. may at times have erred on the side of positivity in order to reconcile the body, hope, and eschatology, given her silence on depicting the multifaceted depth of embodied difference itself. My criticisms should not overshadow the coura-geousness of her project, however. We need more thinkers to take risks and stir up old dogmas in contemporary theology. T. K.’s embrace of phenomenology is significant because it encourages new dialogues in eschatology, and legitimizes the body as a site worthy of its gaze.