Loss of Transcendence - Lesson 30

Proper Responses to Immanence and Transcendence

In this lesson, you will explore the concepts of immanence and transcendence, and the effects of losing the sense of transcendence in theology and culture. You will examine various responses to immanence and transcendence, from rejecting immanence to affirming transcendence and integrating both concepts. The lesson also discusses the practical implications and applications of these ideas, touching on personal spiritual growth, church life and ministry, and engagement with the world.

James Houston
Loss of Transcendence
Lesson 30
Watching Now
Proper Responses to Immanence and Transcendence

TH730-30: Responses to Immanence and Transcendence

I. Introduction to Immanence and Transcendence

A. Definitions and Concepts

B. Theological Background

II. Effects of the Loss of Transcendence

A. Impact on Theology

B. Impact on Society and Culture

III. Responses to Immanence and Transcendence

A. Rejection of Immanence

B. Affirmation of Transcendence

C. Integration of Immanence and Transcendence

IV. Practical Implications and Applications

A. Personal Spiritual Growth

B. Church Life and Ministry

C. Engagement with the World

  • Explore the loss of transcendence in modernity, examining its historical and philosophical context, defining transcendence and immanence from biblical and historical perspectives, exploring the impact of various movements on theology, and considering responses to the loss of transcendence.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insight into the Greek world's origins of language and culture, the evolution of Greek history and thought, and the differences between Greek and Roman history. By examining the works of Luke as a Roman historian, you will better understand the cosmic and intimate nature of Christian history.
  • The Christian historiographical revolution redefined history as linear and purposeful, contrasting with ancient Greek, Roman, and Jewish approaches and profoundly impacting the study and writing of history.
  • In this lesson, you gain a deep understanding of the Dark Ages, the Reformation, and the factors that led to the loss and eventual restoration of transcendence in Christianity.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into the Reformation and Enlightenment's historical contexts, key figures, and events, as well as their impact on society, religion, and the loss of transcendence, ultimately discovering ways to reclaim transcendence in the modern world.
  • In this lesson, you gain insights into the loss of transcendence in modern society, its consequences, the role of Christianity in addressing the issue, and strategies for engaging with secular culture and promoting spiritual renewal.
  • This lesson teaches you about Radical Christianity, its importance, and how to cultivate it through deepening your relationship with God, prioritizing spiritual growth, and practicing radical love and social justice in a world experiencing a loss of transcendence.
  • Through this lesson, you grasp the factors contributing to the loss of biblical authority and learn strategies to reaffirm its importance in Christianity.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into contemporary biblical criticism, its methodologies, impact on theology, and learn to appreciate its contributions while recognizing its limitations.
  • By examining biblical criticism and its various forms, you gain insight into how Christians can respond thoughtfully, affirming Scripture's authority while engaging with criticisms and maintaining a commitment to truth.
  • By examining the loss of the soul, you'll understand its diminishing importance in modern life and learn to integrate science and spirituality for a holistic, transcendent perspective.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into classical interpretations of the soul and their interaction with Christian theology, while also understanding their modern theological implications.
  • This lesson equips you with a comprehensive understanding of the embodiment of faith, its historical development, theological implications, and practical applications in the Christian life.
  • By studying this lesson on embodiment in community, soul, and culture, you will learn how these concepts impact spiritual formation and shape your understanding of Christian faith and practice.
  • The lesson on embodiment and self-sacrifice offers insights into the New Testament, emphasizing Jesus' incarnation, the human body as the Holy Spirit's temple, and self-sacrifice as a key Christian virtue, while providing theological and practical applications.
  • This lesson equips you to understand the biblical concept of sin, the factors contributing to its loss, and offers practical steps to reintroduce sin in teaching and preaching for a more complete Christian faith.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insight into the cardinal sins and their contemporary significance, learning how to identify and combat them in modern society for personal and spiritual growth.
  • In this lesson, you gain insights into C.S. Lewis's critique of the loss of transcendence in modern society, his theological perspectives, and his emphasis on imagination in Christianity.
  • This lesson offers an in-depth analysis of the theological differences between Oxford and Cambridge and their impact on the loss of transcendence in modern theology.
  • What then did Lewis write about in The Abolition of Man? The symbol is that the immediate threat is not the abolition of man, but the abolition that there are men without chests. And he means that being without a chest is living two dimensionally and not three dimensionally. It’s not that you just live in space and time, but that you live with space, time and God or, indeed, space, time and morals. And so really it’s simply to live an amoral life. And you begin to lose your emotional life when you live with amorality.

  • Through this lesson, you gain insight into Jacques Ellul's critique of technological society, its consequences, theological implications, and the need for a countercultural response in the face of modern challenges.
  • This lesson guides you in understanding the loss of transcendence, seeking understanding, and retaining hope amidst the challenges of modern society.
  • You gain insight into Jacques Ellul's life, his views on the loss of transcendence, and the influence of his work on theology and society.
  • You will learn about the concept of technique in the modern world, its characteristics, societal effects, and the spiritual implications it holds for faith and transcendence.
  • In this lesson, you gain insights into the implications of technique on society, its challenges, and ways to respond from a biblical perspective, ultimately aiming to strengthen human connections and reclaim transcendence.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into the Psalms' structure, types, role in ancient worship, and their significance in modern Christian life, prayer, and spiritual growth.
  • In this lesson, you will explore the role of domestic involvement in the Psalter, its significance in Ancient Israel's worship, and the impact of the Psalms on the community, values, and beliefs.
  • Gain insights into the connection between biblical eschatology and secularity, understanding key aspects and themes while learning to reclaim the transcendent in eschatology.
  • This lesson offers insight into the theological tensions between immanence and transcendence, their impact on modern theology and worship, and the practical steps for reintegrating them into the Christian life.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into the concepts of immanence and transcendence, their effects on theology and culture, and the importance of integrating both for a balanced Christian worldview.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into time and eternity, God's relationship with them, and their impact on human experience and theological concepts such as soteriology, eschatology, and Christian living.
  • Gain insight into Old Testament concepts of time, the role of numbers and patterns, the significance of time in biblical prophecy, and the theological implications concerning God's sovereignty and human responsibility.
  • This lesson provides insight into the New Testament's complex understanding of time, addressing concepts such as the Kingdom of God, the present age, and eternal life, and offering guidance for Christian living.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into the loss of transcendence in modern society and learn how to recover and foster a transcendent view within your personal faith and church life.

This course on the loss and recovery of transcendence in our contemporary culture is, of course, appropriate for all Christians, but, I think, especially for us here in North America, for the political prominence of a Christian religious culture that we’ve had in North America that makes us all the more exposed to the secularisation of contemporary Christianity. 

Dr. James Houston

Loss of Transcendence


Proper Responses to Immanence and Transcendence

Lesson Transcript


I think again we need to open in prayer as we reflect on our subject this morning. Dear Father, we realise that we live between time and eternity and sometimes we do not realise the solemnity of how each moment counts. We know that You have called upon us to recognise that now is the accepted time, now is the time of salvation. And we pray that as we live moment by moment and day by day, as we also pray for our daily bread each day, so we live in Your hands. Our life comes from you. Our life goes to You. And so we pray, Lord, that in this last session You will give us wisdom as to how we explore and how we receive the realities of the challenge of living between time and eternity. So we pray for Your presence and, indeed, for Your Holy Spirit to inspire and to guide us. And all of this we ask in the name of our Lord Jesus. Amen.

As we’ve been seeing in this course of lectures on immanence and transcendence, the subject is almost inexhaustible and therefore it’s simply an arbitrary act that we say that we now have to conclude by exploring further the responses that we should have to immanence and transcendence.

One of the rich qualities that we have of the body of Christ today is that now we’re experiencing globalisation that we have in the classroom brothers and sisters from many different cultures other than the West. And one of the things that perhaps is a rebuke to us in the West is that those from what we think of as more pagan cultures or more non-Christian cultures in some way or other actually have a deeper and richer understanding of transcendence than we have in the West. Even in Japan with all its deep paganism, as we think of it, the whole notion of nature is that the realm of nature is the realm of transcendence. We may think it’s a little wacky to understand what is the origin of climatology according to Japanese history of science. It isn’t really a history of science; it’s a history of the mythology of science. But nevertheless, it echoes the mystery of transcendence. There was a humble woodcutter using his axe very sharply to split wood. And one day as he was splitting the wood, he accidentally penetrated into the density of the forest and found that he had become a god. Because to be identified with nature is to become a god. And in becoming a god, he now finds that that simply act of immanently cutting wood has now given him a transcendence to be the god of thunder. Well, that echoes a much deeper awareness in the Japanese psyche that what we think is just ordinary in the immanent is so profoundly mythopoetically, mystically, becoming god-like.


There are many other ways in which we see this. For example, if you go into the Japanese landscape of the paddy fields, you’ll find that around every group of paddy fields on a small mount there is the burial chambers of the ancestors for ancestor worship. And what the Japanese are doing as they plant the seeds in the month of August for the growing season of the rice, which is the staple food by which they have lived for many centuries, since the 6th century at least, they’re saying thank you to their ancestors for giving them the provision of those fields. It was they who first gave them that heritage and that privilege of being sustained day by day. So even ancestor worship is another example of how there are people even in this contemporary world of us in the West who are still living with far deeper consciousness of transcendence than we have done.

Of course, there are many other ways in which we could see this interpreted, but it certainly would be a very interesting thing if in a classroom you communicate with each other from different cultures of the world and discover that, even now in your own psyche as a Christian, you have different perspectives from those that are in the West. In other words, globalisation is the opportunity to be all enriched in the body of Christ, that we’re all different members and those different members that Paul speaks about could truly be the different ethnic members of God’s body in the Church. We’re going to be far more enriched as Christians when we accept each other’s heritage and recognise each heritage has something very rich to give to us in our own society that has become so homogenised and so secularised, as we have in what we think Western Christianity to be.

I’m approaching this subject first of all in a rather different way and that is that little children have always had a sense of transcendence greater than adults. The very fact that they’re about to celebrate Halloween is making them aware there’s another world. It’s perhaps a bogey world. It’s a frightening world. It’s an evil world. And perhaps this is one thing that Christians should question. Really should we cultivate Halloween with our children because what are the presuppositions of Halloween? They’re all dark. They’re all about evil things. And so the innocence of simply collecting sweets is a cover-up for something that is much more sinister. So do we understand what is the transcendence that children are having in their minds when they’re full about Halloween? Or again, we think of Christmas and Christmas and Santa Claus gives them an exercise of transcendence that we indulge in as adults and think well, this is all childish. But I’m going to suggest that no, the mind of a child is far more significant than we give recognition for.


A colleague of mine in Regent, our librarian, is doing a very interesting study of understanding the mind of a child in the 18th century. And what she has discovered is that little children, even at the age of three or four, that one of the earliest exercises to begin to write is to write their epitaph for their funeral. And you say how incredible that a small child is thinking like that, but you see in the 18th century when there was such a high appalling rate of infant mortality, little children witnessed the death of their little brothers and sisters on a daily basis. It was very conscious to them that I might not have long to live. And so even a little child would have these epitaphs. And so it’s a very interesting study to go round the churches of England and discover the tombstones of these little children and sometimes it’s obvious that the little child has already composed the epitaph for its own service, for its own burial. All of this indicates that there’s a lot of depth for us to explore in the psyche of how we’ve responded to immanence and transcendence.

One of the great critics, as we’ve already commented on in a previous lecture on technology, is Cardinal Romano Guardini, was one of the Catholic architects of Vatican II and who was stimulated by Kierkegaard’s thinking and who gives us one of these pioneer critiques of the impact that the issues of technology are having on our mindset. And so again I recommend that you read his Letters from Lake Como. And he tells us that one day he was sitting in the garden and a little stranger, a small boy, came up to him and asked him what time is it? Well, being an old man now in his 80s, he reinterpreted that question: yes, what time is it? And when we ask what time is it, we’re really oscillating between two understandings of time as the Greeks understood it and that is it is time by the clock? Is that what the little boy was asking about? Or is it the time of one’s own life, which is what Guardini was reflecting upon? In other words, we live between what the Greeks called chronos and kairos.


When I myself many years ago wrote one of my early Christian books I Believe in the Creator, I think it was in 1978, how I introduced the book with the story of Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot. There are two tramps. It’s waiting time. And the question is what is the waiting time? Is it the boring time of chronos: he hasn’t yet turned up, we might say. He doesn’t turn up and so the question then is, is that the boredom that we have because we’ve reduced kairos to chronos that we should conserve as kairos. Because kairos is the eventful time: he might suddenly appear. And when he appears, according to the play, the whole fortune and life of these poor tramps is going to be transformed. So we have to constantly ask ourselves in our own life are we living with boring time, time by the clock, waiting impatiently for the chronometric events to take place, or are we waiting for a meaningful time. And even when we meet this morning, we might say well, I don’t know what time we’re going to meet this morning. It could be that a word that is spoken or an encounter that is made could change our whole life. Or it could be just simply yes, it’s the time by the clock. And so there’s a kind of confliction in our ordinary life as well as in our span of life between the clash of chronos and kairos. So immanence without transcendence is really what Samuel Beckett was indicting.


Well, Romano Guardini was perhaps not quite in reverie about this, but he was certainly saying what time is it now in my life; is it coming to an end in terms of my mortality? And I promise some of you I’ll be back in December, but I always have to say D.V.—God willing. I may not be here. I may be suddenly stuck down by a car or, as my family hope that I’ll be, that I’ll go up in a chariot like Elisha. But whatever it is, we cannot say I will be here tomorrow. So in the context of living in the light of our morality, as Guardini was living, I want to focus this morning in this lecture on how the pivot for thinking about our own response to living with immanence and transcendence is found in Psalm 30:16, where the Psalmist is saying all my times are in your hands.

The comfort that we can give each other is that all our times are in God’s hands. That’s our pulse beat. That’s what brings real comfort to us, that whether it’s waiting time impatiently to get things done and finish this course or finish this recording, it’s waiting time. But it’s also a waiting time that may be that of seeking to have more maturity and to say my impatience needs to be disciplined so I become a more mature Christian because I live with more patience. I live with more submission to the circumstances around me. So immanence and transcendence are really both in God’s hands.


So what I want now to explore is how this is what we find in the scriptures. I’m not a Hebraic scholar, but what we find that in the Hebrew texts our times are in His hands means that really the veins of our temple, of our head, are under His control. I once had to go to the doctor with a little bit of panic because there was a pressure on one of my temple veins. It was one of these arteries being choked. I didn’t know was it life-threatening? It could be. Might it burst? I didn’t know. Was I then going to get an aneurysm? So yes, the Psalmist is saying my blood veins, my aortic artery, this too is in God’s hands. And so I remember six years ago when I did have heart pressure and pain and my daughter mercifully saved my life by rushing me to the emergency and the doctor said yes, your aortic artery was blocked. It’s what we call the widow’s lane or the widow’s way to a quick death. And so I have five stents in my veins leading to my heart today that keep me alive. And so the vulnerability of which we live is that truly our life is in God’s hands.

But then not only is my time in His hands, but all our times are in His hands. And so I may be speaking as an individual, but I’m also speaking about my family history. I’m the product of a long narrative within one’s family, as you are in your family. I’m also the time now of the development of my society. I happen to live in the 21st century, which is an amazing century to live in. I’m also an expression of the time of Western civilisation and all the fruitage of that long civilisation that we’ve had. We’re all caught up within all of human history. And of course, we can’t imagine it, but I’m also reflective of geological time, or indeed cosmological time as well. So as a human being, we’re all caught up in time. And the question is is this the end of that? What is the end?


When people are presumptuous to say that this is the end of history, as popular books have been writing recently, does it mean it’s the end of the past? No, the past will never be forgotten in God’s reckoning. They’re being very self-centred, because I think it’s the end, but time never ends. And even your passing in a sense has an effect that doesn’t end because there are people who still remember when you were alive. You made an impact whether you like it or not and so the end of history is not the end of the end, even though religious sceptics are now saying that this is the death of history. What they mean, like J.H. Plumb meant in 1968 on the death of history, is simply that the death is the death of what he thinks is Christian history. So Romano Guardini in the garden is asked apparently an innocent question by a child, but he finds himself in meditation on the most profound questioning any of us can have about our life.

As we’ve already hinted, there is a huge difference between the interpretation of Greek time and that of Christian time. And that’s to realise that although the Greeks were themselves sophisticated, even they did not have one interpretation of time. So one of the weaknesses of, for example, Boman, who has written an interesting book on the contrast between Greek and Hebrew thinking, is that he tries to summarise things in a very neat kind of way, but there were many different interpretations of time by the Greeks. Aristotle is only one. As we’ve seen, Plato is another. And so it’s Aristotle, of course, who is so popular today for he distinguishes the cosmos with an everlasting movement of the spheres as non-time. But for him the interpretation of what is eternal, that which has neither beginning or end, is a certain kind of time. But it’s not necessarily the time that others were thinking even in his day.


What Aristotle was speculating about was that there is a kind of cosmic clock, but even that cosmic clock needs someone to move it because the nature of time is that time is action. When we talk about what’s happening, we’re talking about the language of action. Action lies behind the time. So who creates the action? Aristotle postulated that the movement needs the unmoved mover to move the cosmos. Time is tied to the eternal, the unmoved, for its actions. Yet, paradoxically, eternity is unrelated to time because it is without beginning or end. And so this unmoved mover is a kind of symbol for God in the Aristotelian mindset. The Aristotelian god is the immovable. It is divine impassivity because he’s not affected by time. And if he’s not affected by time, he’s not affected by humanity in time because to be human is to live in the process of time.

So such a mindset where eternity is non-time and locating everything non-physical is on the level of non-time means that history loses all its seriousness. There then is a profound dualism [between 00:24:59] what is in time and what is out of time. It’s a kind of abyss that’s unbridgeable, the one with the other. The eternal is non-time for Aristotle. So what happens in death is either you soften this by saying well, the soul is immortal, so there’s something in us that continues into eternity which is immortal. Then in this sense, the soul is timeless if you have immortality. Or else if you don’t have immortality then you fall into the abyss.

Well, I think that’s quite a mouthful to reflect on, so we need to have a break and reflect on it.