Loss of Transcendence - Lesson 31

Time and Eternity

In this lesson, you will explore the complex concepts of time and eternity, delving into their definitions, God's relationship with them, and how they affect human experience. By examining the eternal nature of God and His interaction with time, you'll gain a deeper understanding of how these ideas intersect with theological topics such as soteriology, eschatology, and Christian living. This lesson will help you develop a more profound comprehension of the significance of time and eternity in your own life and the broader context of Christian faith.

James Houston
Loss of Transcendence
Lesson 31
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Time and Eternity

TH730-31: Time and Eternity

I. Introduction to Time and Eternity

A. Definition of Time

B. Definition of Eternity

II. God's Relationship with Time and Eternity

A. God's Eternal Nature

B. God's Interaction with Time

III. Human Experience of Time and Eternity

A. Temporality of Human Existence

B. Eternal Aspects of Human Life

IV. Theological Implications of Time and Eternity

A. Impacts on Soteriology

B. Impacts on Eschatology

C. Impacts on Christian Living

  • 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


Time and Eternity

Lesson Transcript


Living on the precipice between time and eternity can be a profoundly traumatic experience for all of us. And no doubt some of us have had that experience. Certainly, Dostoyevsky had that experience, as he describes in his own journal about one life experience that changed him for the rest of his life. He narrates that he was a young rebel in the Tsar’s army and he and his group of companions were caught in their conspiracy. They were arrested and brought before the firing squad. They knew they only had a few minutes as they waited blindfolded, ready to be shot and killed. And in that brief moment his buddy beside him whispered to him from now I will simply be a speck of dust. He somehow sensed that he was stepping into non-time and that he would become nothing. Dostoyevsky, as a Christian, was thinking differently: in a moment of time I will go to be with my maker. And so he trusted that there was still a bridge across into the eternal.

If ever there was a conflict between immanence and transcendence, it was this moving experience that Dostoyevsky and his companions were facing with. And then, to the astonishment of the group, an officer galloped forward and said there’s been a reprieve from the Tsar—you’re all free. They weren’t shot. Well, you can imagine that shakes you up for the rest of your life. And so the great profundity with which Dostoyevsky became such a great novelist is because he had such a deep experience of a response to immanence and transcendence. He was so near the brink of the abyss into non-being, into non-time. So for Dostoyevsky the end of his history was very close.

But in that dualism of living in time, living in the foreground of one’s humanity and then stepping beyond death into the unknown is for so many in our Western world today so intolerable when they only live with immanence. One of the things that is obvious today is that our immanent society is no longer interested in cemeteries. After death, is cremation. I’m now dust. I’m just in a small jar. And the second step is well, if I’m only in a small jar, why not just forget about me? And so there’s an increasing interest in the anonymity of death. There’s no need for a memorial stone. There’s no need for a grave site. Where my wife is buried, there are only a very, very few gravestones and they’re mostly by Christians. All the rest are just simply a lawn and in that lawn there are markers, but the markers are almost disappeared. And that’s our contemporary understanding of a cemetery.

Even in Asian culture, there still isn’t that. I remember visiting the ancient city of Malacca, where there is still a traditional Chinese culture and there you will find prominently the shrine for the dead. And when you go inside the shrine for the dead, you find that there is always a narrative about the dead. So-and-so was a barrister in London and he belonged to this particular court of law and so you get a little bit of a description of his achievements, of who he was. But the secular spirit wipes out any sense of transcendence.


I find this daily because just below where I live is a seawall that gives people the opportunity to run 16 km round the inner city on their feet or on their cycles. And they’re madly pursuing that exercise every day because the care of the body is all that’s left for an immanent society to have. There’s no sense of transcendence. When my body goes, that’s the end. There’s nothing left. And so we see very vividly how today people are so fanatical about the care of the body. There’s no conception of the care of the soul whatsoever.

But this Aristotelian mindset that you live with a dualism of non-time and time is, of course, something that’s also profoundly even affected Christians. And so one of the issues that we have to realise is that no, when you relate time to God, you’re relating God to the power over time. And that’s why the Psalmist says my times are in your hands, that God’s in control over time and eternity. The God of the Bible is no unmoved mover. There’s no dualism. The God of the Bible is not a god in eternal repose. The God of the Bible is what we find that Dante says: that the love that moves the sun and the other stars is God. God’s in charge of the whole cosmos. God’s in charge of cosmological time as he’s in charge of human time because he’s the Creator of us all. But the time that’s in the hands of the unmoved mover is at best imagined as circularity. It’s ceaseless in its circles. It’s meaningless in those circles. You can call it chronos if you’re looking at it geologically or even astronomically, but then billions of years or light years really is something that we cannot understand. It’s beyond us. So the Christian concept of time refuses to accept an Aristotelian time and non-time.


The Biblical understanding is that God claims to be alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. For God, time is linear; it’s progressive; it’s climactic. And the God in whose hands time is, having the fullness of times, He entered into time in the Incarnation. And that entry point into time is identified chronologically as the 15th year of the reign of Claudius Caesar, reports the historian Luke. Then he was crucified under the governorship of Pontius Pilate, so again we can even identify this as approximately 32 or 33AD. And the Christian Church has identified all human history since then as either AD, or before that as BC, so that today in celebrating the year 2016, we’re celebrating the Incarnation; we’re celebrating the Resurrection. For it’s time, not after Aristotle, but time after Christ.

Well, all right then, now we’re Christians. Now we’re seeking to navigate between immanence and transcendence. We’re now moving into Biblical time. But it’s still not as simple as we might think. So we have now to explore what do we mean by Biblical time. One of the guides that we have to understand the Old Testament as Biblical time is to relate Biblical time with the literary genres of the Old Testament. And as soon as we open the Old Testament, we begin to realise that there are several genres that divide the various collections of the books of the Old Testament. Our guide in doing so is therefore to realise these as different acts of discourse in time. And each of these discourses is in a kind of dialectic relationship with the others. So it’s this, but it’s also the other.

So we can’t make a kind of Biblicism of time. There is no just this-is-it-ism. It’s this, but it’s that. It refused to be monistic. So we’re really being corrected from any ism about Biblical time. So then we see, as I’ll now explore, that we have different kinds of time. We can speak of the time of narratives. We can speak of the time of laws. We can speak of the time of prophecies. We can speak of the time of wisdom sayings. And we can speak of the time of singing and worshipping as well. And each of them mutually affects the other to compose an inter-textual rendering of Biblical times.