When you read atheist authors (or at least agnostic ones), and this is surely what Terry Eagleton is—someone recently told me, on FaceBook, that Eagleton had returned to the Catholic church, but clearly from his writing in this book, he is still in the clasped fist of Marx and the Devil—you will assuredly run across things, as a Christian reader, that kick hard against the goads. While I am being enriched by many of the insights Eagleton has written, even in exposition of Scripture, I ran across one of those paragraphs where it becomes clear that Eagleton hasn’t, as of yet, repented and bowed the knee to the living God in the Risen Christ. In the following quote from him you will see his view of Jesus’s ability to predict the future (an attribute of God), and actually what I take to be a very facile reading of Jesus’s voice in the Gospels. I will respond laterally, and point out the sort of petitio principii (circular reasoning) Eagleton engages in. Here he is talking about the specter and reality of death, and how an ethics can be nobly wrought even in its unrelenting teeth.
To take no heed for tomorrow is possible only by living in the knowledge of that ultimate tomorrow which is death. It is an invitation not to forget about time, but to be mindful of the end of time. Jesus, along with some of those who preached his gospel, seemed to have imagined that the kingdom of God was imminent, which proved to be a rather sizeable error. To their mind, history was simply eschatology. The church had simply to stand fast, surrendered in faith to the Lord who was soon to return. Even so, to live as if the Day of Judgement were at hand, and thus as if the only pressing matters were justice and fellowship, is not an ethics to be scorned. If there is to be any eternity, it must surely be here and now. ‘Eternal life’, writes Wittgenstein in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, ‘belongs to those who live in the present’. And since to live in the present, were it possible, would mean to live out of time, it is a way of anticipating one’s death. It is another sense in which, in Eliotic phrase, the moment of death is every moment.
First off, I think Eagleton, just for his own health, would do well to put down his stein of continental spirits, and instead pick up, at first, the chalice filled with the pure milk of the living Word of God; only later to move onto meatier things. But beyond that, let’s respond further.
Clearly, Eagleton is imbibing the Quest for Jesus inaugurated by Albert Schweitzer, back in the day; you know, the eschatological Jesus who was clearly wrong and in ‘sizeable error’ about his imminent return. Further, and this is where we recognize the petitio principii, Eagleton presupposes that Jesus is ‘clearly’ just another [hu]man, which thus delimits the foresight of Jesus’s predictive pronouncements to the ‘near’ future. In other words, since Eagleton starts with his conclusion about Jesus being in ‘error,’ he uses his conclusion about Jesus as his major premise in regard to who Jesus is and his capacities. What these leads to is the conclusion not only that Jesus is just another man, but that because of this, Jesus could err; because to err is human after all. What if Eagleton started with orthodox grammar and premise about Jesus; what if he started with the Chalcedonian settlement and homoousion? If Eagleton started with the premise that Jesus was (and is!) both fully God and fully human, he might not have concluded like the original Jesus Questers did; he might have avoided the very limited notion of ‘time’ and ‘space’ that someone who happens to be God in the flesh could be operating with. This is my response: Jesus wasn’t mistaken about his imminent return, instead his vision of time/space and the future is at least as long as Yahweh’s in the Old Testament. Or did Terry forget that Yahweh had been preparing, through his covenant people Israel, for millennia, with Jesus’s first advent in mind. Do you see the analogy I’m drawing? God took thousands of years, when referring to his covenant people, to layer tradition upon tradition, prophecy upon promise, about the first coming of the Son. If Jesus is Yahweh in the flesh is it strange to think that when he spoke of his near and imminent return, that within his economy of things two thousand years, or a million years, are rather short spans of time for the eternal God; the One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever? But that’s what Eagleton gets when he presumes that the Jesus he is looking at looks like him staring back at him in the mirror, rather than the living and eternal God.
It is an interesting corollary, the second part of the Eagleton paragraph refers to eternity being now, and only in the horizontal immanence of the concrete present. I mean what is one to do if you reject any hope in the Risen Christ? You might as well attempt to make the best of now, even live your best life now, and write books about the virtues of Marx’s theology for the masses. I’ve seen this turn made by someone else; David Congdon has unfortunately arrived at this same conclusion about eternity. He has bought into the radically existentialized Jesus of Bultmann, and uncoupled concrete history from any sort of antecedent (eternal) reality in the living God. There are many sophisticated ways to live in unbelief (with reference to the living God Revealed in Jesus Christ), and unfortunately Marxist atheists, like Eagleton, or Existentialist theists, like Congdon, have found those ways. Moral: Don’t follow their lead. God’s Not Dead.
 Terry Eagleton, Radical Sacrifice (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2018), Loc. 1476, 1483.