Human Life in Four Directions

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy has pointed out throughout his many fascinating and occasionally quixotic writings and lectures that human life exists in four directions. These four directions are inward, outward, backward, and forward. In this article I want to explore these as they relate to the work of the Church.

Each of us relates to various in-groups, which are balanced by out-groups. Since human beings are made in the image of God, and particularly in the image of the Second Person of God, the Word, this fundamental dimension of our existence is revealed in our language. We speak of I and you, of we and they; and in some languages we have the you-familiar form used for the in-group, and the you-formal form used for the outgroup.

One in-group is me, myself, with everyone else in the out-group. Equally fundamental is the group of my wife and I, with everyone else outside. Another fundamental group is the church to which I am covenanted, with all others in various out-groups, such as other churches like mine, other Christian churches, and heathens. Another in-group is my circle of friends, while another is my circle of associates at work or school. We relate inwardly, introvertedly, and subjectively to our in-groups, while we relate outwardly, extrovertedly, and objectively to our out-groups.

Also, each of us relates to the past and to the future, and we do so by creating something called the “present.” In the sense of physics, the present is a razor-edge of time that has passed before we can even speak of it. But in human life, we create a span of time that we call the present, in terms of which we define the past and the future.

We exist in various different “presents.” We may presently be in a lecture that lasts an hour; or we may be presently in a course of study that lasts one semester. We may think of the 20th century as the present age, or the post-Viet-Nam war as the present era. In every case, the present is something defined by human consciousness; it does not have a “scientific” reality outside of human life.

What defines the boundaries of the present is what lies on either side of it: the past and the future. We don’t live in the Middle Ages, nor do we live in the age of space travel. We don’t live in the pre-Christian time of the First Creation, nor do we live in the glory of the resurrection age to come. You are not reading this essay yesterday or tomorrow, but today.

Here again, as human “words of God,” our languages express this by having a way of expressing past and future, generally in the form of verbal tenses.

Thus, here are four modes of human speech, speech that reveals these qualities of human life:

Inward – I am coming If we fail in our in-group relationships, we shall have anarchy.
Outward – He is coming If we fail in our out-group relationships, we shall have war.
Past – I came If we fail the past, we shall reject the past and have revolutions.
Future – I shall come If we fail the future, we shall ignore the future and have decadence.

We see what is outside of us. Sight tells us nothing very significant about other people and God.

We hear the experience of the inner group. It is by listening that we learn about the inner lives of others; the in-group consists of those we listen to. God and the saints reveal themselves through words, not through pictures.

We touch the past, in that the motions of our physical life and activities reflect the patterns and structures (cities, houses, churches, etc.) put in operation or place before us.

We “sense” or smell what is coming in the future.

Now, because God is Three & One, human society reveals the same principles as human individuals do. Let us consider the business factory. In any such business there are four kinds of people: managers, salesmen, workers, and engineers & entrepreneurs. The manager oversees relations in the in-group. The salesman presents the product to the out-group. The engineer and/or entrepreneur looks to the future and designs new products. The worker routinely performs in terms of what has been established in the past.

Let us consider the local church. Every local church must perform each of these functions in such a way as to restore human life from imbalance, overcoming anarchy, war, revolution, and decadence.

The pastoral function of the church deals with the in-group.

The evangelistic function of the church deals with the out-group.

The liturgical function of the church, in the broad sense, deals with the past. Under liturgy I include law: customs of worship and of law change very slowly and gradually, and come to us from our fathers. This is more properly called the apostolic function.

The prophetic function of the church deals with the future.

Paul writes of four gifts to the Church: Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, and Pastor-Teachers. In the fullest sense of the terms, both Apostles and Prophets are gone, because the New Testament completes the Whole Bible Deposit of liturgy-law (apostolic) and future revelation (prophecy). In a general sense, however, some men are naturally going to be more apostolic (oriented to liturgy and law, conserving the past), or more prophetic (challenging for change), or more evangelistic (ministering to the outsider), or more pastoral (ministering to the church).

Within any church, and within human life generally, some people are more dissatisfied, more full of inner conflict, and more easily depressed. They want change. They, because of their suffering, are most open to the future. We can call them melancholic. There used to be a lot of these people in Presbyterianism and Calvinism, which revolutionized the Western World.

Within human society, some people are very easy-going. They are happy with things as they are. “Why fix it, if it is not really broken?” is their attitude. These past-present oriented people can be called phlegmatic. There are lots of them in Episcopalianism, Presbyterianism, and virtually all of evangelicalism today.

Within human society, some people are very outgoing. These friendly, evangelistic types we can call sanguine. There are lots of them in Campus Crusade for Christ.

And of course, some people are concerned to help others get their lives shaped up. They’ll help you get regular with your daily devotions by phoning you every morning at 6:00 a.m. to remind you. We can call them choleric. There are lots of them in the Navigators.

When these natural human gifts are perverted by sin, they produce distorted counterfeits of the Church. During the Restoration Era, four fundamental denominations appeared in Judaism, which are still with us today.

The Sadducees compromised with the out-group and meshed with Greek philosophy. Today, they are the liberals.

The Essenes retreated from the world into the in-group. Historically they are the anabaptists, and today various pietistic groups.

The Pharisees conserved the past to the point of absolutizing and perverting tradition. They are the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and Anglo-Catholics of today (and I hate to say it, but some conservative Baptists and Presbyterians come close to this also, though without the explicit idolatry of the three other groups).

The Zealots became so future-oriented that they rejected God’s methods of bringing the future to pass. Various revolutionary groups at the time of the Reformation were like this, as are some pro-life extremists today.

Churches often become overbalanced in one of these areas. God’s way of correcting this imbalance is revealed in the Bible.

The Hebrews of Moses’ day were past-oriented. They were tribalistic, and looked to the fathers. God corrected this not by prophecy, but by telling them to look up and out. The Tabernacle, an image of the heavenly glory-cloud, caused them to look up. The law and liturgy, while apostolic and past-oriented in form, emphasized in content the mission of Israel to the world and their witness to that world. Notice that God’s remedy for such a backward-looking group was not to confront them with a vision of the future. Such a message would not have been heard. What a backward-looking people needs is a world-vision.

The Israelites of David’s day had acquired a vision of God as King in Heaven and of the world outside. What they needed as a corrective was an emphasis on the in-group. This was accomplished by the psalter and the Temple, which is an architectural image of the psalter, a halo of Levitical choir and orchestra gathered around God in the midst. Note that in this case, God’s remedy was what we would think of as the opposite: correcting an excessive outwardness with an emphasis on inwardness. The psalter provides both personal inwardness and the corporate in-group-ness of gathered praise.

The Jews of the Remnant & Restoration eras had become very inwardly oriented. They had internalized the message of the psalter, but were in danger of becoming too isolated. What they needed was a vision of judgment and of the future, which the prophets provided. Such a vision would open them up to the other three dimensions of life. Here again, notice the wisdom of this procedure. Pietistic inward-oriented people will not hear a message of cultural involvement and world transformation; they will perceive it as compromise. What they can hear, however, is that if they repent, God will transform the world and bring blessing.

Finally, the Christians of the early church had become so future-oriented that they expected all to end soon. What they needed was a solid dose of the past. Jesus provided this by constantly referring to the Old Testament. The Apostles did the same, as we see in their epistles, which constantly argue from the past to the present.

Today most Christians believe history is over and Christ is coming soon. The answer to today’s blocked future is the study of the whole Bible, a return to the past in that sense. Those who become desperate for history to end need to be re-grounded in the apostolic foundation.

James Jordan is scholar-in-residence at Theopolis. This article originally appeared at Biblical Horizons