Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Liberation of the Gospel.

After a really amazing Barth seminar today due in no small part to David Congdon's fantastic presentation, I was inspired to continue reading J. Louis Martyn's Galatians commentary over dinner this evening. I simply wanted to note that I never cease to be amazed at Martyn's analysis of Galatians 3:28 where Paul declares that "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Martyn helps to illuminate the radicality of the Gospel's liberation from these very categorical distinctions in Jesus Christ in the following excerpt with exceptional lucidity:
"In a word, Paul employs the ancient equation of the world's elements with archaic pairs of opposites to interpret the religious impact of Christ's advent. Following the baptismal formula, he applies that tradition not to the sensible elements, but rather to the elements of religious distinction. These are the cosmic elements that have found their termination in Christ. Specifically, the cosmos that was crucified on the cross is the cosmos that was founded on the distinction between Jew and Gentile, between sacred and profane, between the Law and the Not-Law. What we contemplate the identity of this crucified cosmos, it is not difficult to see how its departure could lead a Pharisee to speak of his own death (Gal. 6:14)" (405-406).
As Martyn notes just a page earlier, the old cosmos that was founded on the "creational pair of male and female" is also crucified in the cross (404). The reason that this is the essential good news of the Gospel is that these competing elements (Jew and Gentile, sacred and profane, male and female, Law and Not-Law) only lead to enslavement. But in Christ, these distinctions are put to death so that God has truly acted in Jesus Christ to liberate all humanity from such enslavement. This liberation is precisely what has been accomplished in Christ. And this is particularly important and revolutionary for me because I have personally felt the continual enslavement of such ever-present distinctions maintained and defended not only in the world but also in the Church, not least of which being the distinction between male and female. With the pervasiveness of complimentarianism in evangelicalism that violently surfaces every now and again through happenings like John Piper's assertions about a supposed "masculine Christianity", I am reminded of the need for the Church to hear again and again the freedom of the Gospel that Paul proclaims so fiercely all throughout the book of Galatians. To return to the distinctions listed above including those between men and women, one not only forfeits the liberation won for humanity in Christ, but one becomes enslaved once again to the dualities that separate humanity. My prayer is that the Church can hear anew Paul's radical call to recognize the death of such distinctions that completely and finally find their termination in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Ecclesia as Mission.

I spent most of the day reading Nate Kerr's Christ, History, and Apocalyptic: The Politics of Christian Mission for seminar tomorrow. And then I spent a few hours discussing the book with some good friends. My mind is still reeling from the book so these thoughts are probably premature and unhelpful. But I found Kerr's understanding of ecclesia to be a direct extension of Barth's understanding of Church as event. In my estimation and to my utter surprise given the numerous reviews of the book, and I shared this with my friends, I don't think that Kerr undermines the importance of ecclesia at all, but rather reformulates the identity of the Church in a way that takes us away from attempting to secure our own existence and power, to the Church that is always for the other and only exists as it does so in concrete action. You might not like his definition of ecclesia, but he certainly has one (despite its ever-present fluidity). Here was one of my favorite parts:
"The heart of the question of mission has to do with coming to 'see the church in relationship to the world rather than defining ecclesial existence "by definition" or "as such"'. Whatever we thus mean by speaking of the church as an ecclesia, we can no longer simply mean by this a 'gathering' which occurs exclusively or even primarily in terms of 'centred' spaces of a formation that occurs prior to the movement into that which is 'outside' or 'beyond'. ... The immediate referent of the ecclesia is not then that church which would tarry along here below as a counter-polis to the cities of earth, but rather that eschatological city in the fullness of whose coming there will not longer be even a church, but rather the manifestation of that 'new humanity' from all the nations in and through whom God's own life will be all in all. ...

Constituted by mission, 'church' is entirely the operation of God's apocalyptic action in Christ, and its 'peoplehood' the diasporic work of the Spirit. As under exile, such a peoplehood is bound to appear as tenuously ad hoc, its fleeting presence being only 'for a time', and so at best politically irrelevant and at worst dangerously ineffective. And yet such might be the surest sign that one has, by God's grace, been delivered over to that mode of engaged and embodied action whereby alone we pass from ideology to doxology" (189, 196).
Isn't that what we fear most? That ecclesia will be fleeting, and ultimately seen by the world as irrelevant, and ineffective? That ecclesia is not simply a being that "is" as an entity we can claim and control? Isn't everything we try to do be it through fantastically hip visual media, the aesthetic of high-church liturgies, political involvement and alignment with certain interest groups, or even action for and among the poor usually a desire to secure the Church's presence, relevance, and effectiveness in the world? Don't we usually live as though the very salvation of the world depends upon the Church as a mediation of divine revelation? I think Kerr's corrective words against such attempt to secure power and visibility over and against the world can not be ignored.

Disclaimer: When I ask rhetorical questions like those in this post, I'm not necessarily referencing any specific person or school of thought in general. My last aim is to be uncharitable and alienate. This blog is almost always a space to work out my own personal theological views rather than a violent exercise in polemics. I am working out my own resistances to a Barthian understanding of the Church as an event, which are directly manifested in the questions I listed themselves. Because ultimately, I (sinfully) want to secure my own power and my own relevance, and effectiveness in this world and have done so in the past through Church attendance, the liturgy, political involvement, and working with the poor. Kerr's words are those of judgment over and against attempts to do so and I thank him for it.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Theology of Eberhard Jüngel

I picked up Eberhard Jüngel: Theological Essays II (ed. John Webster) from the library this evening and read the first essay entitled "'My Theology' - A Short Summary" over dinner. After a self-conscious introduction, Jüngel outlines nine points to offer his own theological confession of sorts. I found it to be really interesting, especially the third and ninth point. However, for what it is worth, I'm not entirely convinced that "speaking" which comes as a result of belief, should formally precede "listening", "astonishment", "thinking", or more importantly, "suffering." The following are his nine confessional points with excerpts under each point:

1. I believe, therefore I speak.
  • "Not of me and of my faith - or at any rate of me and my faith only in so far as it is pertinent. I believe, therefore I speak of the God in whom I believe and of his liberating truth" (4).
2. I believe, therefore I listen.
  • "One should note: God himself comes to speech. He himself 'takes the floor'. Indeed, to his eternal being there belongs language that addresses. No human being can speak from him or herself. But God is the one who does speak from himself. His word is the original expression of his being and the original form of address and, in the unity of both, the word that creates out of nothing. Faith hears this word. It knows itself to be created by this word. It owes itself to this word. Hearing, it comes into existence. And it always returns again to the word which created it. I believe, therefore I listen to the God who speaks out of himself" (6).
3. I believe, therefore I am astonished.
  • "In believing, the human person experiences the mystery of the triune God who takes the relationlessness of death upon himself, in order to be the being rich in relations, the being of love in the unity of life and death to the benefit of life. It is the mystery of even greater selflessness in the midst of such great trinitarian self-relatedness. In faith in the triune God, the depths of the word of the cross are opened up. I believe, therefore I am astonished at the trinitarian mystery as the sum of the gospel: God from eternity and thus in and of himself is God for us" (8).
4. I believe, therefore I think.
  • "The faith which gives itself to be thought attains its idea of God from the harshness of the death of Jesus Christ. It therefore demands that God be thought as the one whose creative omnipotence and freedom are something other than what is prompted by axiom of divine absoluteness, and as the one whose eternity and activity is something other than what is demanded by the axioms of the timelessness and impassibility of the eternal. If God is love, then truly love is omnipotent, and love is the very core of all true power. And the truth-criterion of power is that it is able to have compassion, and in this way to overcome suffering. God's being must then be thought as an existence which exposes itself to nothingness, whose richness of being realizes itself as a se in nihilum existere, existing out of itself into nothingness. And God's creation must then be thought as an act of primordial beginning which implies as act of primordial self-limitation" (11).
5. I believe, therefore I differentiate.
  • Those who believe have found in God and in God alone the origin and goal of their being, the supporting foundation of their existence. They know themselves to be eternally secure in his creative love, and in it alone. They know themselves to be justified by God's grace, and by it alone. They know Jesus Christ as the way and the truth and the life, and he alone. When it is a matter of the truth of their idea of God and of their salvation, they listen to the Holy Scriptures, and to them alone. ... But to say alone and only is already to be involved in differentiating in a fundamental way that which may in no way be mixed. Sin is known as the presumptuousness of wanting to be like God, and its destructive compulsion as the need to want to be like God. The believer knows that God became human to differentiate savingly and definitely between God and humanity. ... The believer exists in distinction. In this way he or she safeguards life's wealth of relations. Whoever differentiates has more from life" (13).
6. I believe, therefore I hope.
  • "I believe, therefore I hope that world history will not be the judge of the world, such the murderers would always triumph over their victims. Rather I hope that Jesus Christ will come to judge the living and the dead, in order to reveal himself again in this judgment as the one who calls sin by name and thus as the savior who liberates the sinner from sin" (15).
7. I believe, therefore I act.
  • "Hope is the motive of all action. However, clear hope in God's coming kingdom has obligated hope to a specific course of action. For in view of the coming kingdom of freedom of peace, of justice, and of love, the one who hopes recognizes what is to be done and what is to be left undone, given the conditions of the world. He or she hopes to be able to make plausible for human reason at least distant - very distant - parables of the kingdom of God on earth as goals of human activity, and is determined to work for the realization of these goals as much as possible" (16).
8. I believe, therefore I am - namely, a new creature and as such, one called to represent the being of Jesus Christ in the communion of saints, as a person existing as a member of the church of Jesus Christ.
  • "The church is different from other human communities in that it lives from the forgiveness of sins and precisely thereby is holy, and in that it knows that it lives from the forgiveness of sins. In this way it represents God as the one who forgives sin by granting a share in his holiness. In this way, moreover, it represents God as the one who liberates from self-incurred slavery and immaturity by granting a share in his freedom. In this way, also, it represents God as the one who reconciles the world by granting a share in the peace of his life as Father, Son, and Holy Spire in which the deepest opposites are united" (17).
9. I believe, therefore I suffer.
  • "In fact the believer will often be able only to be silent. Yet if faith's silence is not the last possibility, if there is no final silence for faith, it is because faith has come to know God as the truth himself. One may not therefore withhold from him even the sorrowful and painful truth. Afflicted silence necessarily directs the complaint which speaks truth toward God, even if it is only expressed in the form of a cry de profundis. Theology need not be ashamed of this cry to God, which must also be able to accompany even the most certain talk of God, if it is to be responsible talk of God. ... For as a theology of the cross, it connects the tested faith to its origin, back to the God who suffers for us, because through his suffering he helped the love that has overcome death to victory, the only comfort of suffering humanity. He has eternally condemned evil and sin to defeat. The first and last task of proper theology is therefore not that of articulating our story of suffering, but that of bringing the story of Christ's passion to speech as gospel. Yet in everything it has constantly asserted one thing and one thing only: that the God who was denounced and crucified by his human creatures has said to us and so also to himself once and for all Yes (2 Cor 2:19). And 'my theology' can be and seeks to be nothing other than the reflective attempt to spell out this divine Yes" (19, emphasis added).

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Heart of God.

This has to be one of the most beautiful passages I've read as a theology student thus far:
"This is Mt. 9:36: 'But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.'

As we have already read in Lk. 1:78 about the σπλαγχνα [compassions] of God, we now read about an εσπλαγχνισθη [being filled with compassion] expressly attributed to the man Jesus of Nazareth as He journeys through the towns and villages of Galilee, teaching and preaching and healing. The expression is a strong one which defies adequate translation. He was not only affected to the heart by the misery which surrounded Him - sympathy in our modern sense is far too feeble a word - but it went right into His heart, into Himself, so that it was now His misery. It was more His than that of those who suffered it. He took it from them and laid if on Himself. In the last analysis it was no longer theirs at all, but His. He Himself suffered it in their place. The cry of those who suffered was only an echo. Strictly speaking, it had already been superseded. It was superfluous. Jesus had made it His own. To the mercy of God which brings radical and total and definitive salvation there now corresponded the help which Jesus brought to men by His radical and total and definitive self-giving to and for their cause. In this self-giving, by the fact that His mercy, in this sense, led Him to see men in this way, He was on earth as God is in heaven. In this self-giving He was the Kingdom of God come on earth."

- Karl Barth, CD IV.2, 185.