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.


Nate Jenkins said...

What I’m wrestling through is this:

What Christ accomplishes on the Cross is the abolition of the law that separates the distinctions by hostility, not necessarily the abolition of the distinctions themselves (Eph 2:15). I say this because, obviously, Paul still recognizes distinction within the church concerning men and women, parents and children, masters and slaves; this much is clear in his pastoral instructions in the epistles. What he says will not divide us from being heirs to God’s promises are the distinctions of the old cosmos, in which you and I agree. In this, however, he does not seem to imply that there are no longer intended gender roles within the governance of the church and home, as the egalitarians assert. There seems to be a both/and reality implied in the writings of Paul of equality in spiritual sonship on the one hand, and distinction in the administration of the church on the other. It is not an either/or situation.

I know that Eastern thinking grasps the reconciliation of opposites better than the Western thinking that often stays inflexible in binaries (which Reformed doctrine springs from), but that’s not to say that neither have their place in the economy of salvation. This can be frustrating to those of us who tend to be either Johanine/God Is Love/Eastern/Equality/Infinity or Pauline/God Is Holy/Western/Hierarchy/Finiteness). But for better (not worse) they are in the same canon, and I’m always cautious when I hear one without the other. If we’re to be honest about the reconciliation of opposites, then perhaps we should start by holding those two realities in tension and not trying to elevate one above the other... and certainly not at the expense of the other.

As Lewis points out at the end of "Mere Christianity", there's really only one Personality, one Self: Christ. Jung unknowingly acknowledged this when he wrote that the Self was where male and female, good and evil, life and death, the finite and infinite, were brought together... though he never took that thought through a Biblical framework. To find ourselves in Jesus Christ is to find the place where all opposites harmoniously meet in the one Self (Gal 3:28). This seems to be what Martyn is saying and if so, I agree.

Nate Jenkins said...

But Jung wasn't looking to reconcile opposites in Christ; his work resulted in a revival of paganism and the monistic breakdown of distinctions in theistic culture. Death of distinctions in our Lord Jesus Christ, yes, but those distinctions need qualified. We're not aiming at androgyny, as if the physical world was a barrier to our spiritual unity.
While we live in the Spirit where there is no male or female, we also live in the natural body where there still is that distinction. This seems to be God’s original and good plan, and is in effect until the Resurrection when we will no longer give or be given in marriage because we will have a spiritual body. Until that time, the Body of Christ demonstrates the Trinitarian model of authority, submission, and mutual adoring love.

I can't but wonder if you're implying that gender distinction is a thing wrong in itself, as if somehow to be engendered is to be enslaved according to the old cosmos. Are you implying, then, that when God created man as male and female he simultaneously enslaved them in gender until the time that Christ would free them from that bondage in the Cross? If so, this seems to presuppose a view of bodily sexuality as restrictive and would be more in line with Greco-Roman gnosticism or Buddhist spirituality that takes an evil view of the material world; thus I reference Jung. These religions look for the breakdown of distinctions as well, but through the erasure of the material world, not through its Resurrection. I don’t seriously think gnosticism is what you’re implying. Nonetheless, the spirit of lawlessness is always lurking around egalitarianism in the same way that the spirit of bondage is always near complimentarianism, and so I raise my concerns knowing that a talk about the breakdown of distinctions can stem from a carnal place in our heart.

I know you tend to lump me in with the complimentarians, but I don't want you to answer by assuming my argument is coming from the direction of trying to establish that position. While it may be true to a degree that I have some complimentarian beliefs, they do not form the totality of my ecclesiology, nor do I think they are always a helpful place to start with ecclesiology. For now, I’m simply trying to argue for a both/and approach that recognizes that complimentarianism and a high view of gender distinction is not incompatible with the egalitarian nature of Gal 3:28, and that we must be on guard against any traces of monism in our orthodoxy.

Mike Radcliffe said...
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Mike Radcliffe said...

I concur with the comments above--"he made them male and female" is part of what God declares part of good creation in Genesis 1; the hostility between man and woman doesn't show up until the divine curses in Genesis 3. As someone with essentially egalitarian views of gender and supportive of female ordination, I want to insist that distinction between genders is not the same as subordination of one to the other but reflective of God's good order set down at creation. If Christ is constitutive of what binds God's world together (Colossians 1), it doesn't follow that his crucifixion would be both a judgment on the original creational order and on the fallen one.

Also, I don't think Piper (or, more notoriously, Driscoll) merits consideration in any serious discussion of these issues--except as a popularizer of bad ideas.

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