Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Revolution of the Christ-event.

I started reading Roy Harrisville's Fracture this evening to take a break from some gender material in which I've been immersing myself lately. I only finished the introduction, but Harrisville's project is really fascinating. He basically argues that the predominant belief concerning salvation history does not do justice to the revolutionary character of the Christ-event. Instead of Jesus Christ serving as this final capstone so to speak within a "process of revelation", the New Testament figures saw the life and death of Jesus Christ as something which transformed and defied all of their paradigms. Revolutionary is the only word that best describes the heart of what Harrisville is trying to communicate. This seems to accord with the sense I get as I've been studying Galatians for the past few months; that the crucified Lord in Jesus Christ means nothing less than the radical crucifixion of all that is. Galatians has been difficult to go through for a variety of reasons, not least because of this radicalness that I've been encountering. As I said in the post below, I often don't know what to do with the content of the letter. But I appreciate that Harrisville captures this understanding that something rather revolutionary is occurring for Paul in the Christ-event:
While it is true that the apparatus of the method, language, and concepts that Paul uses to proclaim his gospel are not at all unique to him, and that he scarcely uses a single device in argument of interpretation that has not already been used by others who never shared his faith, the focus - the concentration - of everything in his possession, whether of method, language, or conceptuality, on a single theme, a single event, a single person, represents a challenge to the application of the linear or cumulative notion of his experience. He says: "May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Gal. 6:14). According to Paul Minear, only when we give proper weight to the revolution that occurs in Paul's own religious world does this "triple crucifixion" of Christ, the world, and Paul make sense. Although the expression is clearly metaphorical, Paul was not playing with trivial figures of speech. The experience was so overwhelming that he was impelled to use figurative language to do it justice. First of all, the world that had been "crucified" to Paul was not a world he had hated. Its crucifixion assumed his prior intimate attachment to it: "He has been as far from hating this cosmos as he had been from hating himself as a son of Abraham." Second, in speaking of himself as crucified to the world, Paul signaled an event with cosmic, ontological proportions, something that was a world away from subjective experience; for, of whatever sort the world or existence might be, it was now all subordinated to the event that had effected the double crucifixion of the world to Paul and Paul to the world - "the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." 
- Roy Harrisville, Fracture: The Cross as Irreconcilable in the Language and Thought of the Biblical Writers, 3-4.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Marriage and the New Creation

This afternoon I picked up J. Louis Martyn's Galatians commentary to prepare for my sermon on Sunday. I flipped over to his section on Galatians 3:28 since I thought this might serve as a great foundation for the direction of my sermon topic. As I kept reading through Martyn's note on the verse, I was surprised to find him discussing marriage in light of this verse. I can't remember ever talking about marriage on this blog in the past, but Martyn's writing on the topic in light of the new creation really struck me as quite radical. I'm not sure what to do with it, but it simply can't be ignored. The excerpt is quite long, but I should quote it here before offering my thoughts and questions:
Pondering the matters of sexual differentiation and family, one recalls that the Jesus traditions in the synoptic gospels show a remarkable tension. One the one hand, when asked about divorce, Jesus uses the ancient and widespread argument based on the structure of creation. Drawing on the book of Genesis, he says:
From the beginning of creation [there was no divorce] God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mothers and be joined to his wife ... (Mark 10:6-7; NRSV; Gen 1:27; 2:24)
On the other hand, when told that his biological mother and brothers are outside the crowded house in which eh is teaching, Jesus is far from presupposing the creational basis of sexuality and marriage. On the contrary, he refers to what one might call the new-creational family:
And he replied "Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and my sister and my mother" (Mark 3:33-35; NRSV).
The traditions about Jesus find him arguing both on the basis of creation and on the basis of the gospel's power to bring about a new creation - the eschatological family - and between these two kinds of arguments there is a discernible tension.
One can sense a similar tension in Paul's letters, if one takes them as a whole. In Rom 1:18-32 Paul uses an argument explicitly based on creation, drawing certain conclusions from "the things [God] has made" in "the creation of the cosmos" (Rom 1:10). In effect, Paul says in this passage that God's identity and the true sexual identity of human beings as male and female can both be inferred from creation.
What a different argument lies before us in Gal 3:26-29; 6:14-15! Here the basis is explicitly not creation, but rather the new creation in which the building blocks of the old creation are declared to be nonexistent. If one were to recall the affirmation "It is not good that the man should be alone" (Gen. 2:18), one would also remember that the creational response to loneliness is married fidelity between man and woman (Gen 2:24; Mark 10:6-7). But in its announcement of the new creation, the apocalyptic baptismal formula declares the erasure of the distinction of male from female. Now the answer to loneliness is not marriage, but rather the new-creational community that God is calling into being in Christ, the church marked by mutual love, as it is led by the Spirit of Christ (Gal 3:28b; 5:6, 13, 22; 6:15).
A tension between new-creational argument and creational argument is not to be found, however, within Galatians itself. In writing to his church in Corinth, for example, Paul will negotiate the relation between new creation and creation by advising married people to be married as though not being married (1 Cor 7:29). For the Galatians he provides no such finesse. Indeed, in writing to the Galatians Paul avoids two things. He does not demonstrate the tension that can be seen between a creational argument and a new-creational one. And, correspondingly, he does not provide a way of relating the one to the other, as though in some manner new creation could be added to creation. Here he argues uncompromisingly on the basis of God's new creation.
The result of such a radical vision and of its radical argumentation is the new-creational view of the people of God harmonious with the one we have seen in Comment #37. Just as, in Galatians 5:13-14, the need to surmount loneliness is now met not by marriage, but rather by the loving mutuality enacted in the new creation, the church of God, so the corresponding need to belong to a coherent community is not met by the making of a people ethnically and religious differentiated from other peoples, but rather by the community of that new creation that God is calling into existence in Christ throughout the whole of the world. Thus, this corporate people is determined to no degree at all by the religious and ethnic factors that characterized the old creation (5:6; 6:15). This people is determined solely by incorporation into the Christ in whom those factors have no real existence (380-382).
I'm not even sure where to begin with my thoughts and questions, but I'll give it my best shot. First, I've given a lot of thought to my theology of marriage and what the covenant of marriage means in light of the Gospel. I'm convinced that in many ways, some of which I am probably not fully aware, my theology of marriage is more influenced by American ideals of romance rather than the reality of the new creation existing in Christ. I don't know if I will ever get married, but as a single person these questions are important for me to ask as I think it isn't appropriate for Christians to assume the norm is marriage and the exception is singleness in light of the Gospel.

Second, I was raised in the church and have attended various well-known evangelical institutions. Marriage is glorified, for better or for worse, in both the church and evangelicalism as a whole. I'm confident that most would not disagree with me when I say that it is not uncommon for Christians to believe that the norm for a theology of marriage is based upon a creational model as Martyn outlines above. And I always hear Christians trying to explain aware the radical elements of Paul that Martyn mentions in the Corinthians passage as if Paul was not really with the general ethos of the biblical witness and Paul can only be trusted for a theology of marriage when he speaks positively about it (Galatians 5, for example). So there is never even real discussion about a possible tension that Martyn talks about between a creational argument and a new-creational argument in relation to marriage. The tension between the two that you find in Jesus' words within the Gospel narratives and Paul in his epistles is bad enough when trying to think about what marriage might look like. What does marriage even mean when you have a tension between the two? And how are married people, if they are following Paul's teachings, supposed to act as if they are not married? Seriously?

But if you just turn to Galatians alone, as Martyn does here, that already seemingly impossible tension for the existence of marriage doesn't even exist anymore. There is no longer this tug of war between creation and new creation. In Paul's vision, there is now only new creation. And Martyn is right to call this "radical." So what would marriage look like in the new creation? Moreover, would it even exist? And for the community of believers who are in Jesus Christ and called to witness to the Gospel, are we not to witness to this new creation, however feebly, in our very lives? 

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts about this.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Unconvincing simplicity.

I started reading Romerbrief again today in order to get as much reading finished for my Paul and Karl class before the fall semester begins. It is always amusing to read a book more than once and see what you overlooked or never found interesting the first or second time around. I can't quite articulate why I found this excerpt particularly interesting other than to say that the never-ending dialectic between profound simplicity and complexity that always exists within the message of the Christian faith resonated with me. I appreciate Barth's acknowledgement that nothing is ever simple when speaking about the relationship between God and humanity in light of the reality and depth of human suffering in the world.
For us neither the Epistle to the Romans, nor the present theological position, nor the present state of the world, nor the relation between God and the world, is simple. And he who is now concerned with truth must boldly acknowledge that he cannot be simple. In every direction human life is difficult and complicated. And, if gratitude be a consideration that is at all relevant, men will not be grateful to us if we provide them with short-lived pseudo-simplifications. Does the general demand for simplicity mean more than a desire - intelligible enough, and shared by most theologians - that truth should be expressed directly, without paradox, and in such a way that it can be received otherwise than by faith alone? I am thinking here of an experience in relation to that earnest and upright man, Wernle. As a modern man he is deeply hurt when I say, for example, plainly and simply - Christ is risen! He complains that I have made use of an eschatological phrase, and have ridden rough-shod over very, very difficult problems of thought. However, when I endeavor to say the same thing in the language of thought, that is, in dialectical fashion, he protests in the name of the simple believer that the doctrine of the Resurrection is wonderful, spiritual, and hard to understand. How can I answer him? He would be satisfied only if I were to surrender the broken threads of faith, and to speak directly, concretely, and without paradox. This means that the wholly childlike and the wholly unchildlike belong within the realm of truth, but that everything between must be excluded. I earnestly desire to speak simply of those matters with which the Epistle to the Romans is concerned; and, were some one competent to do this to appear, my work would at once be superseded. I am in no way bound to my book and to my theology. As yet, however, those who claim to speak simply seem to me to be - simply speaking abotu something else. By such simplicity I remain unconvinced (5-6).

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Solidarity as Discipleship.

For my summer pastoral internship, I was required to put together a four-part sermon series on the marginalized of society. I preached the first sermon in the series last Sunday, which provided a christological framework or orientation of sorts to begin the whole series. It was quite the experience. The only other time I have ever preached is as a chaplain in a psychiatric hospital. Despite these obviously unique experiences, I found the responsibility of preaching in front of a congregation to unexpectedly offer even more challenges and fears. I guess this is due to the fact that I'm faced more than ever with increasing doubts and questions. I'm constantly asking myself why any of this matters (or should matter) to the random person in my congregation. Preaching always provides the occasion to question the value and purpose of theological reflection, especially for the common layperson that rightly has no interest in the obscure and technical theological texts that I might find interesting. I keep asking myself what the Gospel has to say and must say to the single mother, the addict, the elderly, the recovering alcoholic, the low-income struggling and tired father, the average teenager, or anyone else who happens to show up in the pew. And I can't help but remember that the only thing that needs to be preached and constantly be proclaimed is a theology of the cross that has a singular meaning for all humanity regardless of one's particular life situation. This singularity of the Gospel is only possible because the Gospel proclaims one Lord, one revelation, and one message of liberation, redemption, and reconciliation for all.

So I'm preaching again in two Sundays on the third part of the series regarding what it means to have solidarity with the marginalized of society and if such solidarity is even possible. And questioning the possibility of solidarity becomes all the more pressing for myself as one who has only known privilege. As I prepare, I find myself repeatedly drawn to the sermons and lectures of Ernst Käsemann found in the extraordinary book On Being a Disciple of the Crucified Nazarene. It seems that Käsemann understands in a way that I have not found before the real urgency of the Gospel message and what this means for the suffering, forgotten, and marginalized. More than this, his work reminds me of something I recently read in Beverly Gaventa's book Our Mother Saint Paul where she writes that "Paul's theological horizon is nothing less than the cosmos itself which is in need of deliverance, not merely from human misdeeds but also from the grasp of the powers that are aligned against God" (x). Käsemann's work is written from this Pauline cosmic perspective that understands the Gospel as a word of liberation not limited to the individual, the church community, Israel, the marginalized, or even for all of humanity, but rather it is a reality that involves the crucifixion of the entire cosmos in the Crucified Nazarene. I'm coming to believe that anything less than this cosmic vision can't really have a word to say to the marginalized of society because anything less would fail to recognize that Jesus Christ is Lord over all earthly powers that continually enslave us. Here's some sections that were meaningful to me as I continue to write my sermon on solidarity (emphases mine):

"The righteousness of God intends and creates salvation for the poor, the oppressed, the misused, the dying. The utopia of balance between societal powers and interests, even under the aegis of earthly order, may not bring us to the point of existing and working against those for whom the Crucified died and to whom we must bring the gospel of salvation not merely with words but with our life and solidarity. As disagreeable as it is to say, the true church was never a fellowship in which decent people formed the majority. The church of Jesus is a new earth by the fact that, and insofar as, the masses scorned by upstanding citizens find room and asylum in it. Where we do not respect legitimate and necessary order, the earth becomes chaos. But where, for the sake of earthly rules of order, salvation and divine righteousness are not allowed to be the final measure of our service, we betray the lordship of the Crucified already begun on earth. Our political behavior does not recognize order as the last word, but rather love, which sets free" (26).

"It seems to me that a Christian in our days can only be a nonconformist, someone who resists the dominant powers in state, society, and economy and declares oneself in solidarity with the damned of the earth. It do not know how we can all help and do it together. But I know that we must revise our thinking, our habits, our conduct of life if our children and grandchildren, to saying nothing of the crucified Nazarene, are not one day to judge us as fellow travelers and as guilty. Today, everyone must declare for solidarity, voluntarily and consciously or not. The only thing up for debate is which side we are on. The entire Bible and all of Christianity become unintelligible to me if I do not hear the call with Abraham, the people of the wilderness, and Jesus' first disciples to move into an unknown future under the command and promise of our God. Currently, it is assumed to be realistic when we sue for and increase our own rights and privileges. Whether or not by doing so we have chased after illusions and idols is a question we may scarcely put or discuss if we do not want to be suspects as subversive and revolutionary. Christians dare not allow themselves to be intimidated by this. At least, to put this question loudly and sharply is their present duty and the expression of their solidarity with those who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, whom their Lord has sought and consoled.

... Our Lord became solidly united with his Father's creatures, and was so up to the cross. He descended from the glory given him into what had to appear to him and all the abandoned as a hell and thus became light and truth in the midst of earthly darkness, the Savior of the lost, the Liberator of the oppressed, the Revealer of the divine love. He says to us, 'Follow me.' Solidarity with all who need help is only another word for discipleship. We cannot be disciples of Jesus if we are not on the way to the other as the Master before us. ... No one who belongs to him lives and dies only for self. Because we belong to him, we belong to the others thrown at our feet that we might lift them up. In Christian terms solidarity means to be free for humanity, since God came to us in Jesus Christ in the solidarity of grace" (244-245).

"There is no more revolutionary book than the Bible, if only we read it with open eyes and alert minds. It proclaims as Lord the One who was most despised and died among criminals, derided by religious and respectable society. We must search for our God in earth's inferno before we meet him in his glory. It is not by accident that the Gospels report that he frightened off the demons and breaks into their kingdom to free their victims from their violence. How little we know of him who shapes his creation from out of chaos, promises resurrection to those who come from and return to dust, and descends to the lowest parts of the earth so that once and for all the humiliated and crushed see light in the midst of the darkness daily surrounding them! Whoever does not begin to study with the Nazarene what salvation means will never learn it. He will rather dance around the golden calf, be occupied with desire, greed, and the despising of neighbor, though wanting to be pious and to belong to respectable society. The history of Christianity ... has been defined by an exodus from Egypt that ended with dancing around the golden calf, imagining it serves our God, though all the devils rejoice over it. The Nazarene breaks into this bustle. He sets the enslaved and possessed free" (276).