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.


Adam said...

Dr. Harrisville was a teacher of mine at Luther Seminary several years back when he covered an elective on the history of biblical interpretation (at 85 years old), and remains a friend.

I asked him once whether his thesis in Fracture carries over to the Old Testament; whether even there we are already dealing with material which has somehow been fundamentally broken and remade through the cross, however dimly those authors may have understood that event. So, for example, the prophets are only speaking an event which, though in time far off, has still already come to them, broken them and raised them. Roy didn't disagree. That would be an impossible book to write, of course.

I like this blog very much, by the way.

Kait Dugan said...

Sounds like an awesome class.

Out of curiosity, how was his thesis in the book received? Did most either by students or faculty find it persuasive or were there concerns about the discontinuity that might be at stake between the testaments (and all the issues that might bring about)?

Adam said...

It was great. Roy had been retired from teaching for 15 years by then, but a number of students got together and insisted that he teach that one. We used his "The Bible in Modern Culture," which was fun, because a few of the chapters are about old friends of his (Ernst Kaesemann and Brevard Childs).

I wish I could tell you there was much of a reception. The only faculty I've ever heard discuss the book highly recommend it--one of those teaches Old Testament, one is a systematic theologian. I'm sure several others think highly of it as well. But the school did nothing at all to promote it, and to my knowledge very few students read it. Maybe part of the problem is that most of the younger Bible faculty aren't all that interested in historical-critical stuff anymore--all I heard from them was rhetoric, narrative, etc. Not that those are bad things, but I'm inclined to think they're incomplete by themselves.

The other issue would be that Roy taught many of the faculty, and quite a few are still scared of him. He was, once upon a time, the hardest teacher at Luther, completely fearless, but eccentric. So I think some of these folks have decided it's safer not to say anything at all.

Some of the discontinuity issue is, in a way, familiar territory at Luther. It parallels similar language regarding the believer, death and resurrection, that has been pushed among certain members of the theology faculty for a good long time. Given the usual hostilities within the faculty, the same people who don't like those ideas didn't like Harrisville's book either, but the debate is rarely out in the open. Why make an argument when you could ignore it and then talk behind someone's back?

Personally, I think it opens up some really fruitful territory for Old Testament research. If it really meant we had to treat the two differently, that would be very disconcerting. Instead, I think it suggests a commonality--not exactly a christological lens, but that the Old Testament is already, like the new, a product of old models, theologies and religious ideas having been broken and re-made in an encounter with the God who kills and makes alive. But Jesus' crucifixion had to happen to Paul before he could see that it had already happened to Isaiah(s), Jeremiah, and innumerable nameless authors, editors, redactors--and in fact ordinary believers.

Kait Dugan said...

Fascinating. I wish there was more discussion about this book because I personally find it incredibly interesting. The Lutherans always produce some of the best stuff.

I do agree to a certain extent that viewing the two different would be problematic. The back cover of Martyn's Galatians commentary (Martyn reviews the book very favorably) reads "Writing his letter to the Galatians in the midst of that struggle, Paul was concerned to find a way by which he could assert the radical newness of God's act in Christ while still affirming the positive relation of that act to the solemn promise God had made centuries earlier to Abraham." I don't think anyone wants to deny that positive relation, but the problem is when that relation is viewed in such a way that denies the radical revolution that occurred in the Christ-event that I think Harrisville is helping me to understand a bit better. It seems that there is more concern for the positive relation than the radical event of Jesus Christ. When the order is shifted to make positive relation the primary concern, it seems we've missed the entire point.

Adam said...

Yeah, I think you've nailed it. Positive relation actually must proceed from Christ crucified, which means it comes to us on grounds that are entirely new. In my own denomination, people get very timid about this sometimes--they don't want to sound mean or exclusionary (understandably), and end up sounding like watered-down Thomists instead.

So I'll agree with you about Lutherans as well, with the caveat that we can do good work when we aren't either completely isolationist or terrified of being recognized as Lutheran. One of my teachers defined Lutheranism as "the history of the rejection of the theology of Martin Luther," and he wasn't really wrong. It very often takes Lutherans who aren't denominationally Lutheran to set us straight.

Nathan McNamara said...

Hi Kait, my names Nathan, i was wondering if i could ask you a few questions about your studies as i want to start studying theology myself, if you wouldnt mind emailing me on, Thanks heaps.

Kait Dugan said...

Sure, send me an email if you want --

Frederick Froth said...

How then do you account for the never-ending slaughters that have been perpetrated by the insitutional church and its agents throughout the centuries. The inevitable blood-soaked applied politics of Constantine's famous sword. And of. for instance the papal bulls of 1455 and 1493

At last and inevitably, the ancient self-appointed religious rulerships have failed, and "official" Christianity along with all the other "great-world-religions" of worldly religion-power, is now reduced to all the impenetrable illusions and decadent exercises that everywher characterize previously privileged aristocracies in their decline from worldly power.

Christianity has now been reduced to a chaos of 35,000 corporate cults and Barnumesque propagandists that rule nothing more than chaotic herds of self-deluded consumers in the whats-in-it-for-me market-place of consumerist religion.

The myth/lie of the presumed cultural superiority of "official" Christianity has now come full circle. The "religious" mythologies of the so called great-world-religions are not only now waging wars with one another, like so many psychotic inmates of asylums for the mad, each confronting the other with exclusive claims of personal absoluteness, but the public masses of religion-bound people, who, all over the Earth, for even thousands of years, have been controlled in body and mind by ancient institutions of "religiously" propagandized Worldly power, are now in a globalized state of grossly bound "religious" delusion and social psychosis.

This individual and collective psychosis is most evident in all of the fundamentalist sects and movements of both Christianity and Islam, including all of those who would presume to re-vivefy the now completely obsolete old-ways via such slogans as "radical orthodoxy" etc etc.

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