Thursday, January 3, 2013

Revelation and Discipleship.

In an attempt to channel my procrastination into something useful, I finally located Philip Ziegler's article entitled "Dietrich Bonhoeffer - An Ethics of God's Apocalypse?" I thought this was really quite helpful and so well-written:
"As such, revelation is not chiefly a cognitive affair, a matter of teaching believers to “consider the world differently.” For the achievement of reconciliation is the inauguration of a wholly new human situation. Paul’s talk of the human situation set to rights as new creation” (Gal. 6:14; 2 Cor. 5:17) signals the radical discontinuity between human captivity to sin and the gift of a restored relationship with God, something manifest in the “apocalyptic antinomies” of spirit and flesh, light and dark, old and new that populate the New Testament. 
As an advocate for this new creation, the gospel is not mere reportage, but brings to bear “the power of God for salvation” (Rom. 1:18; 1 Cor. 1:18). Yet, it is testimony; a telling of the “good news” that human captivity to sin is ended by God’s graciously powerful rescue; the declaration that God has vindicated his name since “all the promises of God find their ‘Yes’ in [Christ]” (2 Cor. 1:20). As such, the gospel involves knowledge of God’s self-disclosure in Christ, albeit knowledge made strange by its being implicated in salvation. As Paul says he no longer knows of Christ in terms of the old situation (“according to the flesh”) but only in light of the new (“according to the cross”). Yet he does know. Reconciliation thus is revelation. 
If the identification of revelation and reconciliation in this way is a first hallmark of Paul’s apocalyptic discourse, a second is its claim that evangelical talk is talk of reality. The gospel speaks of what has taken place, and of the state of affairs that God’s “incursion” for sinners’ sake has actually brought about. We have already noted that what matters supremely in this gospel is “God’s decision and deed in Jesus Christ,” the uncontigent gift of the new creation (Gal. 6:15). Now we are alerted to the fact that those who hear its message are always already implicated in that of which it speaks. The logic of the apocalyptic gospel is thus never one of possibilityneither of “if . . . then”, nor of an offer to be realized only upon its acceptance. Nor is it an idea in need of embodiment in the world. Even when put in the mode of promise, accent falls upon the reality of God’s saving activity deciding the day (cf. Phil. 1:6). So, for example, Martyn restates the primary message of Galatians simply as, “‘God has done it!’, to which there are two echoes: ‘You are to live it out!’ and ‘You are to live it out because God has done it and because God will do it!’.” Such a gospel, as Martinus de Boer says, “has little or nothing to do with a decision human beings must make, but everything to do with a decision God has already made on their behalf”, and identified with God’s enactment of salvation in Christ. Reconciliation is real, and so God’s gracious justification establishes our “true position in the world” without awaiting our permission. The Christian community together with the world as a whole is set in the time between God’s “having done” and “will do,” between apocalypse and parousia
In sum, Paul’s apocalyptic gospel announces the vindication of God in the wayward world by the decisive incursion of his gracious and powerful presence to judge and so to save. Jesus Christ is this act of God. The scope of this act encompasses all things: there is “no reserve of space or time or concept or aspect of creation outside of, beyond or undetermined by the critical, decisive and final action of God in Jesus Christ.” Christian life and thought take place firmly in the wake of “God’s crisis which has overtaken and overturned the world as it is" (581-582).
There is something really extraordinary about this cosmic vision that continues to fascinate me. Even more, I find the notion that this apocalypse of God in Jesus Christ is not primarily "a cognitive affair" to be incredibly provocative. Instead, this revelation is the reconciliation of the cosmos to Godself. This move away from the cognitive dimensions of the Christian faith that become the primary focus is quite unsettling and refreshing to hear. But what do we make of this? What are the implications for Ziegler's assertions here?

These questions become all the more important in light of this line: "As such, the gospel involves knowledge of God’s self-disclosure in Christ, albeit knowledge made strange by its being implicated in salvation." What knowledge is made strange in the revelation of God? Any knowledge we think that we have about God previous to the revelation of cross and resurrection? Or does this also implicate the very knowledge we think we might have of God in the cross and resurrection itself? 

I think all of this comes to greater focus in another article recently published by Ziegler entitled "Christ Must Reign: Ernst Käsemann and Soteriology in an Apocalyptic Key" where he says that "because Christians most fundamentally belong to their Lord, their very existence is conscripted into the service of making his lordship manifest. It is line of exposition makes discipleship the primary category by which to understand the Christian life, as the only self-understanding available to disciples of the Crucified One “arises from the act of following,” and not from any idea" (212-213). Thus, the Christian life does not become "a cognitive affair" of such in which we have ideas about God that must be made known in the world. Rather, the Christian life is essentially revolutionized to be about discipleship of the Crucified Lord into the depths of this world. Ironically enough, I think even the task of theology (and writing blogposts) becomes a bit awkward and called into question as discipleship is simply following rather than considering and assessing the cross and resurrection from some critical distance.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Discipleship of the crucified Lord is indeed more than just a cognitive affair. Yet our Lord did give us revelation through his teaching about what he expects from his new kingdom of disciples. He was a Lord, a king, who gave commands for his kingdom to live out. Those who are content to just hear his words, but not do them, might consider themselves cognitively enlightened or "apocalyptically" reconciled; but Jesus says they are fools (Mt. 7:26).

Likewise, when Paul writes about a new creation in Gal. 6:15, he contrasts that with a "discipleship" that includes circumcision and keeping the law (of Moses). This follows on his statement in Gal. 5:6 that in Christ (king) Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love. Then, after revealing how the Spirit empowers this fruit of love, he reveals the kind of love this is: peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). He concludes in 5:24 that those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (a flesh and desires revealed more fully in 5:19-21, and found among those who will not inherit the kingdom of God--and thus are not reconciled to God, now or ever, unless they also become a new creation).

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