Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Why I Am A Universalist, §8: The Doctrine of the Atonement (Section IV.4)

Section IV.4: Parameters for a doctrine of the atonement: actualism
Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor. 5:18-21; NKJV)

[God] is who He is, and lives as what He is, in that He does what He does. … The whole being and life of God is an activity, both in eternity and in worldly time, both in Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and in His relation to man and all creation. (Barth, CD IV.1, 6-7)
An orthodox doctrine of the atonement must affirm that God’s economy of salvation is …

(4) … actualized. By establishing actualism as a central parameter in a doctrine of the atonement, I knowingly distance myself from both liberal Protestantism and evangelical semi-Pelagianism: the former emphasizes our subjective imitation of Jesus as a moral example while the latter stresses that Christ’s atoning sacrifice was made available to all people but is only actualized in our subjective appropriation of that sacrifice. I will return to my dispute with both of these popular positions in more detail below, but for now it will suffice to point out that both liberalism and semi-Pelagianism undermine the exclusivity of Christ. By affirming the actuality of the atonement, I thus affirm the unique and exclusive nature of Christ’s person and work. Before continuing, however, I will review the essential features of an actualistic theological ontology.

The question of actualism is not primarily christological; rather, divine actualism first and foremost concerns our doctrine of God. One of the major revolutions in modern theology was the discovery of the dogmatic axiom, “God is what God does,” which was itself a clarification of the more basic axiom governing all orthodox theology, “God alone reveals God.” These two axioms together are an attempt to speak meaningfully of God’s being without metaphysical speculation, that is, without resorting to a substance metaphysics or a speculative deus absconditus. In order to accomplish this, theology must attend to the acts of God—i.e., to the event of God rather than the substance of God. In particular, an actualistic theology attends to the concrete revelation of God in Jesus Christ as “the beginning of all the ways and works of God.” (Barth, CD II.2, 316).
In connexion with the being of God that is here in question, we are not concerned with a concept of being that is common, neutral and free to choose, but with one which is from the first filled out in a quite definite way. … This means that we cannot discern the being of God in any other way than by looking where God Himself gives us Himself to see, and therefore by looking at His works, at this relation and attitude—in the confidence that in these His works we do not have to do with any others, but with His works and therefore with God Himself, with His being as God. (CD II.1, 261)
Jesus Christ is the locus and criterion of divine revelation, and thus the locus and criterion of God’s eternal being. God’s very being is made known to humanity in the history of Jesus of Nazareth as the event of divine self-revelation. Of course, God is not self-evident to humanity but remains known only through faith by the power of the Holy Spirit: “The being of God is either known by grace or it is not known at all” (CD II.1, 27). Nevertheless, by faith we confess that in the person of Jesus, God defines Godself; in Jesus Christ, God acts. Jesus Christ is the event of God. Emmanuel—God with us—“is not a state, but an event” (CD IV.1, 6). We can thus state these insights in the form of logical propositions:
A. God alone reveals God.

B. Revelation is the act of God.

C. God is (eternally) what God does (historically).

D. Jesus Christ is the historical self-revelation of God.

E. Therefore, Jesus Christ reveals in history who God is eternally; that is, Jesus reveals pro nobis [for us] who God is in se [in Godself].

F. Therefore, God actualized in Jesus Christ who God is ontologically from all eternity; that is, God ontologically defined Godself in the historical act of self-revelation in Jesus Christ.

G. To summarize, God is a being-in-act, “which is in no sense act in general but the concrete, specific action of His love” (CD II.1, 299).
The assertion that God is a being-in-act means that “the being of God declares His reality: not only His reality for us—certainly that—but at the same time His own, inner, proper reality, behind which and above which there is no other” (262). God’s reality—actualized and revealed in Christ—is both pro nobis and pro se, both ad extra and ad intra, both historical and eternal, both actualistic and ontological. God’s triune being-in-act thus encompasses the full scope of the divine life both in eternity and in history: “The whole being and life of God is an activity, both in eternity and in worldly time, both in Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and in His relation to man and all creation” (CD IV.1, 7). The whole life of God is a being-in-act in which the being of God is defined by the acts of God. By identifying God as a being-in-act, modern theology affirms the closest possible relation between actualism and ontology, the latter of which I will discuss in the next section (§8.IV.5). This divine relation—between history and ontology, between act and being—is a actuality in the person of Jesus Christ.
What is concerned is always the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, always His justification of faith, always His lordship in the Church, always His coming again, and therefore Himself as our hope. … And in this very event God is who He is. God is He who in this event is subject, predicate and object; the revealer, the act of revelation, the revealed; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is the Lord active in this event. We say “active” in this event, and therefore for our salvation and for His glory, but in any case active. Seeking and finding God in His revelation, we cannot escape the action of God for a God who is not active. This is not only because we ourselves cannot, but because there is no surpassing or bypassing at all of the divine action, because a transcendence of His action is nonsense. We are dealing with the being of God: but with regard to the being of God, the word “event” or “act” is final, and cannot be surpassed or compromised. To its very deepest depths God’s Godhead consists in the fact that it is an event—not any event, not events in general, but the event of His action, in which we have a share in God’s revelation. (CD II.1, 262-63; emphasis added)
All of this can be reframed in trinitarian terms. We can say, following Karl Rahner, that the economic Trinity (what God does) is the immanent Trinity (who God is) and correspondingly the immanent Trinity (ontology) is the economic Trinity (actualism). In other words, the God ad extra is the God ad intra, and vice versa. To state it most simply, what God accomplishes historically reveals who God is ontologically. We thus have no grounds for permitting a split within God between the deus revelatus [the revealed God] and the deus absconditus [the hidden God]. We know only one God—the God of grace revealed to us in Jesus Christ—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
God is who He is, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Creator, Reconciler and Redeemer, supreme, the one true Lord; and He is known in this entirety or He is not known at all. There is no existence of God behind or beyond this entirety of His being. Whatever we can know and say about the being of God can be only a continual explanation of this entirety. … We either know God Himself and therefore entirely, or we do not know Him at all. (CD II.1, 51-52)

God is wholly and utterly the good-pleasure of His grace and mercy. At any rate, He is wholly and utterly in His revelation, in Jesus Christ. And therefore it is not only justifiable but necessary for us to understand His whole being and nature as comprehended and ordered in His good pleasure. (75)
While I affirm Rahner’s formula, I also recognize the danger pointed out by Hans Urs von Balthasar, that we might end up resolving the being of God into a purely immanent reality. In order to protect against this, we should remember that Jesus Christ is not the whole triune God incarnate but rather the incarnate second person of the Trinity. With this qualification in mind, however, we must still assert that the subject of the life of Jesus is indeed the Logos, the second person of the Trinity. God is the subject of the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, even while the triune God’s self-differentiation allows God, as the incarnate Logos, to act also as the object of the divine command. God is internally and eternally the self-positing and self-posited God; God self-determines Godself to be both subject and object. To ensure that we do not reduce the triune God into God’s historical self-manifestation, we should keep in mind the basic principle of Scripture: “All things are of God, who has reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, … God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5.18-19, NKJV; emphasis added). God was actually in Christ—so that Jesus Christ truly acts as God and reveals the being of God—but God is not limited to Christ. The triunity of God enables revelation and prevents limitation. God precludes any attempt to exhaust the divine richness by confining the being of God to one particular system of thought.

If God ontologically defines Godself out of the historical actuality of divine revelation, then we have the basis for a proper theological method ordered by God’s self-revelation. As stated above (Proposition A), the theological datum governing this entire project is that God alone reveals God. With this in mind, we can develop a theological method which (1) examines what God does in the history of God’s covenant relations with humanity and (2) then extrapolates from that concrete reality who God must be ontologically to enable the actualization of that historical event. In other words, an actualistic theological ontology thinks after (Nachdenken) the movement of God’s being in time and space. We do not think before (i.e., speculate about) God’s actions; rather, we allow God to define Godself within the concrete event of revelation. Theological thought is thus reflection on the event of God:
To think God means to be taken along by God. Theological thought is in a profound sense a process of being taken along. (Jüngel, God as the Mystery of the World 159)
What follows from this is the operative principle in a theological system which “thinks after” God’s being: If God has done x, then God must be capable of x in God’s own being. For example, if God has become incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, then God ad intra is a God capable of incarnation. The actuality of God’s movement in history depends upon the divine possibility of this actuality; conversely, we only determine what is possible for God based on what God has already accomplished. The acts of God (ad extra) truly reveal the life of God (ad intra), just as the life of God is the ground of possibility for the acts of God. An actualistic ontology will thus distinguish between possibility and actuality in the triune life of God—not through speculation but by attending to the concrete, historical reality of God’s being-in-act as a being-in-becoming.
No concept of God arrived at independent of the reality of Jesus Christ may decide what is possible and impossible for God. Rather, we are to say from what God as man in Jesus Christ is, does and suffers: ‘God can do this.’ (Jüngel, God’s Being Is in Becoming 99)
What bearing does any of this have upon the doctrine of the atonement? The doctrine of the atonement is concerned, first and foremost, with the event of reconciliation—a singular, exclusive, unrepeatable event. The name of this event is Jesus Christ. The doctrine of the atonement is not primarily concerned with how but with who. It is not an abstract teaching on how guilt is removed but is rather the most concrete doctrine—concrete precisely because it is cruciform. At the heart of the gospel stands the most particular and decisive act of God: the cross of Christ. The cross, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ—the mysterium paschale—is the sine qua non of the atonement and thus the heart of the euangelion, the “good news” of the gospel. At the heart of the Christian faith stands the person of Jesus Christ, who is indistinguishable from the reconciling work of God that was accomplished in his person: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5.19). Jesus unites in himself act and being, event and ontology, history and eternity.

If the event of Jesus Christ is indeed decisive for reconciliation to take place between sinful humanity and the holy triune God, what is the nature of this event? What does it mean to call the atonement an act of God? Christian tradition has tended to view the atonement in two different ways, and by this I do not mean the different theories of the atonement. Outside and above the different theories, Christian tradition has viewed the atonement in one of two ways, which can be described using different pairs of terms: objective/subjective, exclusive/inclusive, actualized/non-actualized. Each of these pairs offers slightly different perspectives on the same basic question: Did Christ completely and actually atone for sin in himself, once and for all? The first term in each pair answers this question in the affirmative, the latter in the negative.

What is the significance of either position? (1) If one affirms that the atonement was actualized in Christ, then one affirms that Christ’s atonement for sins was objective and exclusive; that is, Christ excludes all other attempts to achieve salvation by locating salvation objectively in his own person as the messiah of God. (2) If one affirms that the atonement was not actualized in Christ, then one affirms that Christ’s atonement for sins is (at least potentially) inclusive of other means of salvation (by works, other religions, etc.) and that salvation is thus located not in the objective reality of Christ but in the subjective reality of the believer. The actuality of the atonement thus means that the atonement was fully, objectively, and exclusively accomplished in Jesus Christ. The non-actuality of the atonement means that the atonement was not completed in the event of Jesus Christ and thus that Christ is not the sole and exclusive basis for reconciliation with God.

By affirming divine actualism—and thus the actuality of the atonement—we rule out the idea that Jesus only made reconciliation possible. We deny that Jesus made reconciliation a potential reality, which we as believers must then actualize by our faith. By undermining the actuality of the atonement, one also undermines the event-character of the life of Jesus as the act of God. The very being of Jesus Christ becomes a potentiality, not an actuality. Correspondingly, any attempt to lessen the actuality of the atonement implies that the subjective completion of the atonement is not only a completion of reconciliation, but the completion of God’s own being in Christ. The very being of God is at stake in the doctrine of the atonement.

Furthermore, with the loss of actuality and finality in the event of reconciliation, Jesus becomes merely a teacher and moral influence who urges his followers to actualize his example. Jesus does not accomplish anything exclusively on his own as the Son of God—other than perhaps living the perfect moral life. Denying the actuality of the atonement denies the centrality and divinity of Christ and elevates the human believer as the center of the faith. In other words, whenever we lessen the actuality of God’s reconciling work in Christ, we elevate our own status as reconciling partners with God. Whenever we lessen divine actualism, we threaten our very knowledge of God as a being-in-act and undermine our assurance of grace and salvation in Jesus Christ. Divine actualism allows us to be passive recipients of God’s reconciling love and frees us from the unbearable responsibility of trying to earn God’s favor. Divine actualism preserves God’s relation to us as a relation of pure grace.
We preach and teach the Gospel evangelically, then, in such a way as this: God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very Being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once and for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour. … He has believed for you, fulfilled your human response to God, even made your personal decision for you, … so that in Jesus Christ you are already accepted by him. (T.F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ 94)
The gracious actuality of the atonement involves both the death and life of Jesus, both the objective sacrifice and the objective response. Jesus Christ is the Mediator, whose vicarious mediation restores us in relation to God through his death to sin and his life of righteousness. In Jesus Christ, both sides of reconciliation are complete: both the movement of God to humanity and the movement of humanity to God. In Christ alone, God not only actualizes the divine forgiveness and acceptance of sinful humanity, but God also actualizes the human repentance and decision for God. Divine actualism ensures that salvation is sola gratia—by grace alone.
God is He who in this event is subject, predicate and object; the revealer, the act of revelation, the revealed; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is the Lord active in this event. We say “active” in this event, and therefore for our salvation and for His glory, but in any case active. Seeking and finding God in His revelation, we cannot escape the action of God for a God who is not active. (CD II.1, 263)
God is the Lord, as Barth stresses, and as the Lord, God is active “for our salvation and for His glory.” God does not depend on human creatures to finish the work of redemption and reconciliation, just as God does not depend on us to create the cosmos. God is the personal event of Love, and we are the recipients of the gracious gifts overflowing from this event for all people. God is subject and object, revealer and revealed, giver and receiver, speaker and hearer, beginning and end, origin and telos. The event of reconciliation begins and ends within God’s own being, and yet we participate in this reconciliation because we participate in the being of Jesus Christ who assumed human nature ‘for us and for our salvation.’ God does not need us, yet God freely and graciously makes us God’s covenant partners. God has divinely decided to not be God without us, and thus to be God for us.

I shall now return to where we began this discussion of divine actualism. The affirmation of actualism has a two-fold polemic in mind: First, actualism denies semi-Pelagianism, which states that we have to meet God half-way; that we have to freely seek God, and then God will grant us the grace of salvation. We see this most prominently in evangelical revivalism, in which people are implored to step forward toward the altar and make a decision for Christ. The free human decision is what completes the event of reconciliation—and thus also the being of God in Jesus Christ. Apart from this decision, salvation remains merely potential. Calvinism and Augustinian-Thomism state that this first move is purely an act of divine grace, because these were the people elected by God in pre-temporal eternity (double predestination). The former position (Calvinism) believes that these people are eternally secure, while the latter (Augustinian-Thomism) believes such people must maintain their salvation through penance and works of love. Universalism accepts all the tenets of the former except that it refuses to place limits around the scope of God’s grace: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.”

Second, divine actualism rejects the liberal position of Christ as mere moral example. Jesus as example does not definitively accomplish anything in himself but only urges his followers to imitate his example in their own lives. Divine actualism is replaced with divine exhortation. But exhortation without reconciliation is salvation by works, while reconciliation—when it comes first and comes from God—liberates us to live according to the exhortations of Christ. Abelard’s liberal theological position is untenable for anyone wishing to affirm a high Christology that proclaims boldly: “God was in Christ.”

The question of the atonement—as the christological-soteriological question about God’s being-in-act—is thus intimately connected to the question of faith. Do we complete the atonement by professing faith in Christ? Or do we affirm something that is already true? Does our faith reconcile us to God, or does our faith instead recognize and affirm that God has indeed reconciled the world to himself in Jesus Christ? The answer of classical Protestantism was and is that God alone reconciles, and we are the recipients of that reconciling love. In light of divine actualism, we must then define faith, as we addressed in §7, as our Yes to God’s prior and actualized Yes to us in Jesus Christ. Faith asserts that the atonement is complete—“it is finished”—and yet also affirms that the ontological reality of Christ’s reconciling work must become existentially effective—“be reconciled to God.” Faith is faith in the actuality of the atonement, in the event of Jesus Christ, in the gracious being-in-act of God as Deus pro nobis.
The simplest answer to the question of the nature of human faith is that faith is the human ‘Yes’, the affirmation, coming from the heart, to the definitive affirmation from God which comes to us in the occasion of our justification. It is the human ‘Yes’ to that clear and already accomplished negation by God which we have because of that definitive affirmation in Jesus Christ. ... Believers agree that God’s condemning and acquitting judgement is already accomplished in the person of Jesus Christ. (Jüngel, Justification 237)

Faith ... is our grateful Yes and Amen to God’s own Yes and Amen, which has come into being in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 1:19f). There can be no additions made to this Amen. (251)
Divine actualism is no abstract teaching about God’s being. Actualism is the most concrete and central affirmation of the Christian faith. The actuality of God ensures that the triune God we encounter in history is the triune God who lives for all eternity in the repleteness of God’s being-in-communion. The actuality of God ensures that what Christ accomplished in his life, death, and resurrection is indeed ‘for us and for our salvation,’ effective and complete, objective and exclusive, in our place and on our behalf, pro nobis and pro omnibus, total and free. The actuality of God promises that our condemnation and acquittal, our negation and affirmation, our judgment and justification, are already accomplished in Christ, thus liberating us to be passive recipients of God’s overflowing grace as participants in the being of Jesus Christ.

In conclusion, the narrative of God’s being-in-act frees us for faith now and awaits the eschaton with hope. The actuality of the triune God involves the past event of reconciliation, the present event of reunion, and the future event of resurrection: “for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ” (1 Cor. 15:22). Only as the actuality of reconciliation occurs extra nos in Jesus Christ can reunion with God be existentially realized in nobis and eschatologically perfected pro omnibus. Our hope and salvation is solus Christus—Christ alone. The actuality of God thus takes the form of a servant and the shape of a cross. Divine actualism is the assurance of the faith, the confidence in the truth, and the confession of the gospel: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” Yes and Amen.

Monday, October 30, 2006

My Father's house: a reflection on John 14

Because I live, you also will live. (John 14:19b)

In John 14, Jesus is preparing his followers for the harsh reality that in a short period of time, he will no longer be with them. Jesus is going to the Father, and in his place, he will leave with them the Holy Spirit. That is the chapter in a nutshell, which is replicated again in John 16. The disciples will be full of sorrow, yet the Spirit comes to comfort them and give them joy. Jesus assures them that he will not abandon them, but rather he has a mission to accomplish, a mission which he alone must carry out but which involves his followers in ways they cannot yet understand.

What is this mission of the Son? “I am going [to my Father’s house] to prepare a place for you” (v. 2). “No one comes to the Father except through me” (v. 6). “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (v. 23). What then is the mission of the Son? The Son’s mission is to bring people to the Father, or rather to bring the Father and the world together. We might say that the Son’s mission is to reconcile the world with God. Of course, that is precisely what we find in Paul: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). The metaphor of “my Father’s house” is thus not some description of heaven, but rather a way of speaking about the reconciliation between humanity and God. Why the image of a house? Because when we are reconciled to God and brought into communion with God, we become family. We are adopted as sons and daughters in the kingdom family (Eph. 1:5).

But how exactly does the home of the Father become our home? Do we have to help arrange the furniture in the rooms? Do we need to finish up some of the siding on the house? Is there some work that still needs to be done?

The answer to all these questions, according to Jesus, is no. The house is made ready for us without our help. And not only will Jesus prepare a place for us but he will later bring us home when everything is ready. In other words, reconciliation is completely a gift from God. As Jesus declares to us, “Because I live, you also will live.” We do not live because of anything in us, but because only Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (v. 6). Jesus is life, and thus we receive life. Jesus died on the cross, and thus we died. Jesus was raised to new life, and thus we too have been given new life. Adoption is not something we can accomplish; we are merely the recipients of a new identity granted to us by God alone. (The same is true of human adoption; the adopted child is passive and not active in the adoption process.)

The point of all this is that reconciliation is entirely grace. We can do nothing but accept this wonderful new reality: reconciliation with God, freedom from sin, and freedom for new life in the home of the Father.

NYT: Iraqis in the midst of war

Read this NYT article to get a glimpse not only of the civil war in Iraq, but more importantly of the deeply depressing and gloomy reality for the men and women who call Iraq home. The following is an especially interesting section from the article:

Life has become so hard that many Iraqis find it too painful to partake of the world outside. Houda said she can no longer stomach movies, bright things that show varnished, perfect lives. She has not watched a movie all the way through in more than a year.

Life was also hard under Saddam Hussein, the women pointed out. Plans were equally impossible to build. But the basic fabric of life, visiting family, attending weddings and funerals, was for the most part intact. Now Iraqis are letting go even of those parts.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Support our troops? Am I fat?

I recently came across a post asking whether anyone has really thought about the phrase, “Support our troops.” This is an excellent question and I wrote a comment. Here is what I wrote in a slightly more fleshed-out form:

From a conservative standpoint, the phrase “support our troops” is an example of the kind of political brilliance that one needs in order to win support for an ideological position. No one in their right mind would say, “I don't support our troops,” because they would be ridiculed as being inhumane and unloving. But by using the phrase, “I support our troops,” you are inevitably viewed as a supporter of the Iraq war (or at least of the U.S.’s military policies in general).

In other words, the phrase is not unlike the question by a wife or girlfriend, “Am I fat?” There is, quite simply, no good answer. Likewise, there is no good answer to the question, “Do you support our troops?” It is the kind of brilliant word-game that Republicans use to silence criticism of the war.

As a Christian, I refuse to answer the question in the simple affirmative or negative. The only responsible response is, “What do you mean by that phrase? If you mean, do I support Bush’s foreign policy, then it is a clear No. If you mean, do I care about the people who are giving up their very lives for an unjust cause, then the answer is a clear Yes.”

Camille Paglia: Interview

Salon has an interview with their “favorite intellectual,” Camille Paglia. She is a politically ruthless commentator who is capable of offering sharp critiques of both Republicans and Democrats (more against the latter, her own, than the former), but she has incredible range, even lamenting the lack of artistic appreciation among the general public as demonstrated in the recent Andy Warhol documentary.

There is a lot to digest in this interview. Here a several choice quotations:
So what [the Democrats have] done, in this rabid orchestration of the Foley case, is to risk energizing the Republican base again. Are they mad, or just dumb? They've handed the Republicans a reason to go to the polls -- to register their contempt for Democrats! And this was at a moment in the campaign when we needed to keep the fiasco in Iraq on the front pages. For the Democrats to have stolen the headlines and forced the major media to switch subjects has been a tremendous boon to Bush. What kind of disproportion of scale are we talking about here? The Foley case is nothing compared to the disaster in Iraq and the innumerable lives that are being lost or ruined on both sides.

Every feminist who wants to smash the glass ceiling should realize she has a stake in Condi Rice's success. Rice is a brilliant woman, but diplomacy is an art. Preaching in steely tones sends the wrong message. This administration lacks deftness in international relations. Worst of the lot is Dick Cheney, with his lumpish provincialism. What a narrow, limited mind! His geopolitics is a vintage-1870s version of frontier Americanism, but he managed to impose it on the over-credulous new president when this Bush took office. It's all so simple to them: The majority of Iraqis and Iranians want peace and modernization, so let's impose democracy at the barrel of a gun. But what ignorance of history: The mass of the population always want to live their own lives; change is always driven by small, committed groups of ideologues and fanatics -- even in our own revolution.

I'm not a Bush hater. I've always viewed him as a decent fellow who was pushed into the presidency because he was his father's son. But he's been out of his depth in foreign affairs from the start. He certainly lacks the basic verbal skills for the presidency -- reading speeches authored by others is no substitute. But I've become concerned about Bush's mental state in the past few months. Sometimes in his press conferences or prepared statements (which I listened to on the radio), I heard a sort of Nixonian tension and hysteria. His vocal patterns were over-intense and his inflections impatient, lurching and sarcastic. There was this seething quality to his speech that worried me and that seemed to signal that something major is being planned -- perhaps another military incursion.

I'm worried about the future of America insofar as our academically most promising students are being funneled through the cookie-cutter Ivy League and other elite schools and emerging with this callow anti-American, anti-military cast to their thinking. How are we ever going to get wise leadership or sophisticated diplomacy from people who have such a distorted, clichéd view about everything that's wrong with the United States?

Whenever Clinton speaks, it throws into dramatic relief the inarticulateness of our current president, who sometimes can barely get through a sentence.

There are people like me who want immediate withdrawal of all American forces from Iraq. Every war goes on and on because more and more blood has to be spilled to prove the value of the lives already lost. It's an endless cycle of insanity. Withdrawal would probably plunge Iraq into civil war, and the Democrats don't want to be blamed for the blood bath. But it's going to be nasty whether we stay or go.
I wish more people had her kind of clear, level-headed thinking. She has an ability to cut through the (pardon me) bullshit spouted out by both the media and Washington. She is a realist, and that is a necessary perspective in a world caught between fascist and liberal idealism. I am a stronger opponent of Bush than she appears to be, in that I think Bush knows exactly what he is doing in the Middle East. I have no qualms calling Bush an imperialist. In fact, I think the facts supporting such a designation are indisputable. This is a stinging criticism from my perspective; it is a compliment to the likes of Ann Coulter. And that is precisely the problem in this country.

However, I do have criticisms of Paglia, primarily because I hold to strong Christian convictions. Thus I cannot support statements like the following:
I supported the retaliatory attack on Afghanistan but strongly opposed the invasion of Iraq. Such incursions can only create more terrorism insofar as they inspire disaffected young men around the world to be drawn to a cause. Now we have a splintering of jihadism into these hard-to-track small cells of copycats. Every nudnik out there aspires to be a junior bin Laden. What was needed -- but which may now be impossible -- was to gain the trust of people worldwide at the local level. So that on small islands in Indonesia, let's say, neighbors will turn in the stranger who's gathering followers around him. Without that cooperation, we're never going to defeat world terrorism.
No Christian can be sincerely identify with the Jesus who commanded us to “turn the other cheek” and support a foreign policy of retaliation. One might try to justify such a military program by appealing to a Lutheran two-kingdoms doctrine. But this is a dead end. By resorting to this kind of theological reasoning, one not only goes far astray from what Luther was arguing for originally (simply a proper distinction between God and the world) but one ends up compartmentalizing the reign of God as an inward, non-bodily, non-political, and individualistic religion that has little to do with the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed and realized in himself. No, the church must be resolute: retaliation is antithetical to the gospel. If one wishes to engage in retaliation (or in torture, for that matter), one must forswear one’s Christian identity.

Paglia also writes:
What's broadened the appeal of conservatism in recent years is that Republicans stress individualism -- individual effort and personal responsibility. They're really the liberty party now -- I thought my party was! It used to seem as if the Republicans were authoritarians and the Democrats were for free speech and for the freedom to live your own life and pursue happiness. But the Democrats have wandered away from their own foundational principles.
Now she is absolutely correct to identify the success of contemporary conservatism in its doctrine of individualism. I think there is much here to unpack from a Christian perspective. However, as a faithful believer, I cannot accept the term “my party,” even if I generally agree with a Democratic platform. A Christian cannot have a “party” because she has a Lord.

Finally, she also writes:
The more liberal parents are, the less contact their children have with religious ideas.
I wish she had not made such an oversimplification. I will be a liberal parent, and yet my children will never know themselves as anything but Christian. Their identity will be shaped by the church through and through. I sincerely hope the church refuses to surrender the word “liberal” to atheism. If anything, the church needs to recover that word and place it in its proper context: the infinite liberality of God’s love overflowing to all people in Jesus Christ. Liberalism belongs to the Christian faith. We need to remind the rest of the world of this fact.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Evangelical Universalist: Interview

I am slowly working my way through The Evangelical Universalist by Gregory MacDonald (pseudonym). The book is primarily an attempt at a biblical theology of universalism, though the first chapter is a very interesting philosophical treatment of free will and the doctrine of hell. I heartily recommend the book to all those interested in the subject.

When I have completed the book, I will take this blog through the various chapters, offering my own critical thoughts along the way. My personal opinion is that the question of universalism is not primarily a Scriptural issue. Granted, Scripture is our norm for theology and practice, but Scripture alone is not univocal on the subject of damnation and salvation. Some passages can be read in a Pelagian sense; others reject any kind of salvation by works. Some passages clearly speak about eternal (or at least long-lasting) suffering for the damned; others qualify this by locating the salvation of the world in Christ. So on and so forth. I will treat these hermeneutical and exegetical questions in more detail at the end of my series on universalism.

For now, I wish to point people to the interview with Gregory MacDonald by Graham posted on Leaving Münster. This is the first part of the interview, so keep checking the site to read the rest. (HT Disruptive Grace and GOTT)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Babette’s Feast: “Mercy is infinite”

Babette’s Feast is the great European film about two Danish sisters—Martina and Philippa—and their French maidservant, Babette, who comes to them in the night to find refuge after losing her family. She turns out to be a magnificent chef and blesses the town with a stunning feast in honor of the father of the two sisters, who was a renowned Protestant pastor and the spiritual father of this deeply pious community.

The feast is the centerpiece of this film and full of Eucharistic and eschatological imagery from Scripture: Babette’s feast is a proleptic taste of the blessed wedding feast of eternity. In the midst of this rapturous meal, a guest named Lorens—a general in the military who had been entranced by one of the sisters in his youth—stands up to deliver the most important speech in the film. His words resonate with the depth of Scripture itself. Books of sermons fail to match the beauty and power of these words.
Mercy and truth have met together.¹ Righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another. Man, in his weakness and shortsightedness, believes he must make choices in this life. He trembles at the risks he takes. We do know fear.

But no. Our choice is of no importance. There comes a time when your eyes are opened. And we come to realize that mercy is infinite. We need only await it with confidence, and receive it with gratitude. Mercy imposes no conditions. And, lo! Everything we have chosen has been granted to us. And everything we rejected has also been granted. Yes, we even get back what we rejected.

For mercy and truth are met together. And righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another.

¹ Psalm 85:10

Monday, October 23, 2006

Barth on the individual, part II: we may let go of God, but God does not let go of us

It is just because man may genuinely and legitimately be an “individual” before God that if he wills to be this apart from and against God it can only be per nefas and to his own ruin. The “individual” man who desires and undertakes this posits and conducts himself as the man who is rejected by God from all eternity. It can only be man’s own godless choice that wills to be this “individual,” the man who is isolated in relation to God. He therefore chooses the possibility which is excluded by the divine election of grace. For this isolation is not intended for man in the divine election of grace (in Jesus Christ). On the contrary, it is a satanic possibility which is excluded and destroyed. And because the divine election of grace, because Jesus Christ, is the beginning of all the ways and works of God, man chooses that which is in itself nothing when he returns to this satanic possibility, when he chooses isolation in relation to God.

His choice itself and as such is, therefore, null. He chooses as and what he cannot choose. He chooses as if he were able to choose otherwise than in correspondence to his election. He chooses the possibility which God has excluded by his election. To that extent he chooses godlessly. He desires and undertakes to go into the void. In the negative act of this void choice of nothing, he is vanquished and overtaken even before he begins by that which God has eternally decreed for him and done for him in the election of Jesus Christ. The testimony of the community is addressed to this godless man, this man engaged in this negative act. It does not deny that he does this act; on the contrary, it asserts this. Nor can it reverse it. It knows and confronts man—every man—as one who is isolated over against God by his own choice, and who in and with this isolation must be rejected by God. It can do nothing else but testify to him the nullity of this choice and the futility of his desire and undertaking. It testifies to him, in opposition to his own choice, the gracious choice of God in Jesus Christ as the beginning of all God’s ways and works, and therefore the futility of his own desire and undertaking. In defiance of God and to his own destruction he may indeed behave and conduct himself as isolated man, and therefore as the man who is by God. He may represent this man. But he has no right to be this man, for in Jesus Christ God has ascribed this to Himself with all that it involves and therefore taken it away from man.

What man can do with his negative act can only be the admittedly real and evil and fatal recollection and reproduction of that which has been removed from him; but for all its wickedness and disastrous results this negative act as such can never be other than impotent. Man can do it and persist in it. He can become a sinner and place himself within the shadow of divine judgment which his powerless representation of the man rejected by God is unable to escape. He does all this. But he cannot reverse or change the eternal decision of God—by which He regards, considers and wills man, not in his isolation over against Him, but in His Son Jesus. Man can certainly keep on lying (and does so); but he cannot make truth falsehood. He can certainly rebel (he does so); but he can accomplish nothing which abolishes the choice of God. He can certainly flee from God (he does so); but he cannot escape Him. He can certainly hate God and be hateful to God (he does and is so); but he cannot change into its opposite the eternal love of God which triumphs even in His hate. He can certainly give himself to isolation (he does so—he thinks, wills and behaves godlessly, and is godless); but even in his isolation he must demonstrate that which he wishes to controvert—the impossibility of playing the “individual” over against God. He may let go of God, but God does not let go of him.

—Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II.2, 316-317

Potpourri

1. After seeing Inhabitatio Libris by Halden, I decided to create my own Amazon aStore: The Fire, the Rose, and the Books. I am still working on adding my reviews to the featured items.

2. I’ve also added the blogs by David Berge and Adam and Allison Eitel. Adam and Chris are two new friends of mine who have started their PTS careers this fall.

3. I hope to return to more substantial blogging in the near future. My life is currently busier than I expected. I am busy working on the next issue of the Princeton Theological Review on “Theology and Global Conflict: Beyond ‘Just’ War,” in addition to a full load of courses and a pastoral internship at my church.

4. In the meantime, check out this fascinating NYT column on YouTube and Google. (H/T WTM)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

WWJD



For more videos by The Church You Know, click here. I especially recommend the ones on tithing and attendance.

Friday, October 20, 2006

A beautiful shelf


This is the shelf above my computer desk. It holds the entire Balthasar trilogy and Barth's Church Dogmatics. It’s inspiring, daunting, and distracting to work beneath such genius.

Barth on the individual, part I: predestined humanity is forgiven humanity

[The] concept of the “individual,” if it is to be a fitting characterisation of the predestinate, must be understood in an entirely new dimension. It must be carried beyond its immediate, positive meaning to a negative meaning, in which it is genuinely perceived that predestined man is simply forgiven man. Predestined man (according to the election of Jesus Christ and the community) is he who, in and with God’s choice, is not met with honour and approval, but by justification by grace alone, by forgiveness; who is not the object of divine election in virtue of a life which is acceptable and welcome to God, but because God covers, transforms and renews his unworthy and rebellious life; whom the sovereign God (in the sovereignty of His omnipotence and loving-kindness, His constancy and patience) encounters, not with a natural Therefore, but with a miraculous Nevertheless; whom he chooses absolutely for the sake of His own will; whom He makes a partner of His covenant quite apart from and even contrary to his own merit or ability.

—Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/2, 315.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Olbermann: Your words are lies, Sir.

This is simply incredible. Olbermann has been the best thing for television journalism since Edward R. Murrow himself. This is his latest “Special Comment”—and he takes direct aim on the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and those who signed it into law this past week. You can read the transcript here. Olbermann has no fear. I wish I could say the same about most Christians in the United States.

Colbert's The WØRD: Sherlock

Take action: political sites worth your attention

In no particular order ...

1. Balkinization. Run by a Yale law professor, this is a first-stop for the best commentary on politics today.

2. Truthout. Excellent online journalism and summary of the latest news and views. Support them by donating here.

3. Common Dreams. The latest news and views for the progressive community.

4. Evangelicals for Darfur. Thanks to my friend, Steven, for this. Please, spread the word.

5. Crooks and Liars. A roundup of news bits on just about everything relating to politics.

6. Colbert Nation. If you’re not a fan, you should leave now. See the latest video clips here.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Darwin online

For the first time, the complete works of Charles Darwin are being published online, free and searchable. This is a monumental project which ought to be applauded by all. You can see the full contents here.

I love the church

I realize that this blog is too often dedicated to critiques of the church, and I do not want to give the impression that I am just a bitter, angry man who sees only gloom and doom for Christianity and thus confines himself in the isolated realm of academic theology in order to escape such problems. Far from it! I love the church. I honestly do. If I am rather brash at times, it is only because I think we Christians could afford to be so more than we usually are. I think the Christian church could use a prophetic revival, but in a way that serves the worldwide communion. If I have too often tended toward judgment rather than affirmation, than I sincerely apologize.

That said, I wholeheartedly believe the church is in a state of crisis. Here are some of the major problems that I think the church in the 21st century needs to address:
  1. The temptation of relevancy: how can the church refuse the urge to be relevant and yet speak to this culture?
  2. The temptation of power: how can the church follow the example of the Suffering Servant and yet speak boldly?
  3. The temptation of inwardness: how can the church resolutely affirm the reign of God in all areas of life and deny the western attempt to keep “religion” locked in the inner recesses of human experience?
  4. The temptation of success: how can the church remain free from the sexiness of success (see any megachurch) and yet produce a community that thrives and truly does something in the world?
  5. The temptation of size: how can the church deny our culture’s worship of numbers and yet also pursue the growth of the church and the “making disciples of all nations”?
  6. The temptation of individualism: how can the church seek order and tradition without denying the gifts and needs of individuals?
  7. The temptation of experientialism: how the church instruct and teach people in the faith without turning education into a purely intellectual enterprise, without denying the experience of the faith, and without succumbing to culture’s segregation between knowledge and feeling, between knowledge and action?
  8. The temptation of fundamentalism: how can the church stress the fundamental doctrines of the faith without becoming fanatic, exclusivist, and arrogant?
  9. The temptation of liberalism: how can the church stress the liberality of the gospel and call to serve the needs of the world without capitulating to the demands of society?
  10. The temptation of idolatry: how can the church embrace the manifold nature of life in all its richness (economic, political, aesthetic, intellectual, moral) without divinizing any of these created things and thus undermining the glory that belongs to God alone?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The lack of knowledge of God: ecclesial ignorance

In my last post on what I called “anti-intellectualism,” I focused on my experiences with other seminary students. In the past few weeks I become convinced that we need to address this issue on a church-wide basis. The global Protestant church is in a crisis: the crisis of ignorance. This is a problem that extends to both “conservative” and “liberal” churches and denominations. Ignorance is no respecter of persons; it is a disease that plagues the church through and through.

Most mainline churches have dispensed with catechesis, including the PCUSA, despite having the best modern catechism of any Protestant church. According to George Hunsinger, who helped compose the Study Catechism, at best about one-quarter of PCUSA churches train people with the catechism. Conservative and evangelical churches are split: the conservative Reformed churches are on the whole much better in their persistent use of traditional catechisms (primarily the Westminster Catechism). Evangelical churches—which dominate the American religious scene—on the whole refuse to use catechisms at all; their training in the faith occurs in Bible studies and small groups, but there is little if any training in the doctrines of the faith. I did not even know what a catechism was until high school, and I never even read one until college. I have still never attended a church which uses a catechism.

Let us recall John Calvin’s timeless definition of faith: “We shall now have a full definition of faith, if we say that it is a firm and sure knowledge of the divine favor toward us, founded on the truth of a free promise in Christ, and revealed to our minds, and sealed on our hearts, by the Holy Spirit” (Institutes, 3.2.7). Faith, for Calvin, depends upon the knowledge of God. This was a universal sentiment among the magisterial Reformers. They broke with the Catholic Church for (primarily) doctrinal reasons, and thus they were tireless in their efforts to catechise their parishioners. By catechising and instructing new believers, the early Protestant churches were robust in the faith. If they were persecuted, they knew what they were being persecuted for; if they were called on to present the gospel, they could. When preachers spoke, they could often depend upon the fact that they were preaching to a catechised congregation.

In our churches today, we need to do remedial training. Our churches are fat and lazy (spiritually, though probably physically as well). Our congregations have imbibed at the well of wishy-washy spirituality, in which individual experiences and emotions are sufficient, in which some inner conviction is the extent of faith and knowledge of God is merely a bonus for those who have the intellectual disposition to pursue such arcane ideas.

Ecclesial ignorance is going to be the end of Protestantism if we do not radically alter our ways. The Catholic Church catechises every person who wishes to be baptized or confirmed in the faith, and their catechism is many hundreds of pages long. The average Catholic may not always understand everything, but the exposure plants seeds in the lives of an individual which blossom with a life of discipleship. The Protestant churches need to learn from the Catholic; the reform needs to go the other direction. Without robust communities of faith, without a strong rooting in the knowledge of God, our churches open themselves up to threats, such as the following:
  1. The threat of being asleep when oppression and persecution take place around us. This happened with the church in Germany during Hitler’s reign; it is happening again now in the United States.
  2. The threat of not knowing what the ethical commands of God are for our lives, which leaves us open to permitting whatever the culture around us deems permissible.
  3. The threat of not knowing what salvation is and how one becomes saved, which had led to the propagation of semi-Pelagianism and other forms of individualistic self-salvation which undermine the primacy of Christ’s person and work.
  4. The threat of weak doctrines of Scripture which give the text supernatural status (inerrancy) or merely human status and make our congregations either incapable of encountering textual-historical-critical research or incapable of reading the Bible as the Word of God to us.
  5. The threat of Jesus idolatry and the loss of the Trinity in prayer and worship.
  6. The threat of science idolatry on one hand or of bibliolatry on the other, which leads to a blind acceptance of whatever science and technology dictates or the blind rejection of modern science because of corrupt readings of, say, Genesis.
  7. The threat of individualism in all its forms, whether in salvation or in the voluntarism that plagues America.
  8. Add your own threat here...
Who will educate our churches? Who will address these problems? Who will stand up for catechesis and instruction? Who will raise the banner for theology and biblical studies? Who will demand that our churches teach and preach the doctrines of the faith? Who really cares about the problem of ecclesial ignorance?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Why I Am A Universalist, §8: The Doctrine of the Atonement (Section IV.3)

Section IV.3: Parameters for a doctrine of the atonement: substitution

An orthodox doctrine of the atonement must affirm that God’s economy of salvation is …

(3) … substitutionary. By stressing the substitutionary nature of the atonement, we simply mean that what God accomplished in Jesus Christ was ‘for us’; the self-offering of Christ was on our behalf and in our place. Barth discusses the pro nobis character of Christ’s person and work by stating:
He took our place as Judge. He took our place as the judged. He was judged in our place. And He acted justly in our place. It is important to see that we cannot add anything to this—unless it is an Amen …. All theology, both that which follows and indeed that which precedes the doctrine of reconciliation, depends upon this theologia crucis. And it depends upon it under the particular aspect under which we have had to develop it in this first part of the doctrine of reconciliation as the doctrine of substitution. Everything depends upon the fact that the Lord who became a servant, the Son of God who went into the far country, and came to us, was and did all this for us; that He fulfilled in this way, the divine judgment laid upon Him. There is no avoiding this strait gate. There is no other way but this narrow way. (CD IV.1, 273)
In the first four statements, Barth explicates the substitutionary nature of the Mediator in both ontological and actualistic terms—that is, in terms of Christ’s person and work. Ontologically, Jesus Christ is the God-human: “He took our place as Judge. He took our place as the judged.” In terms of the actualization of his being, Jesus Christ took our place actively in his life of ministry and passively in his death and resurrection: “He was judged in our place. And He acted justly in our place.” Jesus was our substitute in both life and death; he was active and passive in our place. The full scope of his life, including his “cadaver obedience” (Balthasar) in going to the abyss of hell, is essential to the nature of the atonement that was accomplished concretely in his very being.

The concept of substitution is too often prematurely associated with the Reformed doctrine of the penal substitutionary atonement. We need to dissociate the two as clearly as possible. The latter is a particular version of the satisfaction theory of the atonement that was expounded by Anselm of Canterbury. The former is simply a biblical and theologically essential component of any orthodox Christology. Without the concept of substitution, Jesus’ life and death are emptied of any meaning beyond mere examples of divine love. Without substitution, we have no assurance that salvation was accomplished for us in Jesus. Without substitution, the burden of salvation is left upon our shoulders, and that is a burden too great to bear.

The church depends upon the creedal confession that Jesus Christ came “for us and for our salvation.” The pro nobis is the heart of the Christian faith; it undergirds the doctrine of justification by grounding the hope of our salvation in the very being of God. As Barth rightly declares, “Everything depends upon the fact that the Lord . . . did all this for us.” This is indeed the “narrow way” of the gospel, but it is also the way of freedom, the way of hope, and the way of love. God is ‘for us’ and not ‘against us.’ “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)
For us. For our sins. In our place. These are the qualifications of Christ’s person and work out of which we establish our theology. This is the concrete center of our being—the center, in fact, of the whole cosmos. In the gospel story, we discover that “the conversion of the world to [God] took place in the form of an exchange, a substitution” (Barth, CD IV.1, 75). Jesus Christ is the “turning point of the world” precisely because in him the “happy exchange” took place: our godlessness was borne away to the grave by Jesus, and conversely the new being of Easter morning was granted to humanity.
The death of Jesus, however, is not only the consequence of that godlessness but at the same time his bearing of that godlessness. In that Jesus suffers the godlessness of the world, the conflict with the law which he provoked is decided in his own person. For the godlessness which will not let God be God leads to death, according to the law. This cursed death is the fate of a godless world. That Jesus suffers the death which the law foresees for the godless, because he identified this godlessness as such, is the conflict of the law with the law which is decided in his own person. And that is what constitutes the God-forsakenness of the cross. The theological tradition has quite rightly used the category of substitution for this. It is, to be sure, a category which presupposes the identity of God with Jesus. It is only on the basis of this identity that one can call Jesus Christ our substitute in the sense that “Jesus Christ is in Himself ‘for us’—without our being with Him, without any fulfilment of our being either with or after Him—on the contrary (Rom. 5:6f), even when we were without strength, godless, and enemies.” God has then identified himself with the Jesus who made himself sin for us as our substitute. We have recognized this identification of divine life with the dead Jesus as the event of divine love. As such, it is the turning point of the world, because God has interposed himself in the midst of fatal God-forsakenness in order to create a new relationship with God. (Jüngel, God as the Mystery of the World 367)
The “happy exchange” that took place in Jesus is not an abstract theory of atonement but instead the concrete event of divine love. The substitution of Christ’s righteousness for our sinfulness, of his life for our death, is the meaning of the cross. God’s love identifies the life of God with the death of Jesus—whose death is identified as the death of all people—and thus God “interposes himself in the midst of fatal God-forsakenness” as the judge judged in our place. Of course, we must not limit ourselves to the cross and thereby ignore the scope of this substitution. In the Christ event, God also identifies the life of God with the life of Jesus, and thus Jesus Christ mediates on our behalf in life and in death. Our God-forsakenness and our response of faithful obedience are both mediated through the being of Jesus Christ. In him alone, our estrangement from God is destroyed and in its place a dialogical relation of ontological correspondence is definitively established. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
What has in fact taken place in Jesus Christ? We will first give the general answer that there has taken place in Him the effective self-substitution of God for us sinful men. … God does not merely confront him as God and Lord and Judge, but as such He effectively takes His place at the side of sinful man, indeed, He takes the place of sinful man, representing him against Himself His eternal Word becomes flesh. He Himself in His Word becomes man. Why? In order that He may not only conduct His own case against all men, but take up and conduct the case of all men, which they themselves cannot conduct, in that process between Him and them In order that He may be for them what they cannot be for themselves—an active subject and a passive object in that conflict. In order that He may take over on their behalf the suffering and activity for which they are not adapted, which is completely beyond their capacity and will In order to carry through as their Representative the justification which cannot take place or be carried through if they fall short. Not from His own side. Not as God, Lord and Judge. But from their side. As the God, Lord and Judge who is man, servant and judged. (Barth, CD IV.1, 550-51)
In the person of Jesus Christ, God stands by our side in solidarity with sinful humanity. But God not only stands with us (cum nobis); God also stands for us (pro nobis). In Jesus Christ, God exists in solidarity with humanity as our servant while also taking our place and representing us before the Father as our sole mediator. God takes our place as both the “active subject” of faithful obedience and the “passive object” of God’s holy love on the cross. God accomplishes in Jesus Christ what humanity could never accomplish on its own. God thus self-determines in Jesus to be both the judge over us and the judged for us, and in this divine self-substitution on behalf of humankind, divine love exercises itself against the old and for the new: “everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor. 5:17). What has in fact taken place in Jesus Christ? The transition from the old to the new, from sinfulness to righteousness, from estrangement to reconciliation, from enemy to friend, from death to life, from love everlasting to love everlasting.

Seminary anti-intellectualism

Princeton Seminary organizes large classes so that once a week the students split up into small discussion groups called precepts. Yesterday I had my weekly precept for systematic theology. I almost come to expect someone making a lame remark about how they dislike Barth or find theology arcane and irrelevant, and yesterday I heard the following, almost on cue: “I love Calvin. I hate Barth, but that’s another story.”

This was nothing new to me. When Amy and I first arrived in Princeton, we sought some help from a neighbor of ours in moving our stuff out of the truck and into the apartment. He was a senior preparing to enter the pastorate, like most students. When he noticed that one box was labelled, “Church Dogmatics,” he asked me, “Is that Barth?” I responded, “Absolutely.” He then said, half-jokingly, “I don’t think we can be friends.”

I’ve overheard people say things like, “Barth is just too hard to read. He’s worse than Kant.” And a couple weeks ago I had to respond to someone who told me to my face that systematic theology is basically irrelevant and pointless for the church today.

Why is all this happening? I blame two culprits: first, liberal protestantism with its Schleiermachian emphasis on human experience (or, as Tillich would put it, the existential situation), which has ironically given birth to both contemporary evangelicalism and the idea that theology is one of individual experience of God; second, Spinoza and the rise of secular biblical scholarship, which effectively split the church from the academy so that theology is viewed primarily as an academic discipline that has no material relation to the church itself.

How can we appropriately respond to both problems? How can theology be, as Barth would affirm, for the church without succumbing to the hegemony of individual experience? How can the church itself overcome this emphasis on experiencing God?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Trocmé: an irrelevant church

It is not at all surprising, then, that the church has lost its power to witness. True, the church supplies society with honest citizens who carry out their responsibilities. It comforts the poor, whom society neglects. It consoles the dying, for whom medical science has given up hope. But for most Christians today faith amounts to little more than overcoming fear in the face of life’s hardships. And sometimes it does not even go that far! At night, when modern man goes to bed, he no longer prays for his salvation, no longer awaits a kingdom of God, a kingdom he no longer needs, but instead grows impatient because science has not yet succeeded in landing someone on Mars.

Of course, criticizing our current situation is not the answer. It is not the masses who have abandoned the church; rather the church has given up answering the questions people are asking: What will be the outcome of overpopulation: famine or war? What will happen to humanity if nuclear war breaks out? If a totalitarian regime takes over, what will be the future of my country, of my language, of my civilization, and of the moral values they represent? What is the goal of modern science? Will technology free the world from hunger and ignorance or will it enslave us to the computer? What can I do with my limited material and intellectual resources and my dependence on society for my livelihood? How can I provide for the future of my children, improve society, prevent war, or contribute to the establishment of justice and peace?

—André Trocmé, Jesus and the Nonviolent Revolution (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2004; first published in English in 1973), 177.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Are blogs evil?

The Restored Church of God claims that “blogging is simply NOT to be done in the Church. It should be clear that it is unnecessary and in fact dangerous on many levels. Let me emphasize that NO ONE—including adults—should have a blog or personal website (unless it is for legitimate business purposes).” For a good laugh, read the article here.

(Any church that calls itself the “Restored Church” is not only highly suspect but on the fast-track to cult-status. Furthermore, they write: “The Church of God is made up of seven separate eras, recorded in Revelation 2 and 3. Today we live in the Laodicean era (Rev. 3:14-21)—the seventh and last era of the Church. Last century was, for the most part, the time of the sixth era, Philadelphia.” They go on to assert that blogs are indicative of our Laodicean era. This is a point worth ridiculing on its own.)

Monday, October 09, 2006

Fabricius: 10 propositions on peace and war

Kim Fabricius offers a timely and profound set of 10 theses on peace and war. I highly recommend them if you have not already read them for yourself. I hope to offer some more constructive thoughts on the subject soon.

Trocmé: God, the devil, and stupidity

Over the next couple weeks I will post quotes and short reflections on passages from Philip Hallie’s book, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, which is the moving and profound story about André Trocmé and the village people of Le Chambon who together saved the lives of thousands of Jewish children during World War II.

This first quote from the book comes after Trocmé is brought to a police station on the way to a concentration camp. At the station he encounters some guards who simply assume “that anybody who had been arrested was not only guilty of a crime but beneath contempt” (29). When the guards find out that they have helping Jews, they respond with furious statements like, “Oh—that’s lovely. ... You’re part of their conspiracy, eh? We all know that they’re the ones who have brought France down into the abyss.” I quote what follows:
This was a moment Trocmé would never forget. In fact, his overnight stay in the police station in Limoges changed his view of mankind. He discovered people like the captain—patriotic, sincere, but above all, severely limited. These people were capable of repeating hate-ridden clichés without any concern for evidence or for the pain of others. Before he entered that police station in Limoges, he thought the world was a scene where two forces were struggling for power: God and the Devil. From then on, he knew that there was a third force seeking hegemony over this world: stupidity. God, the Devil, and halfwits of mind and heart were all struggling with each other to take over the reins. (30)

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Why I Am A Universalist, §8: The Doctrine of the Atonement (Section IV.2)


Section IV.2: Parameters for a doctrine of the atonement: christocentrism


An orthodox doctrine of the atonement must affirm that God’s economy of salvation is …

(2) … concretely christocentric. The two words—“concrete” and “christocentric”—are both essential for the doctrine of the atonement. The latter takes its bearings from Karl Barth and follows the christological assertion: “He is before all things, and in him all things are held together” (Col. 1:17). By christologically grounding our theology, we allow the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ to shape our doctrinal affirmations and our ecclesial identity. Nowhere is this more important than in the doctrine of the atonement, in which we wrestle with the reality of our reconciliation to God accomplished in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. As Barth states:
In willing to do this and doing it [acting as the Representative for all humanity in his death and resurrection], [Jesus Christ] did what as the Son He ought to do, what He could do in virtue of His right as Son. And He did it concretely as the legitimate bearer and representative and executor of the divine right of creation and the covenant to man and over man. (CD IV.1, 565; emphasis added)
By establishing our theology as christocentric in shape, we do not permit a christomonism which resolves the rich and complex character of the God-human relationship into one particular person; such a theological program is reductionistic and fails to account for the church as the people of God who are brought into a participatory correspondence to God through Jesus Christ. The statement by Colossians is illuminating: “in him all things are held together.” While Christ is indeed “before all things,” he does not dissolve the value of all things nor are all things resolved into his person; rather, “all things are held together” in his identity as the incarnate Son of God. The church, creation, the cosmos itself retain their particular worth and integrity in Jesus Christ, even while they are given new meaning and directed toward the telos of God’s eschatological future. We might think of Barth’s threefold Word of God: though Jesus stands at the center as the self-revelation of God, we also must affirm the witness of the apostles and prophets in Holy Scripture and the preaching of the Word in the church today. In this threefold Word of God, we have a picture of how theology as a whole is structured. Jesus Christ forms the center and basis for our theological statements, which are informed by the tradition and writings of the early church in Holy Scripture and proclaimed today in the church.

The word “concrete” clarifies the word “christocentric” by grounding our theology in the particular person, Jesus of Nazareth. Theology attends to this concrete reality, not to an abstract concept which happens to be applied to Jesus (cf. Tillich’s conception of the Christ-symbol). A concrete theology prevents any kind of liquefaction of “Christ” into other realities: our contemporary situation (any contextual theology), our human experience (liberal theology), the church (Catholicism; Radical Orthodoxy), the world (paganism), or God (modalism). Christian theology is concretely christocentric, and thus it is concerned at every point with the divine reality made manifest in Jesus of Nazareth.

All of this is essential for the doctrine of the atonement. The doctrine of the atonement must find its center in the particular person of Jesus. When we state that this doctrine must be concretely grounded in the christological reality of the cross, we assert that reconciliation was accomplished in the physical personhood of Jesus Christ. The reconciliation between God and humanity begins and ends with him. Nothing and no one apart from Jesus may contribute to the work of atonement. Only the Messiah, the Suffering Servant on behalf of the world, may mediate between God and humanity, and in this mediation, restore the broken relations between Creator and creation that have disrupted the cosmos since the dawn of time. In the rending of the tabernacle cloth on Good Friday, the rent cosmos was made whole. Wholeness comes in and through Jesus of Nazareth alone. In stating this, we simply acknowledge the Reformation confession of solus Christus.

The particularity and exclusiveness of the divine work of atonement is also the ground for its universal and inclusive scope. Jesus Christ, as Jüngel writes (following Gogarten), is the “turning point of the world” (GMW 364). Barth speaks of the history of Jesus as the line that runs through and connects all human history. We could appropriate Tillich and call Jesus Christ the ground of both being and new being—in him the worlds were created, in him “all things hold together” (Col. 1:17), “through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things” (Col. 1:20), and in his particular history, new humanity was definitively established through his life, death, and resurrection. The narrative of the gospel as the universal narrative definitive for all people receives its story from this particular life and from no other.

In conclusion, the identity of Jesus Christ is a concrete identity. The Logos of God is a concrete Word. As Barth says, “God always speaks a concretissimum (CD I.1, 137). The Word of God is not just any word, nor is a word that can be changed to adapt the needs of some particular time and place. By this I do not mean that the Word of God overlooks the existential situation of the one who hears the gospel; rather, what is most concrete and other than us is simultaneously what concerns us the most and remains the most near to us—nearer, in fact, than we are to ourselves. The Word of God took concrete form in Jesus of Nazareth, who by the Spirit remains present to us in our existential situation through the gospel kerygma. A concrete christocentric theology does not neglect the one who hears and receives the Good News; rather it asserts that the Good News is only ‘good’ because we confess the concrete nature of the gospel which declares that God revealed Godself to be ‘for us’ in Jesus of Nazareth, and in him alone. There, in the years 1-30, we discover the truth of faith, the truth of theology, the truth of ourselves, and the truth of the world: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6).

Evangelicals and the loss of their teens

Check out this New York Times article. Any thoughts?

(In other news, this would solve our problem. I just don't have $4000.)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A culture of death ... again and again

The Pennsylvania school schooting was the 100th shooting since the Columbine incident of 1999. That is a shocking reality. The two shootings this past week were also directed against young girls. Rather than make my own comments, I direct you to the insightful reflection by Mike Broadway of earth as it is in heaven. (Thanks to Michael of Levellers for the link.)

Currently Listening: October, 2006

  • Night Ripper, by Girl Talk*
  • So This Is Goodbye, by Junior Boys*
  • In a Safe Place, by The Album Leaf
  • Savane, by Ali Farka Touré
  • When I Pretend to Fall, by The Long Winters
  • The Trials of Van Occupanther, by Midlake
  • Pieces of the People We Love, by The Rapture
I wanted to link to the reviews on Pitchfork for all these albums, but Pitchfork's search engine has been crap in the last couple months. I only got the Girl Talk review to work by chance on my fourth or fifth try. And I got the review for So This Is Goodbye by simply scrolling back through the list of reviews until I found it.

* Most likely will be included in my top 10 albums of 2006.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Heresies of American Evangelicalism, Part VI: Eschatology


Part VI: A Gnostic eschatology


This topic hardly needs an introduction. In light of Hal Lindsey, Left Behind, and the whole inward-spiritual-otherworldly nature of traditional evangelicalism, calling evangelical eschatology “Gnostic” is like calling Catholicism “hierarchical.” That said, I would do evangelicalism an injustice were I to leave out the great strides made in recent years toward a theology of creation that takes into account the criticisms of the environmentalism movement and the need for a theology that does justice to the particularity and physicality of God’s creation in the beginning and the new creation proleptically realized in the resurrection of Jesus Christ that will be consummated in the eschaton. We cannot ignore the positive developments of recent years, but we also cannot forget that these are often viewed as steps backward by many who identify themselves as evangelical.

The problem of a “New Gnosticism,” as many have called it, goes far beyond the bounds of evangelical Christianity. Indeed, we see it most prominently in the writings of academics like Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman, or in the pop fiction of Dan Brown. In other words, as Bishop Wright pointed out in a recent lecture given at Washington Cathedral, Gnosticism pervades both the far right and the far left—respectively, a Gnosticism that attempts to leave this planet behind for a ‘better world,’ and a Gnosticism that distrusts this world and attempts to offer a secret gnosis that will free us from governments, institutional religion, etc. Either way, the lure of Gnosticism tempts us all.

I first became aware of the problem when reading Mark Noll’s landmark book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. One of the pivotal moments in that book came when he quoted and criticized the lyrics to what I thought was a nearly perfect song in Christian worship, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” Noll showed otherwise when he picked out the important lines:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in his wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of his glory and grace.
It dawned on me then that I had bought into a totalizing narrative which captures creation in a hierarchical order of being, placing “the things of earth” in a subordinate relation to “the things of God,” as if God’s purposes have nothing to do with the earth. In this false narrative, reality is dichotomized into two categories—on the one side are finite, material substances, and on the other side are eternal, non- or trans-material substances—and those in the former category (bodies, animals, earth) are subordinated to those in the latter (souls, angels, heaven). The world of “mere materiality” possesses lesser value in the eyes of God, because all material substances are circumscribed by this narrative between their origin in the Fall and their annihilation in the eschaton.

None of what I have said is new to anyone. The neo-Platonism of contemporary evangelicalism has been lambasted by numerous theologians and scholars and I need not harp on its problems here. Before analyzing the available responses and solutions to this problem, however, I think the more interesting question is not the Manichaean narrative itself so much as the ramifications of this narrative in contemporary evangelical culture. How does this pseudo-gospel affect the life of the church in America? I suggest the following two ways, though these are by no means exhaustive:

(1) American materialism. When materiality is merely finite and, thus, eternally insignificant, the door is thrown wide open to mass consumption and hedonistic indulgence. A person is more likely to consume large quantities of low-fat desserts, because there are (at least theoretically) no serious consequences for one’s health and appearance. The same would go for drugs as well, if someone is capable of inventing the equivalent to Aldous Huxley’s “soma.” These are particular, concrete examples within the larger genus of consequence-free hedonism.

Now the average person will immediately object: “Ah, but evangelicals are generally the ones most concerned about piety and right behavior. They declare things like sex outside of marriage, drinking, and sometimes dancing to be at least potentially sinful acts. They preach 2 Cor. 5:10, ‘For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.’ Doesn’t this undercut your entire point?” It would, except that evangelicals see no problem with amassing wealth, spending lots of money on oneself, and indulging one’s gluttonous desire for food. (And many so-called ‘conservative’ Christians are no longer so worried about sexual mores, and the issue with alcohol and dancing is more generational, unless you attend a Southern Baptist church.)

The contradiction in American Christianity seems to be derived not from reflection on the importance of discipleship in all areas of life, but rather from the particular historical-cultural context within North America. The more that this context adapts to present-day morality (or lack of morality), the more Christians in the U.S. feel free to jettison traditional moral boundaries and embrace their materialistic impulses—impulses confirmed or at least described by a Gnostic eschatology, rather than constrained and reordered by the ecclesial practices of radical discipleship. Within the liberating framework of costly discipleship—that is, in the shadow of the cross—we are offered a new economic narrative of giving and receiving, not a human economy of debt and lack established in the context of the market but rather a divine economy of superabundance, plenitude, and self-donation established in the christological context of God’s self-offering in Jesus Christ. God’s alternative narrative for humanity allows us to embrace materiality as a gift of God to be cherished and nurtured in our ‘life together’ (to use Bonhoeffer’s term), not consumed, mass-produced, exploited, and hoarded for individual gain.

(2) American imperialism. Materialism is a relatively obvious consequence, but imperialism much less so. Here, however, I take my bearings from the stimulating thought of William Cavanaugh, particularly in his writings on torture and the nation-state. One of the insights he gained from studying the Catholic church in Chile was the realization that Christians there had bought into the false narrative that viewed faith as a purely internal, non-bodily relation to God. Consequently, Chilean Christians gave their hearts to God and their bodies to the state. We see the same situation in America today, as evangelicalism makes faith into a spiritual-intellectual decision (e.g., the Four Spiritual Laws). Worship concerns the heart, belief concerns the mind, heaven concerns the soul, but sin concerns the body. The ramification for life in the United States is precisely the same as it was for people in Chile: Americans give their hearts and minds to whatever god or ideology they worship, but they give their bodies over to the state (and, usually, also over into purposeless pleasures). The nation-state constructs an imaginative framework (of borders and ideas) that demands bodies for defense, and when bodies are viewed as finite objects, bodies are willingly handed over for finite uses.

I will address the issue of imperialism in my final entry in this series, but I believe the root of the problem lies in a false eschatological narrative that may cry, “Jesus is Lord,” but fails to consider the extent or nature of his Lordship, opting instead to domesticate Christ’s claim on our lives according to the cultural norms of our western society. In a culture that worships many gods, and often primarily the god of America, the Lordship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit must be relegated to a spiritual realm of inner dispositions rather than threaten our dearly held traditions of patriotism, materialism, consumerism, militarism, and individualism.

Solution: Any number of suggestions could be put forward for how to rectify the situation, but I will put forward the following four as starting-points. These suggestions follow the pattern of Karl Barth’s “threefold Word of God”—Jesus Christ, Holy Scripture, and preaching—to which I have added a fourth, the praxis of the church community in contemporary society.

1. Proclaim the gospel that Jesus Christ, as the worldly, fleshly, human God, has reconciled all things in himself. If, in our faith, we think out of a center in the incarnate Logos, the Son of God, Jesus the Christ, then our faith cannot fall into the trap of Gnostic dualisms and spiritualisms. The Son is the one through whom the cosmos was created; the Son is the one in whom God assumed human nature to its very depths; the Son is the one in whom God became incarnate and walked among us. As the writer of Colossians confesses, “in him all things hold together … and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of the cross” (1:17, 20). Jesus Christ is thus the center that holds together all things, both on earth and in heaven, both created and uncreated. The aporia in all Gnostic eschatologies begins with the fact that they cannot sustain faith in the God who became incarnate in Jesus. Furthermore, if we take Jesus seriously, we must also confess that in him we see what it means to be eschatologically, or truly, human. Our true humanity is displayed in the person of Jesus, one who was completely in the flesh and yet also entirely in communion with the invisible God.

2. Interpret Holy Scripture as the divine witness to the reality of God. Scripture attends to the concrete particularity of creation. God’s reality is not “spiritual” or “transcendent” over against the “worldly” and “immanent”; God’s eternity encompasses and involves itself in time; God’s omnipresence embraces concrete spatiality; and God’s transcendence embraces the immanent. Scripture is the human witness to the event of divine self-revelation, and this occurs in, with, and through the particular person, Jesus of Nazareth. Materiality is created, sustained, affirmed, and redeemed in the economic activity of the triune God. In stating this, we affirm that Scripture is not concerned about some “heaven” or “other world” as our “true home”; that our “citizenship is in heaven” means that our identity is not confined to the broken reality of our world today but is rather located in the eschatological reality of God’s kingdom—a kingdom which will eventually establish itself here one earth. In light of this, we assert that Scripture attests to an eschatological reality which is created, sustained, and ruled by God. In other words, the reality established by God in Jesus and which awaits consummation in the eschaton is a reality that remains tangible and creaturely. The “new heavens and new earth” are not the annihilation of this creation but rather its total redemption and restoration into fullness of life. We do not await another world, but rather we wait for the reign of God, in which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will wipe every tear from our eyes and all creation will be brought into communion with the Creator (Rev. 21). We affirm all of this in the prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

3. Preach to and for the concrete human situation. Church proclamation must attend to the material and social matrix in which our lives are shaped. The preaching of the Word brings the ontological reality attested to in Holy Scripture into our existential situation. Preaching establishes an existential crisis for the hearer by bringing the gospel to bear upon one’s particular context. In that the Word of God encounters us, our context is reoriented, our situation is redefined, our old identity is replaced by a new one. If Scripture is profoundly and consistently rooted in the tangible world of food, fellowship with others, and the beauty of the earth, the proclamation of the gospel orients these tangibles toward the glory of God. The reality of God inaugurated in Jesus Christ which we proclaim in the ‘word of the cross’ is one that submits all things in faithful obedience to the lordship of God and calls us to bring our physical selves into the eternal worship of the triune God. In other words, God lays claim to our physical being, including our sexuality, our wealth, our possessions, our national identity, our race or ethnicity, our class, our friends, our family, ourselves. When we preach the Word of God, we must root the message of the kingdom in this world, not in some “other” world. The gospel is the Word of God for us today; the kingdom is for us, here and now.

4. Practice a this-worldly life. By “this-worldly” I do not mean worldliness in the negative sense as debauchery and self-centered pleasure-seeking. Rather I mean precisely what Scripture attests to on every page from creation to re-creation: the call for us to live fully in this world, to embrace the world around us in its entirety as a divine gift for our enjoyment and responsible care. The divine call to live in this world without reservation is a call given to the church. As the church, we are called to embody in our lives now the eschatological kingdom of God’s eternal reign. That means we must submit all things under the headship of Christ, including our bodies, our political commitments, our patterns of thought, and our interaction with others. Scripture witnesses not only to the this-worldliness of the gospel, but also to the radical scope of God’s reign. However, we do not submit our lives to God in ascetic denial or moralistic legalism, because God does not call us away from the world but into the world as God’s sanctified witnesses. We would do well to remember Bonhoeffer’s words in a letter to Eberhard Bethge:
During the last year or so I’ve come to know and understand more and more the profound this-worldliness of Christianity. … I don’t mean the shallow and banal this-worldliness of the enlightened, the busy, the comfortable, or the lascivious, but the profound this-worldliness, characterized by discipline and the constant knowledge of death and resurrection. … By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world—watching with Christ in Gethsemane. (Letters and Papers from Prison, 369-70)
Bonhoeffer writes much more of great value for our topic, but one insight alone is worth remembering: Christianity is faith in the resurrection of Jesus from the grave. The resurrection is the center and basis of Christian eschatology, as well as the denial of all Gnostic attempts to spiritualize the faith in abstraction from the material reality of the body. Christianity rests upon the resurrection event, not in some abstract “redemption from cares, distress, fears, and longings, from sin and death, in a better world beyond the grave” (Bonhoeffer 336). Christianity rests upon the One who was raised to new life, whose resurrection was the divine victory over sin and death. In the resurrection Jesus was not raised with an other-worldly body; this is not what Paul means by “spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:44). The resurrected Jesus has flesh like any other human being, but his is transformed in a way that can only be seen by faith. The disciples could not recognize him on the surface, but illumined by faith, they saw him as indeed the resurrected Lord. Christianity is faith in the resurrection.

As resurrection faith, Christianity calls us to this world as the realm of new life. The resurrection calls us to become agents of reconciliation, yet this ministry of reconciliation is not limited to some internal change or spiritual disposition within human individuals; the ministry of reconciliation concerns the restoration of the relation between creation and Creator. The eschatological hope of the new creation declares that God will bring the world into harmony with Godself. We await the day when God will again say, “It is very good.” Until then, however, our role as agents of reconciliation consists in being priests of this world. We are priests of the new creation, and thus caretakers of the world entrusted by God to humanity as it is being transformed into the sphere of God’s eternal reign. In the time being, we ought to seek peace and justice, fight all forms of oppression (whether political, social, economic, or environmental), and, in the midst of the fleetingness of life, enjoy this world. As Joel tells Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind when asked what to do knowing that the moment would pass, we too must respond, “Enjoy it.”