The Spirit of the Lord, §10.6.3: Eschatological Limit

10.6.3. The Eschatological Limit of the Ekklesia

The eschatological being of the ekklesia is essentially dialectical: the church both is and is not the eschatological regnum Dei. The triune God pronounces a Yes to the ecclesial embodiment of the eschaton at the same time that God pronounces a clear No. The church is a pilgrim community always on the way (in via); it cannot presume itself to have arrived. Consequently, the church lives in hope. The church lives in Christ, but it lives with the resurrection still ahead of it. The church lives between cross and resurrection, between Good Friday and Easter Sunday: the ekklesia is the eschaton in Holy Saturday. The ecclesial community embodies the eschatological reign of God only because Jesus Christ is himself the reigning God, but Jesus did not call the church to be the reigning community. Instead, Christ calls the church to be the cruciform community of love: the servant community who washes the feet of the world, the pilgrim community who walks the road to Golgotha, the peacemaking community who turns the other cheek, the eucharistic community who dines with the poor and hungry. The church is the present-tense mode of the eschaton but that mode is the mode of the cross, not the mode of the king. The ekklesia is a community-in-becoming—a community becoming the eschatological kingdom of the reigning Christ.

Because the being of the church is dialectical, its identity is totus-totus, not partim-partim: the church is wholly the eschatological community and wholly the community witnessing to the eschaton, wholly the eschaton made present and wholly the present anticipating the eschaton. The eschaton is both realized and unrealized in the ecclesial community, in the same way that Christ is both identified with and not identified with the ecclesial community. Since Jesus Christ is the eschaton, the eschaton is both present in and absent from the ekklesia. The dialectical being of the church is thus a christological dialectic. In the first section we focused on the positive dimension of this dialectic. Our task here, therefore, is to elucidate the limits of the eschatological identity of the church—the negative dimension, so to speak, though never in abstraction from the positive. The following questions are germane to our topic: To what extent can the ecclesial community embody God’s eschatological reign? If the ecclesial community is not the final reality but the present-tense mode of this reality, what are the boundaries between the ekklesia and the eschaton? How sharp is the distinction between the present and future modalities of the eschaton? And what is the nature of this distinction? While it is clear that Paul has a realized eschatology, how “realized” is it? When is our eschatological interpretation of the ekklesia “over-realized”? I argue that the proper differentiation between the present and the future manifestations of the eschaton is found in the distinction between the corpus Christi and the regnum Dei, between the ecclesial body of Christ and the eschatological reign of God.

These questions are repeatedly raised on an existential level by the dissonance between Scripture’s descriptions of the new creation and the clearly old creation within which we live, between the New Jerusalem of prophecy and the “Old Jerusalem” of our present stark reality. These questions are raised on a theological level, however, by the challenge of a popular cultic variation of Christianity—the so-called “health-and-wealth” gospel—which claims that God blesses people with physical and material goods, in addition to spiritual ones. The promise of “health and wealth” makes this pseudo-gospel wildly popular in a world where the rich continue to get richer at the expense of the poor and needy. We need not spend any time dwelling on this false gospel: its rampant individualism, its baptizing of capitalism and class structures, its bourgeois emphasis on certain blessings over others (financial security but not political peace), its neglect of any true eschatology, and its division between the person of Christ and the benefits of Christ make the “prosperity gospel” a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a perversion of the euangelion of shalom that can only enslave and never liberate. Yet it (unintentionally and unbeknownst to itself) raises an important question: What are the limits of the ecclesial embodiment of the New Jerusalem? If God has indeed accomplished our redemption in Jesus Christ, and if the biblical witness to this redemption encompasses our entire human existence as I have argued above, then why should we not expect physical blessings here and now? Is it simply a matter of distinguishing between spiritual blessings now and material blessings later? Does not Scripture preclude any dichotomy between spiritual and physical? And if so, what is the distinction between here and now and what is yet to come?

In order to address these questions, we must return to the threefold temporal identity of the eschaton. Besides its many other more insidious errors, the prosperity pseudo-gospel fails to properly distinguish between the present-tense and the future-tense modes of the eschaton. But the failure is not, as some might suggest, because the distinction between present and future is between a spiritual redemption now and a physical redemption later. It is precisely this error against which I have argued throughout this essay. Instead, the distinction between present and future is between the corpus Christi now and the regnum Dei later.

We must also thoroughly avoid the false assumption that our only two options are a rigid spiritual-physical distinction and a prosperity gospel that collapses the future modality of the eschaton into the present—not to mention identifying divine blessings with the materialistic trappings of modern bourgeois life. The notion that we must choose between a fully inward and spiritual or a fully materialistic conception of God’s present-tense manifestation of the eschaton is a false dilemma. The spiritualized conception of redemption is attractive for many who wish to explain why a person may be “saved” and yet still experience great physical suffering. In other words, it is an easy way out of the problem of evil—not to mention the problems of unanswered prayer, the lack of any discernable change following one’s conversion, the prosperity of the unrighteous, etc. The materialistic conception of redemption is attractive mainly because it baptizes one’s consumeristic and avaricious desires. Both conceptions, however, are grave misunderstandings of the gospel, though the materialistic conception is far more deleterious.

The eschatological distinction between the corpus Christi and the regnum Dei is fundamental to this whole project. I have argued from the start against an inadequate distinction between the present and the future that tends toward a Manichaean division between the spiritual and the physical. A more proper distinction consonant with the covenant of grace accomplished in Jesus Christ must recast the distinction along christological lines. The distinction between these two modalities of the eschaton is thus a christologically-shaped differentiation that corresponds to the distinction between cross and resurrection. In other words, the distinction between the present-tense and future-tense modes of the eschaton has a narratival basis in the story of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection: the corpus Christi is the community of the cross, while the regnum Dei is the community of the resurrection. The cross represents Christ’s humble life of self-donation on behalf of the world, while the resurrection represents Christ’s exalted life at the right-hand of the Father. The distinction between cross and resurrection is not between spiritual and physical, but rather between humility and exaltation, between service and sovereignty, between proclamation and perfection. Correspondingly, the corpus Christi is the apostolic community of proclamation and service to the world, while the coming regnum Dei is the exalted and perfected creation gathered around the sovereign Christ. The two distinct modalities of the eschaton correspond to the two dimensions of Jesus’ incarnate existence: both are embodied, but each is a radically different mode of existence.

The eschatological distinction between the corpus Christi and the regnum Dei does not mean that we should locate certain divine promises and blessings in the present tense while locating others in the future tense. Even if we do not split God’s gracious interaction with humanity along Manichaean lines, we are still theologically unjustified in placing specific blessings solely in the future-tense mode of the eschaton. To use a christological analogy, this error would be comparable to locating divine omnipotence in the resurrected Christ but not in the crucified Christ. What we must remember is that omnipotence takes the form of suffering and death in the modality of the incarnate Son of God who humbly condescended to bear the sins of the world. In other words, we see divine omnipotence most perfectly in the powerlessness of the Crucified One. The same could be said of other divine attributes. Turning back now to the being of the church, we must see that the materiality of God’s redemption of humanity is not solely located in a future form of the eschaton but rather exists in a unique and radically distinct ecclesial modality governed by the shadow of Good Friday rather than the glory of Easter.

The corpus Christi and the regnum Dei are two distinct modes of the eschaton which correspond, respectively, to the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The cross and resurrection together form the past-tense mode of the eschaton which is then definitive, respectively, for the present-tense and future-tense modes embodied in the corpus Christi and regnum Dei. The ecclesial community, as the cruciform body of Christ, fully embodies the eschaton but in a particular modality shaped by the way of the cross (via crucis). The coming kingdom of Christ embodies the eschaton in a particular modality shaped by the glorified and perfected reality of the resurrection. We see the regnum Dei proclaimed in the vision of the New Jerusalem: “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). The corpus Christi, on the other hand, is a cruciform transposition of this eschatological vision: the corpus Christi does not live solely in expectation of the New Jerusalem but rather heeds the call of discipleship by allowing the Spirit of Pentecost to transpose the vision of God’s reign into the key of Christ’s self-emptying donation of love. The Spirit transposes the past-tense reality of Christ’s crucifixion into the present-tense mode of the ecclesial community. The ekklesia thus becomes the body of Christ through the transposing power of the Spirit, who ushers the ecclesial community into the eschatological modality of the cross.

By transposition, I mean the translation of one reality into another, the conversion of one mode into a different mode. The musical metaphor of transposing a song from one key into another key captures my intended meaning: the song is the eschaton and the different keys correspond to the temporal modes of past, present, and future. Transposition refers to the way one temporal modality corresponds to another temporal modality. The primary transposition occurs in the movement from the past-tense mode of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection into the present- and future-tense modes of the corpus Christi and the regnum Dei. In this subsection I am focusing on the transposition between the future-tense and present-tense modes of the eschaton. That is, my concern here is to elucidate the distinction (and unity) between the corpus Christi and the regnum Dei. The concept of transposition affirms the unity (same song) but also emphasizes the important distinction (different keys). Transposition thus protects a realized eschatology without blurring the differentiation between the present tense and the future tense.

The transposition between the future-tense and present-tense modes of the eschaton has its ground of possibility in the identity between the Crucified One and the Resurrected One. The same Christ who reigns eternally at the right hand of the Father is the Christ who knelt at the feet of his disciples in order to wash their feet. The same Christ who judges the living and the dead is the Christ who did not condemn the woman caught in adultery (Jn. 8:11), who said “I came not to judge the world, but to save the world” (Jn. 12:47), and who finally went to the cross in order to be judged for the world’s salvation. The same Christ who calls the nations of the earth to gather around the messianic banquet of the Lamb is the Christ who broke bread and said, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matt. 26:26). The unity of cross and resurrection in the person of Jesus Christ grounds the unity between the three modes of the eschaton: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Jesus, the eschaton incarnate, is thus the unifying center of the eschatological being of the ekklesia. The transposition between the regnum Dei and the corpus Christi has its ground of origin in the fact that these two modes of the eschaton are each transpositions of Christ’s eschatological identity: the corpus Christi is the transposition of Christ as the Suffering Servant, while the regnum Dei is the transposition of Christ as the reigning king. Each wholly renders Christ’s identity: Christ is not partially present in the ecclesial community and partially in the final kingdom, but each is a true and full manifestation of Jesus Christ. The unity between the present- and the future-tense modes of the eschaton in the person of Jesus Christ thus precludes the possibility of either under-realizing the eschaton or restricting the present-tense manifestation of the kingdom so that the ecclesial embodiment of the eschaton is only partim-partim, rather than totus-totus. At the same time, the unity of cross and resurrection does not collapse the distinction between the two; similarly, the unity of the corpus Christi and the regnum Dei does not compromise the clear demarcation between these two modalities of the eschaton. In relation to Christ’s eschatological reality, the present and future manifestations of the eschaton are totus-totus: they each fully embody the advent of God in correspondence to the unity of Christ’s own person in whom death and new life, cross and resurrection, are brought together as the eschatological event of reconciliation.

The unity between the Crucified One and the Resurrected One—as the basis for the unity between the corpus Christi and the regnum Dei—is a unity in the Spirit. The Son’s incarnate existence is lived in and through the Spirit of God: the advent, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Son is a Spirit-directed history ontologically constitutive for both the triune history of God and the history of the world through the unifying dynamism of the Holy Spirit. The Son is born by the conceiving power of the Spirit (Lk. 1:35). The Son receives the Father’s affirmation through the descent of the Spirit at his baptism (Matt. 3:16-17; Mk. 1:10-11; Lk. 3:21-22). The Son is led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted for forty days (Matt. 4:1-11; Mk. 1:12-13; Lk. 4:1-13). The Father raises the Son in the Spirit of resurrection. The Son gives the Great Commission “through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen” (Acts 1:2). And finally the Spirit comes to the ekklesia on Pentecost to fill them with the power of the risen Christ in order that the church may embody the self-emptying love of the Suffering Servant (Acts 2:1-4). The Spirit thus binds together the history of Jesus Christ as a single eschatological event. In particular, the Crucified One and Resurrected One do not identity separate two different lives of Jesus. They identity one life in two distinct modes of being. Consequently, the Resurrected One does not carry on a second existence apart from the Crucified One; it is rather the eternalization and glorification of the mission of reconciliation accomplished in the life and death of the incarnate Son. Similarly, the regnum Dei does not carry on a separate ecclesial existence apart from the corpus Christi; it is rather the eternalization of the corporate ministry of reconciliation carried out by the community of those redeemed in Christ. The crucified Christ and resurrected Christ are thus two distinct modalities of the one Son of God. The Crucified One is the self-emptying modality of the Son corresponding to the worldly existence of the corpus Christi as Christ’s earthly-historical presence. The Resurrected One is the final and unsurpassable modality of the Son corresponding to the eternal regnum Dei in which the triune God dwells with humanity, “making all things new” (Rev. 21:3-5). Both are modes of the Son’s eternal existence as the obedient servant who submits to the Father in kenotic self-dispossession by going into the far country—into the abyss of death—in concert with the dynamic power of the Spirit’s vinculum amoris. The missional identity of Jesus Christ is an eschatological reality embraced by the Spirit for the sake of grounding the ecclesial embodiment of the eschaton in the present-tense and future-tense modes of the corpus Christi and the regnum Dei.

The history of Jesus Christ, in his missional identity as the mediator, is the history of all humanity; in the concretizing power of the Spirit, however, the history of Jesus Christ becomes the cruciform history of the pilgrim ekklesia—the corpus Christi on the way to the cross. In other words, while Christ’s reconciling history is ontologically constitutive for all human persons, it only takes concrete form in the ekklesia by way of the Spirit’s subjectivization of Christ’s ascended identity through word and sacrament. Just as the Spirit of the Father is the guiding and empowering center of Christ’s incarnate existence, so too the Spirit of Christ guides and empowers the ecclesial community. Just as the Spirit unites the two christological modes of crucifixion and resurrection into a single narratival identity, so too the Spirit unites the two ecclesial modes of the corpus Christi and the regnum Dei into a single eschatological identity. The ekklesia thus exists as a community of the Spirit: the ekklesia is born of the Spirit of Pentecost just as Jesus was born of the Spirit of the Annunciation, the ekklesia ministers in the Spirit just as Jesus ministered in the Spirit, and the ekklesia lives in anticipation of the regnum Dei just as Jesus lived in anticipation of the resurrection and his return to the Father.

The ecclesial body of Christ is the present-tense transposition of both the past-tense obedience of Christ and the future-tense eschatological kingdom of God, and therefore the church’s embodiment of the eschaton is both anamnestic and proleptic: the ekklesia remembers the past in faith and anticipates the future in hope. The transposition is not only noetic but also ontic: the ekklesia is both the past and the future by virtue of the Spirit’s transposing and concretizing power. The church both looks and lives backwards and forwards—back to the eschaton incarnate and forward to the eschaton consummate, back to Christ crucified and forward to Christ exalted, back to the death of God and forward to when God is “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28). But the ekklesia embodies both past and future as the community of the present: the church lives out of the reconciling past and from the redemptive future but within the pentecostal via crucis of the present. In other words, the church’s particular identity is grounded in the suffering and crucified Lord, oriented toward his eternal reign within the “covenant of peace” (Ezek. 37:26), and formed by the Spirit who guides the community on the way of Jesus Christ. The Spirit thus transposes the past and future modalities of the eschaton into the present-tense ekklesia, creating a cruciform communio sanctorum for the purpose of proclaiming the crucified Christ as the mystery of God pro nobis (1 Cor. 2:1-2). Here and now, in the present-tense modality of the cross, the apostolic corpus Christi manifests the eschaton by embodying Christ’s obedience to the point of death—even death on a cross (Phil. 2:8). In this way, the ecclesial community lives in correspondence to God’s economy, in which the last are first and the weak are strong, for “God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are” (1 Cor. 1:28). As the community of the cross, therefore, the ekklesia is no less the kingdom of God: the history of the corpus Christi is the history of the coming regnum Dei, just as the history of the Crucified One is the history of the Resurrected One. In other words, the regnum Dei is the transposition and eternalization of the corpus Christi, just as the Resurrected One is the transposition and eternalization of the Crucified One. God’s eternal being is a triune communion defined by the crucified Jesus, and God’s eternal reign is a dominion defined by the Son’s self-emptying love. In the same way, the ekklesia is a community defined by the liberating life of the Mediator, Jesus Christ. The ekklesia is not the future-tense mode precisely because Christ called the church to follow him on the via crucis. By virtue of its apostolic identity, the ekklesia does not experience the final and unsurpassable future-tense form of the eschaton here and now; rather, the ekklesia lives in proleptic anticipation of the regnum Dei through a life of cruciform self-donation in the transposing power of Christ’s Spirit.

The concrete consequence of the Spirit’s transposition of the eschatological kingdom of the resurrection into the key of the ecclesial community of Christ’s crucifixion is that the ekklesia fully embodies the eschaton but in the mode of the cross (modus crucis) rather than in the mode of glory (modus gloriae). The modus gloriae is the mode of divine presence and transformation: death is destroyed, tears are wiped away, the last are made first, the workers in the field all receive equal wages, weapons are converted into agricultural instruments, and the New Jerusalem comes as the covenantal community of the world. The modus crucis, however, is the mode of divine hiddenness and suffering: it is the mode of Gethsemane and Good Friday, rather than the mode of Easter. In the modus crucis, death is not destroyed; instead, the community of the cross walks with the dying, weeps with those who weep, advocates on behalf of those consigned to death, refuses allegiance to those who wield death as a tool of subjugation, and risks death itself by embracing and supporting those who are otherwise lost in a culture of death. In other words, while death and suffering still plague humankind, the ecclesial community is called to embody the way of Jesus Christ by humbly and obediently serving others. The via Christi is thus the via crucis. The corpus Christi follows Christ into the abyss of Holy Saturday by tending to those who suffer in mind and body and embracing those shunned by society. The ekklesia does not experience life any differently in its present-tense realization of the eschaton; instead, it lives life differently by adopting a cruciform mode of existence. The ekklesia does not experience cosmic transformation, but rather obeys the call to practice self-emptying enemy-love. We do not receive physically new bodies; we are made new persons so that we might bless others physically. Our illnesses are not suddenly healed; we are freed for a life of obedience which involves lovingly attending to the illnesses of others. In short, the ekklesia does not live in the mode of divine presence, but rather in the mode of divine absence. In this way, the ecclesial communio crucis follows Christ’s obedience despite the abandonment of the Father and the hiddenness of the eschaton. God’s presence is never self-evident but rather appears concretely in the mediate form of the Suffering Servant. In his own absence, Christ calls the ekklesia to be this concrete presence—not as a community of leaders and rulers, but as a community of servants and friends. By living in the modus crucis, therefore, the ekklesia bears the imago Christi into the world. In this way, the community traveling on the via crucis is no less an embodiment of the eschaton; it is in fact the eschaton in its truest form—the form of obedience unto death.

The “prosperity gospel” ignores the modus crucis and seeks to live in the modus gloriae here and now. This indicates not only a failed eschatology but also a failure to abide by Christ’s own commission to his disciples—to be last, not first; to own only the bare minimum of personal possessions; to carry one’s cross and follow him, etc. The pseudo-gospel of individual blessing does not recognize that Christ calls us to live within the narrative of his passion, not the narrative of his resurrection and ascension. The church is the community that suffers and serves, not the kingdom that reigns. To use Luther’s terminology, the “prosperity gospel” is a theology of glory (theologia gloriae) rather than a theology of the cross (theologia crucis). Luther wrote 28 theological theses in the Heidelberg Disputation, two of which are germane to our topic. Thesis 20 states: “He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.” And thesis 21 states: “A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the things what it actually is.” These two theses are central to Luther’s entire theology, and their simplicity and subtlety make them well worth pondering. Like Paul, Luther is a theologian of paradox, and his theology focuses on the paradox of God’s power and glory being revealed under the form of its opposite—viz. suffering and death. But this results in the need to carefully distinguish between apparent contradictions (paradox) and real contradiction. On the one hand, Luther says that we must perceive the manifest glory of God “through suffering and the cross.” But at the same time he says that the theologian of glory “calls evil good and good evil,” whereas the theologian of the cross calls a spade a spade. It might seem that Luther himself fails to call a spade a spade by calling Christ’s suffering and death the true manifestation of God’s glory and power, but in fact he is identifying the central paradox of the Christian faith—viz. that God made Godself known to the world in Jesus Christ, who is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). In the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, God’s very being was made manifest. God is known in the suffering and death of Jesus and nowhere else. The passion of Christ is definitive for God’s glory, and in order to truly understand God we must fix our eyes upon the Christ who went to Golgotha for us and our salvation. A theologian of the cross, therefore, perceives the glory of God through death rather than through worldly blessings. A theologian of the cross does not engage in contradiction (“calling evil good and good evil”) but instead recognizes and affirms the central paradox of the faith: that “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:27-29). To return to our original problem, the “prosperity gospel” is a blatant rejection of Luther’s theology of the cross in favor of a theology of glory. The “prosperity gospel” does not recognize God in suffering and death but instead seeks God in health, wealth, power, and fame. As a result, they call good (“suffering”) evil and evil (“wealth and power”) good.

The ekklesia is the eschaton in the modus crucis. The regnum Dei is the eschaton in the modus gloriae. By interpreting the eschatological promises of the kingdom in terms of the cross, we will avoid the error of collapsing the present-tense and future-tense modes of the eschaton and inadvertently bypassing the way of the Suffering Servant for the way of the resurrected Lord. We must thus apply an eschatological hermeneutic of the cross to each aspect of our ecclesial existence. A hermeneutic of the cross views the life of the church in the humble light of Christ’s cross, rather than in the glorious light of his resurrection and ascension (which remain for us a matter of confident expectation). As faithful hearers of the word, we must interpret the biblical promises regarding God’s eternal reign in terms of the Word’s self-emptying donation of love for others. That is to say, the eschatological promises in Scripture should be read through an interpretive matrix shaped by the narrative of Christ’s life and death pro nobis. There is no one fixed reading determined by the modus crucis; on the contrary, the dramatic life and death of Christ opens up the acting arena for a wide array of possible interpretations in correspondence to God’s mission of reconciliation. An important example is the community’s relationship to death. As I mentioned already above, while the final-tense mode of the eschaton will involve the consummation of Christ’s destruction of death on the cross, the church lives between the cross and the resurrection, between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, between the death of death and the perfection of new life. The church is called by Christ to follow him into the valley of death by embracing and caring for those who are marginalized by a decadent world turned in upon itself. The ecclesial community rejects the culture of death which pervades our society today in the form of personal, legal, and political violence by advocating on behalf of others and standing with those whose past, present, and future are defined by the power of Death rather than by the greater power of Christ’s death. But the ekklesia itself stands in no privileged position; it is not “above the law (of nature),” so to speak. The church’s eschatological identity is defined by the accomplished reality of Christ’s death and resurrection, but the church’s eschatological existence is defined by the anticipatory reality of Christ’s life of self-donating love.

We can interpret the other eschatological promises of God in similar ways, so that the emphasis shifts from what we receive for ourselves to what we do for others. The shift of emphasis is grounded in a missional theology that focuses upon the ecclesial mission in the world for the sake of the other. The focus is not on our own “salvation” but on the mission of proclaiming God’s salvation of the world, not on our own well-being but on the mission of caring for the well-being of others, not on our own transformation but on the mission of transforming society by embodying the civitas Dei. With this hermeneutic in place, we can interpret the promises in Scripture in light of the missional modus crucis. The promise that God “will wipe every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 21:4; Isa. 65:19) becomes a call for the church to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15) and to wipe away the tears of others by comforting them with the good news of God’s boundless love. The promise that all people will one day “beat their swords into plowshares” (Mic. 4:3) becomes a call to harbor no hatred against another person, to turn the other cheek and love our enemies, to embody a life of communal peace as the ekklesia of God, and to proclaim God’s peace to the world by witnessing to the cross of Christ as God’s definitive rejection of all violence, sociopolitical and personal. Similarly, the promise that “nation shall not lift up sword against nation” (Mic. 4:3) becomes a call to denounce the justification of war and to work together toward a new global community in the knowledge that God alone will bring about the new heavens and new earth in accordance with Christ’s perfect reign of peace. The promise that the Lord “will comfort all [Zion’s] waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the LORD” (Isa. 51:3) becomes a call to environmental responsibility and stewardship for the earth’s resources. The promise that “the oppressed shall speedily be released” (Isa. 51:14) becomes a call to advocate on behalf of the imprisoned, the marginalized, the tyrannized, underprivileged, and persecuted. Similarly, the promise that “you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you” (Isa. 54:14) is not a call to engage in a “war on terror” but rather a call to engage in hospitality and mercy, in fellowship and generosity. By living in the light of God’s strength—made manifest in the cross of Christ—we can embody a life without fear, without terror. The promise that “all your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the prosperity of your children” (Isa. 54:13) becomes a call to train our children in the way of Christ and to bless them with God’s love. We must not revel in our own prosperity but must instead give generously to all—to both natives and foreigners, both our children and the children of others, both our friends and our enemies (cf. Deut. 15:10, Ps. 37:21, Rom. 12:8). The promise that “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth” (Isa. 65:17; Rev. 21:1) is not an invitation to complacency or anthropocentric activism but rather a call for the church to become a this-worldly community that actively invests in this world for which Christ died. Finally, God promises eternal covenant fellowship: “They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul. This is what the Lord says: As I have brought all this great calamity on this people, so I will give them all the prosperity I have promised them” (Jer. 32:38-42). God calls the church in light of this promise to be a community that rejoices in doing good to others, that richly blesses others with God’s abundant grace, and embodies true covenant fellowship in “singleness of heart and action.”

What then of the “health-and-wealth gospel”? Certainly the Scriptures speak of health and prosperity as indicators of God’s favor toward a particular person or family or nation, particularly in Proverbs (cf. Gen. 26:12-14; Deut. 8:1-20, 30:15; 1 Sam. 2:7; 2 Chron. 32:27-30; Ps. 68:6; Prov. 10:22, 13:21; Eccl. 5:19). We see this time and again, from Abraham to Solomon. The fundamental sign of God’s covenantal blessing is the promised land, which is a very material and tangible blessing. Conversely, the lack of health and prosperity is often viewed as a sign of God’s displeasure, though the narrative of Job and certain incidents in Jesus’ ministry complicate that ancient assumption considerably. But there are also a number of passages, particularly in the prophets, which identity the wealthy with the wicked (cf. 2 Sam. 12:1-6; Ps. 49:16-20; Isa. 53:9; Jer. 5:27-28, 51:13; Matt. 19:23-24; Lk. 6:22-25, 12:13-21, 16:19-31). In general, the person who trusts in God is considered blessed, and often in Scripture such people are granted material wealth and long life, though not necessarily. On the other hand, the person who fails to trust in God, regardless of how wealthy he or she may be, is considered destitute. Such people may have become prosperous by the hand of the Lord, but ended up trusting in their prosperity rather than in the God who gives generously to the righteous. In light of these observations from Scripture, what is the proper stance regarding the “prosperity gospel”? Without offering a detailed exegesis of the “prosperity” passages, a few simple observations and applications should suffice for now.

First, the ethics of the Old Testament make it clear that regardless of one’s material wealth, a person or family or nation that does not embody the mode of self-emptying love of one’s neighbor is living under God’s No rather than God’s Yes. The Scriptures are resolute in their condemnation of selfish gain and their approbation of selfless generosity. This is nowhere more clear than in the repeated command from God that the Israelites not charge interest when giving out a loan (cf. Exod. 22:25; Lev. 25:36-37; Deut. 23:19-20; Neh. 5:6-13; Ps. 15:5; Ezek. 18:5-18, 22:12; 4 Macc. 2:6b-8). The basis for this financial ethic is the exodus of Israel from Egypt. At Sinai, the Lord gave Israel a book of covenantal laws to guide and shape the new covenantal community. These laws are meant to replace the master-slave conditions perpetuated by the reign of Pharaoh with a new sociopolitical paradigm: that of justice, peace, fellowship, and friendship. God commands Israel to care for the resident aliens because they were once aliens in the land of Egypt (Exod. 22:21, 23:9). Similarly, God commands them to lend without interest and to give generously to others, for this is the ethic that follows from being a community of the covenant, a community of friends and fellow worshippers of God. In Egypt, Pharaoh proclaimed himself lord, which meant that some humans were better than others, more worthy of praise and loyalty. But in Israel, Yahweh alone is Lord, which means that all humans are equal before God. All bow before the one Lord, creator of heaven and earth. From this follows the new sociopolitical ethic of justice for each individual, peace among the nations, and love for the least of these.

In addition to covenantal law, the psalms emphasize generosity as the mark of the righteous. Like other passages in Scripture, Psalm 37 proclaims that those who “trust in the Lord,” those “who wait for the LORD,” the “meek,” “those blessed by the LORD,” the “righteous,” and those who “keep to [the LORD’s] way” shall all “inherit the land” (vv. 3, 9, 11, 22, 29, 34; cf. Ps. 25:13-14). But in the middle of these proclamations, the psalmist declares that “the wicked borrow, and do not pay back, but the righteous are generous and keep giving” (v. 21). The mark of the righteous is that they keep giving, regardless of their material well-being. The psalmist goes on to say that “I have not seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are ever giving liberally and lending, and their children become a blessing” (vv. 25-26). The promise of land and riches are always a future eschatological promise (cf. Deut. 28:11-12), and those who do receive such blessings (such as Solomon) often end up destitute as a result of their failure to live according to God’s ethic of self-emptying love for others. Here and now, however, in the absence of any abundant physical or material blessings, we are called by God to give liberally to all. The most important indicator of God’s elect community is active love, not material wealth or personal health (though of course one’s identity as God’s elect is in no way dependent on either one’s love of others or one’s wealth).

Second, in the New Testament, the concept of material “prosperity” largely gives way to the concept of spiritual “richness,” as demonstrated by the following representative passages: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe” (Eph. 1:18-19a); “. . . in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:7-9); “and my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19); “to them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). These and other passages indicate that the richness we receive from Christ is a richness of participation in the “hope of glory.” The Spirit awakens us to the knowledge that we are in Christ, and thus are truly rich. Ephesians 2 explicitly connects the riches of God to the “kindness” (love) of God in Jesus Christ, a love which transforms and unites without dissolving distinctions or denying the space of mutual otherness. The amor Dei is in fact the only true gift, because such divine love subverts the enslaving economics of giver and receiver through the act in which the giver eucharistically empties himself into the gift—so that the gift is the gift of his own being—while simultaneously uniting the receiver with himself in a relation of asymmetrical participation. In other words, the gift we receive in Jesus Christ infinitely transcends the realities of health and wealth, because the gift is Jesus Christ. He is the event of the ontologically new that shatters the definitively old gifts of “health” and “wealth,” which are clearly antiquated because they are neither Christ himself nor do they participate in the resurrected being of Christ, but are rather objects without eschatological significance. The New Testament does not turn away from material objects because of an impoverished eschatology; on the contrary, it has too high an eschatology to give such marks of the old world any lasting place in the new world of Christ’s kingdom.

Third and finally, on a concrete level, now that we have received the riches of Christ’s own eschatological identity, we are called to be witnesses of this glorious richness in Christ to others. Our newness of life in the Spirit involves our health and wealth, but in a way that is radically different from those who preach a “health and wealth gospel.” Because we are incorporated into the body of Christ, we are not to expect financial and bodily blessings here and now. That would be a theologia gloriae. Instead, we are called to a theologia crucis in which we do not expect anything for ourselves but instead give everything that is ours to others and seek to make the lives of our neighbors rich and full of health. The blessings of Christ do not end with us; we are called to bring them to others. We cannot and should not expect anything different in our physical well-being, as if Christianity is some kind of magic that will tangibly and measurably improve our present existence. But we should expect to find ourselves called into the service of the gospel, which means being called to love our enemies, to give abundantly, to seek peace where there is violence, and to follow the way of Christ into the abysmal depths in order to testify to God’s radiant light.

Scripture calls us to follow Christ by rethinking our entire ethical framework in the light of his life, death, and resurrection. As demonstrated most clearly in his Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), Jesus reinterpreted the ancient Hebrew laws in his proclamation of the kingdom. In his passion, he reinterpreted the very identity of God and humanity by putting death to death. Finally, in his resurrection, he reinterpreted our lives in the shadow cast by his own new life as the risen Lord. Because of Christ we cannot reference passages from the Hebrew Scriptures without allowing the light of Christ to breathe into them new life. We also cannot interpret Scripture in the light of the resurrection while bypassing the cross. In order to ensure that our sociopolitical ethic is firmly grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ, I suggest we take our bearings from the second epistle of Paul to the Corinthians. Here we find the central verse for understanding the relation of the new covenantal community toward “health and wealth.” Paul declares: “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). This verse is the axiom for a christocentric interpretation of the church’s present existence in the world. The ekklesia follows Christ’s example by becoming poor so that others might become rich—and, of course, “rich” here does not mean materially rich but rather rich spiritually or personally rich. Perhaps “ontologically rich” might be a better way of putting it. The “health-and-wealth gospel,” on the other hand, seeks to either (1) live as if Christ never became poor and forsaken pro nobis or (2) live as if the church merely receives blessings from Christ but does not need to obey Christ’s own command to “take up their cross and follow me” (Matt. 10:38, 16:24; Mk. 8:34; Lk. 9:23). In contrast to the ways of this world, the ekklesia must live as Paul writers earlier in the same letter: “We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Cor. 6:8-10). Jesus Christ calls the church of God, the community of the covenant, to abide by a subversive ethic that conforms not to the worldly pursuit of self-gain but rather to the self-donating way of the cross. Toward this end, the church must discover anew the meaning of a theologia crucis.

To summarize, the eschatological limit between the corpus Christi and the regnum Dei is a limit organized according to the three temporal modalities of the eschaton and defined by the self-donating event of Jesus Christ. The present-tense community of Christ’s body and the future-tense community of God’s eternal reign are differentiated not as two different communities but rather as one community under two aspects—i.e., in two distinct modalities corresponding to the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The corpus Christi is the community of the cross: the community called by the suffering Christ to embody the via crucis and to live according to the modus crucis rather than the modus gloriae. The regnum Dei is the community of the resurrection: the community gathered together by the ascended Christ as one people in solidarity with each other and with the triune God. The eschatological identities of these two communities exist in correspondence to the two distinct modalities of Christ’s own being as both the Crucified One and the Resurrected One. These two communities are thus two distinct modalities of the eschaton which together form one eschatological community, the civitas Dei. The biblical depictions of the eschaton apply to both modes but in different musical “keys,” so to speak. The different modes are thus transpositions of the one eschatological song constituted by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The present-tense corpus Christi is a transposition of Christ’s own identity as the Suffering Servant who embodied self-emptying enemy-love in his mission of reconciliation on behalf of the world. At the same time, the corpus Christi is a transposition of the future-tense regnum Dei, in that the final and unsurpassable form of the eschaton manifests the same eschatological reality as the present-tense community but in a distinct “key” determined by the resurrection. Conversely, the regnum Dei is a transposition of Christ’s identity as the resurrected and reigning king. But in the same way that the Resurrected One is the eternalization (or transposition) of the Crucified One, so too the regnum Dei is the eternalization (or transposition) of the corpus Christi. This means that the reigning king is the suffering servant, and vice versa, just as the regnum Dei is the corpus Christi, and vice versa. We must confess their unified identity at the same time we distinguish between them for the sake of theological clarity. The present community is a distinct form or transposition of the reality constituted in the past and consummated in the future, while the future community is a distinct form of the reality constituted in the past and embodied in the present. In other words, the three temporal modalities of the eschaton are three distinct but unified modalities of the one eschaton—the one song, the cantus firmus—that is Jesus Christ. They each manifest, in their own temporal particularity, the “new creation” established in Christ’s death (2 Cor. 5:17). And because Christ himself is the past-tense mode of the eschaton, the present- and future-tense modes are wholly dependent upon their relation to the past event of Jesus Christ as the event of reconciliation. In Jesus Christ, Deus nobiscum, the different modes find their constitutive center.

In conclusion, how does this investigation of the ekklesia accord with my original focus on the shape of the New Jerusalem as found in the prophets? To answer this question, I need to retrace my steps. This theological inquiry into the being and act of the New Jerusalem (§10) began by looking at the covenantal foundation of the elect community attested to throughout the Old Testament, and particularly in Mic. 4:1-4. I continued by looking at the aspects of universality, political pacifism, logocentrism, and forensicism. The goal in each was (1) to offer a canonical-theological interpretation of Micah 4 and (2) to elucidate what the new community gathered around Immanuel looks like. If the gospel—the euangelion of shalom—is indeed something that has important ontological and missiological implications, then what is the ontic and missional identity of the community centered on Christ? Each successive section in §10 builds on this question toward the concluding tripartite examination of the eschatological being of the ekklesia. The topic of eschatology is, in a way, both the origin and goal of this entire theological project. My intention throughout has been to clarify the eschatological identity of the church, and as a result this final subsection is really the climax of this entire essay on Immanuel.

While there is much to gain from further examination of the eschatological reality of the New Jerusalem, a few things, in particular, stand out as especially important in light of the ground I have covered so far: (1) First, the church today must discover again what Luther called a theologia crucis. We must learn to see both our present existence and the identity of God in the light of Jesus Christ’s suffering and death. We must remember that he had no privileged access to the eschaton, but rather walked the via crucis in humble obedience to the will of the Father. We must remember that Christ experienced the agony of death in God-abandonment “for us and our salvation.” We must learn again that the church is not yet the community that reigns with Christ but is rather, here and now, the community that suffers with Christ, the community that groans with creation (Rom. 8:19-24), the community that lives in hope of “the riches of [God’s] glorious inheritance among the saints” (Eph. 1:18). (2) Second, the church today must be both modest in its own expectations and supremely confident in the reconciliation accomplished in the event of Jesus Christ. We must act in the world in the knowledge that we are Christ’s servants, but always aware that because Christ was first our servant in going to the cross for us, we are free to live in humble obedience to God. We must live in the shadow of the cross but in the light of the resurrection. We must follow the path of Christ—both aware that we are not yet living in the consummated reign of God and confident that “in Christ, there is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). (3) Third, the church today must learn to think and live dialectically. We must engage the world in the knowledge that the church both is and is not the eschatological kingdom of God. We must live as if the church is indeed the body of Christ, the corpus Christi, but also as if the church is not the body of Christ. An ecclesiological-eschatological dialectic affirms that the church is indeed the eschaton made present, while at the same time guarding against the danger of too quickly identifying the ecclesial community with God’s coming reign. A dialectical ecclesiology thus resides in the tension between resurrection and consummation, between reconciliation and glorification. Such a dialectic says Yes to the divine act of shaping the ekklesia into the kingdom of Christ and No to any human attempt to realize the regnum Dei through moral effort. Such a dialectic says Yes to Christ as the one mediator and reconciler on behalf of the world and No to a church that might be tempted to gain attention for itself through social or political action. In other words, as the ecclesial community, we must say with John the Baptist: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30). Only by pointing away from ourselves and toward the crucified and risen Lord will the church truly embody the eschaton as the corpus Christi, the communio crucis, the New Jerusalem.


I'll preemptively respond to the comments by apologizing now for how absurdly long this post is. I post it knowing that no one will read it all the way through (unless you are really interested in the relation between ecclesiology and eschatology), but I also think this is some of my best theological work. So there it is. I've acknowledged how long this post is, so there's no need to tell me.

That said, I'd love to hear back from people, but I'm not expecting anything. :)
Halden said…
I was going to say... (!)

I like this a lot, David and I agree with the way in which you valiantly seek to establish the necessary distinctions between the church and the reign of God without relegating the kingdom of God simply to the future.

However, I have one question concerning your way of coordinating the distinction between the corpus Christi and the regnum Dei with the distincton byween the cross and resurrection in statement such as the following:

"the corpus Christi is the community of the cross, while the regnum Dei is the community of the resurrection"

I fear we may be getting into too much of a binary opposition here. Can we really make an rigid eschatological distinction between the church and the kingdom using "cross and resurrection" as our hueristic? Is the church's existence today purely a cross with no resurrection? I hardly think that a hard and fast distinction of this kind can be sustained. I think you're trying to guard against a triumphalist understanding of the church being conflated with the consummation of the kingdom, which I agree with, but I don't think the way to do this is through making the community of the cross and the community of the resurrection into two temporally seperated modes of the kingdom. It is precisely as the community of the cross that we partake of the abundance of resurrection life, is it not? And is not that abundant life something that is proleptically experienced in present?

That's a good point, and I may need to adjust some of my statements. But I try to make it clear that I use cross and resurrection here to refer to the form of life, the mode of being, so to speak. The cross represents the mode of worldly self-donation, while the resurrection represents the mode of consummated joy and eternal glorification. I certainly do not want to suggest that the church is not the community of the resurrection, as if to say that Christ's resurrection has no significance for the church. That would be way off the mark, to say the least!

I will go back through and see if there are some places where I can make this clearer. It may be that I will simply have to include an extra small-print section specifying what I mean by this.

I would say that we live out of the resurrection here and now in that we live through the Spirit of Christ's resurrection. But the Pentecostal Spirit conforms the ecclesial community into the community of Christ's cross. In other words, the Spirit itself is the gift of Christ's resurrection and ascension, but that Spirit shapes us into a people of the cross. The abundance of resurrection life is precisely the fructifying Spirit who sanctifies the community and brings forth good fruit. But the Spirit sanctifies us for a life of missional self-giving in accordance with Christ's call of discipleship.

This is obviously just an inchoate attempt at a response, but do you have any thoughts?
Halden said…
Well, shit I didn't mean to make the post become longer by any means! :)

Perhaps what I see in the dynamic of cross-resurrection is that they are one movement of God's being-with-us. Kenosis and plerosis are the same movement of the divine life. The translucent body of the Resurrected Lord is the crucified body and the body haning on the cross is the overabundant life of the resurrection.

The problem on the ecclesial level is trying to seperate them and thus "cross" becomes strictly equated with suffering and self-giving and "resurrection" with joy and glorification. Thus we would either have a church of ascetical martyrdom or triumphalist crusade.

Now I'm with you on erring on the martyrdom-cross side of the equation. The church is always walking to Golgatha. But, walking to Golgotha is not merely self-giving it is the reception of God's overabundant love and life. Our walking the way of the cross is our participation in the life of the resurrection. The radical move is to say that cruciform self-giving is in fact the very event of partaking of the resurrection life.

Or at least that's the way I would want to construe the dialectic. I think we're saying the same thing here about the nature of the church's eschatological being, the question is simply if "cross" and "resurection" can serve as a way to express the distinction between the church and the consummated kingdom. I'm not sure it quite works conceptually because of the way in which the kenosis of the cross and the perosis of the resurrection belong to the same movement of the missio dei. But I don't know if I have a better way to express the eschatologial tension.
I'm definitely in agreement with you, Halden. But this makes it difficult for me.

How about this: Could we say that while kenosis and plerosis - the aspects of emptying and filling - are united in Jesus Christ (I affirm repeatedly that the Crucified One is the Resurrected One, and vice versa), they are distinct events in the life of the church? I do want to affirm that a life of self-donation in the way of the cross is a participation in the life of the resurrection, but it's a participation in Christ's resurrection -- not our own. So while I certainly think that the corpus Christi participates in the resurrection of Christ, I want to reserve its own modality of resurrection for the coming eschatological reign of God. In other words, my distinction between cross and resurrection is more a reference to our own existential cross and resurrection rather than Christ's ontologically determinative cross and resurrection. I hope this makes sense. I'm not sure if it's any better, but I'm still working things out.

Look at the paragraphs beginning with: "The transposition between the future-tense and present-tense modes of the eschaton has its ground of possibility in the identity between the Crucified One and the Resurrected One..."

I wonder if you think my statements there help clarify the issue. Also, I'm working on a small-print paragraph to help make things more clear early on.