Sunday, September 30, 2007

PET V: Congregational Homogeneity

Problems in Ecclesiology Today V: Congregational Homogeneity

Congregational homogeneity: an unintentional segregation

The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. once famously said that “it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” Sadly, these words ring just as true now as they did then.

After a 1963 speech at Western Michigan University, King was interviewed by the president of the university. In this interview, he explained his thoughts on this topic more fully:
We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America. At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and [sic] Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation. This is tragic. Nobody of honesty can overlook this. Now, I'm sure that if the church had taken a stronger stand all along, we wouldn't have many of the problems that we have. The first way that the church can repent, the first way that it can move out into the arena of social reform is to remove the yoke of segregation from its own body. Now, I'm not saying that society must sit down and wait on a spiritual and moribund church as we've so often seen. I think it should have started in the church, but since it didn't start in the church, our society needed to move on. The church, itself, will stand under the judgement of God.
King speaks to the church today with the same prophetic forcefulness. Instead of being the agent of change in society, the church is still stuck in many places far behind a society that has had to move on, and rightly so. The church remains under the judgment of God—spiritually moribund and socially lethargic. Even though the Civil Rights Movement is long past, the church has yet to “remove the yoke of segregation,” but now the segregation is mostly unintentional rather than intentional. It’s easier to be segregationist than inclusive; it’s simpler to be homogenous than reflective of the diversity of God’s kingdom.

The Christian church has always sought a certain kind of homogeneity. The ecumenical councils were attempts to identify what right doctrine (“orthodoxy”) over against that which undermines the gospel of Jesus Christ. A “theological homogeneity” about certain core dogmas of the faith is essential to the very being and life of the church. But the pursuit of “theological homogeneity” can also be quite destructive, and in the West it led to the Protestant Reformation. One of the unfortunate—and unintended—consequences of the Reformation, however, is that it seemingly gave Christians a carte blanche to divide from the church in order to establish a more homogeneous local community. Thus began the proliferation of ecclesial communities that became more and more specific in their search for unity and similarity.

But “theological homogeneity” is only the beginning. With the rise of pluralistic societies, people began to pursue, quite naturally, communities that were homogeneous in other respects as well. If it’s easier to share fellowship with people who have the same theological convictions, then it only makes sense that people find it easier to share fellowship with those of the same ethnic background, the same social class, the same income bracket, the same (fill in identifying marker here). Today, the pursuit of ecclesial homogeneity has run amok. Walk into your local “mega church” and you are bound to see a smorgasbord of “small groups” specially tailored to people’s individual interests: groups for twenty-something singles; groups for retired “baby boomers”; groups for teens who like to surf, etc. This congregational homogeneity is nowhere more evident, though, than in the two most prominent social characteristics that still divide churches: race and economic class. Sunday mornings are still the most segregated time in America, except that now economic class is more important than race. Communities are split between wealthy and poor communities more clearly than between Black and White.

The rise of economic division in America is particularly apparent in the current state of public education. This year, 2007, is the fiftieth anniversary of the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision, which officially desegregated public schools. In a recent discussion on National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation, two educators discussed the fact that in this multicultural age, parents who strongly believe in diversity are now choosing segregated schools. Parents will say that they believe ethnic diversity is essential to a child’s education, and yet they will place their child in a school that is socially homogeneous on the basis that diversity detracts from a school’s quality of education. In other words, their actions do not match their words. They praise diversity, but choose homogeneity. Diversity looks good on paper, but scares people in practice. More importantly, what current examinations of education in America today show is that these schools are divided along economic lines, rather than racial or ethnic lines. People are not divided on the basis of the color of their skin as much as they are divided on the basis of their checkbook.

I think the same situation is true of churches today. People choose communities where everyone looks and acts more or less the same. We choose segregated churches. Even though we talk about the need for diversity, we choose similarity. Even though we know that churches ought to reflect the fullness of the body of Christ, we end up reflecting the social divisions in the world around us. We choose congregational homogeneity, whether this homogeneity is ethnic or economic or vocational or something else or all of the above. A lot of this is due to the growing wall of separation between urban and suburban communities. And on top of all this, the divide between “rich” and “poor” continues to expand with each passing year.

I had a professor at Wheaton College who encouraged a group of us freshmen to use this unique opportunity to attend a church community that was completely unlike what we were used to. He specifically told us to find ethnically diverse churches that would make us feel uncomfortable and unwelcome at first. He promised that we would come to experience the family of God in a whole new way. As a result, our class took a trip to a Black Catholic charismatic church in downtown Chicago, which I ended up visiting again because I loved it there. But despite a handful of amazing experiences, I failed to abide by my professor’s recommendation. I feel at home in the church I currently attend, but like almost any other church in America, it is liable to all of these criticisms.

For the sake of the gospel, I hope and pray that the church in America will heed King’s prophetic words. We need to remember that the church stands under the judgment of God, but that it also stands under the grace of God—a grace that can bring us to a glorious new future where unity-in-diversity, not unity-in-homogeneity, is the mark of Sunday mornings.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Barth: theses on church and state

Selected from Barth’s theses on church and state at the end of his 1928/1929 Münster lectures on ethics:

I.2. The church is not an order of creation. It is an order of grace relating to sin. It is not to be confused with ... the lost state of innocence. Nor, according to Revelation 21:22, will there any longer be a church in the consummation.

II.2. The state, too, is not an order of creation. Even more palpably than the church, it is an order of grace relating to sin. It is particularly an order of the patience of God which finds its limit and end in the eternal consummation. ...

II.5. As a human work, and therefore in all its reality, the state too, and even more palpably than the church, has a share in the corruption in which man, far from forgiving sin, with cunning and force pursues his own ends in the struggle for existence. The dignity of the individual state, and the respect that is owed and paid it, can for the following reasons be called service of the neighbor only in an improper sense:
    a. because each individual state ... orders the common life of man and man on the assumption that the right of each must be protected ...;

    b. because the decisive means of existence of each individual state in relation to its members ... is brute force;

    c. because each individual state ... is only one among others in relation to which it relies more or less on the right of might to maintain its existence. ...
III.2. There is no equality of rank between church and state but a superiority in favor of the church. ... The temple is prior to the home and above it. State and church coinhere. ...

III.4. The church, to the extent that it acts as such, renounces not only the appeal to the individual instinct of self-preservation and the assertion of the distinction between right and wrong, and not only the use of external compulsion within or force without, but fundamentally also the setting up and upholding of any rigid rule of law. ...

III.6. The church acknowledges and promotes the state insofar as service of the neighbor, which is the purpose of the state, is necessarily included in its own message of reconciliation and is thus its own concern. ...

III.8. The state for its part cannot be tied in principle to any specific form of the church.

—Karl Barth, “Theses on Church and State,” Ethics, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (New York: The Seabury Press, 1981), 517-521.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Do iPods cause crime?

According to one recent study [pdf], they just might.

Of course, according to others, they are a crime in themselves.

[NYT Blog]

The situational sexual ethics of the Bible

"The most interesting thing about sex in Bible," J. Harold Ellens insists, "is the fact that the Bible does not moralize sex." . . . The Bible resists our attempts to distill it into a universal rulebook because it's mainly a collection of stories and poems crafted over a span of centuries by many different authors, often with conflicting implications. When it comes to sexual mores, the Bible is actually full of "situational ethics." For example, Ellens notes, polygamy is the most common model of marriage in the Bible, and one can still make a strong biblical argument for polygamy in societies where women greatly outnumber men (such as in areas ravaged by war).

Driving home this point, Ellens cites the Old Testament stories where women, most notably Ruth and Esther, employ their feminine charms to seduce men for the furtherance of God's aims (and their own). Far from being condemned, these women earn nothing but praise from the biblical authors. It's ironic that Ruth is upheld as a role model for conservative Christian girls today. Instead of "waiting on God" for a husband, she spotted a good man, followed him home from a party, and jumped into bed with him—violating three "Biblical Rules for Dating" at once.

—Sam Torode (Books & Culture) on Sex in the Bible, by J. Harold Ellens.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The True Family of God: a homily

I gave the following reflection on September 25, 2007 as part of an evening prayer service at Princeton University chapel.
Luke 8:19-21
The mother of Jesus and his brothers came to him but were unable to join him because of the crowd. He was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside and they wish to see you.” He said to them in reply, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”
The start of college is an important moment in the life of a family. Children leave home, often for the first extended period of time in their lives. Parents may rejoice because they have one less mouth to feed, but along with this comes an act of relinquishment, as they entrust their child to someone else’s care and protection. Children may rejoice as they enter a period of seemingly limitless freedom and exciting new possibilities, but along with this comes important new responsibilities and the scary prospect of discovery a whole new family. In short, the start of a new school year is an ideal time to reflect upon the nature of family.

Jesus has much to say about family in the Gospels, and they are some of the most uncomfortable statements in our entire Bible. Our passage for today is one of these very surprising sayings, and it is clearly one of Jesus’ most important teachings. We find the same teaching in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark, though it occurs in the context of a particular conflict with the religious leaders of his day—a context which is missing from the episode in Luke’s Gospel.

The context is simple: Jesus has just healed a man possessed by a demon. A huge crowd has gathered to witness this incredible event. Somewhere on the outskirts of this crowd, Jesus’ mother and brothers are trying to get to him. They probably tell the people in front of them that they are related to the man at the center of this crowd. The word spreads. Finally, someone tells Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside and they wish to see you.” But Jesus responds as if they don’t matter. He says, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.” To any normal person, this would be a great personal offense.

Earlier in Luke’s Gospel (Lk. 2:41-52), Jesus said something very similar to Mary and Joseph when he was a young child. Jesus’ parents lost him on the way back from Jerusalem. They found him in the temple, discussing God’s law with the religious teachers. When Mary asked Jesus why he had blown them off, Jesus responded with another harsh word, saying, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

What these texts have in common is a complete redefinition of family. The true family has God as its Father and whose children are those “who hear the word of God and act on it.” The true family is the family of God, the church, the body of Christ. The family is not first and foremost determined by bonds of earthly kinship, but rather by the bonds of spiritual kinship formed by Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection for us and our salvation. The church, in other words, is our true family, our true home. The early church father, St. Cyprian of Carthage, said quite rightly, “You can not have God as your Father if you do not have the Church as your Mother.”

For those of you just beginning college, who have perhaps left home for the first time, this should come as truly Good News. Though we may have left mothers and brothers, fathers and sisters, we gather together as the true family of God. In leaving the home in which we were raised, we are not bereft of family; in fact, thanks to God’s gracious institution of the church, our family extends in both time and space, encompassing those who have gone before us, those whom we will never meet, and those who have yet to come. By God’s grace, we are all one family. As St. Paul in the letter to the Ephesians writes, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:19-20).

But this Good News comes with a high calling. The redefinition of family that Jesus offers is one that changes our entire identity. A little later in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus proclaims a challenging word to us, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14:26-27). Jesus not only redefines the meaning of family. He also tells us that this new identity, this new creation, has great implications for our life in community as the people of God. We are no longer defined by earthly bonds of blood; we are now defined by the blood of Christ shed for us, the body of Christ broken for us. We are defined by the cross of Christ, and therefore we are to be identified with Christ in that we carry our own crosses as his faithful and obedient disciples.

Let us go forth now into the world in peace as God’s family.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The end is nigh

Few opening paragraphs are so ominous as this one from the New York Times:
Bishops of the Episcopal Church on Tuesday rejected demands by leaders of the worldwide Anglican Communion to roll back the church’s liberal stance on homosexuality, increasing the possibility of fracture within the communion and the Episcopal Church itself.
What do you think? Should Archbishop Rowan Williams finally abandon his mission to keep the Anglical Communion together? Should TEC be left to go its own way?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

New Blog: Treasures New and Old

Joshua, a student in theology at Emory University, has started a new blog entitled, Treasures New and Old. The title comes one of the parables in Matthew 13, where Jesus declares: “Therefore every scribe trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of the household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” Joshua describes himself as a scribe seeking “to bring to the Church and World the long-forgotten (or never known) treasures of Christian history and to draw new insights for contemporary and constructive use.” I commend this new blog to my readers.

Rowan Williams: God is not a UFO

‘I believe in God the Father almighty’ isn’t the first in a set of answers to the question, ‘How many ideas or pictures have I inside my head?’ as if God were the name of one more doubtful thing like UFOs and ghosts to add to the list of the furniture of my imagination. It is the beginning of a series of statements about where I find the anchorage of my life, where I find solid ground, home.
—Rowan Williams, Tokens of Trust (Westminster John Knox, 2007), 6. (Chapter One; H/T Aaron)

John of Damascus on the image of God

From The Orthodox Faith, chap. 13:
The Son is image of the Father, and image of the Son is the Spirit, through whom the Christ dwelling in man gives it to him to be to the image of God.

(Restated in better English: The Son is the image of the Father, and the image of the Son is the Spirit, whom Christ, who indwells within humanity, gives to us in order that we might be the image of God.)
—John of Damascus, Saint John of Damascus: Writings, trans. Frederic H. Chase, Jr., The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 37 (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1958), 200.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Problems in Ecclesiology Today: Update

Classes began this week, so there is no new post in the ongoing series on “Problems in Ecclesiology Today.” Instead, here is a list of the posts so far in the series. You can find this index in the sidebar under “Favorite Posts.”
  • PET I: What Is the Church? Defining the church: yesterday, today, and tomorrow
  • PET II: The De-Catholicization of the Church. The demise of Protestant denominations and the loss of tradition: inculcating a church family in the 21st century
  • PET III: Missional Theology—in vogue or indispensable?
  • PET IV: Women in Ministry
Upcoming posts will be on the following topics: “congregational homogeneity,” Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry, and using sacramental language in a post-metaphysical world.

Paul among the Evangelicals, §4: Barth on Rom. 5 (4.1)

4.1. Barth’s Rejection of the Evangelical Arguments

Barth’s basic critical stance toward evangelicals on both sides of the universalism question is to deny that everyone is saved (contra universalists) by denying that anyone is actually and directly “saved” (contra non-universalists). The primary distinction between Barth contemporary evangelicals is rooted in the fact that evangelicals view faith, justification, and salvation as anthropological realities—i.e., they exist primarily in the subjective dimension of existence. Faith is “your” faith; salvation is “your” salvation. Evangelical universalists and non-universalists alike read Rom. 5 in light of what they find to be a consistent emphasis elsewhere in Paul that justification depends upon the believer’s faith in Christ. The difference is that the universalists see a both-and where the non-universalists see an either-or. In other words, whereas non-universalists argue that salvation is by faith or all will be saved, evangelical universalists argue that salvation is by faith and all will be saved (at some point in the unknown future). Barth, on the other hand, argues that (1) salvation is by the faithfulness of God (rather than individual, anthropological faith) and (2) all are saved because none are “saved.”

For the outline of the complete series, click here.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Jeremy Begbie on the miracle of music

“Music making and music hearing are ways we engage the physical world. Even in the case of electronically generated music, the body is often involved through, say, a keyboard, and patterns of vibrating air are mediated through physical speakers. The physical things we involve ourselves with in music have ultimately arisen through the free initiative of God's love—they are part of the ordo amoris. To treat them as given in this full sense has a series of radical implications for understanding music. The most basic response of the Christian toward music will be gratitude. This does not mean giving unqualified thanks for every bit of music we hear, but it will mean being thankful for the very possibility of music. It will mean regularly allowing a piece of music to stop us in our tracks and make us grateful that there is a world where music can occur, that there is a reality we call ‘matter’ that oscillates and resonates, that there is sound, that there is rhythm built into the fabric of reality, that there is the miracle of the human body, which can receive and process sequences of tones. For from all this and through all this, the marvel of music is born. None of it had to come into being. But it has, for the glory of God and for our flourishing. Gaining a Christian mind on music means learning the glad habit of thanksgiving.”

—Jeremy S. Begbie, Books & Culture (“Music in God’s World”)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

What's the evolutionary explanation for atheism?

Alan Jacobs poses this excellent question as a “thought experiment” in his latest column for Books & Culture.

Blogger question

For some reason, all my sidebar links are in italics. I have no idea why this is the case. It just started today. Can anybody help me?

New Blog: After Existentialism, Light

Kevin is a new student in the MTh program in systematic theology at the University of Aberdeen Divinity School. He has started a new blog called: After Existentialism, Light, which presents itself as “Thoughts of a Systematic Theology student at the University of Aberdeen.” Kevin is taking courses on Pannenberg, Trinity, Christology, and modern systematic theology. He currently has some photos of Aberdeen on his site. His blog will certainly be worth checking out, especially for those interested in the exciting theological work of John Webster, Philip Ziegler, and the others at Aberdeen. I only wish I could be there myself.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Capitalistic art

One of the most influential business books ever written is a 1,200-page novel published 50 years ago, on Oct. 12, 1957. It is still drawing readers; it ranks 388th on Amazon.com’s best-seller list. (“Winning,” by John F. Welch Jr., at a breezy 384 pages, is No. 1,431.)

Alan Greenspan was an early admirer of Ayn Rand, whose circle he joined in the 1950s.

The book is “Atlas Shrugged,” Ayn Rand’s glorification of the right of individuals to live entirely for their own interest.

For years, Rand’s message was attacked by intellectuals whom her circle labeled “do-gooders,” who argued that individuals should also work in the service of others. Her book was dismissed as an homage to greed. Gore Vidal described its philosophy as “nearly perfect in its immorality.” ...

Mr. Greenspan met Rand when he was 25 and working as an economic forecaster. She was already renowned as the author of “The Fountainhead,” a novel about an architect true to his principles. Mr. Greenspan had married a member of Rand’s inner circle, known as the Collective, that met every Saturday night in her New York apartment. Rand did not pay much attention to Mr. Greenspan until he began praising drafts of “Atlas,” which she read aloud to her disciples, according to Jeff Britting, the archivist of Ayn Rand’s papers. He was attracted, Mr. Britting said, to “her moral defense of capitalism.”

—Harriet Rubin, “Ayn Rand’s Literature of Capitalism” (NY Times)

New Blog: ideology is ailing

James Rienstra, a Wheaton alum like myself, has just entered his first year in the MDiv program here at Princeton Theological Seminary. He has also given in to the friendly peer pressure of starting a blog, making PTS the undisputed North American hub of theo-blogging. Check out his brand-new site at ideology is ailing.

Can we redeem Constantianism?

At Sub Ratione Dei, R. Gillingham is working on a series with the provocative title, Working With/For Babylon, Or, Can Constantianism Be Redeemed? So far, he has posted on the Schleitheim Confession and the Constantinian Temptation. The series is a critique of the views presented by Dan on his very stimulating blog, On Journeying with those in Exile, particularly the following two theses:

Thesis 1. Following the examples of Jesus and Paul, Christians should not seek to wield ‘power-as-force’ over those who are not members of the Church.


Thesis 2. Therefore, Christians should seek change within the world through the Church, which practices ‘power-as-invitation’, not through the government which practices power-as-force.

Gillingham calls these theses Schleitheimic, and will seek to critique the views of the Schleitheim Confession (and modern proponents, like John Howard Yoder) in the rest of the series. I am sure this will prove to be an excellent series worth engaging. While I find myself more-or-less in agreement with the Schleitheim Confession, I look forward to seeing how the dialogue progresses.

Here is the projected index of posts:

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Schmemann: faith is an exodus from the ego

Faith is always and above all a meeting with the Other, conversion to the Other, the reception of him as “the way, the truth and the life,” love for him and the desire for total unity with him, such that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). And because faith is always directed to the Other, it is man’s exodus from the limits of his “I,” a radical change of his interrelations above all within himself. ... Faith, to the degree that it is indeed faith, cannot but be an inner struggle: “I believe; help my unbelief ...” (Mk 9:24).
—Alexander Schmemann, The Eucharist, trans. Paul Kachur (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003), 144.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

God’s Harvard?

In his column for Books and Culture, John Wilson mentions the publication of the new book by Hanna Rosin on Patrick Henry College, God’s Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America. Wilson aptly calls this a “tragicomedy,” and he goes on to criticize the overblown statements in the book that Patrick Henry College is the “nerve center of the evangelical movement.” In response to this, Wilson writes, “This is a bit like homing in on a single madrassah and making ludicrously exaggerated claims for its centrality to the global Islamist movement.” Brilliant.

Patrick Henry College is a strange place, to say the least! (1) The school presents itself as an institution that has “a deliberate outreach to home schooled students.” In one of their core documents, they write, “PHC arose out of the Christian home schooling movement and will seek to continue to be the most home schooling-friendly college in the nation.” In practice, this means that the college will simply confirm what these students already believe and have been taught at home. PHC is a college for students whose parents are afraid of the world and want their children to be “protected” from views that are not acceptable. All of this begs the question: Is Christianity so fragile and difficult to support that any exposure to different views threatens to shatter the entire edifice? If so, it would be better off leaving Christianity behind altogether. (2) The school’s statement of “biblical worldview” makes creationism an article of faith: “God created man in a distinct and supernatural creative act, forming the specific man Adam from non-living material, and the specific woman Eve from Adam. The first man and woman were therefore the progenitors of all people, and humans do not share a common physical ancestry with earlier life forms.” (3) In the same statement of faith, the college discusses civil government as a divinely ordained institution; in this section, they place the Bible alongside the early American documents: “In keeping with scriptural principles and the American Declaration of Independence ...” This allows them to justify American political actions by appealing to the original documents of the United States where they cannot find justification from Scripture. And so they posit reason and natural law as an equal authority to Scripture in order to circumvent the sociopolitical challenges that God places upon us in the Bible: “While there are various types, scopes, and levels of government, there are some basic principles that God requires all general governments to follow. Moreover, there are other principles that, while not commanded, ought to be followed. All of these principles are derived from the tenor of the whole of scripture and from God-given reason, which makes plain the fact that human beings ... should govern themselves in equal submission to the laws of nature and nature's God” (italics mine). (4) Similarly, in the mission statement for their Department of Government, they place biblical interpretation alongside the interpretation of the Constitution. Moreover, they view both documents—Scripture and Constitution—in the same way, promoting originalism (“the original intent of the founding documents of the American republic”) alongside literalistic inerrancy. (5) According to their list of nonnegotiable principles, the college states: “We also support the parents' role in courtship.”

Wilson says that, unlike Steve Coll, he never found anything in this book “unnerving.” I gather that, by this, he means PHC is not a big enough deal to cause any real anxiety. The school isn’t the “nerve center of evangelicalism,” even if it wants to be. I disagree with Wilson here, because even though the school is certainly not the center of American evangelicalism, it still represents what I think is a growing contingent of evangelical fundamentalists (or fundalits, as L’Engle calls them). I, for one, am definitely unnerved by this school’s presence.

Interestingly enough, I grew up in the particular segment of society that sends children to PHC. Wilson writes: “To many of these students and their parents, evangelical institutions such as Wheaton College, Calvin College, Fuller Theological Seminary, and Christianity Today magazine would seem to have lost their way, caught up in accommodation to secular cultural norms.” To a certain extent, this includes my own family. Certain members of my extended family denounced Wheaton after it allowed students to dance. In the movie, Minority Report, one of the main characters mentions Fuller Seminary. A family member of mine asked, “Isn’t that a liberal school?” I was also home schooled for a few years, and my family mingled in home schooling circles for much of my childhood.

The end of Wilson’s column is intriguing and suggestive:
Rosin shows how difficult it is for Patrick Henry's students to pursue a strong commitment to conservative activism—requiring them to penetrate the citadels of the mainstream culture—without compromising their own understanding of Christian discipleship and what it entails. Indeed, she shows how even within the narrow, self-defined boundaries of the Patrick Henry community, tensions over how best to be true to the college's mission and the demands of the faith led to a devastating schism. It's a story many lifelong evangelicals will find all too familiar.
I suppose I will have to read the book to find out what the schism was all about. But I can guess. On the basis of my own experience, there is a difficult tension between conservative politics and following Christ’s call. The two do not mesh nearly as well as I was taught to believe growing up. Jesus is radically nonviolent. Jesus is radically against individual possessions and property. Jesus challenged the religious and political structures of his time. And the call to discipleship involves being on the margins of society rather than at the center of influence and power. The PHC mission of training cultural warriors to bring America back to its roots (assuming the myth of an original American Eden is true) requires that these graduates pursue the center over the margin—power over service, influence over discipleship, the way of America over the way of the cross. PHC is thus torn between training Christians and training Americans.

This is the fundamental decision of our time. Will we identify ourselves primarily as Christians or as Americans (or insert your nation of origin)? Will we try to combine the two in some creative fashion that ends up compromising the gospel? How will we raise our children? How will we preach the gospel? Will it be wed to a particular national politic? These are important questions that we need to ask ourselves. If it takes a schism to reclaim the gospel, then the pain will be worth it. But if we can avoid division and pursue unity, let us do so diligently.

In conclusion, is Patrick Henry College really “God’s Harvard”? It depends on what we mean. If we mean that PHC is a central part of contemporary culture and academic learning, then no. But if we mean that PHC is as confused and distorted in their views as many are at Harvard, then yes.

Update: See Hanna Rosin’s responses to questions about PHC at the Washington Post. And also check out the debate between David Kuo and Hanna Rosin at Slate.com.

Ecumenism is about people, not doctrines

“Ecumenism is not primarily about the reconciliation of theologies or doctrines as conceptual realities but about the reconciliation of churches. Doctrines are not trivial to the reality and identity of churches (or, for that matter, of the one church). They are not the total reality of churches, however. Churches are united by complex webs of doctrine, practice, memory, and hope. Ecclesial reconciliation is about the reconciliation of bodies that are formed within those complex webs.”

—Michael Root, “Is the Reformation Over? And What If It Is?” Pro Ecclesia 16:3 (2007), 344.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

On remaining Protestant: more harm than good?

In the new issue of Pro Ecclesia, Michael Root has an essay reviewing the book, Is the Reformation Over? by Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom. The book is an evangelical inquiry into the current state of Protestant-Catholic relations. The book engages ecumenical documents like the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification as well as recent dialogues between Catholics and evangelicals. Like most books with sexy titles meant to grab your attention, the book never really answers the question. But it does point out that what separates Protestants from Catholics is more a difference in polity and liturgical custom than a difference in theology. In any case, Root raises some interesting questions at the end of his article. In particular, he asks whether the continuing existence of the Protestant churches now does more harm than good. What do you think?
Are the Reformation churches over? Does the existence of distinct Protestant churches continue to serve the gospel? ... Is the proclamation of that gospel in all that the church is, says, and does served by the continuing existence of Protestant churches in anything like their contemporary form?

The issue is not whether the contribution of the Reformation to the total life of the church would be better realized if there were not church division. Few would deny that. The question is whether, whatever may have been the case in the sixteenth century, the continuing existence of distinct Protestant churches now does more harm than good, more harm than good precisely to the cause of the gospel that called the Reformation forth.

—Michael Root, “Is the Reformation Over? And What If It Is?” Pro Ecclesia 16:3 (2007), 344.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

PET IV: Women in Ministry

Problems in Ecclesiology Today IV: Women in Ministry

Among Protestants, the question of women in ministry is a problem today almost exclusively for evangelical churches in America. The mainline churches decided this issue decades ago. Unfortunately, the cultural changes that brought women into church leadership in mainline churches had the opposite effect among evangelical congregations. As a result, many evangelical congregations tend to be trapped in a kind of reactionary subculture. But unlike the monastic subculture in the ancient and medieval church, conservative evangelicalism has decidedly less biblical and theological support for its views. This is especially apparent in the question regarding women in ecclesial ministry.

In what follows, I will present the evangelical arguments against an egalitarian position on women in ministry along with my critiques of these arguments. I will then briefly discuss the Roman Catholic argument against ordaining women for the priesthood. Finally, I will present the positive arguments for egalitarianism.


1. Evangelical Arguments against Women in Ministry

1.1. Biblical arguments. The two main passages from the New Testament used against women in ministry are 1 Cor. 14:33-36 and 1 Tim. 2:11-15. The former says that women “should be silent in the churches”; they “are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate.” The latter says “a woman [should] learn in silence with full submission,” nor should a woman “teach or have authority over a man.” The passage from 1 Corinthians is less problematic in light of 1 Cor. 11:5, in which Paul speaks about women praying and prophesying in communal worship. In order to make sense of this apparent contradiction, the later passage in 1 Cor. 14 must be read contextually in connection with 1 Cor. 14:33a and 14:30, which state “God is a God not of disorder but of peace” and “all things should be done decently and in order,” respectively. Paul is here exhorting the Corinthian community to keep order and peace in their worship gatherings.

1 Timothy 2 is more complex. I commend the exegesis of Franklin Pyles (the father of my former college roommate), since I do not have time to explore this passage in detail. The attempt by some to ignore this passage because it is not authentically Pauline is not helpful, since it is still canonical. Appeal to this passage on the part of evangelicals, however, is highly problematic because it demonstrates the way modern Christians opt for proof-texting over careful exegesis. 1 Tim. 2:11ff. is preceded by several verses that cannot be ignored if one wishes to take vv. 11-15 seriously. Here the author states that “women should dress themselves modestly . . . not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes” (v. 9). Some Christians take this verse seriously, but most seem perfectly comfortable ignoring this statement as culturally antiquated but taking the next several verses as church law. Evangelical cherry-picking aside, the passage is very strange, textually and theologically. The argument from the order of creation and Eve’s deception is an unpersuasive and idiosyncratic reading of Genesis. More importantly, we have to read vv. 11-15 in light of 1 Tim. 4:7 and 1 Tim. 5:13-15, where the author mentions that women in the community are spreading “myths” and, in their idleness, becoming “gossips and busybodies.” In other words, vv. 11-15 is not an isolated text but is a culturally situated response to a problem facing specific early Christian communities.

Finally, the Pastoral epistles are themselves not theologically determinative texts in the way that the Pauline epistles are; the argument from creation is used to buttress a response to a culturally particular problem, whereas Paul’s arguments in Romans and Galatians are meant as explications of the gospel kerygma. The exhortations in the Pastoral epistles are thus not blanket norms for all Christians; they are given to specific communities facing specific problems in a specific time and place. We cannot proof-text these later epistles as if they carry binding significance in terms of our present-day ecclesial practice. Instead, we must read them canonically and christologically, i.e., according to what the church has traditionally called the “analogy of faith” (Rom. 12:6). We must read each text in light of the whole, and particularly in light of Jesus Christ, who alone is the hermeneutical key to the Scriptural witness.

1.2. Subordination in the Trinity. Because of the massive amount of biblical exegesis arguing against a traditional hierarchical interpretation of passages like 1 Tim. 2, many evangelicals have recently turned toward arguing on the basis of a trinitarian subordinationism. (See the book by Kevin Giles for more on this.) The argument goes something like this: In the Trinity, the Son is subordinate and submissive to the Father. The Father is representative of male fathers and leaders, to whom women are to be subordinate and submissive like Jesus. This argument is faulty for many reasons. (1) First, the argument assumes that we can read human relations off of the divine relations within the Trinity. This is the same move made by social trinitarians, which is why social trinitarianism is fundamentally flawed as an attempt to legitimate egalitarianism, because then the only thing determining human social relations is whether or not the biblical witness demonstrates subordination in the Trinity (which it does). Christians need to learn that the divine persons are not really “persons” in the way we understand persons. The word has only an analogical meaning at best when applied to the divine persons. The Trinity is “wholly other”; there is no way to determine human social relations from the inter-trinitarian relations. We are prevented from making any such move. (2) Second, the argument is entirely arbitrary. Why does the Father represent men and the Son represent women? If anything, the reverse is more justifiable, since only the Son became incarnate as a man; the Father, like all three persons of the Trinity, transcends gender altogether and cannot be identified with any subset of humanity. (3) Third, if we were to identify the Son with humanity, the only human counterpart would not be women but the church catholic, men and women together. Hence, Scripture speaks of the church as the bride of Christ, and Paul speaks of Christians as those who are adopted by the Father and become co-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:16-17; Gal. 4:7). If we are going to speak about a particular group of people who are subordinate, it can only be the church as a whole who are subordinate before the Lord. In the end, the argument from the Trinity is a complete dead-end. We need to end this line of inquiry altogether.


Excursus: The Roman Catholic Argument

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains why women cannot be ordained in the following way:
“Only a baptized man validly receives sacred ordination.” The Lord Jesus chose men to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry. The college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the twelve an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ’s return. The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible. (¶1577)
Evangelicals will not find the Catholic argument persuasive for the simple reason that Protestants do not subscribe to the doctrine of apostolic succession. Protestants do not see present-day pastors as the present-tense realization of the “college of the twelve apostles,” precisely because Jesus did not choose a “college” but simply “apostles” to proclaim the gospel in a particular culture. God still calls apostles today, and just as with the original twelve, they are called in the context of a particular culture. They are not prolongations of some primal “college,” but are rather prolongations of the gospel. Apostles are messengers of the gospel, and therefore who can be an apostle is determined by the gospel—by the reconciliation accomplished by Jesus Christ—and not by any apostolic tradition in the church. Moreover, ministers of the gospel need not possess anything, including any physical attribute, in order to be a witness to Jesus Christ. On the contrary, as Paul declared, ministers are “clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (2 Cor. 4:7). God’s power is not limited by any creaturely distinction, and therefore who may be messengers of the gospel is not limited by any creaturely distinction. We are all equally unworthy of the call, and yet we are all equally called.

That said, even if Protestants did accept apostolic succession, it is not apparent why women are necessarily prevented from ordained ministry in the church. The decision by the Catholic Church to see Jesus’ choice of men for the twelve apostles as definitive for all future apostles in the priesthood is quite arbitrary. The original twelve were all Jews as well as men, but this not made a prerequisite for ordained ministry. As the gospel spread to Gentiles, Gentile leaders were ordained in accordance with this cultural expansion of Christianity. Paul explains the theological rationale for this expansion of the church to all people in Gal. 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” If the division between Jew and Greek is nullified by Christ, so too is the notion that only men are qualified for ordained ministry. In Christ, all are one. The Catholic Church’s limitation of the priesthood to men only is an arbitrary imposition of gender distinction upon the mission of the church—a mission which is about proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. And proclamation was never limited to men. On the contrary, this mission belongs to all who are identified with Christ as his followers and disciples. In other words, mission—not tradition or succession—determines ordination.


2. Arguments for Women in Ministry

In what follows, I present a number of various arguments in favor of an egalitarian position on ordained ministry. So far I have rejected the traditional evangelical and Catholic arguments against women in ministry. In the brief sections that follow, I present the positive case for gender equality in ecclesial ministry.

2.1. Women in Scripture
. The examples of female leaders is extensive: Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Priscilla, Phoebe, and Junia. These women taught men and were leaders in their respective contexts. Any attempt to explain them as aberrations from the norm misses the point: these women were raised up by God in the freedom of God’s grace. God is not bound to any norm of tradition or culture. God calls those whom God determines to be witnesses to the gospel. Men and women are both called to the ministry, and no custom can hinder the exercise of God’s free grace in calling people to this joyful task.

2.2. Spiritual gifts
. This second point is an extension of the first one—viz. that God graciously grants gifts in the Spirit for the ministry of the church (though Paul clearly states that love is greater than any gift of prophecy or teaching or apostleship). According to Rom. 12:6, different persons have different gifts “according to the grace given to us.” Moreover, the parts of the body that “seem to be weaker” are not only “indispensable,” but God gives them the “greater honor” (1 Cor. 12:22, 24). The gifts themselves are not divided according to gender; they are freely given to all as God sees fit for the consummation of God’s reign on earth.

2.3. Biblical exegesis. Evangelicals generally know the Bible very well, but knowing what the Bible says is not enough. Christians have to know how to read the Bible, and this is not something most Christians know how to do. I have discussed 1 Cor. 14 and 1 Tim. 2 above already, but much more thorough exegesis is necessary in order to do justice to the complexities in these passages. In particular, we have to remember that the Bible is a document of its own particular culture and time, and readers of the Bible must therefore faithfully attend to its cultural specificity, especially in the Pastoral epistles.

2.4. Theological anthropology. Against the argument in 1 Tim. 2:13, Gen. 1:27 speaks of male and female as together constituting humankind: “male and female [God] created them.” Male and female are each constitutive in defining human identity, and thus no division of labor between men and women is justified on the basis of the creation account. Karl Barth’s axiom for theological anthropology is basic for understanding the human person: “I am as Thou art.” In other words, there is no “I” without “Thou,” no “me” without “you.” Human identity is essentially relational. Who “I” am is never independent of the social matrix in which “I” exist. The same can be said for ecclesial ministry, in which the “I” of the pastor only exists in light of the “Thou,” which includes men and women both.

2.5. Christological unity. Several passages in the New Testament are axiomatic for the Christian faith in terms of understanding human social relations. These include the following: Rom. 8:14-17; 1 Cor. 12:12-13; 2 Cor. 5:14-20; Gal. 3:27-28; Eph. 4:4-5; Col. 1:17-18, 3:3, 3:11. What these passages have in common is a universal emphasis on the unity of the church—the unity, even, of all humanity—in the person of Jesus Christ. The passage from Romans and 1 Corinthians speak about this unity as a unity in the Spirit, but the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ and the unity in the Spirit is only possible because of the reconciliation that Christ accomplished in his life, death, and resurrection. If we are going to construct a theology of ministry, we must begin with the reality of our unity in Christ. Any attempt to distinguish between humans—whether according to gender or something else entirely—must first recognize that we are united as one people under one Lord in one Spirit.

2.6. Baptism vs. circumcision. The Old Testament initiation into the community required circumcision, for this was the sign of the covenant given to Abraham by God (Gen. 17). Circumcision, of course, is only for men, and thus women are identified by their male counterparts. In the New Testament, however, circumcision is replaced by baptism of water and Spirit. Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration and incorporation into the body of Christ, and unlike circumcision, men and women are equally baptized before God. Passages like Gal. 3:28 are in a way glosses on the “new creation” marked by baptism: a new reality in which men and women are equally reconciled, equally sanctified by the Spirit, and equally called by God into the mission of faithful witness to Jesus Christ.

2.7. The presence of the Spirit. Connected with baptism, of course, is the indwelling and empowering of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the ground for the church’s mission and practice, and those who are called into the service of the gospel are called in the Spirit. The Spirit is not bound to the structure of the church, but rather the structure of the church is determined by the workings of the Spirit. In his first address to the crowd at Pentecost, Peter quotes the prophet Joel: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy . . . Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy” (Acts. 2:17-18). Here we see that prophecy—a spiritual gift, according to Paul—is extended to all people without restriction or distinction. Clearly, women cannot be subordinate if they are equally included within the gifting of the Spirit. Later, in Acts 15, at the Jerusalem Council, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit is the basis for the argument that Gentiles are included within the church. Peter here declares: “And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us” (Acts 15:8-9). This is reminiscent of Paul’s statements in 1 Cor. 12:12-13 and Gal. 3:28. The point is that the Spirit is poured out equally among both Jews and Gentiles, men and women, and this pouring of the Spirit is what determines the being, structure, and mission of the church. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus Christ, and thus it is not surprising at all that the Spirit brings unity and equality to humanity. As long as we continue to baptize both men and women—a baptism in both water and Spirit—then we must leave ordination open to all, lest we think the Spirit is subordinate to our own human traditions.

2.8. Jesus’ own example. Not much needs to be said here. Jesus was radically subversive in his treatment of women. He spoke to them and taught them in a way that paid no attention to the mores of his own day, which did not view women as equal partners in dialogue and especially not as pupils. Furthermore, we must not forget that women bore the message of Jesus’ resurrection to the (male) disciples. John only has Mary Magdalene as the first witness to the resurrection. Matthew and Mark both note that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James first witnessed the resurrection and reported it to the disciples. Luke goes even further and says that “Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them” told the apostles about Jesus’ resurrection. Details aside, the accounts all agree that women were the first apostles of the good news of Christ’s resurrection. The Gospels go out of their way to make it clear that no male disciple was the first witness.

2.9. The eschatological thrust of the biblical narrative. One of the more important argument is what some call the “historical trajectory” argument. This is espoused well by John Stackhouse in his book, Finally Feminist. I wish to expand upon that view somewhat with a more robust eschatology. There are, in my view, three temporal dimensions to the eschaton—past, present, and future—represented by Jesus Christ, the church from Pentecost until now, and the coming New Jerusalem, respectively. In each dimension, we see an eschatological movement toward or realization of equality and unity. First, the unity achieved by Christ has already been discussed above (2.5). Our equality before God is already an accomplished fact in him. We might speak less of a movement and more of an eschatological actualization of equality in Jesus Christ, which establishes the basis for historical development in the church. Second, we see an eschatological thrust toward equality in the life of the church. We see this, for example, in the way the early church, as recorded in the New Testament, challenged the social norms of their day with regard to women and slaves. That the ancient church did not eradicate patriarchalism or slavery is no argument against the fact that there has been a progressive realization of equality throughout history. Because such equality is rooted in what Christ himself accomplished for us, we can see this progression as a movement in the Spirit who conforms us to what we are already in Jesus Christ. Finally, the eschatological vision of the New Jerusalem is decidedly egalitarian. There is no human hierarchy in heaven, for all social divisions have been nullified in light of the fact that we are now one family gathered together before the Lord. This eschatological vision, once accepted, places a radical call upon the church here and now to embody this vision in its corporate life. The present-tense church is called to manifest the eternal reign of God in its sociopolitical existence, and that includes relations between men and women in ministry. The church’s progression through history is always a movement toward this final eschatological vision. The mission of the church is therefore to manifest the coming New Jerusalem in its corporate existence as the people of God who witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. If the New Jerusalem is a community of equals, then so too is the church. And both the present church and the coming New Jerusalem are grounded in the equality established by Christ himself.

2.10. The mission of the church today. My final point is a practical one. If the mission of the local church is to proclaim the gospel to the local culture, and if the local culture is no longer patriarchal in nature, then it follows that any attempt to hold on to a patriarchal framework is a hindrance to the gospel—or, if not a hindrance, at least not an aid. The exhortations in the Pastoral epistles were written to churches as a way of improving those churches’ ministry. Having male leaders and silencing certain women who were hindering the gospel were necessary at the time to strengthen the ministry of those ancient communities. Today, however, such considerations no longer apply. Is it still necessary to keep women in a subordinate teaching position? Is it still necessary to have a male as a head pastor in a church congregation? Does a male leader actually further this church’s mission in any tangible way? Are the church’s views on women in ministry law or gospel? In other words, do the church’s views on women follow from the gospel and aid the spread of the gospel or are they following what they think are hard-and-fast laws in the Bible? These questions do not apply simply to the SBC; even some progressive “emerging” churches are still caught up in such questions. The question, finally, is this: How is our view of women in ministry consonant with the mission of proclaiming Jesus Christ?


3. Conclusion

It pains me to think about this issue, because I’ve seen what disagreements over this issue have done to local congregations. A major church in Portland is currently dealing with this problem. Unfortunately, this particular church has decided to compromise and find a via media between the two opposing sides. What it did not do is seek to articulate a position that is grounded Scripture and theology and risk making one of the two sides upset. In this brief engagement with the problem of women in ministry, I hope that I have shown which side this church should have taken—and perhaps still will. I can only pray, with Paul, that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give [these churches] a spirit of wisdom and revelation as [they] come to know him” (Eph. 1:17).

Jesus drives a Honda Civic


With 18% of the vote, the Honda Civic was chosen as the vehicle that Jesus would most likely drive in my recent poll. Obviously, this was meant to be a joke, but I am still a bit surprised by this. I expected the Prius (12%) or Smart Car (15%) or Segway (15%) to win, since these are all very fuel efficient. But the non-hybrid Civic won. This is fine with me, since my wife and I drive a 2000 silver Honda Civic, which was given to us by her family (similar to the one in the picture).

The post that got this all started was a bit controversial. The notion that Jesus would drive a car was apparently less humorous and more offensive. My apologies for those who did not find much humor in this. Unfortunately, no one got the joke-within-the-joke when I put the Sabra Gilboa on the list. Sabra (or Autocars Co. Ltd.) was the only Israeli car manufacturer. It’s the car company of the Holy Land!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Amazon aStore update

I have updated and expanded my Amazon aStore so that it now lists what I am currently reading, watching, and listening to. There are also links to pages which show my favorite books, favorite movies, and favorite music. I hope you will check out the store. At the very least it serves to let people know what I think is worth checking out.

NB: Unfortunately, the link to the section titled “Favorite Books” does not work at the moment and Amazon.com is checking into it for me.

Paul among the Evangelicals: The Problem of Universalism in Rom. 5:12-21

The question of universalism among evangelicals has become a hotly contested issue. The release last year of The Evangelical Universalist by Gregory MacDonald is just the latest example of this continuing conversation. In light of these recent debates, I wrote a paper examining the arguments of evangelical universalists, traditional evangelicals, and Karl Barth on Romans 5:12-21, which is one of the most important passages in the argument for universalism. I will post my essay in the sections outlined below.


Paul Among the Evangelicals: Outline of Posts

§1. The Problem: Rom. 5:12-21


§2. The Context of Rom. 5:12-21


§3. The Argument over Universalism in Rom. 5:12-21


§3.1. A Typology of Universalisms


§3.2. The Arguments for and against Universalism


§3.2.1. Does Paul Really Mean “All”?


§3.2.2. Possibility and Actuality


§4. Karl Barth on Rom. 5:12-21


§4.1. Barth’s Rejection of the Evangelical Arguments


§4.1.1. The Faithfulness of God


§4.1.2. Universal Rejection as Universal Salvation


§4.2. Barth’s Partial Affirmation of the Evangelical Position


§4.3. Barth’s Contribution to the Evangelical Debate


§5. Conclusion: Paul Among the Evangelicals?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Paul among the Evangelicals, §4: Barth on Rom. 5

4. Karl Barth on Rom. 5:12-21

Does Barth have a contribution to make to this ongoing debate within evangelicalism? I propose that the answer is yes, but he enters the debate by first rejecting both sides. I will clarify Barth’s relation to the topic of universalism in the following ways: (1) first, I will discuss the ways in which Barth rejects both sides in the evangelical debate; (2) second, I will briefly note how Barth affirms both sides; and (3) third, I will suggest ways in which Barth’s interpretation of Rom. 5:12-21 furthers the conversation about universalism. In what follows, I focus my attention on the early Barth of Romans II (first published in 1922)[37] as the basis for my conversation between Barth and evangelicals.[38]

_________________________

37. ET: Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, trans. Edwyn C. Hoskyns (London: Oxford University Press, 1933); hereafter Romans.

38. Certainly, Barth’s more mature theology in the Church Dogmatics presents a much more christocentric account of salvation, which is equally universal in scope. See CD IV/1, 512-13 for a brief discussion of Rom. 5:12-21. For a reading of Rom. 5:12-21 which takes these later christological insights into full consideration, see Karl Barth, Christ and Adam: Man and Humanity in Romans 5, trans. T. A. Smail (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1956).

Cyril of Alexandria: salvation as participation

“For [Cyril of Alexandria], life consists of participation in God’s life. Holiness and righteousness are participation in God’s holiness. Freedom from sin is participation in God, the one who has never been a slave to sin. If one were to conceive of these characteristics as separable qualities, one could imagine that a person who receives these could then pass them on to another or help another obtain them. ... [T]his is essentially the way Theodore and Nestorius understand grace. But for Cyril, these gifts are inseparable from the person of the giver, God himself. The way God gives us life and holiness is by giving us Christ, therefore causing us to share in the qualities that Christ possesses. Since Christ’s giving of himself to us constitutes God’s giving us participation in himself, Christ must be God by nature, not merely by a grace borrowed from another.”

—Donald Fairbairn, Grace and Christology in the Early Church (New York: Oxford UP, 2003), 72.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

iHuman or inhuman?

There is increasing concern amongst a wide range of commentators that human nature is in the process of being irrevocably changed by technological advances which either have been achieved or are in the pipeline. According to a multitude of op-ed writers, cultural critics, social scientists and philosophers, we have not faced up to the grave implications of what is happening. We are sleep-walking and need to wake up. Human life is being so radically transformed that our very essence as human beings is under threat. ...

We humans are unique among the animals in having a coherent sense of self, and this begins with our appropriating our own bodies as our own. This is our most fundamental human achievement: that of transforming our pre-personal bodies – with their blood and muscles and snot and worse – into the ground floor of our personal identity (see my forthcoming book, My Head: Portrait in a Foxed Mirror, Atlantic Books). Looked at objectively, our bodies beneath the skin are not terribly human; indeed, they are less human than our human technologies. There is very little in my purely organic body that I could say is me. ...

At the root of humanity is what in I Am: A Philosophical Inquiry into First-Person Being I have called ‘the Existential Intuition’ – the sense that ‘I am this’; our appropriation of our own bodies as persons who participate in a collective culture. Even at a bodily level, this intuition withstands quite radical changes. And by this I don’t just mean coping with a wooden leg or a heart transplant, or being able to reassume ourselves and our responsibilities each morning when we wake up or when we come round from a knock-out blow. I mean something more fundamental – namely, normal development. We grow from something about a foot long and weighing about 7 pounds, to something about 6 foot long and weighing about 150 pounds, and for the greater part of that period we feel that we are the same thing. We assimilate these changes into an evolving and continuous sense of our own identity.

This is possible because change happens gradually and because it happens to all of us. Gradualness ensures continuity of memory alongside an imperceptible change in our bodies and the configuration of the world in which we live. That is why my earlier reassurances emphasised the gradualness of technological advance. If I look at myself objectively, I see that I am the remote descendent of the 10-year-old I once was, and yet my metamorphosis is quite unlike that of Kafka’s man who turns into a beetle. My dramatic personal growth and development is neither sudden nor solitary; and this will also be true of the changes that take place in human identity in the world of changing technologies.

Yes, we shall change; but the essence of human identity lies in this continuing self-redefinition. And if we remember that our identity and our freedom lie in the intersection between our impersonal but unique bodies and our personal individual memories and shared cultural awareness, it is difficult to worry about the erosion of either our identity or our freedom by technological advance.

If, as I believe, the distinctive genius of humanity is to establish an identity which lies at an ever-increasing distance from our organic nature, we should rejoice in the expression of human possibility in ever-advancing technology. After all, the organic world is one in which life is nasty, brutish and short, and dominated by experiences which are inhumanly unpleasant. Human technology is less alien to us than nature (compare: bitter cold with central heating; being lost without GPS and being found with it; dying of parasitic infestation or spraying with pesticides). Anyone who considers the new technologies as inhuman, or as a threat to our humanity, should consider this. Better still, they should spend five uninterrupted minutes imagining the impact of a major stroke, of severe Parkinson’s disease, or Alzheimer’s disease on their ability to express their humanity. Those such as [Francis] Fukuyama who dislike biotechnology do not seem to realise that the forms of ‘post-humanity’ served up by the natural processes going on in our bodies are a thousand times more radical, more terrifying, and more dehumanising than anything arising out of our attempts to enhance human beings and their lives. Self-transformation is the essence of humanity, and our humanity is defined by our ever-widening distance from the material and organic world of which we are a part, and from which we are apart.

—Raymond Tallis, “Enhancing Humanity,” Philosophy Now

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Are America's Rich Falling Behind The Super-Rich?


The Onion

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.