The Unnaturalness of Death in Light of the Life of God in Jesus Christ

As many of you know I was diagnosed with a rare and incurable cancer in late 2009 called, Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumor (sarcoma); or, DSRCT. By God’s grace that unsurvivable cancer was survived, and I remain alive to this moment. Death is an unrelenting equalizer that is respecter of no person; except Jesus Christ. Death is something we all have intimate knowledge of; some more than others. Some of us have been radically impressed with our own immortality and come out the other side; by God’s mercy. Death seeks nothing else but our demise; the squalid push into the abyss of non-being. But for Christians we have a hope, a hope in Jesus Christ that places death into the realm, in an ultimate sense, of something that has been conquered; conquered by the indestructible life of God in Jesus Christ. Paradoxically, the indestructible God made Himself vulnerable to the frailties of our humanity by becoming human for us in Jesus Christ. In this subsistence, one that he owns for now and all eternity, he faced this scourge of suffering and absence, and in the process put death to death. Indeed, as the Apostle Paul notes, death remains ‘the last enemy,’ but indeed, it is an enemy, that in an ultimate frame, no longer has sting. This isn’t to recognize that death isn’t an enemy any longer, indeed it is!; but it is to recognize that for the Christian we can boldly say, in its face, UP YOURS! But it isn’t just the Christian’s capacity to bodaciously stand up to death, and say SUCK IT, it is tempered by the sober reality that we still yet grieve in its ugly and ostensibly ferocious tilt.

Terry Eagleton, who I think is either an atheist/agnostic, or a Catholic (he definitely once was an atheist, and he seems to still have that sense in some of his writing), in his new book Radical Sacrifice has this to say about the Christian conception of death:

The Christian belief is that in tit-for-tat, handy-dandyish style, the Resurrection in turn brings death to nothing. Its intimidating power, like that of some ranting despot, is unmasked as bogus. No doubt there is something a touch too cavalier about Albert Camus’s comment in The Myth of Sisyphus that there is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn; but it is true even so that  wit, satire and mockery are resources to be stored against one’s mortal ruin. Like the Law, death is an imperious, enigmatic, implacable power which threatens to reduce the human subject to so much dross, confronting it with the paltriness of its own existence and violently breaching its identity and autonomy. If the Law, along with the sin it unwittingly fosters, are for St Paul what brings death into the world, it is also an image of that mortality; and in the apostle’s view the two are vanquished together in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The Resurrection is death not abolished but transformed, reinterpreted, refashioned and so objectively no longer to be feared – however much, like children terrified by a bogeyman they know to be an illusion, we persist in doing so.

Christianity may debunk death, but it also regards it as an abomination. It is abhorrent because it involves an irreparable loss, and thus confronts us with too little; but also because it expose us to an intolerable jouissance, and thus to too much. St Paul has no doubt in his First Letter to the Corinthians that death is the enemy of humanity, one which is outflanked and defeated not by vigorous combat but by being boldly embraced. The theologian Herbert McCabe speaks bluntly of death as ‘an outrage’. There is no way in which we can prove equal to its crazed immoderateness. Like the Freudian superego, its demands are absurdly extreme. Like the superego, too, it lacks the good sense to recognise that we are scarcely capable of acceding to them.

For the Christian Gospel, death is to be accepted but not endorsed. The philosopher Gabriel Marcel speaks of a ‘non-capitulating acceptance’ of it. We should not allow its two-a-penny nature to blunt our sense of its importunity, like respectable citizens who turn an embarrassed blind eye to some piece of Dadaist lunacy in their midst. It is violent, excessive and unmannerly, tearing us from our loved ones and consigning our projects contemptuously to the dust. The fact that it is also natural – the way the species bears in upon the individual, as Marx comments – is no consolation. Typhoid is natural. If we ought freely to submit to death’s indignity, it is not because there is anything in the least tolerable about it, but because to do so involves a form of self-giving, which is also the most estimable way to live.[1]

I was scared, to the point of being pushed beyond a ‘normal’ range of anxiety, the whole time I was infected with the death of my cancer. I knew that I would be in the presence of my Lord, soon and very soon; at least that is was what the prognosis said. I also knew that the Lord I served is the firstborn from the dead, and that if He wanted to give me a taste of the eschatological now, He could; He could heal me; and He did!

One thing I never thought was that death was ‘natural.’ Death is only natural for those without eyes of faith. The death of Christ tells us that death is anything but natural; it tells us that what God has ultimately deemed as natural—both as protos and eschatos—is eternal life and reconciled bliss with Him. This is what pressed upon me in my cancer. I knew death was not natural, and in that sense it remains ‘the last enemy.’ It is its unnaturalness that presses us up against the naturalness of God’s triune life. There is a sense of bleak forsakenness attendant in death that seems to rip asunder the fabric of life itself; i.e. God’s triune life. We hear this shriek of unnaturalness in Jesus’s final death cry on the cross eloi, eloi lama sabachtani ‘my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ Life is God’s life; life is what God has given us from Himself in the Grace of His life in Jesus Christ. To be slung into the Athanasian non-being flings us into a seeming pit where all that is natural is being disintegrated and dissolved into nothingness. Herein, death’s unnaturalness is seen for what it is in the very death of God become human, in Christ. I felt this unnaturalness, we all at various levels feel this unnaturalness, only to be reminded, as Christians, that those are only the real-life death shrieks of a forsakenness already unbegotten for us in the only begotten life for us in God’s Son. This isn’t to minimize the utter loss of death and its total dread; indeed, it is to fully acknowledge and interpret that in the light of Jesus Christ.

Did Jesus’s death only ‘reinterpret’ death for us, as Eagleton suggests? No, I don’t think so. Death has actually been vanquished by Christ entering into its non-beingness and subverting it by the being of His indestructible life; the life He has eternally shared with the Father by the Holy Spirit’s koinonia.

[1] Terry Eagleton, Radical Sacrifice (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2018), Loc. 1133, 1140, 1148.

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Jesus, the ‘Great Shema’ of Israel in I Corinthians 8.6

I am currently working my way through Richard Bauckham’s book Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity. In it, he offers an important exegetical analysis of I Corinthians 8.6; the passage where Paul refers to Jesus as LORD in terms of the ‘Great Shema’ of Deuteronomy 6.4. Bauckham is making the broader argument that Jesus’ inclusion in the monotheistic faith of Israel is not an artificial amendment, but instead in keeping with the monolatry of the Hebrew faith and reality vis-à-vis its theology proper. Within this broader argument Bauckham offers this important development of I Cor 8.6. Let me share that for us, and allow it to stand as a future reference for my own purposes; and maybe yours.

Paul’s concern in this context is explicitly monotheistic. The issue of eating meat offered to idols and participation in temple banquets is an instance of the highly traditional Jewish monotheistic concern for loyalty to the only true God in a context of pagan polytheistic worship. What Paul does is to maintain this Jewish monotheistic concern in a Christian interpretation for which loyalty to the only true God entails loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ. He takes up from the Corinthians’ letter (at the end of verse 4) the typical Jewish monotheistic formula ‘there is no God except one’ in order to agree with it and to give, in verse 6, his own fuller monotheistic formulation, which contrasts the ‘many gods and many lords’ of the Corinthians’ pagan environment (verse 5) with the one God and one Lord to whom Christians owe exclusive allegiance.

Verse 6 is a carefully formulated statement,

(a) but for us [there is] one God, the Father,

(b) from whom [are] all things and we for him,

(c) and one Lord, Jesus Christ,

(d) through whom [are] all things and we through him.

The statement has been composed from two sources, both clearly recognizable. One is the Shema, the classic Jewish statement of the uniqueness of God, taken from the Torah itself, recited twice daily by all observant Jews, as we noticed in section 1. It is now commonly recognized that Paul has here adapted the Shema and produced, as it were, a Christian version of it. Not so widely recognized is the full significance of this. In the first and third lines of Paul’s formula (labelled a and c above), Paul has, in face, reproduced all the words of the statement about YHWH in the Shema (Deut. 6:4: ‘The LORD our God, the LORD, is one’), but Paul has rearranged the words in such a way as to produce an affirmation of both one God, the Father, and on Lord, Jesus Christ. It should be quite clear that Paul is including the Lord Jesus Christ in the unique divine identity. He is redefining monotheism as christological  monotheism. If he were understood as adding the one Lord to the one God of whom the Shema speaks, then, from the perspective of Jewish monotheism, he would certainly be producing, not christological monotheism, but outright ditheism. The addition of a unique Lord to the unique God of the Shema would flatly contradict the uniqueness of the latter. The only possible way to understand Paul as maintaining monotheism is to understand him to be including Jesus in the unique identity of the one God affirmed in the Shema. But this is, in any case, clear from the fact that the term ‘Lord’, applied here to Jesus as the ‘one Lord’, is taken from the Shema itself. Paul is not adding to the one God of the Shema a ‘Lord’ the Shema does not mention. He is identifying Jesus as the ‘Lord’ whom the Shema affirms to be one. Thus, in Paul’s quite unprecedented reformulation of the Shema, the unique identity of the one God consists of the one God, the Father, and the one Lord, his Messiah. Contrary to what many exegetes who have not sufficiently understood the way in which the unique identity of God was understood in Second Temple Judaism seem to suppose, by including Jesus in this unique identity Paul is certainly not repudiating Jewish monotheism, whereas were he merely associating Jesus with the unique God he certainly would be repudiating monotheism.[1]

Bauckham explains himself well; not much left for me to say. Other than that, it is clear that Jesus’ divinity, within a Hebraic monotheistic framework, is not incompatible, but quite coherent. For the Jew, Paul, to advocate for worship of Jesus as Lord, either makes him a proponent of rank idolatry, or instead makes him a faithful Jewish reader of Torah, who understood, along with the rest of the Jews of his day, what Jesus’s claim was, and how that ought to be understood for the Christian complex and shape as a whole.

Jesus, according to the Apostle Paul, is the ‘Great Shema’ of Israel. This should not be understood, as Bauckham argues, as an artificial imposition of some foreign category (like from the Greeks) of divinity onto the monotheistic faith of the Jews; but instead, a natural occurrence of it in keeping with the Promises of the TaNaKh.

I Cor 8.6 is one of the most important passages in the New Testament that attest to the divinity of Christ within the monotheistic framework of the Hebrews. When thinking the identity of Christ all of these types of data must be critically considered by Jesus’ detractors; or at least by those who operate under confused or abstract presentations and thus understandings of who the Christ actually is. According to the New Testament witness, and Christ’s own witness therein, he is the Holy One of Israel, who is Yaweh, One with the Father, and the One who is the Shema or Name that Israel has been chosen to bear to the world-cosmos at large.

 

[1] Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 27-8.

Jesus is God’s ‘Space’ for Us: In Contest with ‘Container’ Notions of Space

An important undervalued or critically engaged with locus in current Reformed retrievals of theology has to do with ‘space’ vis-à-vis God. The way we think space, and its other corollary, time, has important features attendant to it that implicate the way we think God’s relationship to us. In other words, theories of causation, participation, and koinonia are given shape by the way we approach this particular locus and/or loci. Thomas Torrance argues that the Patristics, particularly, Athanasius, imbibed a critical conception of space that was oriented by a relational conception that was given impetus by reflecting deeply into the paradeigmata (pointer) of the Incarnation itself. In other words, as Torrance maintains, with reference to Athanasius et al., the normal (of the time) Platonic, Aristotelian, or even Stoic conceptions thought space in ways that ultimately were antithetical to the Gospel’s Revelation of God’s relation to us; albeit, Torrance does acknowledge that the Stoic notion of an embodied space had closer resonances to the implications of the Gospel features versus other alternatives. Torrance’s greatest concern was to move away from what he calls a ‘container’ notion of space-time wherein the limit of space was dictated by a stable center that ultimately was unmoved; thus, injecting a mechanical notion into time-space wherein there is no room for a dynamic relational understanding of space that is demanded by the Incarnation itself. Torrance writes, after giving a sketch of Aristotle’s conception of space,

Two problems may be noted here. Aristotle’s thought is clearly governed by his demand for a point of absolute rest as the centre of reference for the understanding of change and transition. If everything were in flux we would have no standard by which to gauge anything. That centre of immobility was supplied by Aristotle’s cosmology by the centre of the material universe, for although it rotated it did not move forwards or change place. Thus although from his approach to the notion of space through the examination of movement in and out of place, Aristotle appeared to offer a dynamic view of space, he offered instead a rather static concept grounded finally upon relation to a point of absolute rest, which was of course in line with his doctrine of the ‘unmoved Mover’. The definition of place as the first unmoved limit of the container involved a further problem, for in equating being in place with a particular volume, it also equated volume with a spatial magnitude. The effect of this predominately volumetric notion of space was not only to isolate the notion of space from that of time, with all the paradoxes that involves, but to import such a rigidity into the concept of space that it could only be made flexible through a highly artificial disjunction of substance from accidents—the endless difficulties of Western Medieval theology at these points may be taken as sufficient commentary upon these problems.[1]

But Torrance understands another way, along with Athanasius and others. The way Torrance proposes, with many of the Fathers, is the way that is certainly working with the grammar provided for by such systems of thought like Plato, the Stoics, and others provided; but this way takes the grammatical of such systems and reifies it under the pressure of God’s Self Revelation in Jesus Christ (Torrance calls this kata physin ‘according to the nature of’ way). The result of this is to think of God’s relations with us through a personalist and relationally charged ‘metaphysic,’ one that is given illumination by the bond that has eternally cohered between the Father of the Son and the Son of the Father in koinonia by the Holy Spirit. This presents us, according to Torrance, with an alternative, and even spermatic way to think of the space that God has provided for, in Himself, as His relation to, with, and for us. The space is charged with the pleroma, or fullness of God; God who is by nature a multiplicity of relation in the persons as the Singular God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Torrance writes with eloquence:

In the nature of the case, the paradeigmata . . . that we employ in theology are not those we choose, but those that are thrust upon us through divine revelation, and which have their ultimate ground, correction and validity in the relation between the Father and the Incarnate Son, and the Incarnate Son and the Father. That is the relation that bridges the separation . . . between God and man and supplies the epistemological basis for all theological concepts, and therefore for our understanding of the relation between their creaturely content and the reality of God Himself. It is in Christ that the objective reality of God is intelligibly linked with creaturely and physical forms of thought, so that the latter may be adapted and given an orientation enabling them to direct our minds to what God really makes known of Himself, although in view of His infinite nature they will not be able to seize hold of Him as He is in Himself.

It was by using paradeigma in this way that Athanasius sought to relate the being and activity of the Son of God to bodily place . . . when He entered into our human space . . . and became man, without leaving God’s ‘place’ and without leaving the universe devoid of His presence and rule. Since space is regarded here from a central point in the creative and redemptive activity of God in Christ, the concepts of space as infinite receptacle or infinite substance, or as extension conceived as essence of matter, or as a mere necessity of our human apprehension, and certainly the concept of space in terms of the ultimate immobile limit of the container independent of time, all fall away, and instead there emerges a concept of space in terms of the ontological and dynamic relations between God and the physical universe established in creation and incarnation. Space is here a differential concept that is essentially open-ended, for it is defined in accordance with the interaction between God and man, eternal and contingent happening. It is treated as a sort of coordinate system (to use a later expression) between two horizontal dimensions, space and time, and one vertical dimension, relation to God. In this kind of coordination, space and time are given a sort of trans-worldly aspect in which they are open to the transcendent ground of the order they bear within nature. This means that the concept of space which we use in the Nicene Creed is one that is relatively closed, so to speak, on our side where it has to do with physical existence, but is one which is infinitely open on God’s side. This is why frequently when Byzantine art sought express this ikonically it deliberately reversed the natural perspective of the dais upon which Christ was represented. The Son of God become man could not be presented as one who had become so confined in the limits of the body that the universe was left empty of His government. He could not be represented, therefore, as captured by lines which when produced upwards met at some point in finite space, but only between lines which even when produced to infinity could never meet, for they reached out on either side into the absolute openness and eternity of the transcendent God.[2]

Earlier I noted that current retrievals of Reformed theology have not really attended to the subject matter we are considering alongside Torrance. They have failed to recognize what Torrance has emphasized; that is, that the mechanical and ‘static’ world of Aristotle, which shapes so much of the Latin theology us Protestants are inheritors of, eschews what the Fathers were presenting the church catholic with. As such we end up with an emphasis on a Decretal God who engages with His world through an Absolute Decree that keeps the created order away from Him, but artificially brought near through artificial droplets of His will and power for humanity and the created order at large. In other words, Latin theology presents us with a conception of space wherein space becomes a series of self-enclosed concentric circles that only stop moving once they meet their stable center of the circle who turns out to be the cause and unmoved Mover; but not necessarily the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The original emphasis, that Torrance is pressing, places a primacy on God’s life as Triune relationality as the basis for how space and thus movement within that space between God and humanity inheres; it inheres in the mirifica commutatio (wonderful exchange) of God’s assumption of our flesh. In this inherence, and the eternally antecedent basis for it in the Father’s life with the Son and the Son’s life with the Father, in and through the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, is the space wherein we as God’s re-creatures have a place and a time to think out what it means to be a child of God; a Christian.

Further, we see Torrance noting the notion of the ‘open-endedness’ that this conception of Incarnated space inscribes for us. Of importance, we need to bear in mind that this openness is not understood in and from a container notion of space (which might lead us to ‘Open theology’), but instead it is an openness that recognizes the reality of the mysterium Trinitatis; that we are pressed up against an Ultimacy in God that will be and always already is forever giving (the logic of grace). This should supply us with great hope, and present us into a posture of utter adoration of a God like this; our Father who art in Heaven.

 

 

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Space Time & Incarnation (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), 8-9.

[2] Ibid., 17-18. You can hear traces of ‘Calvin’s Extra’ in what is being communicated here as well; indeed Torrance previously refers to the ‘extra’ in the broader context of this discussion about space and the Incarnation.

‘The Unassumed is the Unhealed’ in the Forsakenness of Christ in the Theology of Gregory Nazianzen

The cry of dereliction and Jesus’s assumption of our humanity go hand in hand; at least that’s what Gregory of Nazianzen maintained. Here in a commentary on the theo-logic and exegetical prowess of I Corinthians 15.24-28, Nazianzen opines on this in a rich way (h/t to my friend Jerome van Kuiken for referring to this quote in his published dissertation Christ’s Humanity In Current And Ancient Controversy: Fallen or Not?).

The one who releases me from the curse was called ‘curse’ because of me; ‘the one who takes away the world’s sin’ was called ‘sin’ and is made a new Adam to replace the old. In just this way too, as head of the whole body, he appropriates my want of submission. So long as I am an insubordinate rebel with passions . . . which deny God, my lack of submission will be referred to Christ. But when all things are put in submission under him, when transformed they obediently acknowledge him, then will Christ bring me forward, me who have been saved, and make his subjection complete. . . . Thus it is that he effects our submission, makes it his own and presents it to God. ‘My God, my God, look upon me, why have you forsaken me?’ seems to me to have the same kind of meaning. He is not forsaken either by the Father or, as some think, by his own Godhead. . . . No, in himself, as I have said, he expresses our condition. We had once been the forsaken and disregarded then we were accepted and now are saved by the suffering of the impassible. . . . He made our thoughtlessness and waywardness his own, just as psalm [Ps. 22], in its subsequent course, says.[1]

The doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ features greatly in this Nazianzenian quote; not to mention the eschatological suspension between now and the consummate day. We see Nazianzen placing our status in Christ’s [pro nobis – for us], and Christ’s status in ours as our Great High Priest; holding us up and over in the grace of His life until the eschatological now of God’s life for us becomes the realized now for us—that we only currently experience by faith (which doesn’t make it any less real, just unrealized until its fully realized reality in beatific form).

As Jerome [van Kuiken] is developing (in the context I take this from), the above quote is in reference to and in development of the famous Nazianzus dictum ‘the unassumed is the unhealed’; a dictum that figures largely in TF Torrance’s theology as well!

We will have to visit the ‘forsakenness’ aspect of this later.

 

[1] Gregory Nazianzen, Or. 30.5 cited by Jerome Van Kuiken, Christ’s Humanity In Current And Ancient Controversy: Fallen or Not? (London/New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2017), 115.

Jesus, God’s Saint for Us: Thinking Dialogical Theology from Canlis’s Calvin and His Doctrine of Creation and Communion

Still rereading Julie Canlis’s magisterial work Calvin’s Ladder. I wanted to share her introduction to her second chapter, which is entitled Creation: The Ground and Grammar of Ascent. Here she is going to develop Calvin’s doctrine of creation and communion, and the way that implicates a doctrine of ascent or koinonia and/or fellowship with God. I’ll share the quote, and then comment a bit further on the other side.

Because ascent has been misconstrued over the years — indeed, the metaphor has been used to devalue and escape creation for centuries — it is essential to begin with Calvin’s doctrine of creation. We begin with concept of the world as a place of communion, the “trysting place” between God and humanity. Creation is revealed to be a space overflowing with the fatherhood of God, the mediation of Christ, and the tending of the Spirit. It is only when this is established that a correct understanding of Christ’s ascent, our incorporation into him, and ascent in the Eucharist can be grasped properly.

Creation, as the sphere of koinōnia, is the ground and grammar of an ascent that is not away from materiality but a deepened experience of communion within it. This issues forth in a concept of creation that is anything but static and impersonal. Instead, Calvin’s theological vision is a dynamic interplay of God, creation, and humanity, where the creation-call on humanity and the delight and communication of God hold center stage. From the proleptic thrust of Calvin’s doctrine of creation, to his projective concept of the imago as “toward” (ad), to Adam’s dynamic koinōnia existence and then the forceful inversion of sin and the metaphor of falling (the Fall), Calvin is anything but amorphous. Communion is the groundwork of creation, the purpose of anthropology, and the telos toward which all creation strains.[1]

When Canlis concludes ‘Communion is the groundwork of creation, the purpose of anthropology, and the telos toward which all creation strains’ it becomes clear why she fits so well with us Evangelical Calvinists. As I’ve noted previously, dialogical theology, or what Barth terms dialectical theology (in his Göttingen Dogmatics), is a sort of touchstone for Evangelical Calvinism’s theological method (prolegomenon). While it seems to be a pre-dogmatic locus, in fact the method itself is given as the material gift of salvation in the concrete reality of Jesus Christ. It is here, and constantly consistently here where God has spoken (Deus dixit), and continues to speak; as such, this is where Evangelical Calvinists intentionally sit still and attempt to listen before we speak.

Of interest, also, is the idea that Canlis draws from Calvin’s theology; viz. the idea that ascent comes to have an aethereal reality and instead a palpable/material reality in the descent and ascent of the incarnated and ascended Christ. This is important in moving beyond an untethered metaphysics that attempts to discursively think God from effects to cause. Instead, as with Canlis’s Calvin, so for us Evangelical Calvinists, we necessarily affirm the goodness of recreation in Jesus Christ; as such our prayers and dialogues with the living God in the risen Christ do not flutter to the heavens on the wings of wistful butterflies, but instead in and through the flesh and blood and risen body of Jesus Christ. It is through the broken body of the lively Christ wherein the veil has been torn, and we come to have eyes to see and ears to hear the Shepherd’s voice. Dialogical theology is one bounded in koinonia, in the communion of the saints grounded in the Saint of God for us who is Jesus Christ. Here we hear God speak. This is the basis of any sound theology; one that listens through the new ears given for us in the recreated ears of Jesus Christ. As God has spoken and speaks in the humanity of Christ we hear God.

[1] Julie Canlis, Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension(Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), Loc. 582, 586, 591.

The Radical Sacrifice of God in Apocalyptic Frame

I just started reading, not only Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, but just this evening, Terry Eagleton’s new book: Radical Sacrifice. They are in tandem percolating my wits in a certain direction and mode of feeling. This particular post will reference Eagleton’s work, in discussion with a burgeoning theological mode that someone like Philip Ziegler is at the forefront of developing; viz. I will bring Eagleton’s thinking into some con-versation with Ziegler’s work, and then not to mention, I will touch upon some of Karl Barth’s thinking as distilled by Robert Dale Dawson (meaning I will be drawing off of previous posts as I bring those into passing with Eagleton’s). The point I want to press has, once again, to do with Apocalyptic Theology, but in this instance, I want to fill that out with Eagleton’s thinking on sacrifice as irruption and representative of a primordial new. To start with I will help refresh our understanding of what apocalyptic theology entails; I will then illustrate that by referring to Dawson’s thinking on Barth’s theology of resurrection; and then use that to lead into Eagleton’s notion of sacrifice.

Here Ziegler refers us to two other thinkers to help us understand what an Apocalyptic Theology is after:

As Gaventa concisely puts it, “Paul’s apocalyptic theology has to do with the conviction that in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has invaded the world as it is, thereby revealing the world’s utter distortion and foolishness, reclaiming the world, and inaugurating a battle that will doubtless culminate in the triumph of God over all God’s enemies (including the captors Sin and Death). This means that the Gospel is first, last, and always about God’s powerful and gracious initiative.” Inasmuch as it is an expression of specifically Christian faith, “apocalyptic theology always and everywhere denotes a theology of liberation in an earth that is dying and plagued by evil powers.

In the words of Donald MacKinnon, its subject matters in nothing less than “God’s own protest against the world He has made, by which at the same time that world is renewed and reborn.”[1]

We see this idea that the ‘world is renewed and reborn’ through God’s ‘invasion’ in Christ, the sort of ostensibly discontinuous discord between the world now and the world to come/came in Christ in Barth’s theology as well. Here Robert Dale Dawson unfolds how that looks in relation to Barth’s doctrine of resurrection:

A large number of analyses come up short by dwelling upon the historical question, often falsely construing Barth’s inversion of the order of the historical enterprise and the resurrection of Jesus as an aspect of his historical skepticism. For Barth the resurrection of Jesus is not a datum of the sort to be analyzed and understood, by other data, by means of historical critical science. While a real event within the nexus of space and time the resurrection is also the event of the creation of new time and space. Such an event can only be described as an act of God; that is an otherwise impossible event. The event of the resurrection of Jesus is that of the creation of the conditions of the possibility for all other events, and as such it cannot be accounted for in terms considered appropriate for all other events. This is not the expression of an historical skeptic, but of one who is convinced of the primordiality of the resurrection as the singular history-making, yet history-delimiting, act of God.[2]

I provide these two ideational vignettes in order, as I noted, to lead us into some similar thinking from Eagleton. The theme to grasp from these previous interlocutors is the idea of disruption; Divine disruption. There is a tumult that occurs in the crucifixion of God in Christ. The fact itself, that it requires God to enflesh, and assume blood and oxygen for us, ought to suggest to us that something alien (meaning radical and extraneous to us, by way of antecedent and determination) has occurred, of the sort that out of its ashes only something new and elevated could arise. In other words, the sacrifice of God’s Son for us, ought to let us know that the depth of sin’s pollution is beyond the scope of a simple remodel (of presently available materials — as if nature simply needed to be ‘perfected’); it ought to alert us to the idea that what was required was a decreation in order for a recreation to enter in and bring us to the heights that God had freely chosen to pre-destine for us according to His eternally gracious and lovely good will to be for us rather than against us in the election of His dearly beloved Son. It is in this vein that Eagleton helps us think about the in-breaking of God’s life for us in Christ, and the sort of radical irruption that necessarily occurred thusly. You’ll notice that Eagleton speaks in more profane and less theologically driven terms than I am.

The most compelling version of sacrifice concerns the flou-rishing of the self, not its extinction. It involves a formidable release of energy, a transformation of the human subject and a turbulent transitus from death to new life. If sacrifice is a political act, it is not least because it concerns an accession to power. As one commentator remarks, ‘almost all sacrifice is about power, or powers’. The ritual is indeed about loss and waste, but in the name of a more fruitful form of life. Julian of Norwich sees it in terms of childbirth, where pain is a prelude to joy. If sacrifice involves yielding something up, it is in order to possess it more deeply. As Hubert and Mauss observe, ‘there is no sacrifice into which some idea of redemption does not enter’. It is true that the institution has a number of retrograde features, as its critics have been at pains t point out. As we shall see, it has been for the most part a profoundly conservative practice. Yet there is a radical kernel to be extracted from its mystical shell. Sacrifice concerns the passage of the lowly, unremarkable thing from weakness to power. It marks a movement from victimhood to full humanity, destitution to riches, the world as we know it to some transfigured domain. It is this disruptive rite of passage that is known among other things as consecration. To make an object sacred is to mark it out by investing it with a sublimely dangerous power. If sacrifice is often violent, it is because the depth of the change it promises cannot be a matter of smooth evolution or simple continuity.

In this sense, the practice of ritual sacrifice nurtures a wisdom beyond the rationality of the modern, at least as its most callow. It sets its face against the consoling illusion that fulfilment can be achieved without a fundamental rupture and rebirth. The consecration of the sacrificial victim is a matter of wholesale transformation, not some piecemeal evolution. One cannot pass from time to eternity while remaining intact. Since the gods are totally other to humanity, any contact with them involves a metamorphosis as fundamental as the passage from living to dying. The idea of sacrifice broods among other things on the mystery by which life springs from death, seeking a passage through loss and devastation in order to thrive. Dennis J. Schmidt writes of how for Hegel, ‘conflict, contradiction, negation, sacrifice, and death saturate the life of the spirit so thoroughly that they define the very truth of the spirit’. In a similar vein, Miguel de Beistegui observes that ‘one should recognise that [for Hegel] the greatness of Spirit in history or of man in his action reveals itself primarily in sundering and in death, in sacrifice and in struggle, and that thought itself derives its depth only from taking the full measure of this tragic grandeur’. Pre-modern societies are conscious in a similar way of a secret complicity between living and dying. If the fumes of burnt offerings no longer waft to the nostrils of petulant deities in our own time, it is partly because modernity enforces a rigorous distinction between the two states.[3]

The basic gist I’d like to leave with is this: There is much more going on in the ‘death, burial, and resurrection’ of Jesus Christ than often meets the prima facie eye. There is, as Torrance would say, a ‘depth dimension’ to the reality of the Gospel that pushes deeper and more vertically, while operating within the horizontal flatland, than we often realize.

I think Eagleton’s initial thoughts on sacrifice, while from a different vantage point than a proper ‘apocalyptic theology,’ helps us delve deeper into the history of ideas of what might be informing the way we ought to think a biblical notion of ‘sacrifice.’ It helped illumine things further for me, and hopefully it has done the same for you! PAX CHRISTI

 

[1] Philip G. Ziegler, Militant Grace: The Apocalyptic Turn and the Future of Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2018), loc 162, 171 kindle.

[2] Robert Dale Dawson, The Resurrection in Karl Barth (UK/USA: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2007), 13 [Emphasis is mine].

[3] Terry Eagleton, Radical Sacrifice (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2018), Loc. 138, 147, 154, 162 kindle.

The Calvinian Turn to Jesus Christ Versus the Catholic Turn to the Vicar: A Rationale for the Evangelical Calvinist Via

John Calvin provided for a Protestantly Reformed turn towards a genuinely Christocentric theology of the Word, that prior (except in lineaments found in some Patristics and then in Martin Luther) was hard to find; particularly in the mediaeval context within which Calvin found himself, even if that was of the late variety. In the modern period when we read someone like Karl Barth and Thomas Torrance, and then compare that with a reading of John Calvin, what stands out is the way that Barth/Torrance followed Calvin’s ‘turn,’ but only in even more radical or theo-logically conclusive ways. This is something I don’t think current Protestants who are attempting to retrieve the ‘classical’ past appreciate very much; viz. this turn that Calvin helped initiate (along with Luther), a radical turn to a genuine theology of the Word in Jesus Christ—a turn to a christocentric approach to theological endeavor versus the theocentric that reigned supreme in the Tridentine.

Julie Canlis—as we once again refer to her magisterial work, Calvin’s Ladder—helps us appreciate this Calvinian turn as she contrasts that with the Aquinasian approach (you’ll see her reference the structure of Thomas’s Summa Theologiae and how that materially illustrates her point). She writes:

A comparison of Aquinas and Calvin reveals that, while Calvin picks up on this scholastic scheme, he also fundamentally alters it. Pushing beyond Wyatt’s insight, we discover that it no longer is the story of humanity’s ascent to God by grace (Aquinas), or of the soul’s ascent (Augustine), but of Christ’s ascent. Calvin refuses to tack Christ as a tertia pars onto the Plotinian circle of creation’s procession from and return to God. Instead, Christ breaks open the circle and grafts it onto himself. For Calvin, the figure of Christ has shattered any scheme that begins with creation and allows creation to be considered apart from Christ, through whom it was made and to whom it is directed. In subtly shifting Aquinas’s exitus- reditus scheme from anthropology to Christ, Calvin challenges Aquinas’s attempt at theocentrism as not going far enough. It is not Christ who fits into the procrustean bed of anthropology but we who are fitted to Christ and his ascent. In him and by his Spirit, we ascend to the Father.[1]

She is certainly right to recognize that Calvin operated in the milieu of his own period; how could he not? But, as Canlis also helps us see, Calvin was a constructive and ingenious Christian thinker propelled by his newfound Protest-ant faith; a faith given direction and shape by a principled commitment to the Word rather than to the Church as his ultimate authority. Within this complex Calvin was ingressed into a new world that had the imaginary to think the church from Christ rather than Christ from the church; as such, he was able to make the turn that others prior couldn’t.

I would suggest that Barth and Torrance picked up on this turn in Calvin, and as I noted previously, radicalized it further; to its rightful conclusion even. Both Barth and Torrance, and us Evangelical Calvinists, are genuinely Calvinian in the sense that we operate not just in the spirit, but the letter of Calvin’s turn to Jesus Christ as the centraldogma of all that is viable in theological endeavor. I think our counterparts in other tributaries of the Reformed faith, in their zeal to recover the ‘catholic faith’ have unfortunately overlooked the sort of Christ conditioned notion of God that Calvin (and Luther) did not. As Evangelical Calvinists we attempt to move and breath in this Christ concentrated spirit, with the result that all our theologizing is principially and intensively Christ pressured. We think this is the right trajectory to be on since Jesus himself seemed to take this approach when engaging with Holy Scripture (cf. Jn 5.39; etc.).

[1] Julie Canlis, Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension(Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), Loc. 493, 498.

Origen Invented the Language of the ‘Fall’: And Other Miscellanies

The Fall. Not a biblical word, per se[1]; did you ever wonder where it came from? I am currently rereading one of my all time favorite books, Julie Canlis’s[2]: Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension. In one of her beginning sections she offers sketches of various early thinkers who helped contribute to a theology of ascent and ascension, respectively. In her coverage of Origen she identifies something interesting—at least to me—in regard to the taxonomy of the verbiage ‘fall.’ I’ve used this language ever since a wee one, being weaned in the church as I was. I have now been studying theology formally and informally for decades, and yet in all that time this reality escaped me; even the first time I read through Canlis’s book (it didn’t stand out to me like it is this time). Who would have ever thought that the heretic[3], Origen, was the originator of the language of fall. Indeed, Origen had a certain ideational context for the whence of his thinking on: fall. Here Canlis helps us understand what in fact that context was, and how it gave irruption to the notion of Fall; for Origen, as we will see, it is a very descriptive and ‘verbial’ conception. Canlis writes,

Origen’s cosmology is played out amidst the drama of fallen intellects who, in committing the first sin, “fell” into embodiment (De principiis 2.9). (Origen was the first to coin the word “fall” for original sin, because he regarded it as a literal fall from the higher spirit world to our lower world of materiality.) Having fallen, these intellects follow a threefold Platonic-style pedagogy to return to God: purification, illumination, and contemplative union. Given this cosmic tutorial, Origen’s soteriology follows suit and styles the person of Christ as the cosmic educator of these misplaced souls. (The Spirit is, not surprisingly, the Spirit of Wisdom.) In this scheme, the physicality of the Savior can be read as more or less a stage for the soul to pass by as it ascends to less and less mediated knowledge of the eternal Logos — for how could God’s limitation be his ultimate expression? In comparison to his near-contemporary Irenaeus, we see in this Alexandrian (and many after him) a subtle shift in accent away from the salvation of the flesh to the pedagogy of the soul.[4]

As an aside, look up Maximus the Confessor’s On The Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ as an antidote to Origen’s exitus/reditus Platonic schema of salvation.

Without getting into the nitty gritty of all the intellectual antecedents present in Origen’s world, even as those are highly interesting and important to the task of understanding his motivation for using the language of Fall, I thought it was interesting to simply note the word’s genetic line. It does make me think more astutely about using the word ‘fall’ going forward. It’s not that the word has inherent meaning, but as with any symbol it gains meaning through its context of usage. It is possible to use the language of fall in reified form without affirming its original usage of meaning as that is provided for in Origen’s thought-universe. Anyway, interesting.

 

[1] At least in its technical theological sense.

[2] By the way, Julie is a contributor to our first Evangelical Calvinism book.

[3] Although in many ways it is anachronistic or after the fact to label Origen a heretic; he is being somewhat recouped, as it were, in regard to his valuable status for the church. Even if his insights weren’t colored as post-Nicenely as we’d all like.

[4] Julie Canlis, Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension (Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), Loc. 367, 371. On the latter clause of the Canlis quote we might think of David Bentley Hart as a contemporary proponent of an Origenist outlook on soteriology; see his piece: The Spiritual Was More Substantial Than the Material for the Ancients.

 

Feeling the Weight of Secular Emptiness: A Self-Generated ‘Fullness’ Apart from the Pleroma of God in Jesus Christ

I just started Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, which I’ve wanted to read for quite some time. Just as I’m splashing in he, expectedly, offers insight, and provides some grammar I’ve held in unarticulated form—or at least unarticulated relative to the way that Taylor articulates it—in regard to the ‘secular’ or ‘unbelieving’ via. Increasingly (and I’m 44) I have felt the creep of secularization growing in exponential ways over these past two decades. What has disillusioned me most is not that this creep has been happening in the ‘world’—that’s bad enough!—but that the evangelical churches themselves have been participants and even engineers of this sort of so called ‘secular’ creep.

In the following, Taylor describes the way the ‘unbeliever’ or the ‘secular’ attempts to generate meaning. He refers to a ‘fullness,’ which would be in reference to an extra nos or transcendent basis upon which (primarily) the believer finds meaning for life. He also introduces other terms, but I’ll let him do that, and then respond after the fact.

For modern unbelievers, the predicament is quite different. The power to reach fullness is within. There are different variations of this. One is that which centres on our nature as rational beings. The Kantian variant is the most upfront form of this. We have the power as rational agency to make the laws by which we live. This is something so greatly superior to the force of mere nature in us, in the form of desire, that when we contemplate it without distortion, we cannot but feel reverence (Achtung) for this power. The place of fullness is where we manage finally to give this power full reign, and so to live by it. We have a feeling of receptivity, when with our full sense of our own fragility and pathos as desiring beings, we look up to the power of law-giving with admiration and awe. But this doesn’t in the end mean that there is any reception from outside; the power is within; and the more we realize this power, the more we become aware that it is within, that morality must be autonomous and not heteronomous. (Later a Feuerbachian theory of alienation can be added to this: we project God because of our early sense of this awesome power which we mistakenly place outside us; we need to re-appropriate it for human beings. But Kant didn’t take this step.)

Of course, there are also lots of more naturalistic variants of the power of reason, which depart from the dualistic, religious dimensions of Kant’s though, his belief in radical freedom of the moral agent, immortality, God—the three postulates of practical reason. There may be a more rigorous naturalism, which accords little room for manoeuvre for human reason, driven on one side by instinct, and on the other hemmed in by the exigencies of survival. There may be no explanation offered of why we have this power. It may consist largely in instrumental uses of reason, there again unlike Kant. But within this kind of naturalism, we often find an admiration for the power of cool, disengaged reason, capable of contemplating the world and human life without illusion, and of acting lucidly for the best in the interest of human flourishing. A certain awe still surrounds reason as a critical power, capable of liberating us from illusion and blind forces of instinct, as well as the phantasies bred of our fear and narrowness and pusillanimity. The nearest thing to fullness lies in this power of reason, and it is entirely ours, developed if it is through our own, often heroic action. (And here the giants of modern “scientific” reason are often named: Copernicus, Darwin, Freud.)

Indeed, this sense of ourselves as beings both frail and courageous, capable of facing a meaningless, hostile universe without faintness of heart, and of rising to the challenge of devising our own rules of life, can be an inspiring one, as we see in the writings of a Camus for instance. Rising fully to this challenge, empowered by this sense of our own greatness in doing so, this condition we aspire to but only rarely, if ever, achieve, can function as its own place of fullness, in the sense of my discussion here.[1]

I live in such a world; I don’t know about you! I hold my ‘faith’ dear to my heart, and attempt to bear witness to the reality therein; but the world, the big world seems to bustle along, typically unbeknownst to its own intellectual antecedents and informants, in such a way that the scandal of the particular in the cross of Jesus Christ doesn’t even seem foolish anymore—it seemingly seems as if it is just one of many a religious symbols on tap for the taking (or not!)

I think what stands out most to me, in regard to Taylor’s thinking, is the idea of a self-generated fullness; I take this to be the greatest hallmark of secularity. As James Sire noted, as he described existentialism as a philosophy of life, it is the idea of ‘existence preceding essence.’ I think it is important to dwell here; to feel the nihilist weight of it all; to allow the abyss-nature of the secular mind to press in and pierce our ‘holy Christian’ hearts. Often, at least in my experience, it isn’t until I feel the weight and fallout of deep existential angst, that I find myself in a posture of crying out ‘my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,’ in echo of the Savior’s cry. Often it isn’t until the dereliction and emptiness of darkness seems to overcome us, that the desire for God’s Bright Light in Christ to come issues in maximal force.

What Taylor describes describes almost every single person I encounter ‘out there’ in the big world. There is a sense of loss, and yet a determination to construct personal meaning, that dominates the human landscape. I mean, as Christians we know this simply as a heart in bondage to its sinful appetites and affections; a heart dead-set on being like God knowing good and evil. Even though we know this, narrativally-canonically as Christians, the emptiness, and its deleterious outcome is all around us. We should feel its weight; if only so we might have compassion, and then also gratitude for the great gulf that has been recreated by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

[1] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), 8-9.

On Becoming a Christian; Knowledge of God; And Analogy in Constructive Engagement with Søren

There is no analogy for God, or “Godness” without God’s graciousness to stoop down to us in our stuttering tongues and depraved hearts, and therein meet us with the possibility to know Him in a corresponding way in and through the analogy and bond of Christ’s faith for us. So, Christ’s faith in His vicarious humanity is the whence by which an analogy for knowledge of God obtains. This is the case because God is God, and we are not. It isn’t just that we are sinners, it is that we are creatures who by definition are finite. As such, even prior to the Fall (cf. Gen. 3), we were “handicapped” in regard to reaching the elevated heights of God’s own inner life and reality (in se). Without God’s grace, which is first exemplified in His first canonizing Word, ‘In the Beginning God created,’ there is no first order basis for the creature to reach out or up to their Creator; there is no whence for God inherent to the creature, there is only the need and constant dependence upon God’s first and last word of Grace. As Christians we have come to spiritually recognize this as the basis by which we live and move in a world contingent upon God’s Grace; we have come to recognize by the Holy Spirit that God’s Grace is Jesus Christ, and that in Christ we can come to analogize God—but only because God first analogized Himself for us in His election to not be God without us, but with us in the mediatorial humanity assumed by the eternal Logos who we know preciously as, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

It is in this logic of grace that someone like Søren Kierkegaard would repudiate attempts, classical or modern, to offer proofs for God and His Self-existence. For SK, as we have just been opining ourselves, the bases for knowledge of God is not an analytical or systematic bases, but instead one where we as liminal creatures are confronted with our deep need for a personal God and Savior. For SK, though, it is not ‘our need’ that becomes the ‘foundation’ for our approach to God, instead it is God’s approach towards us in Jesus Christ, in Grace, wherein knowledge of God inheres. This has multitudinous applications, but without getting into those in mass, let’s hear some from Andrew Torrance and his commentary on SK in this direction.

Kierkegaard observes:

this is how people behave with respect to God – people forget that God exists and they consider whether it is the best thing, the most satisfactory thing, to have a God.

Christian thought is constantly faced with the danger and temptation of reducing God to a mere human concept and a relationship with God to a human worldview. This perpetuates a perception that human beings possess a certain authority over both ‘God’ and the Christian faith. Accordingly, Christians become preoccupied with such activities as demonstrating the truth of Christianity, for example, by engaging in rationalistic attempts to prove the existence of ‘God’. Or, alternatively, the devote themselves to speculating over the doctrine of ‘God’ in a way that makes little or no difference to their becoming followers of Jesus Christ. Under these circumstances, ‘God’ all too easily becomes a postulate to keep systematic theologians in business rather than the Lord who personally calls individuals to active lives of discipleship. Reflecting on this dynamic, Lee Barrett writes, in a passage that takes us to the very heart of Kierkegaard’s theological vision:

Even if God is said to transcend the categories of space and time, God is still treated as something whose mode of being can be an object for speculation and metaphysical description. According to such a practice, God would have to exhibit recognizable differentiating features and possess attributes that could be compared with the attributes of other beings. But for Kierkegaard, ‘God’ is not the name of any item locatable within the domain of finite beings, or of an entity recognizable by way of contrast to finite beings … Diverging from a certain kind of academic approach to theology, Kierkegaard resisted the tendency to specify the meaning of ‘God’ by compiling an inventory of identifying characteristics, no matter how lofty such characteristics might sound. Kierkegaard does not define God in terms of such daunting metaphysical properties as omnipotence, omniscience, and so forth. Rather, Kierkegaard seeks to give ‘God’ meaning by exhibiting the concept’s role in the life of devotion to God.

For Kierkegaard, as I have sought to show, the Christian faith is not primarily grounded in the human imagination or understanding but in God’s personal and dynamic engagement with the world in and through Jesus Christ. It is grounded in the living God who encounters persons in history and draws them to participate in a life of devotion to God. In its truest form, therefore, the Christian faith exists as a living witness and active expression of God’s relationship to us in and through Jesus Christ. It is out of a passionate devotion to the personal reality of God that an individual takes up the task of becoming a Christian.[1]

For the ‘school’ theologian what has been written is hard to hear, but maybe they should. Regardless, as Torrance (and Barrett) have annunciated for us, for SK, what is of premium importance for the Christian, in regard to their knowledge of and relationship with God, is driven by ‘personalist’ loci.

I originally framed this post through a lens that the quote itself does not exactly correspond to; at least not directly. But I think analogy is an important piece to this; at least insofar as that implicates a discussion on the whence of God for us. If we were to think constructively, as I am attempting to do, we might see a discussion on analogy as important to SK’s theology, and then Christian theology in general, in the sense that it serves as a focus, a modal focus, that allows us to understand how it might be that God alone in His gracious movement, ought to serve as the One who controls how we come to a knowledge of Him; how it is that we become Christians at all.

If the analogy for knowledge of God, and thus the entrée point for becoming a Christian, is always already one that is grounded in the movement of God’s Grace for us; if that movement eventuates in His condescension to be with and for us in Christ, and in that movement the Christ in His humanity provides the ‘faith’ through which a genuine knowledge of God can be gotten; then theologies that attempt to find a knowledge of God, or ‘Godness,’ outwith God’s Self-delimited parameter for that to happen, indeed in the assumed flesh of the Son of Man, will not ultimately provide for a sound basis towards a genuine knowledge of the living God. Further, if the Christian’s basis for knowledge of God, and thus the whence of becoming a Christian, is necessarily based upon encounter with this living God for us in the illumined face of Jesus Christ, then there can be no refraction of this movement; a refraction wherein we come to God based on an analogy that is outside of this gifted parameter in God’s Grace.

If what I am getting at isn’t clear enough: What I am, once again!, arguing, is that an analogy of being that presumes upon the meta-idea of an abstract humanity, one that is not enclosed by the humanity of Christ, one that presumes on a logico-deductive schemata that comes prior to this encounter, will only lead this sort of school theologian to be engaging with an impersonal and self-projected conception of the living God. Remember, the Christian, by definition, is one who calls Jesus Christ, Lord; but only by the Spirit. It is this Gift that keeps on giving; giving as the Bread of Life that sustains us moment by moment. To construct a foreign ground, another foundation other than Christ (cf. I Cor 3.11), even after someone has ostensibly come to encounter with Christ, would be similar to being the Israelite who was redeemed out of Egypt, baptized in the Red Sea, and then began to worship Yahweh through a Golden Calf of their own making. Becoming a Christian never flutters this way or that, it always finds its wind through the breath it first encountered through the living voice of God in the face of Jesus Christ. As such, knowledge of God is always already contingent upon this voice; that doesn’t change after-the-fact. The fact remains that God is God, and our knowledge of Him is fully dependent upon Him meeting us every moment of everyday in the givenness of His own voice.

If we reject the proposal I’m driving at in this post, then we place ourselves in a position to manipulate God’s voice into a tertium quid that is no-God; and an übermensch of our own projection (cf. Rom. 1.18ff). What often trips folks up at this point is the Tradition. The Trad is school theology, of the sort that SK, Barth, Torrance et al. did not fully abandon, instead they all engaged with it as if a worthy fish-monger engages with his catch; as if the Trad itself is only a proximate iteration full of bones, and juicy flesh, but full of bones needing to either be removed, or purposed in reformulated ways—under the pressure that is provided for by the Christian who is in a constant and fresh relationship with the living voice of God in Jesus Christ.

[1] Andrew B. Torrance, The Freedom To Become A Christian: A Kierkegaardian Account of Human Transformation in Relationship with God (London/New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 189-90.