Has The Kingdom of Christ Really Come?: Thinking About Experience-Oriented Approaches to Salvation

*This is a repost, but one I think most of you haven’t read. It overlaps significantly with the topic that I will be researching for my own doctorate. The following, at least the quote from Kettler, comes from Kettler’s published PhD dissertation, originally published back in the late 80s and recently republished by Wipf and Stock just a couple years ago (thanks to Myk Habets). This post probes the reality of the Kingdom of Christ, and its ground in the objective/subjective act of God in Christ. It offers some antidote to contemporary thinking about soteriology that is too anthropological and not christological enough.

christjesusJust getting into Kettler’s book now; working through the introduction, and I have come across a bit that intends to create hook that the rest of the book (presumably) will seek to provide resolution for.

[T]he historical situation since the Enlightenment has increased the crisis in soteriology dramatically. Previous to the Enlightenment, theology tended to see salvation as primarily an other worldly eschatological reality, “a radically different world in another time and place.” God was “the sole source of salvation.” This changed with the Enlightenment focus on human happiness and social welfare. This change was basic and profound. Braaten is again very perceptive:

The interesting difference in respect between Voltaire and Rousseau, or between Comte and Darwin, or between Marx and Mao all appear miniscule from a soteriological point of view compared to the difference between a belief in salvation based on human power and one that trusts in the power of God.

But existentially, the doctrine of salvation is also in crisis as well. This is what we will term the “reality” of salvation. The question is this: Does the Christian preaching of salvation through Christ really make any difference in a world in which sin, evil, and suffering continue to run rampant? Braaten puts it quite bluntly: “Has Christian preaching of salvation noticeably changed the world?” It is this very existential crisis which has been the source of the modern theological shift in the doctrine of salvation from trust in the power of God to salvation as based on human power. This has had very negative results in the life of the church, according to Braaten:

Is this not why some church groups desparately reach for every modern secular substitute for salvation, whether psychological for the individual person, or more political for the larger collectivities?

As we shall see, we share this negative critique by Braaten. Yet, the question of reality of salvation must be answered by the church, and particularly by its theological community.

Our premise is that the root problem in contemporary crisis of the reality of salvation is found in the anthropocentric, experience-oriented approach to salvation particularly characteristic of Christian theology since the Enlightenment. We may even be bold enough to say that in this theology the gift of God has been exchanged for a bowl of anthropological pottage. Yet the question still remains: How can we speak of the reality of salvation in a world which hardly looks like it has been invaded by the kingdom of God? Our proposal is that the teaching on the humanity of God in the thought of Karl Barth and Eberhard Jüngel provides both a critique of anthropocentric soteriologies, and a positive alternative, but only as it is fulfilled in the doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ as particularly elaborated by T. F. Torrance. Our goal is to see the humanity of God as a bridge between the contemporary problem of the reality of salvation and its resolution in the reality of the vicarious humanity of Christ. [Christian D. Kettler, The Vicarious Humanity of Christ and the Reality of Salvation, (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2011 [re-print]), 12-13]

This gives a feel for the book, and the way Kettler will have us heading in the pages to come.

This hints at what issues are at stake in this discussion; especially within the confines of the modern (and contemporary) theological landscape. And more than just a dry, arid, abstract theological tome; this issue, as we can see, addresses something that is very close to home for each one of us — viz. our own skin! And yet the trick in answering this question, and still remain faithful to the primacy of God’s grace in salvation is to frame the answer to this question with the right dogmatic order and theological optics. Meaning, that while seeking to answer a genuinely human and existential question (like what Kettler has highlighted in the quote); we want to make sure that this human question doesn’t swallow up the divine answer (like the christological heresy of adoptionism does). The remedy is one that God already thought of long before the world was created; that humanity is given its image in the image of His beloved Son. God has humbled himself in Christ, that he might exalt humanity in Christ. It is this humiliation of God wherein the real life rubber meets the road questions of our daily wanderings in life are given concrete paths to walk on. We have a Saviour who can sympathize with our suffering and weaknesses because he suffered the cumulative sufferings of all humanity in our stead and into the ontological depths of his very being (and this for us, because he loves us). It is as we participate in his resurrected humanity that we are given his eyes of faith; the eyes required to move beyond the dilemma that Kettler has set up in the above quote (i.e. that it appears as if the kingdom of God really hasn’t entered planet earth given all of the current and ongoing strife, travail, and suffering that still seems to be marching full speed ahead in an unrelenting world).

Ultimately the way I see it; it is a matter of trusting the LORD! While human suffering is real, it is only real because Jesus suffered it first. This must be the way we think of this (before we suffer [cf. Mt. 7], because if we wait until we’re in the midst of the storm it may well be too late to find hope). If Jesus pentrated the lining of our skin with his life (and didn’t “just” pay a penalty as if he was the Divine debit card); then we are saved from the inside-out, and up.

I think Kettler’s book is going to be good …

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