The Hope of Apocalyptic Theology: Engaging with Philip Ziegler’s Militant Grace

I just started reading Philip Ziegler’s new book Militant Grace: The Apocalyptic Turn and the Future of Christian Theology. Because of the influence of Karl Barth and Thomas Torrance (and others) on the development of Evangelical Calvinism, at least upon this Evangelical Calvinist, apocalyptic theology, as a particular domain of theological reflection has been an important source for my own theological formation. I was first introduced to this genre of theology by reading Nate Kerr’s book Christ, History and Apocalyptic: The Politics of Christian Mission when that first came into publication years ago (Ziegler references Kerr’s work). Thus far (I’m starting chapter three) Ziegler’s book is helpfully orienting what Kerr first introduced me to years ago. At this point you might be asking “what in the world are you talking about, Bobby?” Let me explain through providing some quotation from Ziegler himself.

As Ziegler introduces his book he engages with Lutheran theologian Gerharde Forde and the apocalyptic theology present in his work. After he has developed that, a bit, Ziegler, in order to provide further explication, offers three indicatives of what apocalyptic theology entails in its eschatological mode. Let’s consider what he has to say in order to fill out what apocalyptic theology itself actually is as a theological type. Ziegler writes:

What makes Christian dogmatics eschatological is, first, a proper preoccupation with understanding salvation as the advent of the radically new, and only thus as a divine act. An eschatological grammar is required to explicate the sense of the Christian gesture of pointing to Jesus and uttering, “God. God did this new thing for us.” This is the abiding truth in Barth’s assertion that Christianity must be utterly eschatological if it in fact arises from the coming of God to save. Forde concurs, claiming the cross is a saving event because, and only because, in it God conquers our dissolution and “ends it for us by coming.” We might say that dogmatics is eschatological first and foremost because it conceives of and emphasizes salvation as God’s very own action.

Second, Christian theology requires an eschatological grammar because the outworking of salvation in Christ is a matter of ends. Following the contours of Paul’s apocalyptic gospel rather closely, the cross, for Forde, proves to be the axis for the turning of the ages, a macrocosmic of human being. The finality of this revolution and the creative force of the new thing it inaugurates can only come to full expression in an eschatological register, for when “God quickens, he does so by killing,” as Luther famously put it. So too, it seems, must the once-for-all character of salvation’s accomplishment—what Forde denotes as its “christological anchor”—be articulated in eschatological terms. For only if what takes place in cross and resurrection is unsurpassable in time—only as Christ’s person and work is the “unsurpassable new which does not grow old and which therefore makes all things new”—can it be the final ground of Christian faith and future hope. The decisiveness of the passion and resurrection of Christ is signaled fully when set forth as the “invasion of God’s sovereign future” into time, the preemptive deliverance unto a destiny not of creation’s own making. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is truly “a first swing of the sickle” (cf. 1 Cor. 15:23). Dogmatics is also eschatological in that it acknowledges and bespeaks the finality, singularity, and unsurpassable effectiveness of the saving judgment that God renders in Jesus Christ.

Third and finally, Christian dogmatics must be eschatological if it is to do justice to the very logic and form of divine grace as such. This is a particularly strong emphasis in Forde’s work: “The question about grace—whether it is a quality in the soul or the sheer divine promise—is a question of ontology versus eschatology. Is ‘grace’ a new eschatological reality that comes extra nos and breaks in upon us brining new being to faith, the death of the old and the life of the new, or is it rather to be understood in ontological terms as an infused power that transforms old being?”

It is the very graciousness of grace that is at stake here. The full force of the classical Reformation devices that serves to emphasize this—for example, the logic of imputation, the alien character of the righteousness that grace delivers, the unconditional character of the divine promise that “while we still were sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8), the insistence that grace comes on us from outside (ab extra) so that we are justified by faith alone (sola fide)—is only fully acknowledged when they are understood eschatologically. Nothing militates against synergism as fully and finally as the reality of the death of the sinner; and nothing affirms the divine monergism of salvation as fully and finally as its designation as “new creation.” If, as Forde discerns, God’s grace is pronounced in Christ so as to “establish an entirely new situation,” if it is nothing less than “a re-creative act of God, something he does precisely by speaking unconditionally,” then such a thing must be set forth in an eschatological discourse or not at all. Dogmatics is finally eschatological because and as it admits and articulates the victorious grace of the God of the Gospel.[1]

These loci ought to tune you into what the entailments of what apocalyptic theology is about in the eschatological key (at least as Ziegler engages with that in Forde’s theology). It takes the implications and inner-logic of the Christmas story as that unfolds in the Easter story, and sees this as the premise of all that is in regard to God’s dealings with creation. The story of the Gospel in apocalyptic hue recognizes the discontinuity that the invasion of God in Christ into this world pronounces upon the old order of things; it pronounces its death. Apocalyptic theology recognizes that this pronouncement continues, even as we live in-between the first advent and the coming advent of Christ; and as such it calls us to ‘reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ.’ Apocalyptic theology sees the need that the cross of Christ pronounces as the penultimate step required in order to come to the ultimate reality of re-creation which the resurrection of Christ proclaims as the evangel of God to the nations.

Ziegler, as he pushes forward into chapter two, brings Karl Barth’s theology into the discussion. He notes the way that some current apocalyptic theologians have understood Barth, but then how they have moved beyond Barth’s own type of apocalyptic theology. This reminded me of something I read in Robert Dale Dawson’s book on Barth’s doctrine of resurrection. What Dawson identifies in Barth’s doctrine of resurrection coheres with the impulses we just surveyed through Ziegler’s development; indeed, what Dawson identifies in Barth’s theology resonates deeply with me, and I think resonates deeply with the aims of apocalyptic theology in general. Dawson writes:

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]

The emphasis, for Barth, according to Dawson, is upon God in Christ; upon his act in being-in-becoming. Dawson elucidates the way that resurrection, for Barth, is a global ground-clearing; of the apocalyptic sort. The event of resurrection, for Barth, according to Dawson, is a sort of re-creatio ex nihilo, a new creation out of nothing but the ‘stuff’ of God’s living Word.

I hope you have found this post enlightening, particularly if you have never been exposed to ‘apocalyptic theology.’ There are many personal and spiritual implications that can be gleaned from this. The primary one that stands out to me is Hope. Without the new creation, I’d have no hope; no hope of overcoming death, or the torments of sin in my daily life. There is hope in the new creation because it is grounded in the very life of God; the immovable unflinching life of God.


[1] Philip G. Ziegler, Militant Grace: The Apocalyptic Turn and the Future of Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2018), 10-12 kindle.

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

6 thoughts on “The Hope of Apocalyptic Theology: Engaging with Philip Ziegler’s Militant Grace

  1. Thanks for posting this Bobby. I see some interesting parallels here with Beale’s approach in The Temple and the Church’s Mission

    Your quotation of Ziegler here is particularly instructive: ” Nothing militates against synergism as fully and finally as the reality of the death of the sinner; and nothing affirms the divine monergism of salvation as fully and finally as its designation as “new creation.””

    I’ve been interacting quite a bit over the last year or so through the Patristics, and this has given me a much deeper appreciation of what Luther, Calvin, et. al. were doing with monergism. If there is one theological criticism I have of certain fathers is that their synergism is often, but not always, unteathered from the bedrock of the monergistic movement of God’s grace that raises the dead to new life in Christ. The participatory realities of salvation is something that often gets lost in modern Protestantism – which is why Julie Canlis’ Calvin’s Ladder is so helpful. Calvin and the early reformers were not as novel as they are often accused of being, there is striking continuity between them and the fathers.

    All this to say, that when it comes to doctrinal and exegetical development, I see a great deal of promise coming out of Protestant Biblical Theology in the last two decades. Bauckham, Beale in the NT, OT scholars like Waltke and Gerhard Hasel and to a degree Eichrodt and Von Rad in the prior generation have opened up new horizons for those who engage in dogmatic disciplines. I make no pretenses to being a theologian in any proper sense, but it is exciting to see the contours of eschatology and apocalyptic come back into focus. I doubt I’ll get to reading Ziegler, so your summary is much appreciated.


  2. Jed,

    I agree, to use those terms—which to be honest I’m not really a fan of to begin with [ie synergism/monergism]—the Patristics and their conception of theosis and theopoieses is indeed synergistic and something that I find problematic with contemporary iterations of Orthodox soteriology even now. But it can be rescued in a Reformed key, which Myk shows in his published PhD diss Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance. And yes, Julie’s book is one of my faves!

    And yes, there is much promise. I’ve read all of the above OT scholars you mention, in the past; all in all I prefer Brevard Childs and his canonical critical approach—an approach I was taught in undergrad and then taught to college students myself later. I would recommend Ziegler’s book, it keeps getting better as I read it.


  3. I like Childs as well – he was at the forefront of abandoning the theological dead end that historical criticism led to. Unfortunately I have read more about him and his hermeneutics than I have his actual work.

    And I agree with you on the terminology of synergysm and monergism – they have bees so overused that they are in damger of being useless. Thr grace, even for something as extravagant as theosis and paricipation in the Divine nature must still come extra nos prior to our participation – the invitation must precede the meal. But, I don’t know of better terminology – maybe you’ve got some insight there.


  4. I still like theosis. Kyle Strobel is using it as well in his retrieval of Edwards’ theology. I think it works as a doctrine, and there are examples of it as a Reformed doctrine in folks like TFT and Edwards, among others.


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