My Actualist Theological Method: Reflecting with Congdon and Bultmann on Demythologizing Essentialism

God’s being is in becoming. Two of the six motifs that George Hunsinger identifies as the shapers of Barth’s theology are helpful to review in light of the axiom I just noted about God’s being. Hunsinger writes:

“Actualism” is the motif which governs Barth’s complex conception of being and time. Being is always an event and often an act (always an act whenever an agent capable of decision is concerned). The relationship between divine being and human being is one of the most vexed topics in Barth interpretation, and one on which the essay at hand hopes to shed some light. For now let it simply be said, however cryptically, that the possibility for the human creature to act faithfully in relation to the divine creator is thought to rest entirely in the divine act, and therefore continually befalls the human creature as a miracle to be sought ever anew.

“Particularism” is a motif which designates both a noetic procedure and an ontic state of affairs. The noetic procedure is the rule that say, “Let every concept used in dogmatic theology be defined on the basis of a particular event called Jesus Christ.” No generalities derived from elsewhere are to applied without further ado to this particular. Instead one must so proceed from this particular event that all general conceptions are carefully and critically redefined on its basis before being used in theology. The reason for this procedure is found in the accompanying state of affairs. This particular event requires special conceptualization, precisely because it is regarded as unique in kind.[1]

I wanted to share this, sort of as a ground clearing exercise prior to jumping into the rest of the post. Both actualism and particularism, as they are understood in Barth’s theology, will be important to bear in mind as we get further into this post. For the rest of the post we will be considering David Congdon’s treatment of Rudolf Bultmann’s understanding of mythology, and how he ‘demythologizes’ that through appropriating the sorts of motifs that shape Barth’s theology. He sees, according to Congdon, God’s revelation strictly as event that obtains in the concrete of historical actualization. This view undercuts the essentialist theological ontology that funds what we call classical theism or substance metaphysics; i.e. the traditional view that much of Western theology operates from. So, this places me in a place that is largely contra the classical theists of today; albeit, I think this approach helps explicate some iterations of the classical theism, or what some of the classical theistic theologians wanted to say but couldn’t because of the limitations of their own conditioned time and space (i.e. when it comes to the ideational material they had available to them at the time). With this said, let me share from Congdon’s analysis of Bultmann’s understanding of revelation as event as that is actualized in historical occurrence without remainder vis-à-vis God.

It is this insight above all to which Bultmann appeals in the conclusion to his programmatic essay on demythologizing. The problem with mythology in every age is that it dissolves the paradox and defuses the scandal by narrating the divine in a supernatural, rather than historical manner:

For the salvation-occurrence [Heilsgeschehen] about which we talk is not some miraculous, supernatural occurrence but rather a historical occurrence in space and time. And by presenting it as such, stripping away the mythological garments, we have intended to follow the intention of the New Testament itself and to do full justice to the paradox of its proclamation—the paradox, namely, that God’s eschatological emissary is a concrete historical person, that God’s eschatological act takes place in a human destiny, that it is an occurrence, therefore, that cannot be proved [ausweisen] to be eschatological in any worldly way. It is the paradox formulated in the words “he emptied himself” (Phil 2:7), or “he who was rich became poor” (2 Cor 8:9), or “God sent  his son in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3), or “he was manifested in the flesh” (1 Tim 3:16), or, finally and classically, “the word became flesh” (John 1:14).

The paradox precludes proof, according to Bultmann. It is precisely the “nonprovability” (Nichtausweisharkeit) of the “eschatological phenomena” that “secures Christian proclamation against the charge that it is mythology,” for, unlike myth, “the transcendence [Jenseitigkeit] of God is not made immanent [Diesseits]” in the event of divine revelation. The ability to prove (ausweisen) the eschatological requires having direct access to it, which is what mythology seeks to provide. Mythology grounds revelation in the Revealer’s “essential nature [Wesensart],” that is to say, in “the permanent consubtantiality [Wesensgleichheit, lit. ‘identity of essence’] of the messenger with God.” It is this permanent metaphysical access that the Johannine witness denies in the way that it “historicizes” (vergeschichtlicht) God’s activity in the Revealer. Christian faith in the word-made-flesh is faith in an event that does not permit such access, its salvific significance requires, instead, a constant vigilance against the temptation to stabilize and secure the Christ-event in a readily accessible form. The Revealer therefore calls each person into question and places every theological statement in a position of crisis. The word of revelation coincides with the existential unsettling of the one who hears the word. The truth of God’s self-revelation is thus a truth that works upon the hearer: it demands, negatively, a posture of self-criticism regarding the temptation to speak theoretically about God, but this critique contains the positive and practical demand to live an obedient life of love—a point highlighted especially in the Johannine epistles (cf. 1 John 4:7-8). According to this account of revelation, the hermeneutical problem, which concerns the relation between the event of revelation and the hearer of revelation, is internally necessary to the becoming-flesh of the divine word.[2]

The concern for some is that the ‘event’ itself is collapsed into the ‘hearer,’ thus giving the human agent the capacity to determine just who and what God actually is. But this, as I understand Bultmann, is precisely what he is countering. In other words, he retains the ‘orthodox’ Creator/creature distinction, but at the same time, and dialectically does not allow the ontological reality to be thought apart from the epistemological as those become a piece in the self-revelation of God given in the hypostatic union of Creator/creature in Jesus Christ.

What is attractive to me about all of this is the non-speculative emphasis present in Bultmann’s (and Barth’s) approach to theology proper. The speculative mind is put to death in the concrete heart of God as that is given flesh and blood in the humanity of Jesus Christ. I recognize the dangers some see in this, particularly as the focus becomes potentially overly existential. But for me, this danger is worth it. Speculative theology, as that is practiced in various forms of classical theism, is not commensurate with the narrative of Scripture itself; indeed, it is not commensurate with God’s self-revelation in Christ which is anything but speculative. And of issue, and this is what it right at the center of the impasse between something like Barth/Bultmann’s approach and classical theism’s, is what Congdon notes in regard to Bultmann’s theology: the hermeneutical question.

Given the state of humanity’s heart, what capacity does humanity have in itself to ever know God? And in what sense can even a redeemed humanity come to the conclusion that they have been placed into a stable situation that they can now manage between God and themselves? This is the mythology that Bultmann seeks to demythologize (even if he overdoes it in certain ways), and it is the essentialism that Barth’s actualism is intent on undercutting. If God’s self-revelation is an event, meaning a reality that keeps constantly giving Hisself over and over again, then in what sense can we, elect humanity in Christ, ever conclude that a stable bond of nature has now obtained such that we are in a position to speculate about the grandeur of the Holy God? This is what I constructively take from Bultmann’s programmatic move to destabilize what classical theism has asserted is the stable reality from their own powers of wit and speculation.


[1] George Hunsinger, How To Read Karl Barth: The Shape of His Theology (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 16-18.

[2] David W. Congdon, The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 488-90.


The Analogy of Holy Saturday as an Occasion for Fulfilling ‘The Great Commandment’

Dovetailing with the last post I thought this paragraph I just read from Barth was quite apropos. It works off of the analogy of the incarnation, and in application focuses on the significance—and paradox—of living in-between the first and second advents of Christ. This fits well, I think, also with an analogy of Holy Saturday as a vista-point from whence we can perspectivize ourselves from the vantage point of living by faith not sight. As Barth notes, we gain our visible lives from our invisible lives as they are hidden with Christ before God (reminds me of Colossians 3). This is an astounding thought that what it means to live from the eschatos of God’s life in Christ, in the here and now, is to love God and neighbor. This is the most important thing to God; that we love each other as an expression of and witness to the eternal love that God has for the other as the esse of His triune Life. The broader context Barth is writing from here is his reflection upon the ‘Great Commandment’ (cf. Mt 22). He writes:

The connexion and the difference between the two commandments are plain when we remember that the children of God, the Church now live, as it were, in the space in between the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and in the time of the forbearance of God and their own watching and waiting. In effect they live in two times and worlds. And in both of these their one undivided existence is claimed absolutely by God, subjected to His command and engaged to obedience. There can be no question of any other Lord but God claiming our love, or of any other object but God wanting to be loved. But the love of the children of God corresponds to their twofold existence in two times and worlds. The resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ have taken place. On this basis they are already members and participants of the new world created by Him, by faith in the manifestation of the Son of God in and with the human nature which He has adopted, in and with the flesh which He has united to His deity and glorified by His power. Represented by Him, peccatores iusti, in His person they are already assembled before the throne of God, citizens of His everlasting kingdom, participators in eternal life. They are in Christ; and it is in the totality of this their hidden being, which is none other than their actual human and creaturely existence here and now, that in the way described they are put under the commandment to love God, to seek after the One who has first sought and found them. But by virtue of the coming but not yet visible lordship of Jesus Christ, in faith in His coming, comforting themselves with the promise of the forgiveness of sins, given in the Word made flesh for all flesh, they always stand in need of comfort and warning of this promise, because although the former time and world are past they still lie, indeed are, behind them. They have to wait and watch for their Lord as iusti peccatores. They have to serve Him in the relationships, connexions and orderings of a reality which has, of course, been overthrown and superseded by His resurrection, but not yet visibly abolished and replaced by His second coming, in the space between the times, where it doth not yet appear what they shall be. The “walk” in the light in face of darkness, and in this visible pilgrimage in all its hope and peril, which is simply the totality of their actual human and creaturely activity here and now, God has placed them under the commandment to love their neighbour.[1]

If you are familiar with ‘Apocalyptic theology’ you will recognize those sorts of themes embedded in this passage from Barth; and if you’re not, then just know you’ve been exposed to what is currently being called apocalyptic theology.

As we contemplate this space between the death and resurrection of Christ, and think that into what Barth is referring us to in regard to the space between resurrection and ascension, I think this provides us with rich and deep theological space for thinking about what it means to be living in the now and looking forward to the not yet; even as we live from the not yet. To love God and neighbor, as Barth presses, ought to be characteristic of living in-between. It is this character that bears witness to the reality of God’s life as our life; as we participate in and from the eternal Life that is shaped by its self-giveness, as it looks to the other as the ground of its unity. Here we can typify Easter-love as we live from the well-spring of that love as it is given power and shape through the resurrection and exaltation of humanity therein. An exaltation of humanity that is given its greatest orientation as it understands its whence as that is situated and ‘hidden’ in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ; as the human who makes us human as He re-conciles us to the ordered life that God has always intended for us. That order is to love the other.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. –Colossians 3.1-4

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” –Matthew 22.34-40


[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, I/2 §18: Study Edition (London: T&T Clark, 2009), 211-12.

Elevation and Apocalyptic Theologies in Con-versation: Reflecting on the Practicality of Grace in the Christian’s Pursuit to Know God

I wanted to, in a bloggy fashion, briefly introduce and touch upon what my friend Myk Habets has called elevation theology. I have written on this before at the blog, but more pointedly, in those instances, I emphasized the related doctrine of the primacy of Jesus Christ over and for all creation. Since I am finally just now reading Edwin Chr. van Driel’s book Incarnation Anyway, I thought it timely to write something up on this theological locus. I will be referring to an essay Myk wrote years ago, and then to Philip Ziegler’s amazing book Militant Grace (2018). What I want to do is bring together a simple point of contact between elevation theology, and the apocalyptic theology that Ziegler alerts people to through his writings. I sort of had one of those aha moments while at work the other night; as I was reflecting on the implications of elevation theology, ‘incarnation anyway,’ and the logic of grace attendant to so called apocalyptic theology. What I put down in this post might not be that meaningful to you, but to me it represents a light-bulb.

Habets introduces his essay On Getting First Things First: Assessing Claims for the Primacy of Christ, this way:

According to Christian tradition Jesus Christ is pre-eminent over all creation as the Alpha and the Omega, the ‘beginning and the end’ (Rev 1.8, 21.6; 22.13). This belief, when theologically considered, is known as the primacy of Christ. The specific issue this doctrine addresses is the question: Was sin the efficient or the primary cause of the incarnation? This essay seeks to model the practice of modal logic in relation to the primacy of Christ, not to satisfy the cravings of speculative theologians but to reverently penetrate the evangelical mystery of the incarnation, specifically, the two alternatives: either ‘God became man independently of sin,’ or its contradiction, ‘God became man because of sin’. Examining historical responses to the primacy of Christ will lead to a consideration of how some recent theologians have taken up these themes and sought to develop them. This in turn provides resources that contribute towards an understanding of the incarnation assuming that the efficient cause was human sin. Finally, an argument will be presented defending the primacy of Christ and a justification for the hypothesis that there would have been an incarnation of the Son irrespective of the fall.[1]

The thought that hit me had to do with the idea that creation, if the ‘primacy of Christ’ doctrine is true, has an inherently extraneous source to its ‘being.’ If so, creation itself, as a contingent reality (creatio ex nihilo) only has a taxis or order to it as that is supplied to it by the gift of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. As corollary, Apocalyptic theology maintains a disruptive notion in regard to creation vis-à-vis the recreation that takes place in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. Ziegler cites Gaventa in this regard:

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.”[2]

Following, Ziegler expands further this way:

For my own part, I am certainly drawn to the task of envisaging an apocalyptic theology for “ardently Protestant” reasons. For it seems to me that, understood as it is here, apocalyptic is a discursive idiom uniquely suited to articulate the radicality, sovereignty, and militancy of adventitious divine grace; just so it is of real import to the dogmatic work of testing the continued viability of Protestant Christian faith. . . . The apocalyptic idiom starkly illumines at one and the same time both the drastic and virulent reality of human captivity and complicity in sin, and the extraordinary power of saving divine grace that outbids it, reminding us that things are at once much worse yet also paradoxically far, far better than we could possibly imagine them to be.[3]

Now, I’m leaving many moving parts out of this (because of space constraints), but when you allow elevation theology and apocalyptic theology to implicate each other, what stands out, at least to me, is how if creation itself is fully determined to be what it is, always already in God’s eternal and pre-destined life to be for us, for creation rather than against it, then attempting to find logics and ratio inherent within the created order—like natural law and natural theology do—in an attempt to discover a theological epistemology prior encountering God in Christ leads to a dead end.

What I’m tortuously attempting to draw out is the idea that: If creation never had an absolute or ‘pure’ ground in herself, but instead only finds that ground in the grace of God in creation/recreation as that is conditioned by Christ, then a genuine basis for a theological ontology/epistemology is only given in and through God’s Self-revelation and exegesis in Jesus Christ. Do you see what I’m attempting to highlight? If God’s proton is inextricably bound up in the eschaton of his life revealed in Christ, if his first Word of creation is grounded in his choice to be for the world in the grace of Christ, just as his last Word is indeed His first in the resurrection of Christ, then the only ground for knowledge of God can be found in that grace; in that relation that Jesus is for us as the eternal Logos made flesh. In other words, there is no general or profane logic embedded in the created order awaiting discovery as the bases for doing theological work; there is only theo-logic as that is grounded in the Christo-logic as that serves as the basis for the reality of the world—the world first and last, created and recreated.

What I am simply attempting to say is: if the incarnation was always the plan of God for the world, with or without sin entering the picture, then this at least suggests that there has always been a higher plane, an unattainable plane for achieving a genuine knowledge of God; outwith Christ. Apocalyptic theology helps to reinforce this sort of ‘primacy of Christ’ doctrine insofar as it emphasizes the disruptive nature of the incarnation and resurrection as that has to do with this present world order (in its in-between and anticipatory status). More practically I think it offers the Christian with a theology that fits better with the experience of the Christian life, as that is understood in the light of the cross of Christ itself. In other words, there is a ‘logic’ available to the Christian that reposes in the fact that they, by the Spirit, have become able to call ‘Jesus, Lord.’ It is in this practicality of the Christian life that the normal Christian can live a life steeped in the revelatory reality of Holy Scripture and its reality as that is given in Jesus Christ.

The proposal, if you hadn’t noticed, is a uniquely Protestant one that majors on a theology of the Word as the basis for thinking and living the Christian life. It doesn’t elide the tradition or history of the church’s mind, but it recognizes that the warp and woof of the Christian life is one that is ultimately grounded in a theological reality (ontology) that is always already contingent upon creation’s reality as that is given newness and freshness in the recreation realized in the resurrection and ascension of Christ. It keeps the Christian looking up, and allows God’s grace to supply the sort of optics that it only it/He can as the Christian seeks to know God in ever increasing ways. Theologies, of the absolutely ‘classical’ sort, sneer at this sort of grace only conception of creation, and its impact on a theological ontology/epistemology. But I think such sneer should be repented of precisely at the point that Christians aren’t ultimately or slavishly beholden to the ‘tradition’ of the church, per se, but instead we are captivated by the life of God for us as we come into union with that reality in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ.

I fear I have failed to really capture the gist I wanted to go after and articulate in this post, but hopefully something coherent made it through. There is a profound idea going on here between what we are given by so called elevation and apocalyptic theologies, and I think further thought needs to be given to this.


[1] Myk Habets, “On Getting First Things First: Assessing Claims for the Primacy of Christ,” Journal compilation C _ The Dominican Council/Blackwell Publishing Ltd, (2008): 343-44.

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

[3] Ibid., loc 214, 224.

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.

Secular Eschatology; Secular Salvation

Part of the human condition is living in a world wherein teleology is an inescapable reality. What I mean is that in-built into our creatureliness is an innate notion that nature, or creation is heading somewhere; viz. that it has some sort of end. It isn’t just Christians who have an eschatology as part of their doctrine of creation [or as the mainstay of their doctrine of creation]; it isn’t just Christians who have a belief in last things, and how the cosmos, and the earth therein ends. The secular, because of the human condition, because ‘eternity has been set in our hearts’ (Eccl. 3.11), has a view towards the way the natural order will come to an end. True, the Christian versus the Secular view is dissimilar in some radical ways, but this is to be expected just as some can call Christ, LORD, and others cannot; because the others do not have the Spirit. This dissimilarity notwithstanding, creatures build intellectual and even spiritual constructs based upon the hollowed-out material left to them in the old-fallen-creation; insofar as the old creation has God’s ratio, some might want to call it Logoi replete within it, here concepts of nature’s finitude and transitoriness help supply the secular with its own versions of the eschaton. These versions, the secular’s, are only able to be developed as a result of a sort of parasitic siphon on the actual eschatological reality as that has been Revealed in God’s Self-revelation in Jesus Christ. Within the webbing of this Revelation the secular is given conceptual/intellectual access that helps illumine further what remains for them in the old-fallen-world order. In other words, it’s not as if the secular has no exposure to the Revealed reality of God in the taxis of the intellectual world order of ideas. Indeed, the secular has been shaped, ‘innately,’ even as that is only given pressure for the secular in mostly unconscious ways, by the conceptual seeds broadcast this world over by the kerygmatic in-breaking of the Christian witness, as that has ruptured the horizon of this old-world-order with the Light of God’s own beaming Eschatos in the face of the Christ; it is in this new horizon that that old-horizon can faintly sense orientations that remain dead to them, insofar as the Spirit has not hovered over them bringing the sprout of new life—the seed imperishable.

All of the aforementioned to say: The world order itself, as broken man experiences it, provides for a schema of the ‘end’ that ultimately bears witness to the fact that humanity has never nor will ever be alone. Fallen humanity, the secular, lives in a world that requires a response to its stimuli. The stimuli of this world is a reality that is extra nos (outside of us), a reality that is external to us grounded in the heavenly session of the Son of Man seated at the Right Hand of the Father. This pressure, even for the fallen humanity, makes such humanity squirm under the Light of God’s forbearance; under the reality that this fallen humanity lives under the No of God’s Yes in Jesus Christ. Such contradiction to the secular’s attempt to create a life out of the world’s perceived nothings is precisely the point wherein humanity feels compelled to construct accounts of the ‘end’, as they couch that in their concepts of the ‘Beginning’ (protology), such that they hope to ‘innately’ mimic the reality pressed upon them without bowing the knee to this Ultimacy which they cannot escape. The secular has a concept of the beginning correlating to an end; not just in a linear sense, but in an apocalyptic sense. Colin Gunton helps illustrate what I’ve been getting at thus far,

When we seek to speak of the eschatological dimension of creation theology, we should be careful to define what it is that we mean theologically. There are in currency a number of what can be called secular eschatologies, often scientific theories of the end of things in the observable universe, taking the form of the disappearance of everything in an immense black hole, a heat death of everything or the equivalent death by extreme cold. In response, some scientists have attempted to salvage from the wreckage some form of secular salvation, supposing that a kind of immortality might be attainable for the human race if something could be projected into eternity in computerised form. It must be said of all these that they are not truly eschatological, in the sense we shall explore, because they are simply or largely projections on the universe of forms of this-worldly experience. It is possible that some of them may signal an end of all things in a more radical sense, but it remains the case that the end of things as we know them is not necessarily identical with the End, just as speculation about the ‘big bang’, or whatever, is not the same as the doctrine of creation out of nothing.[1]

Gunton helps to reinforce some of my own inklings, and at the same time brings even greater precision as he notes the role that human projection plays in constructing naturalistic concepts of the beginning and end.

For my part, what I want to drive home, in the main, is that no man or woman can escape the conditions which they have been born into. And the harder they try the more precision they will offer in regard to the sort of mimicry they will achieve when they attempt to explain reality under the new world order within which they exist (but do not live); i.e. the New-Creation. I think this is important: The Secular animal only proves the reality of the cross of Jesus Christ as they attempt to continue to find some sort of harbinger in its Shadow side. What I am pressing is the idea that humanity is objectively oriented to God by the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ; whether they will acknowledge that or not. In their disacknowledgement of that they only ironically bear witness to God’s No over them, and their fallen condition, while not participating in God’s Yes for them in Jesus Christ. As a result, they live from the ‘kingdom of darkness’ and attempt to create a reality, even an eschaton for the human story, that is given fiery breath from their doomed father, the devil. The devil has been attempting to construct a kingdom out of the rot of his own choice to be against Christ rather than for him for millennia untold. Is it any surprise that his progeny in the dark underworld of this fallen world bears witness not only to the No of God, but to the tactics and tics of the devil himself?

[1] Colin E. Gunton, The Triune Creator: A Historical And Systematic Study (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), Loc 2961, 2966 kindle.

Engaging With Karl Marx’s Utopia and the Future: With Some Constructively Christian Eschatologizing

Marxism. Utopia. Realities shunned by Americans in the main; well at least until lately. I am reading Terry Eagleton’s Why Marx Was Right. Not because I want to become a Marxist, but because I want to understand Marx and the subsequent developments of Marxisms better. One concept that is often caricatured, among others when it comes to Marx’s doctrine, is the concept of Utopia. I haven’t given much thought to it myself, other than to give in to the common idea that utopia represents some sort of a heaven on earth. But as Eagleton points out, at least for Marx himself, this really couldn’t be further from the truth. So for the rest of the post we will hear from Eagleton on Marx’s understanding of Utopia and the Future.

“So will there still be road accidents in this Marxist utopia of yours?” This is the kind of sardonic enquiry that Marxists have grown used to dealing with. In fact, the comment reveals more about the ignorance of the speaker than about the illusions of the Marxist. Because if utopia means a perfect society, then “Marxist utopia” is a contradiction in terms.

There are, as it happens, far more interesting uses of the word “utopia” in the Marxist tradition. One of the greatest English Marxist revolutionaries, William Morris, produced an unforgettable work of utopia in News from Nowhere, which unlike almost every other utopian work actually showed in detail how the process of political change had come about. When it comes to the everyday use of the word, however, it should be said that Marx shows not the slightest interest in a future free of suffering, death, loss, failure, breakdown, conflict, tragedy or even labour. In fact, he doesn’t show much interest in the future at all. It is a notorious fact about his work that he has very little to say in detail about what a socialist or communist society would look like. His critics may therefore accuse him of unpardonable vagueness; but they can hardly do that and at the same time accuse him of drawing up utopian blueprints. It is capitalism, not Marxism, that trades in futures. In The German Ideology, Marx rejects the idea of communism as “an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself.” Instead, he sees it in that book as “the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.”

Just as the Jews were traditionally forbidden to foretell the future, so Marx the secular Jew is mostly silent on what lie ahead. We have seen that he probably thought socialism was inevitable, but he has strikingly little to say about what it would look like. There are several reasons for this reticence. For one thing, the future does not exist, so that to forge images of it is a kind of lie. To do so might also suggest that the future is predetermined—that it lies in some shadowy realm for us to discover. We have seen that there is a sense in which Marx held that the future was inevitable. But the inevitable is not necessarily the desirable. Death is inevitable, too, but not in most people’s eyes desirable. The future may be predetermined, but that is no reason to assume that it is going to be an improvement on what we have at the moment. The inevitable, as we have seen, is usually pretty unpleasant. Marx himself needed to be more aware of this.

Foretelling the future, however, is not only pointless; it can actually be destructive. To have power even over the future is a way of giving ourselves a false sense of security. It is a tactic for shielding ourselves from the open-ended nature of the present, with all its precariousness and unpredictability. It is to use the future as a kind of fetish—as a comforting idol to cling to like a toddler to its blanket. It is an absolute value which will not let us down because (since it does not exist) it is as insulated from the winds of history as a phantom. You can also seek to monopolise the future as a way of dominating the present. The true soothsayers of our time are not hairy, howling outcasts luridly foretelling the death of capitalism, but the experts hired by the transnational corporations to peer into the entrails of the system and assure its rulers that their profits are safe for another ten years. The prophet, by contrast, is not a clairvoyant at all. It is a mistake to believe that the biblical prophets sought to predict the future. Rather, the prophet denounces the greed, corruption and power-mongering of the present, warning us that unless we change our ways we may well have no future at all. Marx was a prophet, not a fortuneteller.[1]

Before I say anymore, Eagleton’s perspective of the biblical prophet is half-baked and relies upon a certain anti-super-naturalistic approach to Holy Scripture and its Prophets and Apostles. If someone reads the Bible it is clear that its prophets and apostles believe that they are referring to something concrete and future; something that they weren’t experiencing yet, but knew because of who God is, and because he keeps his promises that they someday would, as a people, experience his promises to them. It was upon this basis that they not only forthspoke but also foretold future realities; of most significance with reference to Jesus Christ. So Eagleton is just wrong on this score (as he wrote this originally he was either an atheist or agnostic; I’ve heard of late that he may well have returned to the Catholic church).

Nevertheless, he helps to provide greater clarity in regard to what Karl Marx believed ‘utopia’ and the ‘future’ entail as realities. I think, at least with reference to Eagleton’s telling of Marx, there is some wisdom in recognizing that attempting to divine things about the future—even in the name of Jesus—can become idolatrous. Idolatrous in the sense, as Eagleton notes, that we are looking for stability and security in some abstract conception of a forthcoming history as we have designed and divined that. It is in the shadow of this idol that ethics, foreign policies, geo-political postures, perceptions of other nationalities and races, and a host of other shibboleths can be fostered and allowed to fester. As Christians we can learn something from this sort of perspective about the future, even from a materialist like Marx. It isn’t that Christians don’t have a proleptic-future oriented looking view in regard to eschatological reality; it is just that a properly Christian orientation to such things will recognize that that reality is not something that we determine or that is at our behest. Christians will recognize that God in Jesus Christ himself is the eschatos, the last thing that is not absent or in a faraway land, but that he is personally present with us in eucharistic form spread abroad in the hearts of his people by the Holy Spirit. In other words, Christians, while standing in a genuine hope for the future—i.e. the bodily resurrection secured in Christ’s resurrection for us—have not been left as orphans; we live from the future of God for us in the risen and vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. This is not something that we could have ever secured, or divined, but it is something God could. As such, we live lively lives not of our own possession, not of our own construction, but lives put to death and risen again, over and again from Christ’s life for us. This is important: we live in a vulnerable state in regard to our grasp on the past, present, and future, but the grasp on our lives by God’s great big hands are indeed secure; yet not a reality that we have control over, but instead one that we trust can keep us from being plucked out.

Marx can provide some intellectual and even spiritual foil for the Christian, even as the materialist and atheist that he was. But he should not be given too much shrift. He rejected the living Christ, and the living God; so his perspective will be skewed, he did not have the resources to supply people with the hope that God alone can and has in Jesus Christ. Yet, I think it is important to get Marx right, particularly in regard to the nuance he had with reference to realities like utopia. By engaging with the nuance he had we might find some fruitful lines of self-criticality even as Christians. If God could use the Abimelechs, the Assyrians, and the Athenians to work his purposes; he certainly could use a Marx.

[1] Terry Eagleton, Why Marx Was Right (New Haven&London: Yale University Press, 2011), Loc 774, 782, 790, 797 kindle version.

A Note on the Christian Conception of the Relationship Between Church and State: A Christopolitical Dispatch

Theo-politics have been somewhat of an uninterrogated reality for me. As a conservative evangelical, growing up, I sloppily and haphazardly went the way of the Republican party as “the lesser of two-evils” in our representative government in North America. As time has progressed, and I have developed more (at least I like to think that) I have become what might be called unenthralled and agnostic when it comes to politics, but the reality is that this just cannot be. As a Christian politics is always a present reality; the fact that Jesus is Lord (kyrios) is in itself a call to action, and to be engaged in such a way that requires that I be intentionally thoughtful about theopolitical action. The theo attached to the political is of upmost and adjectival significance for me; it might be better, just for sake of clarity and specificity to call this concern christopolitical. So this has caused me a bit of anguish—although the realities of daily life often keep me preoccupied such that I have less time to critically contemplate such verities with the type of acuity that I’d like—as a result I keep seeking ways to think about my relation to the state as a member of Christ’s church (catholic).

In seminary I took a class called Church and Culture; this class was taught by Paul Metzger, and in it we worked through Karl Barth’s concepts on the relationship between the sacred and secular—we spent our time working through Metzger’s PhD dissertation on the subject helping him get it ready for publication. It was in this class that I really began to see a critical way to think theopolitics, but that remained an inchoate reality for me; nevertheless the frame was set for thinking such things through the analogy of the incarnation and the Chalcedonian pattern which the hypostatic union provided the component concepts towards. Not too long ago I read Barth’s book Against the Stream, which represent some post-second world war talks and lectures he gave, as I recall, in Hungary and Poland. In these published lectures I gained an even better grasp for what I was introduced to in Metzger’s class; in regard to how to think of the relationship between the state/church in a Christic frame. Most recently (like tonight) I have continued to read through Cornelius van der Kooi and Gijsbert van den Brink’s Christian Dogmatics, and have come to the section where they are sketching the various approaches that have developed in the history of ecclesial interpretation in regard to how Christians have thought the relation of church/state together. Here I want to share two of the four frames that I find most attractive (and leave the other two frames to the side since they are less attractive to me). What you will find is that Barth’s approach juxtaposed with a sort of Reformized Anabaptist tradition is what comes to the fore in my own proclivities relative to thinking state/church, and ‘kingdom theology’ together (and apart in some ways). Here is what Kooi and Brink have to offer us:

The church as a Christ-confessing church for all people. After the Second World War the Dutch Reformed Church promoted the ideal of a Christ-confessing church for all people; in this way it tried to connect distance from and commitment to public affairs. The model followed Barth’s proposal that the church, by its proclamation, should fulfill a public role for the common good. This “theology of the apostolate” has also been referred to as proclamation-theocracy: the church does not directly interfere in the government and does not attempt t usurp its powers but rather, on the basis of the Bible, holds up a prophetical-critical mirror before those who govern. The ideals of the World Council of Churches and other efforts to have the church assume a prophetic role in the world also belong in this category. The supporters of this view were optimistic about its possibilities, but in the Netherlands their attempt failed because the forces of secularization were stronger than expected.[1]

They continue with the fourth frame, which is that much more amenable with an Apocalyptic theological frame that I am oriented from (see Philip Ziegler’s new book Militant Grace: The Apocalyptic Turn and the Future of Christian Theology); but also with an Anabaptist tenor in the flux of this frame of understanding.

The church as a counterculture or contrast community. A recent and popular image for the church’s role in the public domain proposes that it be a “contrast community” (Yoder, Hauerwas; but also  more and more theologians from mainline Protestant churches feel attracted to  this model; e.g., see Bruijne 2012). That is, the church is not primarily an association with some good ideas; its vitality is found by living under a new life order, namely, that of the kingdom. This kingdom produces its own politics, a structure of practices in which people bless each other, wish each other well, forgive each other, and reject all forms of violence. It only bears witness of the heavenly kingdom but is itself a witness through its praxis. This praxis, in fact, answers the question of how the church may speak.

This position strongly emphasizes the difference between the church and the world; it may indeed be called Anabaptist to the extent that the orders of heavenly and earthly citizenship are kept far apart. Practically, it leaves the political order to its own devices. But it can also take a more Reformed or Catholic shape through a new appreciation of the Augustinian doctrine of the two kingdoms—by recognizing, in other words, that in real life the two realms cannot be totally separated. They are intertwined here below and will be separated by God only in the eschaton. (see Matt 13:29-30). In this world Christians must live with this tension. When they try to escape and eliminate that tension (as in the Anabaptist view), they withdraw from the ongoing course of history, in which God ordains that his church live. A real continuity connects the fallen world and redemption, and the work of the Holy Spirit is not confined to the domains of the church and believer; it seeks to have an impact upon the world. What we noted in chapter 8 about a responsible doctrine of sin is relevant at this point. It enables us to take a realistic view of the world and to implement damage control from the perspective of God’s new reality. This attitude differs from that of older Protestant positions in consciously leaving behind the quest for relevance, and with it the majority strategy that for many centuries burdened and plagued the church in the public domain.[2]

Between these two frames, particularly the latter paragraph in the latter frame emerges a semblance of my own approach to the relationship between the state/church-secular/sacred. I alluded to Ziegler’s work in his book Militant Grace, the themes he identifies and develops therein also provide the sort of theological depth that I like to appeal to in order to thicken what these sketches only present in introductory form. What’s at center for me in all of this, from a theological perspective (what other perspective is there for the Christian?), is that the doctrine of the primacy of Jesus Christ orients all considerations about Everything. In other words, this whole discussion takes place, for me, between the two poles of protology and eschatology, original creation and disruptive recreation in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There still yet remains agnosticisms in regard to how all of this gets applied in daily life, and in my own perceptual encounter with the complexities foisted upon us by the travail and groaning that this old creation, and the human governments therein present; but this ought to let you in on how I intend to approach this world, in its highly charged christopolitical context, for the glory of God in the name of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

[1] Cornelius van der Kooi and Gijsbert van den Brink, Christian Dogmatics: An Introduction (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017), 636-37.

[2] Ibid. 637-38.

Living in the ‘Feeling’ and Reality of Freedom from Sin that God Desires For Us In Christ: From Gestation to Resurrection

I really struggled with a false sense of guilt and condemnation for particular sins from my past for years upon years. The enemy of my soul kept me living under ‘a yoke of bondage’ that Jesus said I ‘would be free indeed’ from. The Lord did not leave me as an orphan though, by the Spirit he ministered to me through a sort of rigorous exercise of training me to think rightly about reality as declared in the evangel of His life as borne witness to in Holy Scripture. After many years of anxiety and depression, particularly stemming from living under this false yoke of condemnation the Lord used the reality of creation and recreation to bring the freedom that I so desperately desired. I am sure that I am not alone in this walk, and so I thought I would share a little bit of how this ‘training’ from the Lord looks; at least the way it looks for me.

As I just intimated a doctrine of creation and recreation, along with God’s sovereign providential care of all reality, played the required roles for me to finally see that I truly was and am free (for God and others). As already noted this sort of education from God was motivated by a crisis—we might refer to it as a theology of crisis—a crisis that brought the realization home that I did not have the resources in myself to bring the freedom that God alone could bring.[1] So how does this relate to God being Creator; and not just in an intellectual sense, but how does that reality relate to these real life spiritual issues in a existential felt manner?

In order to help explain what I’m attempting to detail let me offer a very brief definition of the theological concept creatio ex nihilo (‘creation out of nothing’). Keith Ward offers this definition:

Creatio ex nihilo (Latin for “creation from nothing”) refers to the view that the universe, the whole of space-time, is created by a free act of God out of nothing, and not either out of some preexisting material or out of the divine substance itself. This view was widely, though not universally, accepted in the early Christian Church, and was formally defined as dogma by the fourth Lateran Council in 1215. Creatio ex nihilo is now almost universally accepted by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Indian theism generally holds that the universe is substantially one with God, though it is usually still thought of as a free and unconstrained act of God.[2]

There are many important theological implications we could explore simply based upon this brief definition, but for our purposes I wanted to inject this definition into this discussion to elevate the idea that God is the Creator, and thus all of creation is contingent upon his Word. It was this idea that God started to use in my life, years ago, before I ever had any understanding of ‘creation out of nothing’, that I could have freedom from my past. This concept, before I knew the theological parlance was captured for me in this Bible verse, “3And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high….” (Heb. 1.3). Interesting how even in this verse the concept of being purified from sins and God’s ‘upholding all things by the word of His power’ are connected. It was this connection that God used to bring freedom for me. The lesson took many years, and was full of ‘anfechtung’ (trial-tribulation). The Lord allowed me to existentially feel the weight of what this world might look like without him as the One holding it together. It is very hard for me to verbalize the sense that I experienced, but it was as if I was questioning all of reality; even physical reality. I would look out at the world and based upon the sort of nihilistic logic that had infiltrated my mind (as a Christian!) over the years I would have this excruciating condition of feeling the transitoriness of all of reality. It was living in this reality, accompanied by ‘intellectual doubts’ (not spiritual) about God’s existence, that of course!, threw me into great pits of despondency and despair. But it was also through this that my perception of reality was transferred from one contingent upon my word—and this world system’s word—to God’s Word. It was this process, ironically, that allowed me to finally understand that “If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.” (Rom. 8.31–32) Again, like with the Hebrews passage, we see here in Paul’s theology that a connection is made between freedom from condemnation and the creational reality of God’s Word; except here what is emphasized is not creation in general, but creation in particular as that is particularized in the re-creation of God in Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Once I’d been schooled enough with the reality that ‘reality’ is God’s reality based alone upon his given and sustaining Word; once I could ‘feel’ that weight, not just intellectually, but spiritually-affectively, the resurrection and re-creation therein had the real life impact I personally needed to be ‘free’ and stand fast in the freedom that the Son said I would be free within (Jn. 8.36); his freedom in the re-creation; the resurrection; the new creation; the new humanity that is his for us.

So I had this doctrine of creation out of nothing in place, in a ‘felt’ way; with the emphasis being upon the reality that God alone holds all of reality together. It was within this conceptual frame that the doctrine of re-creation and resurrection came alive for me; in an existential-spiritual-felt and lived sense. This is why Karl Barth’s doctrine of resurrection has resonated with me so deeply. It is tied into the type of ‘primordial’ thinking that creatio ex nihilo operates from—as part and parcel of God’s upholding Word—and then explicates that from within a theology of God’s Word wherein the primacy of Christ’s life is understood as the telos the fulcrum of what created reality is all about. Robert Dale Dawson really helped me to appreciate this sort of connection between creation out of nothing and Barth’s doctrine of re-creation as he wrote this:

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.[3]

Threading out the academic technicalities (that are important in their original context), and focusing on the concepts that serve our purposes, what I draw from this is the significance of what Dawson identifies in Barth’s theology as ‘the primordiality of the resurrection as the singular history-making, yet history-delimiting, act of God.’ Can you see how all of this might provide the sort of apocalyptic freedom we are in need of in order to live the sort of ‘free’ life that God wants us to before him? It does seem rather mechanical and academic; I agree. Let me try to summarize and draw together the themes I’ve been attempting to highlight in order to provide you with a maybe-way forward in your own spiritual walk and life as a Christian.

The Conclusion. It is actually rather basic, but deeply profound; at least for me. What is required is that we ask for eyes of faith to see what God sees in Christ. He will school us in his ways as we seek him first in the Scripture’s reality in Christ. He will work things into our lives that will shorn away the accretions of the ‘worldly-system-wisdom’ with his wisdom; the wisdom of the cross. He will allow you to ‘feel’ the existential weight of his life, and the reality that that upholds, and within this, this apocalyptic reality of his in-breaking life into ours, the reality that the God who could rightly condemn us has broken into the surly contingencies of our sinful lives and become the ‘Judge, judged.’ If the God who holds all reality together by the Word of his power in Jesus Christ invades this world in the Son, takes his just condemnation of our sins (no matter what they are!) upon himself for us, puts that death to death in his death on the cross, and then re-creates all of reality in his resurrection; then there remains no space for condemnation. The One who could condemn me stands in the way and has eliminated the sphere for condemnation insofar that he has re-created a world wherein only his righteousness reigns and dwells in his enfleshed life for us in his Son, Jesus Christ. What I just noted is the key to grasp. There is another world in Christ; a world accessible by the eyes of faith, provided by the eyes of Christ, in his vicarious humanity which we are enlivened into by the Holy Spirit. This is the real reality that Christians live in and from; and it is this reality that I cling to whenever the enemy of my soul wants to bring me into a life of bondage that belongs to the world that he is king over; a world that is dead and no longer real by virtue of the reality of God’s new world re-created and realized in the primacy of Jesus Christ.

I hope this small reflection might help provide some liberation for some of you out there as well. I realize this all might seem pretty academic, but I don’t really see things that way; I’m hoping you’ll see as a result of this post why I don’t see things in terms of the ‘academic.’ I think good theology, whether people think it is “academic” or not can begin to see that at spiritual levels these ideas can have real life impact and consequences, and that God can use them for the good; he did so, and continues to work this way for me. Just recently, as recent as yesterday, the devil tried to bring me back into a sense of false condemnation and guilt, and I found relief in the very ideas I’ve just outlined. The process, in the head, can be somewhat mechanistic, when working through things this way, but, at least for me, it is what is required for to live a life of freedom that God wants me to live in and from his Son, and my Savior, Jesus Christ. Soli Deo Gloria.


[1] This might also explain why I have so much resonance with Karl Barth’s theology. Early on Barth was known as a theologian of crisis. Martin Luther’s theology was spawned by deep angst, and his theology is often related to what is known in German as Anfechtung (trial/tribulation). This is why I have found these theologians, among others, as some of my most insightful teachers; they understand that the ‘wisdom of the cross’, that a theologia crucis and a theologia resurrectionis are the key components for knowing God and making him known to others. This is where God meets us; it’s where he knows we must be met if we are going to meet him.

[2] Keith Ward, Creatio Ex Nihilo (, accessed 05-18-2018.

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

Using Apocalyptic Theology to ‘Re-fund’ the Doctrine of Total Depravity with the Hope of ‘De-funding’ the Pelagian-Impulse in the Christian Church

I don’t have any quotes from someone else in this post; I simply wanted to state something very briefly. Many of my posts are in critique of what I have called classical Calvinism, which is a designation I use to classify the dominant form (in its reception) of ‘Reformed theology’ or Calvinism in its common expressions in the 21st century west (whether that be an elaborate form of federal theology, or a reduced form of five-pointism). That notwithstanding, Evangelical Calvinism, as myself and Myk Habets articulate it (and in this post I am really just speaking for myself) have a strong doctrine of total depravity. That is, we believe that at a moral/spiritual level, theological-anthropologically, there is nothing in humanity but a homo incurvatus in se (human incurved upon themselves); a very Augustinian concept, or more pointedly, I’d argue, Pauline. It is at this point that Evangelical Calvinists can lock-arms with their classical Calvinist cousins; yet, I’d argue, that in many cases this is only in principle (de jure). The intention of articulating a doctrine of total depravity is to take away any sort of Pelagian notion that within humanity there is a neutral spot, a point of contact that remains lively between God and humanity; a point of contact that is not contingent upon God’s choice to be for humanity, but instead upon humanity’s choice to be or not to be for God. We see this principle, the ‘Pelagian-principle’ rearing its head over and over again through the history of interpretation in the church. Whether that be in Pelagius himself, John Cassian following, the Roman Catholic church with its teaching on created and cooperative grace, certain iterations of Reformed federal theology that have a doctrine of preparationism (quid pro quo contractual conception of salvation), or what have you. I contend that this impulse, this Pelagianizing impulse remains a pernicious devil that wants to remain present at all costs; and as such through many forms of sophistication and subtleties we do indeed see it remaining, even in various iterations (significant ones) of so called Christian theology.

As a proponent of what has come to be called ‘Apocalyptic theology’ I think that theology, which I take ultimately to be heavenly and Pauline, has the realistic resources to counter this Pelagian-impulse; in the sense that apocalyptic theology takes seriously the radicality required in order to deal with the human-inspired desire to continuously inject itself into the realm that alone belongs to God. Apocalyptic theology ultimately recognizes that creation is in such a dire place of irreconciliation with God that its only hope is if God breaks into his creation in Jesus Christ, puts it to death, resurrects and recreates such that creation itself only has hope if it lives from this new creation whose name is Jesus Christ. Apocalyptic theology sees nothing of value left in the old creation (in the sense of a moral component left in humanity before God), and by consequent, Pelagianism, and all its Genesis 3.15ish iterations go the way of the ‘stony ground.’ Humanity, soteriologically, only has hope as it lives from the reality of the new creation, from the new humanity in Jesus Christ; the humanity whose reality is only realized by the person of the eternal Logos, the Son of God, who we now know as Jesus Christ (an/enhypostasis).

We need to constantly repent and live from Christ. Total depravity recognizes the dangers of presuming a place in humanity that has spark for God apart from God’s intervention in Christ. Sometimes people who are proponents of total depravity in word, in deed end up undercutting the intention of total depravity by offering theological models and constructs that end up re-inserting the very premises that total depravity was intended to guard against (think of ‘created grace’ for example).

The Apostle Paul’s Apocalyptic Vision of the World Constituted by the Living Christ: In Dialogue with Bonhoeffer

Pauline, and thus canonical apocalyptic theology fits where I am at to a T. Philip Ziegler continues to unpack for us what such theology looks like in its various iterations scattered throughout the theological past and present. Here he is engaging with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s own style of apocalyptic theology, and in this instance how that gets fleshed out in the realm of ethics and the ‘moral life.’

As Bonhoeffer comes to argue in the Ethics, only trust that reality has in fact been decisively constituted by God’s apocalypse in Christ underwrites “serious” grappling with moral life in the world. Against abstract “sectarian” and “compromise” postures toward the world, he says this:

Neither the idea of a pure Christianity as such nor the idea of the human being as such is serious, but only God’s reality and human reality as they have become one in Jesus Christ. What is serious is not some kind of Christianity, but Jesus Christ himself. In Jesus Christ God’s reality and human reality take the place of radicalism and compromise. There is no Christianity as such; if there were, it would destroy the world. There is no human being as such; if there were, God would be excluded. Both are ideas. There is only the God-man Jesus Christ who is real, through whom the world will be preserved until it is ripe for its end. [Bonhoeffer, Ethics, 155]

The realism that Bonhoeffer sets over against all idealism in church and theology is thus apocalyptic. Since “revelation gives itself without precondition and is alone able to place one into reality,” he says, serious theological ethics, is no less than dogmatics, must struggle for forms of thinking appropriate to God’s apocalypse in Christ Jesus. The ages having turned, Christians are alert to the fact that they stand together with all others in a world who reality has been both taken apart and put back together with effect by God’s redemptive triumph through the cross: it has become Christ-reality.[1]

This is radical stuff; the stuff of what it means to think Christianly. As the Apostle Paul asserts: ‘we walk by faith not by sight.’ I would suggest that a Scripture reader, one who reads it consistently and often, will arrive at this conclusion about reality and the world.

Personally, when I apply this perspective to daily life it blows my mind; in a good way! As I look out at the heavens, at the trees and birds, at the sporadic coyote that comes across the rail every morning at work, as I look at the mass of humanity, I see it through this lens; the cruciform lens  offered by God’s life for the world in Jesus Christ. We cannot go back, the old order has been disrupted by the in-breaking of God’s life in Christ; the older order lived in proleptic service to the new that would eventually invade it, disrupt it, disorient it, and re-constitute it by the order always already present in the antecedent, the inner triune life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This calls the Christian to look at the world with fresh eyes, eyes full of anticipation and hope that all is not lost; that the perceptively crooked has already been made manifestly straight in the ruling life of the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ. This fills me with great hope and assurance, not only for the present reality, but with the realization that this life now is contingent and in repose upon the life of God that sustains it moment by moment with his upholding Word. I don’t think I can articulate just how much of an upheaval this way of thinking is; at least for me. I like to think that I live in a world that is enchanted with a splendorous life, with an uncontainable pleroma that has been particularized immemorial in the Lamb of God, slain but risen. There is power here, like that found in the Lion from the tribe of Judah; a power, a perception that cannot be ameliorated by an unbelief of the old order, but that instead reigns supreme in the regnant belief of the Son in the Father for us. This is an all consuming reordering of things; not something simply inchoate, not just a seedling, but a full grown blossoming tree full of lively leaves and effervescent fruit with the power to heal the nations. We walk by faith, the faith of Christ, but in this Kingdom, faith is sight; it is not grasping, it is not jumping into a fantastical world of our own projecting, it is instead a world fully contingent upon the indestructible life of God. While the world continues to languish in despair and unbelief, the life of God’s belief for the world concretized in the eternal Logos will not be intimated or vanquished; no, God’s life cannot be stopped. There is hope. This is what I take apocalyptic theology to be offering.

[1] Philip G. Ziegler, Militant Grace: The Apocalyptic Turn and the Future of Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2018), 180 kindle.