How Karl Marx Can Be Used But Not Affirmed: The Material of the Gospel is More Powerful than the Material Under the Sun

I am currently rereading Terry Eagleton’s little book Why Marx Was Right. I am rereading it because it seems timely and pertinent to the political season we are in, in the Church and the world; but I am also rereading it because Eagleton is such a good writer and thus delightful to read. Eagleton himself is a Marxist, but he offers a critical reading of the man Karl Marx such that I think it is helpful towards becoming discerning and critical readers and interpreters of culture ourselves. In various sectors of the evangelical churches we hear a lot about critical theory and cultural Marxism. The More ‘Fundy’ side is labeling anything having to do with ‘racial reconciliation,’ of the sort we just saw the SBC put forward, as devilishly Marxists. On the other hand, we see Social Justice proponents labeling their labelers as backwater inbreeds. I thought it would be helpful for us to get beyond this malaise, and dig into what Marxism actually does entail; per the man: Karl Marx. As I read Eagleton’s book the first time this is what stood out to me most: i.e. that Marx’s thought is not exactly univocal with what is being lifted up as cultural Marxism or Democratic Socialism in our 21st century times. That said, I wanted to share a critique of Capitalism, from the Marxian perspective, that I actually think all people, irrespective of identity politico affiliation, ought to be able to affirm (we want to avoid genetic fallacies on either side, don’t we?). As Christians we have a higher standard for determining right and wrong, one that transcends national and ethnic boundaries; one that is grounded in the particular scandal of the Son of God made human in the assumed flesh of the God-man, Jesus Christ.

Eagleton identifies what drove Marx in his late 19th century Western European context. Marx, according to Eagleton, saw inequalities inherent to the greater class system that he thought should be abolished; we all know this about Marx. Here Marx was able to identify a real problem, one that continues to face us today even that much more as we are now in the ‘seeded’ stage of what I think is the latter days of a Crony-Capitalism gone awry at a globalized level. Eagleton writes of Marx’s critique:

In our own time, as Marx predicted, inequalities of wealth have dramatically deepened. The income of a single Mexican billionaire today is equivalent to the earnings of the poorest 17 million of his compatriots. Capitalism has created more prosperity than history ever witnessed, but the cost—not least in the near-destitution of billions—has been astronomical. According to the World Bank, 2.74 billion people in 2001 live on less than two dollars a day. We face a probable future of nuclear-armed states warring over a scarcity of re-sources; and that scarcity is largely the consequence of capitalism itself. For the first time in history, our prevailing form of life has the power not simply to breed racism and spread cultural cretinism, drive us into war or herd us into labour camps, but to wipe us from the planet. Capitalism will behave antisocially if it is profitable for it to do so, and that can now mean human devastation on an unimaginable scale. What used to be apocalyptic fantasy is today no more than sober realism. The traditional leftist slogan “Socialism or barbarism” was never more grimly apposite, never less of a mere rhetorical flourish. In these dire conditions, as Fredric Jameson writes, “Marxism must necessarily become true again.”[1]

Clearly Eagleton speaks to us, of Marx, from a materialist and purely horizontal frame of reference; but I think his descriptions of things as they stand in the world paint for us the stark realities we are faced with. Marx [and Eagleton] are both right in recognizing the dire straits we are facing. We can see how classism and racism have risen again, or maybe we can see now more clearly how they never went away. As the oligarchs, corporatists, and globalists rise up off the backs of the slave classes, even if they’ve gotten wiser to how they treat the chattel, as Christians, I think it is important to identify where injustices have and are taking place. What makes this harder is that even in the recognition of these injustices classes are created insofar as identity-group-think represents distinct socio-politico classifications. This is where Marx’s vision or prescription for world harmony and leisure falls very short. As Christians I think we can recognize some of the good insights that Marx’s system is able to identify, even as that is done under the sun, and at the same time junk his prescription and displace that with the apocalyptic Gospel of God in Christ that has invaded this world system from beyond and over the sun.

I find myself at an impasse. You see, I see value in some of Marx’s more critical observations about how things are. But at the same time I am unwilling to take the form of his prescription for how the world ought to move forward. I think he is right in recognizing, at a social level, how economics affect all sorts of social realities. I think he is right to notice that the corporate class has risen to a level of imbalance and power that ought to be reserved for God alone (although Marx thinks we are gods—a sort of fatal flaw to his theorizing). So, even though he had the power of insight to identify how these material realities cohere to form the social pressures we currently live under; he fails to have adequate clairvoyance to recognize the real power of God that is required to bring the sort of social change that we all desire and know will finally be the shalom of God in Christ. I think I am somewhat contradicting myself in an earlier post I wrote. But in Marx I do think we can find someone who helps identify social ills, and how those have been organized around purely material means. This is something of the way Barth saw philosophy; it has an inherently horizontal value that cannot actually reach the sort of vertical heights required to affect real God-given and new creational change.

 

[1] Terry Eagleton, Why Marx Was Right (New Haven&London: Yale University Press, 2011), Loc 172, 179 kindle version.

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What is Culture? And Our Ambassadorial Role Within the Cultures

Culture is an amorphous thing to get one’s head around. We use it casually, and as if we all just understand what we mean; but do we? David Congdon offers a nice sketch and discussion of this in his book The Mission of Demythologizing, and I’d like to share a bit of what he has written for our consideration.[1] Congdon writes:

Despite the problems associated with the word, it remains a useful nomenclature for whatever it is that differentiates one group of people from another. Notwithstanding his own misgivings about the concept, Eagleton provides a helpful definition of the word along these lines:

Culture can be loosely summarized as the complex of values, customs, beliefs and practices which constitute the way of life of a specific group. . . . Culture is just everything which is not generically transmissible. . . . Culture is the implicit knowledge of the world by which people negotiate appropriate ways of acting in specific contexts. Like Aristotle’s phronesis, it is more know-how than know-why, a set of tacit understandings or practical guidelines as opposed to a theoretical mapping of reality.

At a very general level, then, culture refers to the implicit categories and preunderstandings that differentiate some people from others. This “implicit knowledge” concerns the whole matrix of social relations constituted by linguistic, socioeconomic, religious, and other characteristics.

We will have occasion in the next chapter to flesh out this understanding of culture more concretely in relation to Bultmann. For now we can simply note that culture refers not to a theoretical Weltanschauung or worldview (“know-why”), but rather to the tacit Welthild or world-picture (“know-how”). The tensions and conflicts between cultures are related to the tensions and conflicts between divergent world-pictures. Understood in this way, the word “culture” indexes the prereflective factors related to why one person is strange to another person. These factors can be as broad as a nation or as narrow as a particular historical situation. At the same time, because cultures are not worldviews they are also plastic and permeable, open to the infinite possibilities of intercultural exchange and transcultural commingling. Cultures are intrinsically hybridizable. For this very reason the contested nature of the concept is appropriate to its contesting subject matter. The polysemy of the concept corresponds to the way cultures are continually bearing witness—that is, con (together) testare (testifying)—to the coexistence of multiple identities, the crossing and blurring and renegotiating of our various horizons and situations. Precisely in this way the idea of culture lends itself to missiological and hermeneutical reflection.[2]

I don’t have much follow up on this. But I think something as basic as this goes a long way towards helping us engage the ‘culture.’ Even though, as Congdon and Eagleton help us understand, culture, as a word, symbolizes something that is prereflective; it is nevertheless helpful to be aware of this. As Christian theologians we are called to engage with the culture, even as we live in the culture. We are called to translate the new-culture, or the new-creation we have been brought into by the grace of God in Christ, and deliver this reality to the broader world.

One more point: the idea of culture being ‘related to why one person is strange to another person’ is very pertinent for the Christian reality. The Gospel, according to the Apostle Paul, is considered foolishness, dare we say ‘strange’ to the Greek. This illustrates the definition of culture as just presented. There is strangeness to the Gospel, and the culture it creates for those of us participant within its reality, precisely because it invades the various worldly cultures from another ground. The culture of Heaven is the true culture, or the culture that will last. The culture of Heaven is other-worldly, and yet because of Who God is, it has the capacity to accommodate itself to the cultures of this world; transforming and redeeming them from within. As God’s culture in Christ penetrates the cultures of the world, it provides these various threads with a telos and trajectory that can give them ultimate meaning. But it doesn’t leave these cultures unchanged or unhinged; indeed the culture of Heaven often contradicts and puts to death the cultures of the world that attempt to construct self-purpose apart from God’s self-sustaining purpose that is truly Life.

Whether we want to appropriate the concept of culture the way I have just done, either way, I think David’s notion of ‘culture’ is helpful in a basic and broad-sense way as we think about what in fact culture entails. It is something we take for granted on a daily basis, and as we can see this taken-for-grantedness, in regard to understanding what culture is, is in fact what culture is in many important ways. It is a tacit reality that we are groomed in and learn. But that said, as Christians we also understand that there are many things we ‘tacitly learn’ that need to be unlearned and repented of when confronted with the reality of Heaven’s culture; even as that other-worldly culture confronts us right where we are, and often in the forms of our various cultural nexuses. It is an inescapable fact that we are embedded and enculturated creatures. God knows this, and in His Wisdom and Capaciousness, He has the capacity to meet us where we are moment by moment afresh and anew. As we are confronted by Him in this midst, we can learn His ways of translation and accommodation to the broader cultures of the world; while at the same time not becoming captive to the cultures of the world that would seek to undercut the Heavenly culture we have become ambassadors of.

[1] Let the reader understand: Just because I refer to Congdon’s work does not mean I endorse the conclusions of his work in regard to the appropriation of Bultmann’s theology in the main. But I am committed to reading through the whole of his 800pp+ book in order to better critically engage with that sector of the Church. Not to mention that David presents much that can be constructively appropriated for those of us who still see value in the modern theological project. Anyway, this particular reference to Congdon has nothing to do with Bultmann, per se. Instead, it is more of a ground clearing point of development that David is engaged in, in order to more faithfully and critically engage with the implications of Bultmann’s work. I am lifting this quote, as it were, as a pre-text, and then using it differently than David does in his work.

[2] David W. Congdon, The Mission Of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortess Press, 2015), 528-30.

An Outsider’s Perspective on the SBC’s Resolution 9 and Critical Race Theory

I am not a Southern Baptist, but I am Baptistic, at least with reference to a doctrine of Baptism—grew up as a Conservative Baptist. So, I am somewhat outside of the current dust-up happening as a consequence of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting. In this meeting they successfully pushed through Resolution 9, which has to do with the affirmation of so-called Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Intersectionality; both hot-topic realities in the broader cultural moment. For the remainder of this post we will engage with Resolution 9, and offer some critical comment with reference to its appeal to ‘general revelation’ as the basis for justifying its affirmation of CRT and Intersectionality; even as the committee attempts to curtail and delimit CRT and Intersectionality by sub-ordinating it to the authority of Holy Scripture.

Here is Resolution 9 in full:

WHEREAS, Concerns have been raised by some evangelicals over the use of frameworks such as critical race theory and intersectionality; and

WHEREAS, Critical race theory is a set of analytical tools that explain how race has and continues to function in society, and intersectionality is the study of how different personal characteristics overlap and inform one’s experience; and

WHEREAS, Critical race theory and intersectionality have been appropriated by individuals with worldviews that are contrary to the Christian faith, resulting in ideologies and methods that contradict Scripture; and

WHEREAS, Evangelical scholars who affirm the authority and sufficiency of Scripture have employed selective insights from critical race theory and intersectionality to understand multifaceted social dynamics; and

WHEREAS, The Baptist Faith and Message states, “[A]ll Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried” (Article I); and

WHEREAS, General revelation accounts for truthful insights found in human ideas that do not explicitly emerge from Scripture and reflects what some may term “common grace”; and

WHEREAS, Critical race theory and intersectionality alone are insufficient to diagnose and redress the root causes of the social ills that they identify, which result from sin, yet these analytical tools can aid in evaluating a variety of human experiences; and

WHEREAS, Scripture contains categories and principles by which to deal with racism, poverty, sexism, injustice, and abuse that are not rooted in secular ideologies; and

WHEREAS, Humanity is primarily identified in Scripture as image bearers of God, even as biblical authors address various audiences according to characteristics such as male and female, Jew and Gentile, slave and free; and

WHEREAS, The New Covenant further unites image bearers by creating a new humanity that will one day inhabit the new creation, and that the people of this new humanity, though descended from every nation, tribe, tongue, and people, are all one through the gospel of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:16; Revelation 21:1–4, 9–14); and

WHEREAS, Christian citizenship is not based on our differences but instead on our common salvation in Christ—the source of our truest and ultimate identity; and

WHEREAS, The Southern Baptist Convention is committed to racial reconciliation built upon biblical presuppositions and is committed to seeking biblical justice through biblical means; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Birmingham, Alabama, June 11–12, 2019, affirm Scripture as the first, last, and sufficient authority with regard to how the Church seeks to redress social ills, and we reject any conduct, creeds, and religious opinions which contradict Scripture; and be it further

RESOLVED, That critical race theory and intersectionality should only be employed as analytical tools subordinate to Scripture—not as transcendent ideological frameworks; and be it further

RESOLVED, That the gospel of Jesus Christ alone grants the power to change people and society because “he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6); and be it further

RESOLVED, That Southern Baptists will carefully analyze how the information gleaned from these tools are employed to address social dynamics; and be it further

RESOLVED, That Southern Baptist churches and institutions repudiate the misuse of insights gained from critical race theory, intersectionality, and any unbiblical ideologies that can emerge from their use when absolutized as a worldview; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we deny any philosophy or theology that fundamentally defines individuals using categories identified as sinful in Scripture rather than the transcendent reality shared by every image bearer and divinely affirmed distinctions; and be it further

RESOLVED, That while we denounce the misuse of critical race theory and intersectionality, we do not deny that ethnic, gender, and cultural distinctions exist and are a gift from God that will give Him absolute glory when all humanity gathers around His throne in worship because of the redemption accomplished by our resurrected Lord; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That Southern Baptist churches seek to exhibit this eschatological promise in our churches in the present by focusing on unity in Christ amid image bearers and rightly celebrate our differences as determined by God in the new creation.[1]

Identifying A Hermeneutical Problem

At first blush it reminds me of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (with its thousands of qualifications). Resolution 9 so qualifies its appropriation of CRT and Intersectionality (CRT/I) that you start to wonder why they feel compelled to even use it as the ‘analytical tool’ they say it is at all. This makes me think that they want to have official space to deploy CRT/I that they wouldn’t have outwith their resolution. In other words, it makes me think that the committee that drafted R9, and the ‘Messengers’ who ratified it through vote, see more value to CRT/I than they are letting on. It is actually really easy to assert that a group of Christians will always subordinate a creed, confession, catechism, or resolution to Scripture; but when it comes to the actual practice of this sub-ordinating, the waters become almost immediately murky.

On analogy I’ll refer us to the Westminster Confession of Faith. For many Reformed churches, particularly the Presbyterian churches, the WCF (and other confessions etc), de jure, are said to be subordinate to Scripture. But when we begin to engage with such Christians what we quickly come to realize is that they maintain that the most faithful and historic reading of Scripture they know of is deposited in and thus regulated by adherence to the WCF. In other words, it becomes almost impossible to critically disentangle Scripture’s teaching, simpliciter, from the WCF’s confessing insofar that the latter is understood to be univocal with the former; at least when we are in orbit with Christians who are confessionally bound by submission to the WCF.

Similarly, I believe proponents of R9 among the SBC have the same problem to overcome; it is a hermeneutical problem, indeed. Who is to say, under the conditions of R9, where the clear teaching of Scripture leaves off, and the analytical virtue of CRT/I pick up? Many of us have heard of what sociologist, Christian Smith, has called Pervasive Interpretive Pluralism (PIP); i.e. the phenomenon of pluriform and multitudinous interpretations of the same respective texts of Scripture. I think it would be safe to say that the SBC is not immune to this phenomenon, as such how will the practitioners of R9 recognize when their exegesis of Scripture is sub-ordinating CRT/I for its analytic value, and when CRT/I is in fact shaping said exegesis of Scripture? In other words, in my view, it seems that R9 opens a can-o-worms in the sense that there is some serious latitude for circular reasoning (petitio principii) to obtain. It seems as if R9 leaves the line between faithful exegesis of Scripture and deployment of CRT/I up to the subjectivities of the respective interpreters. This seems like a real dilemma that needs to be addressed in the resolution itself, but the resolution doesn’t address it. It is a hermeneutical dilemma, which leads me to my next observation/critique.

The Problem of General Revelation/Natural Theology

As an Evangelical Calvinist I repudiate, in principle, the idea of natural theology, or what some more benignly call ‘general revelation.’ It isn’t just Evangelical Calvinists who repudiate natural theology, indeed, there are other classically Reformed Christians who similarly reject Natural Theology; some in a more qualified sense.[2] Yet, the R9’rs make natural theology the basis for their justification of appropriating CRT/I as an analytical tool. The appeal to the axiom ‘all truth is God’s truth.’ But this axiom is rather circular sense it premises that ‘all truth’ is discernable as true apart from establishing said truth as true in critical ways. In other words, axioms or anecdotes like this only work in a superficial way; when we begin to move into critical engagement towards identifying what is true, and what is not-true, we are always pushed up against a hermenutical/epistemological dilemma. In other words, how can we know what is true or not-true; what warrant do we have, for example, for asserting that CRT/I offers valuable analytical tools for critically ascertaining the human experience as that is understood, in particular, among the ‘minority’ and belittled segments of humanity? Does nature itself, bear within itself, the resource for explaining to us what ails the human condition? Or maybe more minimally, as I think the R9’rs would probably maintain: does CRT/I, grounded in nature as it is, present us with categories that help us ‘organize’ and index the problems facing minorities and the belittled better than Scriptural Revelation can? This seems to be the contention of the R9’rs; they seem to think that nature itself has the ratio of God inherent to it. As such, they further seem to think that CRT/I has discovered something latent within nature that can help supplement Scripture’s teaching on race, human sexuality, and other sundry things.

But what if nature isn’t accessible this way? What if the human condition is unable to discover things ‘from on high,’ and instead only are able to discover things from below that find their orientation from the ‘kingdom of darkness?’ How is an R9’r to know whether CRT/I offers analytically-rich contours for navigating through the choppy cultural waters of Race and other related issues? If proponents of R9, within the SBC, believe they are justified in affirming the purported analytical values present within CRT/I; then upon what basis are they claiming CRT/I actually has these values? You see the hermeneutical dilemma, right? You see the circular nature of their reasoning, correct? Their whole justification for affirming even a limited appropriation of CRT/I (although I’m not sure how limited that will be based upon the previous concerns I mentioned, in re: to PIP) is based upon an overly-simplistic axiom that ‘all truth is God’s truth.’ That axiom is fine as far as it goes at a superficial level, but when we press it more critically we come to recognize that identifying what in fact is “truth” is a much more complex venture; particularly as we consider the noetic effects of the ‘fall of humanity.’ Even if we wanted to affirm a theory of general revelation, a theory according to the R9’rs’ logic that maintains that unregenerate humans can discover God’s truth apart from regenerated reason/affections, how can we ever be sure that this ‘discovery’ is in alignment with God’s special revelation in Jesus Christ? Are we going to simply base the answer to that question on utilitarian, consequentialist, and pragmatic conclusions? That seems to be the depth of the R9’rs appeal to general revelation. They seem to be premising that CRT/I has yielded certain ideational consequences to the point that it has become utilitarianly useful as an organizational and analytical tool in regard to parsing out the issues of Race, Human Sexuality and other sundry issues.

Conclusion

I think the R9’rs have opened up a can-o-worms that requires much more responsible engagement. If I was a pastor (or professor) in the SBC I would be utterly confused in regard to how I was supposed to appropriate the ostensible riches of CRT/I that the R9 Committee seems to think is as self-evident as God’s truth is in nature. These are concerning things in my view, and ones that the SBC does not face alone. It is a hermeneutical/prolegomena issue that I think R9 proponents and the rest of the Christian world ought to recognize when attempting to engage with Scripture and culture in the translational effort we are all engaged in as witnesses to Jesus Christ. Are we going to walk by faith, or sight? If we walk by faith I’d venture to say that ‘the Kingdom of the Son of His love,’ that the Kingdom of Christ, apocalyptic as it is, has the capacity to break in on our puny machinations and “discoveries,” and contravene them with an antecedent and strange reality come from heaven above in Christ.

Personally, what I wonder is why the churches feel so compelled to find riches in Babylon, when we have already been set free to a Kingdom that has riches and depth of its own? I mean what is the motive for the SBC’s apparent need for appropriating CRT/I? It seems like revelation itself has other and powerful resources, even analytical ones, that can avoid being interlinked with ‘natural’ discoveries of “truth” as CRT/I purports to be. Sure, it might require greater and deeper theological work than simply appealing to ‘all truth is God’s truth’ offers the practitioner; but the power and love of the Gospel seem to invite the Christian to ‘toil’ (II Tim 2.15) in this sort of depth dimensional work. I don’t see this funding Resolution 9’s manifesto, and as such think it ought to be abandoned, or at least suspended until further and more theologically critical consideration can be given.

 

[1] Source.

[2] See Richard Muller’s PRRD where he treats this issue in and among the early and high Reformed theologians who gave ‘natural theology’ a very denuded place insofar as they believed there was enough general revelation given by God to the level that all people would be left without excuse at God’s eschatological judgment. But as Muller points out, these same theologians did not see a positive role for general revelation wherein a natural theology could be posited to the level that it might supply a material complement to what is given in ‘special revelation.’ This seems to be the way the Resolutioners of R9 are appealing to ‘common grace,’ as if the light of reason has the capacity to complement the light of revelation (to use some of Katherine Sonderegger’s Aristotelian/Thomist framework).

ET, UFOs, and the Paranormal: A Christian’s Perspective

This will be sort of a different post from the normal themes I cover. But I wanted to quickly address it because I came across someone on my FaceBook feed who is reading a scholarly work (an OUP title) on Aliens, UFOs, and Christian theology. So, yes, this post will be on Aliens or “Extra-Terrestrials,” you know, ET silly, and how I navigate this question as a Christian.

Really, for me, this is a rather easy question to answer: I do not believe there is other intelligent life out there in outer space. The reason I do not think there is is because the Creator of the Universe (just one) became human in order to redeem the peak of his creation, us. The Creator of all reality, visible and invisible, assumed flesh, human flesh, in order to set the Cosmos to rights (cf. Rom. 8) with us as its priests, as we participate in His priesthood for us. The presumption seems to be that if there is ET ‘out there’ that they are even of a higher species than the human species; that they are more intelligent, and more advanced on the evolutionary scale than we are. Indeed, much speculation about ET is tied into a sort of hopeful monster thesis about the origins of life on earth; but we can leave that to the side for this post. In light of the incarnation I find it hard to believe that there is in fact ET out in the universe.

But there are unidentifiable happenings that happen even in our observable atmosphere. The Apostle Paul writes, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience . . . . .” We know, as Christians (at least some of us Christians affirm this) that the devil and his cohorts are “personally” and actively involved in the affairs of this earth (cf. Eph 6.10ff); indeed, the Apostle Paul says we are in a battle with them. This is how I view so called ET activity—not to mention the so called ‘paranormal’—I believe what people are seeing and experiencing (I’ve even experienced some of this directly and in confrontation) is demonic activity cloaked in popular mythos in order to keep people distracted and ‘a-mused’ so they look away from Christ rather than to Him. While the modern person lives in a disenchanted world, this doesn’t mean they want to; as such, there is an appetite, particularly in the West, for paranormal and ET encounters that people are enamored by. For the pagan they have no canonical witness or framework through which to accurately exegete what they are seeing and experiencing out there; so they let Hollywood do that for them. But for the Christian we do know that there are demonic hordes active in the world that will do whatever it takes to slander and belittle the name and power of Jesus Christ. This is what I see going on with so called UFOs, ET, and the paranormal.

Much more could be written, but I just wanted to drop a quick word and offer my perspective on these things.

Why Do Barthians Typically Slide Progressive Socio-Politically? Natural Law and Anti-Natural Theology

In important ways I think it safe to say that I am ‘Barthian,’ or at least After Barth in orientation; I have no problem identifying that. What is rather strange to me is how most the Barthians I know, when it comes to social issues, are mostly all on the progressive side of things; i.e. with reference to the political landscape. Indeed, it is over this issue, and not necessarily theological ones, that there has been rupture between me and most of these Barthians online. But what is it; is there something necessarily correlative between Barth’s theology and ethos that lends it to being ‘progressive’ politically? Yes, in Barth’s context he was known as the Red Pastor, and was a democratic socialist; but in his day, at least as far as social issues, that meant something different than what it means to be progressive or ‘democratic socialist’ in the 21st century Anglophone context. Is there something inherent to Barth’s theology makes it prone towards being applied towards what has come to be called “progressive” when we are referring to the political dilemmas facing us today?

Personally, even as I intentionally situate myself After Barth theologically, on most social issues I lean pretty heavily ‘conservative.’ Now, that does not necessarily mean that I am a dyed-in-the-wool American Conservative, per se; but it does mean when it comes to issues like abortion, human sexuality, just war theory, and a cluster of other social loci that I am quite traditional (even ‘classical’). So, I find myself in a bit of a quandary, although I haven’t really lost sleep over it; but what do you think dearest reader, is there something in Barth’s theological oeuvre that you can see lending itself towards the progressive socio-politico platform as that has taken shape, in particular, in North America?

Let me give you what I think might lend Barth’s trajectory this way. Famously, as we all know by now, Barth is anti-natural theology. Indeed, we might even say that his passionate anti-natural theological approach was motivated precisely by socio-politico concerns; indeed, as those were thrust into his face, along with the rest of the world, by Hitler’s Nazi millenarian ambitions. Barth’s anti-natural theological impulses have what have now come to be called apocalyptic theological contours. In other words, for Barth, and those following, apocalyptic theology sees discontinuity between creation past, and creation new as that has been actualized in the event of incarnation of God in Christ and the resurrection. What this discontinuous understanding of history entails, embedded within a doctrine of creation as it is, is a world that is surreptitiously being impacted over and again, afresh and anew by God’s constant invasion of the world by the eschatological irruption of His life as that is made present through the Holy Spirit’s ministry. What this implies, towards helping us to understand why Barth’s theology might lend itself towards a progressive socio-politik, is that there is no ‘natural law,’ that there is nothing empirically stable in nature, and its history, that we can point to in order to establish absolute and universalizing norms when it comes to socio-political theory vis-à-vis state governments. I think this might be why some (if not most) on the Barth side align with what conservatives, and they themselves, would identify as ‘radical.’

There is a deconstructive seed built into Barth’s theology that like leaven spreads into various strata of social-political reality. But I am not of the mind that just because Barth’s mode, theologically, as one committed to reification and reformulation necessarily means that we must slide progressive socio-politically. We could just as easily, in keeping with Barth’s mode de jure, look to the ethical contours disclosed in Holy Scripture as that finds its reality in Christ, and see grace-hatched and apocalyptically-given ethical norms that end up sliding ‘conservative’ rather than progressive; and still be faithful to Barth’s theological impulses. But when I use the language of ‘conservative’ I don’t use it necessarily with reference to the sort of conservatism we see trotted about on FoxNews. When I refer to conservative, I mean how that has been applied to social issues classically; i.e. like with reference to human sexuality, abortion, and the sanctity of human life in general.

So, an interesting dilemma; if it is a dilemma. But something that I am confronted with, as I seek to think theologically After Barth, while at the same time retaining pretty traditional socio-political mores (without the aid of natural-law theory).

Rachel Held Evans, An Icon of American Evangelicalism; Both ‘Right’ and ‘Left’

I want to offer another note on the death of Rachel Held Evans. After reading through the various ‘sides’ in relation to RHE over the past few days, and either the absolute praise, or the utter damnation of her, I wanted to offer another word (FWIW). Like I have indexed previously, I was a critic of RHE’s theology and mode as a spokesperson and galvanizing figurehead for the continuously emerging Progressive Christian Left in and among Exvangelicals. Like I’ve noted elsewhere, what is present in the Progressive Christian move is nothing different than what was present, as antecedent, in theological liberalism. When you have a theological movement that is largely in reaction to another theological movement, you don’t ever get a “positive” movement as a result. All you really end up with is a shadow movement of the other movement it is reacting towards. This is what, I would contend, Rachel was a figurehead for. Her open doubts, and troubles with evangelicalism resonated at just the right time for many others, such that it catapulted RHE into the limelight of the Progressives. It was the convergence of her doubts, her generation, and the internet, with blogs, Twitter, Facebook etc. that thrust Rachel into a world, and into a spot that outwith these mechanisms may have never happened. RHE may have had harbored the doubts she did, the criticisms she had of her evangelicalism, but they would have been left between her, God, and her real-life interlocutors who may well have been able to point her to more constructive ways forward. But this is not the world we inhabit; we inhabit the world Rachel inhabited, shaped for better or ill by the monstrosity that the social interweb is. This is what made Rachel who she was over the last decade; the most formative years of her life, it might seem. But were they?

This is what I keep coming back to. As news to me, some of my former professors in seminary were good friends with Rachel’s parents back in the day; and they knew Rachel back then, and as she grew up. Rachel grew up seemingly in the same household that many of us did; right smack-dab in the middle of the evangelical sub-culture. Many of us know her story. Indeed, this is why she was so resonant, I’d contend, for so many. She was your average evangelical person growing up in the strange sub-culture that evangelicalism represents; and come of age she started to become (rightly) critical of many of the folkisms that count as orthodoxy in the evangelical world. So far so good. She was able to sense the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism that shaped the evangelical world; she knew firsthand what the merchandising of the Christian world felt and looked like; she understood how gimmicks had displaced the depth dimension of the sacraments and the preached Word in the churches. She saw something that many of us saw, and continue to see; and this made her voice appealing to many. And yet up to a point, even until relatively recently, Rachel remained ‘evangelical.’ I find it interesting that what led Rachel to where she went was cultivated by legitimate critiques she had of the evangelical sub-culture. So, this is where Rachel was spiritually formed. She had a real life and intimate relationship with the risen Jesus Christ, but she had doubts because she saw a dissonance between who she knew—in Christ—and what she was largely experiencing (in the main) in the Church.

So, Rachel voiced all of these concerns, wrote a book, and was catapulted into the online social theological world where she had her greatest reach. And this, I would contend, is where she met people who would lead her further and further away from what she would have recognized as core convictions, and into the world of theological liberalism. This is where Rachel lived, but in a popular and populace way. The ideas she had about God, Scripture, and anthropology (inclusive of sexuality) are ideas that have been around since at least the 18th and 19th centuries; ideas that were fomented by the Enlightenment and the ‘turn to the subject.’ Rachel was a ‘seeker of truth,’ indeed, but where she went, as she self-consciously moved from her conservative evangelical past into her progressive evangelical future had antecedents in a theological world most noted for seeing humanity as the measure of reality rather than the living God. And this, I would argue, is where things went terribly awry for Rachel. As is definitional for a ‘progressive,’ they progress; and Rachel did just that. Most notably she opened up a place for the inclusion of homosexuals in the church[1]; in such a way that they were affirmed in their homosexuality rather than challenged to repent and recognize it for the sin that it is. As a result of this message to homosexuals Rachel served as a catalyst for many people who identify that way to ‘come back to the Church.’ Indeed, this was probably the most dominant theme in the tributes to her among her followers on Twitter. Many claimed that they wouldn’t be able to be in the church or be a Christian without Rachel Held Evans. But this leads us to an irony.

As I noted above, many of Rachel’s criticisms of evangelicalism, I think, were right on. In my view, the primary criticism Rachel operated from, thematically, was that the American evangelical Church has largely ceased from being genuinely Christian in any meaningful sense; with this I agree. I can agree with Rachel in the sense that the American evangelical Church, in the majority of its quadrants, has really become an American folk religion and not in any way resembling what a genuinely Christ conditioned notion of the Church should be. Yet, as I also noted earlier, what Rachel ended up finding solace in equally resulted in her turning to something that is just as folksy as what she left in evangelicalism. There is nothing immediately recognizable as ‘Christian,’ vis-à-vis the catholic understanding of the Gospel and its implications on a range, to be found in what Rachel had come to be the symbol and mouthpiece for. So, this is tragic.

I want to share more about Rachel’s death, and how I think it fits into the broader picture of God’s love and mercy for her; but I will wait. I’ll wait because I think my thoughts will be rather controversial (more controversial than what I just shared), and so I will wait for a time and a season to divulge further. But I wanted to share the above because it is the way I see the story of Rachel Held Evans, at least in a snapshot. I see Rachel as a sister in Christ who had good intentions, even right ones in regard to her criticisms, but who was taken in by people who ended up contributing deleteriously to her soul and spiritual well-being.

[1] This represents only one example of many issues that RHE endorsed in regard to what can be identified as progressive social theory.

The Impact of the Secular Mind Upon the Christian Mind: Readings With Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor’s Secular Age is a mammoth of a read, but well worthwhile. The first third, at least for me, was sort of a slog, but as you persevere it gets really good. The following just came up as I continue to read through it, and I thought it might be interesting to share. It pretty much describes most of the conflagration we see taking place on a daily basis on theological social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.). It is the rift that has obtained between so called progressive Christians and conservative (or orthodox) Christians. It is this rift, among many others, that Taylor is so masterfully articulating and enlightening as he uncovers the intellectually processes through which these shifts and caverns have developed. Here he is referring to the impact that the Enlightenment and the ascendency had upon the various fissures we are currently experiencing now. He writes:

What made Christianity particularly repulsive to the Enlightenment mind was the whole juridical-penal way in which the doctrine of original sin and the atonement were cast during the high middle ages and the Reformation. Our distance from perfection was glossed as just punishment for earlier sin; and our salvation through Christ as his offering satisfaction for this fault, paying the fine, as it were.

There were some repugnant aspects of this just in itself. But it became connected to two doctrines which were potentially deeply offensive. The first was the belief that only a few are saved. The second was the doctrine of predestination, which seemed to be generated inevitably from a belief in divine omnipotence in the context of the juridical-penal model.

Now in fact, opinion begins to move against these doctrines in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. On the one hand, there is the “decline of hell”, and the rise of universalism; on the other, there is growing revulsion at predestined damnation, even within Calvinistic societies. Of course, these developments were surely not independent of the one I was tracing above, viz., the growth of confidence in the human power to do good. But they add an extra level of motivation, a revulsion at the orthodox formulations, which must either lead to a revised faith, or in certain cases, to a sharp break with it.

Again, as confidence in human powers grows, and in particular, in the powers of reason, the claims of Churches to authority on behalf of a faith which partly consists of mysteries, becomes harder and harder to accept. This is another way in which a modern rationalism based on science can argue that the rise of science refutes religion.

But this still doesn’t capture fully the negative movement, the hostility to Christianity which spread among elites at this time. It wasn’t just the particular doctrines of the juridical-penal model, nor the rationalist rejection of mystery.

We saw that much of the historical practice of Christianity ran afoul of the new ethic of purely immanent human good: . . .[1]

Taylor’s description of things is apropos. He gets further into the sociological and ideational issues that have led to the post-Christian world within which we currently live; as the last clause intimates. But I thought the doctrinal loci he identified, both unconditional election and predestination, along with universalism and the juridical-penal frame of Christian salvation typically associated with conservative Christians and their adherence to the penal substitutionary view of the atonement, is quite prescient. This is the stuff that makes theological social media turn; over and over and over again.

Interestingly to me also, as far as the doctrinal loci he underscores, is how that to one extent or another shapes my own theological inklings about various doctrinal matters. While we can attribute much of what he identifies as a relative to the rise of reason in modernity, as far as society’s turn against Christian theism and the particular doctrines he notes, it can also be said that some of that critique towards these various doctrines has rootage in the Christian patristic past. So these things are a complex.

The shift we see happening in society, the shift into an absolutely secular self, is not just impacting the secular people, but the Christians as well. It does us well to be critically cognizant of just what is shaping our hermeneutical lenses as we approach the translation of the Christian faith in the 21st century; and Taylor’s work helps with that.

[1] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap of Harvard University Press, 2007), 262-63 kindle.

The Barbarism of Abortion and Its Monetary Valuation: Reflections

I wonder if this uptick in the radical nature of abortion practice, as we are now witnessing in New York, Virginia, and I’m sure in other liberal states, in days to come, is a reaction to Trumpism? I wonder if these states are attempting such radical movements,[1] in this regard, as a political way to work at the subversion process of Trump’s presidency, and those who voted for him? Either way, no matter the motivation, it is of the most heinous sort of dread and evil that it is unconscionable to contemplate as real; but it is real.

We just remembered the Shoa (Ha Shoa), the catastrophe or Holocaust these last days, but here in the United States since Roe v Wade we have witnessed, if we could quantify immorality of this sort (which we can’t), the outright murder of over 60,000,000 human beings; persons at the very most vulnerable stage of their lives. It seems outrageous that the very same people who can decry the evil of Hitler’s Holocaust, can at the same time celebrate America’s Holocaust in the ways they do; but that’s exactly the sort of duplicity we see taking place in our country.

One wonders how people can look at the mutilated limbs and bodies of the most precious among us, and place those up against the mutilated bodies of the shoa victims; and not arrive at the same conclusion about them both. But they don’t! How does this happen; how can we make sense of anything so irrational and reprehensible? How can so called civilized human beings arrive at the conclusion that barrels of mutilated babies’ bodies is in any way a right that any sane person could or should be given?

The biological information is available for all, as is the physiological; in regard to the human status these babies in the womb have. Of course, the distinction the “ethicists” like to use to dehumanize the ‘fetus’, is well the language of fetus, but beyond that, it is to make a distinction between human being and personhood. These “ethicists” want us to think that personhood isn’t arrived at until the fetus is delivered, and gains full self-awareness and faculty in that regard. On this logic, as Peter Singer has been arguing for years, infanticide is actually the logical reduction to the abortionists’ argument. But, really, they have been engaging in infanticide, legally, since the 70s; since personhood is part-and-parcel with conception. We all know, biologically, that a fetus, at conception, has all the chromosomal-component parts that it takes to be a human being; indeed, to be a person.

The concern (and I write this all off the top) is that the inherent logic to all of this presupposes that personhood is in fact a social construct, just like human sexuality or sexual orientation is. Which means that personhood, according to these wits (or maybe we should say, Twits) is not just a social, but is also a political construct; insofar as we have a socio-politico sense of what it means to be a functional member of society at large. This is at least a slippery-slope. We can begin to see how eugenics, infanticide, death-panels, abortion, euthanasia are of a piece in this sense. The logic, which clearly there isn’t any sound logic in any of this, underwriting abortion in general, and these late stage abortions in particular, can be just as easily applied to toddlers to the mentally ill to the aged so on and so forth. If personhood is a socio-politico construct that is determined by the public at large—in regard to who has personhood and who doesn’t—then so help us God; and yes God, help us!

The same proponents of abortion rights, at all stages, based on their own logic, if that logic is carried through, could be inflicted by that logic in the days to come; you know the days when they’re old and dying. Indeed, we already see this logic-of-death creeping into states where euthanasia is legal, and in countries where such practice is amenable to anyone who might be struggling with a deep sense of low-self-esteem or other real, but not life-threatening sufferings. We even see this sort of creep in the way insurance companies pursue certain surgical care for the elderly. We see them taking their time in making decisions on whether to provide certain procedures or not, based upon the age of their insured and the likelihood of their successful recovery.

The metrics being appealed to determine personhood are: Will the aged or mentally ill among us be a fully functional, contributing member of society? Meaning, will such persons be contributing members in regard to the global economy, and its fiscal well being or not. At some levels, not all, we can see how personhood is attributed to various castes of people simply based upon their capacity to be economic producers for the greater worldwide system. Personhood, is largely a predicate of how great of a commodity a “person” is deemed to be or not. Babies in the womb are deemed as a dreg on the economy; they are only potential contributors, who in the meantime, if given a chance to deliver, have no immediate or actual potency when it comes to the economic well-being of society. Indeed, most likely, many of the children aborted are seen as drags because they are typically children of single women with no support system available to them other than the state (just look up the statistics on the largest demographic of peoples having abortions in the United States).

No matter, we have been living in a time, over these last fifty years, that even eclipses the Holocaust; at least as far as sheer numbers of people being barbarically massacred. In the beginning of this post I was wondering about what could lead so called civilized and technologically and scientifically advanced and evolved people to arrive at the conclusion that the practice of abortion is okay. As a Christian I have the explanatory power to diagnose and prescribe the problem and remedy for this blight of the American’s “moral compass.”

God will judge; He is judging; but He will judge with decisiveness and show no partiality. He will come again, and wipe out this sickness in the human heart once and for all. It’s possible to start that transformation process right now, but only the few will find that narrow way.

[1] Although partial-birth-abortion was once legal too.

Karl Barth’s Reformulated Doctrine of Election, And Its Implications Towards the Way We Speak of Others; Including Donald Trump

I want to share some quotes from Karl Barth and Tom Greggs. All of these quotes either come from the body or footnotes of my personal chapter for our latest Evangelical Calvinism book (2017). I want to share the quotes, comment a little on their material presence, and then offer some sort of reflective application of them for the churches. In other words, the aim of this post is to attempt to take a technical theological locus and show how it has so called ‘practical’ value; say for human relationships, and maybe even political ones.

Karl Barth writes,

This all rests on the fact that from the very first He participates in the divine election; that that election is also His election; that it is He Himself who posits this beginning of all things; that it is He Himself who executes the decision which issues in the establishment of the covenant between God and man; that He too, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is the electing God. If this is not the case, then in respect of the election, in respect of this primal and basic decision of God, we shall have to pass by Jesus Christ, asking of God the Father, or perhaps of the Holy Spirit, how there can be any disclosure of this decision at all. For where can it ever be disclosed to us except where it is executed? The result will be, of course, that we shall be driven to speculating about a decretum absolutum instead of grasping and affirming in God’s electing the manifest grace of God. And that means that we shall not know into whose hands we are committing ourselves when we believe in the divine predestination. So much depends upon our acknowledgement of the Son, of the Son of God, as the Subject of this predestination, because it is only in the Son that it is revealed to us as the predestination of God, and therefore of the Father and the Holy Spirit, because it is only as we believe in the Son that we can also believe in the Father and the Holy Spirit, and therefore in the one divine election.[1]

And Tom Greggs offers commentary on the sort of sentiment we just witnessed in Barth’s reformulation of election, as a Christ concentrated conception:

There is no room for a prior decision of God to create, or elect and condemn before the decision to elect Jesus Christ (no decretum absolutum); instead, Jesus Christ is Himself the ultimate decretum absolutum.[2]

Further:

Election’s nature is . . . Gospel. The dialectic evident in Romans remains and can be seen between electing God and elected human in its most extreme form in terms of election and rejection. Humanity continues to need to be rescued by God in its rejection of Him. What is new is that this dialectic is now considered in a wholly Christological way which brings together the Yes and No of God in the simultaneity of the elected and rejected Christ. It is He who demonstrates salvation as its originator and archetype. It is, therefore, in the humanity of the elected Christ that one needs to consider the destiny of human nature.[3]

Maybe you can infer how I would use these quotes in the chapter I wrote on assurance of salvation. But the most important point I want to highlight, currently, is that in the Barthian reformulation of election the focus is no longer on individual/abstract people scurrying around on the earth, but instead upon the ground of all humanity as that is realized in the archetypal and elect humanity of Jesus Christ. There is a universalizing underneath in the doctrine of election in Barth’s theology, with the result that our focus is not on ourselves, as if we have some sort of inherent value or worth in se; but instead the realization is always present that we find our life and being in extra nos or outside of us, only as that extra enters into us by the gift of God in the grace who is the Christ.

The shift that happens, juxtaposed with a classical double predestinarian view, is that election first and foremost is about a doctrine of God; but a doctrine of God that can never be thought of apart from or abstracted out of His choice to not be God without us. In other words, in this reified doctrine our knowledge of God and selves is contingent always already upon God’s choice to be with us and for us in Christ. This transforms the way we think humanity, for one thing. In other words, we are unable to think about what genuine humanity is without first thinking about humanity in union with God in the Son’s union with us in the vicarious humanity of Christ.

One immediate consequence of this is that the way we think people is no longer from a class structure, or from the psychological vantage point that God loves some and not others (as the classical notion of election/reprobation leaves us with). As such, we are genuinely free to look out at others and recognize a humanity, in full, that God loves; a humanity, no matter how wretched (maybe as we think of ourselves) that is valuable precisely at the point that Jesus is the Yes and not the No for them and us. This is not to suggest that a blind eye is given to the sub-humanity that people continue to live in—because we love the darkness rather than the light—but it is to alert us to the fact, in the Barthian reification, that all people have inherent value, just because God first loved us that we might love Him. It is to recognize that even if people choose to reject the election freely offered to them in Christ, that because that election is not contingent upon their choice, but God’s, they live in suspension from the imago Dei who is the imago Christi (cf. Col. 1.15), and as such continue to have inherent value, and even capacity to say yes to God in correspondence to Jesus’s Yes for them. Here, we can agree with the evangelist that ‘God so loved the world, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.’

The premise is that there is no person outside the reach/grace of God. A contemporary application of this might be directed Donald Trump’s way. Trump, by many sectors of people, and many Christians in fact, has come to be considered the scum of the earth. He is the target of untold ridicule and vitriolic attack. At base though, it ought to be recognized, that even Trump’s life is encompassed by the life of God in Jesus Christ; which is why we should continuously be praying for him. This is not to suggest that we can’t be critical of Trump’s policies, speech, and other negatives; but it is to suggest that in this critique what should be characteristic is one where we keep on recognizing what God does about Trump. That is, that Trump is valuable to God, as a person. Indeed, that God in Christ pledged His life for Trump’s, and at the very least our rhetoric ought to be seasoned with this reality of Grace; even in our critiques.

I think this represents one possible application of the implications of Barth’s doctrine of election. It ought to cause us to pause in our speech, at the very least. We ought to bear witness to Christ in our speech and act, even when we have people like Trump in front of us, or others we think of in ridiculing ways. We can be critical, like I noted, of Trump’s policies or even personality, but at the same time we can bear in mind that Jesus loves Trump, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. And I’m only using Trump as a symbolic example for anyone else we could fill in the blank with. What Barth’s doctrine of election does to me, in this sense, is it makes me continually cognizant of the fact that I am no different than Trump; or any of my enemies. Without God’s Grace, who is Christ for us, we would all sink into the sub-humanity we were born into. In other words, as Christ is the One for the many, the many come to have that in common; viz. that we are now all grounded in the One humanity of Jesus Christ. This does not mean we have anonymous brothers and sisters in Christ, at a spiritual level, but it does mean at a ‘carnal’ (de jure) level, that we share a universe with every other person who derives their value and worth from the same reality we do—Jesus Christ! This ought to do something in regard to the way we treat others (I’m preaching to myself).

 

[1] Barth, CD II/2:110.

[2] Greggs, Barth, Origen, and Universal Salvation, 25.

[3] Ibid., 26.

Reflecting on the ‘Past Feeling’ Mode of Pagan Existence

17 This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; 19 who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.–Ephesians 4.17-19

There are other like passages in the Pauline corpus, but let’s focus on this one. As of late I have been struck, at empirical levels, by this reality. It is easy to get caught up in the theological world of my own studies, and forget just how pagan people are in this world. You’d think this wouldn’t be the case because I work in the ‘world,’ in part of the world that lives in a sort of vulgar state of existence (spiritually). But I’ve been impressed again by just how ‘past feeling’ the ‘Gentiles’ in fact are.

The Reformed et al. often refer to this ‘past feeling’ as total depravity. The idea being that at a spiritual level (which of course is the level of all levels) the person living in that status is not living at all; instead they are existing in a state of death (or separation) vis-à-vis God. And this would make sense, wouldn’t it? If there is only one ontological category for ‘being’ or ‘life,’ wouldn’t it make sense to think that anyone not united to this Life would be dead? I sometimes forget this though. Recently I was talking to someone at work about God, and for them God, and in particular, Jesus, seemed to simply be an abstract idea that could either be cursed or blessed; it simply depended upon what someone chooses to believe or not. At one level, sure, that makes sense. But what struck me was the cold indifference this guy had when referring to all things divine. For him there really wasn’t much difference between Allah and God in Christ; for him (my interlocutor) they could simply be symbolic figures projected out from varied cultural phenomena. Either way, for him, who Jesus turns out to be, at least existentially (in the moment), doesn’t impact him one way or the other. This is the ‘past feeling’ I think the Apostle Paul was referring to; it has moral implications.

Jesus, in John 3, makes clear that to get beyond this ‘past feeling’ status one must be born again; or in the Petrine voice, a person must ‘be born again of an imperishable seed.’ The Apostle Paul makes clear that Jesus swapped His eternal life for our eternal death, and by this movement He won eternal life by being the One for the many. Paul iterates the reality that we’ve been made rich by Jesus’s poverty for us; by Him becoming sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Jesus told Nicodemus that if he wanted to enter eternal life he had to be ‘born from above.’ These are all themes that are musts in order for the pagan to get beyond the ‘past feeling’ state they continuously live in and from.

It is interesting how self-evident things seem to the ‘natural human.’ They seemingly find it hard to imagine a world that gets beyond their immediate sense experience, as if they can’t imagine it, it can’t be real; as if, they can’t see it, it must be the stuff of religion and fairy-tales. The Christian apologist might think they could somehow reason their way past this sort of non-feeling mode ingrained in the pagan esse; but the problem is deeper than that. Reasons can be given, I mean they’re there, but without the Holy Spirit the pagan can’t call Jesus, Lord. It can become frustrating for the Christian to be continuously confronted with the world of unbelief, but it isn’t as if the biblical reality in Christ doesn’t have explanatory for this. If the pagan had spiritual lights in themselves, then the Dominical teaching, and the biblical reality revealed in the cross of Christ would be proven false. This is ironic; the unbelief of the pagan actually proves, or at least, illustrates what they are denying. If they could affirm on their capaciousness what they deem foolish and weak (the cross of Christ), then what need would there have been for the cross of Christ? The via of the pagan is the Gnostic way. The Gnostic way attempts to elide the need for the Gospel by self-asserting its own abilities to generate lights where there seemingly is only darkness. In other words, the pagan way, like the Gnostic way, believes it can generate its own ‘salvation’ by self-assertion of its own intellectual prowess and reason. This takes manifest forms: for the slack, it simply looks like the person who lives in an unexamined garden variegated pagan mode of existence; for the motivated, it looks like the various philosophies and religions of the world. The conclusion is the same; there is overconfidence in what the self-possessed self can accomplish.

Interestingly all of this plays into the macro-narration of Genesis 3, and the Serpent’s lie to Eve about being able to be like God. That’s where this ‘past feeling’ mode that Paul refers to originated. The word of the Serpent has never left his kingdom of darkness, but his word was neither the first nor the last! God’s Word, the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ, is the Word that has invaded our ‘ordinary’ time, and in Jesus’s Yes for us, He has reestablished and elevated the created order to the recreated order that God has always already intended in the Lamb of God even before the foundations of the world. The word of the Serpent has been destroyed by the Word of God, just as the head of the Serpent has been crushed by the heal of the Son of Man.

I continue to pray for people I encounter on a daily basis. I think it is God’s grace that He is allowing me to be surprised—once again—by the ‘past feeling’ mode pagans inhabit. It stirs me up, and motivates me to want to bear witness to the reality of God’s life in Christ that much more. It makes me realize that I might be the only face of Christ these pagans might see, and in that I have a great stewardship; if not a great reward. What I am impressed with more and more in our increasingly pluralist world, inhabited by what Charles Taylor calls ‘buffered selves,’ is that people aren’t progressing or elevating toward a genuinely greater spiritual “consciousness.” Instead, people are digressing further into the abyss of the inner-self that is indeed ‘past feeling.’ I’m afraid people, though, mistake technological and scientific progress with spiritual and moral progress; i.e. that the human species must have an innate evolutionary spirit that is ultimately able to transcend its own present status and reach into the heavenlies through the advancement of material processes (cf. Gen. 11). Ironically, if anything, humanity in the main is worshipping the creation rather than the Creator (cf. Rom. 1); they are worshipping the ratio and creativity that ought to be bearing witness to the imago Dei that Jesus is for them in their stead. They have misplaced their own faces for the Face of Christ, not recognizing that the Christ has already taken their faces as His own, and given them new faces to the point that they could now resemble His. Kyrie eleison.