Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Christ and the World -- A full-orbed vision

I am reading Jennifer McBride's The Church for the World: A Theology of Public Witness.  In this book McBride is attempting to lay the foundation for a non-triumphalist engagement by the church in the public square.  She's using the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as her theological starting point.  As I've long been an admirer and reader of things Bonhoeffer, this book has been of great interest to me.  

As I've heard some talk in some circles about Christmas Christians and Easter Christians, a discussion of Christ's engagement with/in the world that takes into consideration his incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection seems relevant.  Taken from Bonhoeffer's unfinished book Ethics, which he was writing while engaging in the resistance to Hitler, Bonhoeffer speaks of the need to keep all three together.  She writes:

The incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ constitute the threefold Christological pattern of this-worldly reality, for they correspond to God's acceptance, judgment, and reconciliation of this world.  Bonhoeffer writes in Ethics, "In becoming human we recognize God's love towards creation, in the crucifixion God's judgment on all flesh, and in the Resurrection God's purpose for a new world."  God's belonging wholly to humanity rests in the unity of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection such that making any of the three absolute distorts the picture of the world portrayed by the life of Christ.  Isolating a theology of affirmation based on the incarnation will lead to uncritical support of the status quo; a narrow theology of the crucifixion will leave the world judged and condemned; and a theologia gloria confined to the resurrection will foster a triumphal idealism disconnected from the church's culpability in present realities of sin and injustice.  (p. 103)
It's easy to pick one of these three elements and focus upon one or the other.  Liberals like incarnation, while many conservatives pick the cross, and of course it's easy to choose a theology of glory and skip all the worldly stuff.  But that's not Bonhoeffer's vision.  If we, who are Christians, are to be present in the public square how does this threefold pattern enable us to do so in a faithful manner?   


John said...

If by 'judgment' is meant that God holds humanity ultimately culpable for its sinfulness, I have to hesitate here, because Godthe Creator is complicit in human failure. In fact God may bear the greater responsibility. Not that humans are free of blame, we are moral free agents and we carry our own blame for our own failures. But as the Creator, God cannot shift the blame to the creation for its shortcomings.

Looked in this light the Crucifixion may in some measure reflect God's willingness to shoulder blame - and judgment.

For me Resurrection promises hope, and an assurance that judgment is not the culmination of the process, but just a necessary stop along he way.

And all of it would be meaningless without the Incarnation to frame the work of God in the world - to explain the 'why' and 'what for' of judgment, to teach the meaning of hope, and, finally, to reinforce the mystery of God as encountered by Job, i.e., no matter how much we desire to understand things of God, no matter how worthy we may be of an answer, in the end we are forced to humbly accept that such is ultimately beyond our reach.

David said...

Oh, John. I guess I agree, but, if this universe is the best God can do (wants to do?) to get us started, I'm good with that. Perfection is likely too boring to the perfect.

John said...

I didn't mean to criticize what I could never comprehend. I too cannot imagine a more spectacular work of creation.

However, for those who claim judgment is at the heart of both God's attitude towards creation and Jesus' mission on earth, I believe there is blame enough to spread around - which is why I don't place a lot of credence in traditional Christian notions of judgment.

It's hard to proclaim both "Judgment" and "Love" in the same sentence and sound sincere about either attitude. So I keep searching for ways to understand judgment which validate and honestly uphold the love which Jesus embodies.

David said...

When I hear love and judgment together, I think validation.

We're so connected. It's obvious the outcome to our existence is unity.

There was no change. All was unity to begin with.

Except all love, which isn't subject to the laws of nature apparently, and greater than hate.

Robert Cornwall said...

Bonhoeffer speaks of the foundation of our engagement with the world being repentance, and that Jesus shares in this repentance -- think of the baptism by John. It is a baptism of repentance and Jesus identifies himself with humanity in its sinfulness. However we want to understand the cross it is an expression of judgment on our human guilt. It is a reminder that even at our best we are not morally perfect. That is recognized, judged, and forgiven leading to reconciliation, a reconciliation that is affirmed in Resurrection.

The point I wanted to make, and the one that McBride makes, is that you can't pick and choose among these three aspects of Jesus' life and ministry -- they all hang together and they all fall together.

David said...

I don't think the truth is rationally knowable. I don't think I'll ever claim to understand in this life. Sort of like that trinity thing.

All I know is (Google nucleosynthesis):
We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon,
and we got to get ourselves back to the garden...we got caught in the devil's bargain, and we got to get ourselves back to the garden.
CSNY- Woodstock

By the way, speaking of Bonhoeffer, do you think you'll get around to reading Slaughterhouse Five? If you don't think so, that's okay.

David said...

Darn, I meant to add that "I don't know who I am, but life is for learning"

Robert Cornwall said...


The book continues to beckon me as I go to the office. I shall read it. I promise.