Telling History: Barth and Foucault

“History is a synthetic work of art.  History emerges from what has occurred, and has one single, unified theme.”  Karl Barth, __The Epistle to the Romans__, 146.

People generally assume that “postmodernism,” whatever else it might be, is a suspicion of single themes, of meta-narratives and fundamental truths.  The theologian John Milbank argues that this assumption is misguided.  For him, all the atheistic postmodern thinkers, despite their protests, actually end up expressing a single historical theme:  the theme of violence.  For these thinkers, according to Milbank, the basis of being and historical occurrence is rupture, chaos, or violence.  The postmodern thinkers–again, despite their protest–do in fact read all history to fit a certain meta-narrative, only now it is the meta-narrative of struggle, of will to power, of violent assertion and counter-assertion, of one rupture after another, after another.  Milbank goes on to argue that this “ontology of violence” is itself a matter of faith:  nothing can prove it; at best, it is a matter of taste, and so, one which Christians can (and ought to) reject for a variety of reasons.  
Milbank’s read of the postmodern, though containing some validity, ultimately misses what is at stake for many of these thinkers.  Take Foucault.  For Foucault, telling history–as genealogy–emerges as an attempt to unmask the usual way of telling history in terms of “origins.”  Historians search for the time before the Fall, for that ideal moment before the chaos ensued.  They tell of the glorious rise and inglorious fall of the people.  The historian highlights the glorious origin in order to “map the destiny of a people” (Nietzsche, Genealogy, History, 81):  once the descent–and reasons for the descent–are seen, the people can move past them to reclaim (presumably in a new, superior form) that glorious origin.  
The genealogist resists this task of writing history.  It exposes what is suppressed, held under, masked and ignored during the writing of history (as destiny).  The genealogist uses history “to dispel the chimeras of the origin” (80).  History, in the hands of the genealogist, no longer produces a stable identity for the people.  By highlighting the ruptures, the contestations, the slippages, the impurity, the confusion, and the variety within a supposedly single history, the genealogist removes the possibility of using history to construct a coherent communal identity.  There is no pure or stable “us” and hence there can never be a pure or stable “them.”  History “becomes ‘effective’ to the degree that it introduces discontinuity into our very being” (88).  Although we want to tell stories that place our communal lives on solid ground (divine guidance, human genius, noble intentions, evolutionary progress, or historical necessity), the “true historical sense confirms our existence among countless lost events, without a landmark or a point of reference” (89).  The genealogist uses historical knowledge to attack the narrative of history as destiny:  “knowledge is not made for understanding; it is made for cutting” (88).
Yet, the danger still lurks within Foucault that this cutting use of knowledge only reinvigorates the will to power.  Even the less aggressive image of carnival–“Genealogy is history in the form of a concerted carnival” 94–leads to troubling questions:  who is this figure that delights in the play of appearances; what economic structures support the joyful exuberance of nihilism; is not this subject who flits in and out of masks simply another form of enlightenment individualism, the rugged, self-sustained white male; finally, is not the joy fleeting and the danger great, since every shift opens up another rupture and there is never a place to rest?
Barth would grant Foucault’s point that “history will not discover a forgotten identity, eager to be reborn, but a complex system of distinct and multiple elements, unable to be mastered by the powers of synthesis” (94).  But for Barth, Foucault’s criticism must remain at the level of history, of immanence, of life here and now and in their own terms.  But even here, where Foucault sees closure, Barth sees a closure that is also an opening.  Might not the endlessness and nonsense of historical occurrence (not progression or unfolding, just empty occurrence) point to something beyond it?  Might not the value of history be in the fact that it stands under this KRISIS (Barth’s favorite word for it), that the temporal is only the temporal and is not in fact the eternal?  What if the harsh judgment of history–it is violence, sin, and death!–is not denied, but affirmed by God?  What if God actually declares that our best historical endeavors and most glorious tales are nothing but forms of idolatry and violence?  But then, what if the impossible has occurred, and that this judgment on all history has been born by one who is in the middle of history–as God?  What if the violence of history has been brought inside of God’s very life, inside of the body of Jesus Christ?  
The wounds of history, the violence and the rupture, cannot be denied.  One cannot “renarrate” history so that it seems more peaceful and harmonious (pace Milbank).  The violence and destruction can only be judged and condemned.  But is there nothing left?  Is there nothing beyond the judgment?  There is–the impossible made real–the resurrection of the dead.  In Jesus, God brought all the wounds of history into Christ’s body and there, in that broken body, judged them.  But in Christ, the faithful servant of God, we see that this judgment meant our redemption; the No of God includes God’s Yes.  In Jesus’ body we see what Foucault could not see–that the chaos of history does not have the final word, for it has already been judged, and history itself–ALL history–has been reconciled.  This reconciliation IS the one, single theme of history:  in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Godself.  
This theme, however, is never a theme we can possess; it is a theme we can sing, a theme we can proclaim and to which we can bear witness, but it is not a theme we possess.  We cannot retell history to stabilize our identity; we cannot tell history as destiny.  Our gospel is merely a “nevertheless” at the end of the story Foucault and countless others tell.  And that weakness is its power.  And that power–the power of the weak Christ–gives us strength to turn back to God and to find in Christ the healing of all our wounds and the forgiveness of all our sins.
This long post, though a bit more abstract, is intended to clarify the telling of the church’s history in the colonial structuring of Rwanda (my last post).  I realized that my previous post made it seem like Rwandans simply took over the colonial identities given to them and then brought them to their logical conclusion (genocide).  The history is always much more complex, much more nuanced, and much more varied–but it must be told.  Milbank’s option–“harmonious” renarration–obviously won’t work but neither will Foucault’s.  I tried to use Barth to show a different way of narrating history, one that will give do justice to both oppressors and oppressed (and those who in many ways are both).  It is not history as destiny, nor history as rupture, but an even weaker telling of history–history as seen in light of God’s “nevertheless.”  God has graciously taken my history (and all history) out of my hands and brought it into his Jewish body (more on that later) so that I could live through and in and beyond my history by his strength.  It is by this truth–a truth believed but not seen–that we are called to live.
Also, the response given at the end is an attempt to work within Barth’s book on Romans.  And, the page numbers to the Foucault piece come from __The Foucault Reader__ ed. Paul Rabinow.  
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15 Responses to Telling History: Barth and Foucault

  1. Anonymous says:

    Nick Barrett said:This is good. I have one question. What difference does the communion of the saints make in the present world, if the entire world–including the church–awiats the fulfillment of the eschatological event in which this “neverthelss” occurs?

  2. Nick,Two things: first, the eschatological event–the “nevertheless”–has already occurred (in Jesus), though we still wait for its fullness to be unveiled. Secondly, the role of the Church is something I trying to rethink, and thus I don’t have a good answer. Some of my guiding thoughts are things like: the church is Christ’s body in Christ’s humiliation (under the form of sin); it is Christ’s body in Christ’s hiddenness (what Bonhoeffer, following Kierkegaard, refers to as Christ’s incognito); that the life we live is not one we can possess (and so fundamentally remains beyond our knowledge as well); that the sacraments bring us into and sustains our attempt to live into Christ’s death: Christ’s death is a form of life–we live in a kind of “holy saturday,” beyond the control of death but not yet resurrected life–thus, it is a life that eludes boundaries (and hence the Church cannot be placed or defined over against the world). Our proclamation is not a proclamation of ourselves or of our own form of life but of Christ; the gifts of the Spirit come to us in spite of ourselves and thus mark not our moral excellence but God’s generosity to sinners (1 corinthians!); that the path towards God is one marked by repentance, and that road has already been walked for us by Christ, and thus (as Luther realized) even our repentance stands under the judgment (and gracious forgiveness) of Christ; the church does not ask people to become reconciled to it, but to God–and it testifies to the fact that this reconciliation has already been accomplished in Christ. nevertheless, the church realizes that the attempt to live separately from the church–and just “follow” Jesus–is an arrogant attempt to deny that one stands WITH sinful humanity UNDER Jesus (to do without the Church is ultimately to do without Jesus, not because the Church mediates Jesus, but being with Jesus brings one into communion with sinners–and it is in this space, with other sinners under Jesus, that one can be bold enough to call one another saints (in faithful trust of Jesus, not in fact)). In sum, what I want to do–and what I think has to be done–is to place ecclesiology within its long historical pattern of cultural power (“christianizing” and “civilizing” the world, etc) and from that history, start rethinking what it means to be the church. If we take people like Said seriously–and we should–we cannot pretend that we can turn to questions of ecclesiology without looking at the way those Christian forms of communal identities gave birth to and were formed by imperialist practices. For this reason, I’m skeptical about how central ecclesiology has become (Hauerwas, post-liberal, New Perspective, Radical Orthodoxy, etc) and want to think through what is at stake in these various turns to “the church” and “the tradition.”In short, I’m committed to working out an apparent contradiction: what difference does the Church’s existence make in the world–absolutely none, EXCEPT through Christ! I want to think through Christian ecclesial existence that maintains that the Church does not bear but testifies to Christ’s continuing presence in the world through the Spirit, and in so testifying, comes to be marked by that lingering presence (not as possession but as God’s gracious “nevertheless” to us–in other words, God’s presence among us sinners, and hence–and only from this place–as Christ’s body, Phil. 2–in the form of sinful flesh). But it’s clearer to me what I’m trying to avoid than how to rework a solution.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Nick Barrett said:In response to your two things…First, I follow your thoughts concerning the eschatological event already having occurred in Christ. I think we differ a bit on the semantics of the language. The fulfillment (which you call unveiling) of the eschatological event for humanity has yet to occur–that being our judgment and resurrection. Second, I think you are onto something by following Kierkegaard’s and Bonhoeffer’s “incognito” idea. I am more compelled by Kierkegaard’s dialectic way of knowing and relating to God and God’s love–being indirect, as opposed to–for ex., Shleiermacher’s rhetorical–direct way–of knowing through intuited experience. In this way, I wonder how it would look if the church spent less effort “christianizing,” and more effort loving indirectly? It seems to me, the church ends up being imperialistic–often unintentionally–because it mitigates the importance of God’s indirect way of loving and acting within the world. That said, I am still not following your thinking when you say, ” … and hence the Church cannot be placed or defined over against the world.” I am aware that you were concluding your point concerning the boundaries of living in a kind of “holy saturday.” The thing is, Christ was and is, over the world. Although, Christ was and is, not against the world–by no means–but is by no means harmonious with the present “evil age.” For this reason, it is only natural that–to a certain extent–the church as the body of Christ will never be cease being in opposition to the present age. What is difficult to follow is the sharp distinction you draw between Christ and the church–which I think became an important point in our previous discussion (and which you seem to acknowledge at the end of your post). If we are partaking in Christ–even in a Barthian sense–we are intrinsically wound up with the corporeal Christ. I am not suggesting the church is Christ; but rather, as his body, we are naturally connected with him, and therefore join his opposition. Perhaps it is better to say that the church–with Christ–isn’t so much “over and against the world” but is “over, in, through, and under the world.” That is to say, Christ has shown by his crucifixion that he is indeed “over” the world in an entirely different way: through death and humility he triumphed “over the world.” Following Christ then, the church stands in opposition “over” the world through its passion and humility. Finally, I think you are right to move the discussion towards pneumatology. Yet, I still think that even in our pneumatology, there is a degree of “bearing” Christ. Perhaps my Calvinist tendencies shine through here (i.e., a theology of accompaniment). However, I like you, am perplexed by this apparent contradiction in light of how the church has defined itself for so long. Nevertheless, I hate to bring it back to gnosticism, but I must admit, I fear that by pushing away from tradition too far–you/ we–risk fostering a gnostic Christian imagination. Thus, it seems the solution must stay firmly anchored in the incarnation, which I sense you laboring to do.

  4. Nick,It is precisely by thinking incarnationally that we see the inability to place Christianity in a separate category from the world: in Jesus, there is no humanity apart from God (second Adam, etc), and thus “the world” does not exist as some independent principle that competes with another differing principle, the church. What is real–the world–is what has been joined, judged, and forgiven in Christ. To be Christ’s body is precisely not to be separate from the sinful world. Any attempt to proclaim a Christian identity distinct or set apart from the world is an attempt to secure Christianity identity apart from the incarnate Christ! It is from this point that Bonhoeffer’s incognito functions ecclesiologically: the church (as Christ’s body) is never able to articulate its own identity because it exists as a contradiction (justified sinner–and Christ as THE justified sinner–the just one as sinner for our sake). The church’s identity, like Christ’s, is hidden in the world–and since the church is part of the world–it is hidden from itself. The crucifixion is not a way of mastery over the world (for the church–or for Christ) because the crucifixion is the judgment of the world IN Christ’s body (there is no world apart from the cross to be ruled by the power of the cross–the world is already in Christ and already judged and reconciled there). The “opposition” to the present evil age (to those forces and powers that do not recognize their judgment in Christ–forces that do not see that Christ alone is ultimate and final) is a worldly opposition: it is a call, perhaps even a command, for the world to remember it is still (only) the world. But this call and potential command applies to the church as well, and thus does not operate within a church-world opposition. As Barth says “the sum total of the features of even the Christian religion consists in the fact that it is idolatry and works-righteousness, faithlessness and therefore sin. It must be forgiven if it is to be justified” (On Religion, 118–a retranslation of II-I, 17). The Church can be Christ’s body precisely because Christ brought our sinfulness into his body. Therefore, the Church–and the Christian religion–possesses nothing of its own, no merit, no work, no form or ethics or sacramental orders whereby it can find its own identity or security: it is justified by grace in Jesus–or not at all. The claim against the present evil age is not based in the Church’s identity (as free from the world) but in the world’s identity (as judged and forgiven in Christ). One can only move to gnosticism from here by turning against the incarnation: the church–as sinful yet justified–can only be despised if one despises the world! One can only reject the sinful reality of the Church if one rejects sinful reality–but it is precisely that reality that Christ took on in Christ’s incarnation! The Church is valued–and our religious practices important–precisely because Christ judges it (them) as sinful and forgives it (them). But it is only as judged and forgiven by Christ–and hence as worldly and sinfully human–that they are significant!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Nick Barrett, I think your corrective is well taken. I should say, Christ is not “over” the world but is certainly against the present evil age–those two meaning entirely different things. I should have been more precise on that. Still though, I am not sure I follow your argument. The very fact that Christ is Lord, that God is God, assumes transcendence. The profundity of this God’s character–even displayed within the OT–is her benevolence, liberationist impulse, and triumph over the evil powers. I think I am hearing you struggle with the notion that Christ can in no way be a “triumphalist.” That is why I suggest that in the crucifixion, Christ did in-fact triumph over the “powers and principalities” of the present evil age. The crucifixion was a judgment placed on Christ, but also on humanity. By its very nature then, to judge, is in-fact to have some semblance of power. Paul calls this the power of God. The point isn’t that God in Christ now strong arms the world through the crucifixion, but has taken the sin of humanity onto himself. That is the triumph. That is the good news. ooops I have to leave for class…I’ll try to finish this later.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Nick BarrettThe language of power, triumph, judgment, etc… is only problematic if the concepts take their cues from this present age. These concepts applied to Christ–both in his character and crucifixion–are not problematic, because Christ comes to us from the age to come. In the future age–i.e., the age to come–the concepts of power, judgment, triumph have an altogether different meaning. This is where things get tricky for the church. Part of the problem is that the church has failed to properly understand the eschatological nature surrounding these locutions. Another issue surrounding the language of power, concerns the difference between the early church’s relative social position–as highly marginalized–and the church’s social power and dominance in the last two millennia. Seeing the pastoral epistles emphasis on the delayed parousia, indicates that the early church didn’t expect or foresee the possibility of obtaining social status and domination. Within that context, it makes sense for many of the NT writers to reflect on issues of Christ’s power and domination from their position on the under side of things. The church now, does well to seriously consider the contextual reality of these locutions in light of the early church’s position under the tyrannical and imperialistic domination of the Roman empire. One wonders, where does one find the true church now? Among the oppressed? It may be so.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Nick Barrett said, It seems to me, the struggle facing your present theological inquiry is to define “church.” What do you think the church is? At the same time, what can be said of all the positive contributions of the church presently and throughout the last two millennia?

  8. Nick,Thanks for laboring with me through these ideas. I really appreciate it. Seriously. Thanks. My problem is not with a triumphalist Christology but a triumphalist ecclesiology. Christ indeed conquered the present evil age–the world even! Christ did so, as you suggest, not by aggressive force but by removing any place for the world apart from God (Christ took the place of the sinner, thereby leaving the sinner “no place”; Christ defeated the world by bringing it inside his own body and in there, judging it and reconciling it to God). However, this triumph is already accomplished; the world does not exist apart from or separate from Christ and thus in need of being brought into Christ’s body through the ministry of the Church. The Church does not bring the world into itself (as if the two were opposed) but proclaims to the world what it already knows (and even, by God’s sheer grace, tastes and sees!): the world has already been brought into Christ–as the world (and this includes us, the church)! The gifts of God are available and abundant–even to us Gentiles!To work in this direction is to say that the question about the “true church” is fundamentally misleading. The true church is the church that stands under Christ’s judgment and forgiveness. Now, we can debate–and these debates are important–about what it means to be faithful to Christ (e.g., I think the Eucharist is important because Christ said he’d be there, in the broken bread, and I’m taking him at his word). Nevertheless, these debates are not about what is ultimate (what is ultimate is Christ) but penultimate (again, stealing Bonhoeffer). The church’s recognition that it is penultimate, that is, after all, also human and worldly (and therefore condemned and forgiven in Jesus) does not itself make it the “true” Church: only Christ does that. The church possesses nothing whereby it can define itself as “true”: our faith is in Christ…alone (I take this to be THE theme of Galatians–did we receive the Spirit by faith in the faithful Christ or by human works, by the flesh, by our tradition or ethical principles). But, that confession–that all of our hope is in Jesus, not in the propriety of our liturgy or the revolutionary potential of our ethics–does help us as we struggle to live faithfully to God’s revelation in Jesus. It helps us remember that we proclaim…Jesus. This would lead to gnosticism and disembodiment only if I thought the judgment was a divine rejection instead of a divine affirmation! Our churchliness is valuable indeed–precisely as a religious, and hence worldly and utterly human–response! We cannot respond as anything but what we are–humans confronted by and forgiven in Jesus!

  9. Anonymous says:

    Nick Barrett said, Good. I agree. However, I am still concerned that your ecclesiology doesn’t adequately account for the eis Christou/ en Christou mystical language. Maybe I am missing something implicit in your argument. Christ has come to us from the future age. He has judged and triumphed over the present age through his crucifixion and resurrection. The resurrection is the “mechanism” that ushers in the “age to come” in the “present evil age.” Those who come into Christ, or have been drawn into Christ etc… now participate in this “future age” characterized by the resurrection. I think we are on line here. The point I am stressing, is the issue of union and participation in the eschatological tension between the two ages. At points in your discussion, it seems as if you don’t acknowledge this tension. We have been taken into the body of Jesus–judged and forgiven, and thus, justified. The church proclaims what it knows: the world has been (past tense) redeemed, and points toward the fulfillment (or unveiling) of this redemption (a future event). You are correct to say that the church cannot say anything of itself apart from Christ. But… the church is mystically bound up in, and within, Christ–both through sacraments and sacramentality (mystical union). So then, as it speaks of Christ–in a sense–it speaks “with” Christ. If not, how can Christ be heard? How can Christ be seen? The potential to slip into gnostic tendencies lies here, not as much in the rejection of the world, but the mitigation of corporeality. I know your schema doesn’t point to the rejection of the world (high Gnosticism), but I am struggling with your understanding of the mystical union in and with Christ. As far as “true” church is concerned. I am not sure I understand you criticism. You say that the question is misleading. That may be the case, but whenever the church says anything about its affiliation, forgiveness, and justification with Christ, it is making–at least–implicitly, some type of claim about its “true” relation to Christ. Could you clarify your point on this? My only point was with “true” church, was to say that since the early church formed on the underside of the empire, its essence was defined by its marginal nature. I wonder to some extant of the church needs to recover that characteristic.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Nick Barrett said, Thanks for letting me labor with you. I have enjoyed it thoroughly.

  11. Nick,On the true church: my point was simply that the church possesses nothing by which it can sustain a positive pronouncement or verdict on itself, even if it is oppressed, marginal, apostolic, sacramental, or scriptural. Thus, if by true church you meant “in the right before God,” and thus the church’s “proper” form, I wanted to suggest that the ground for the church’s “justification” lies not in its form, social position, or ethical purity, but only in Christ. For me, at one point in my life, the question of ecclesial form (“where is the true or authentic church”) took on a seriousness beyond its proper value: I thought my standing with and before Jesus was at stake. The question can be taken seriously, but only once we realize what Paul is after in Galatians–forms matter insofar as they can be and are subordinated to God’s judgment and forgiveness in Christ. For Paul, this meant that circumcision is fine–up until the point it pretends to be an essential form or mark that guarantees Christ’s presence (in the Spirit). Nothing guarantees that except the faithfulness of Christ. Faith is not the “new badge of covenantal membership” (New Perspective, loosely speaking) but is the recognition that there has never been, truly speaking, a badge (circumcision follows the covenantal promises). The badge is God’s oath–which, on the earthly plane, is nothing anyone possesses and hence can never be a true marker of identity. Israel are formed as this kind of people–a people who can never possess themselves, never arrive at their true form, but live in a liminal state, always receiving who they are anew from the faithfulness of God, and proclaiming that this weakness is a place of joy and life (ignoring for the moment the struggle Israel has had–which is also the struggle the church has always had–to seize its own identity). I worry that the emphasis on ecclesiology, the tradition, and the church (here at Duke and elsewhere) misses this point.Wow–that was longer than I thought it would be (and not something I’ve thought through like that before). On union with Christ: I want to say that our coming to Christ is not an entry from a place of separation, but an entry into Christ’s entry into us (as one PhD student phrased it). Further, as an entry into Christ’s entry into us, our entry takes on the form of his entry: it is one in humiliation, weakness, dependency, and hiddenness (incognito). If Christ enters into us in a way that does not place Christ apart from the path of sinners, then our entrance into Christ does not place in a position over against “the world.” I wanted to suggest two reasons for this: first, the world itself has been taken up inside of Christ (incarnation). Second, Christ’s form in the incarnation is in the form of sinful flesh, and thus, our existence–as justified sinners–is the continuation of Christ’s body in its humiliation. Thus, our being Christ’s body is always our participation in Christ’s death, in the form of the cross. Our being justified sinners–and nothing more, but nothing less–is not a “distance” from the form of Christ but our way of participating in it here and now–thanks be to God! For all these reasons, when we look at the world, we can mark out no characteristic trait that clearly sets us off from (and above) the world around us. (I’m still thinking through if I ought to say it like this; my hunch is that you were probably with me up until this final statement).

  12. I take the last comment back: the church, unlike those outside of the church, knows that the world (including the church) is judged and forgiven in Christ. but, this knowledge does not justify the church; it is a response to–an acknowledgement of–justification. the church–like Israel–may indeed be peculiar, but it’s not its (their) peculiarity that justifies it (them). thus, i guess i can uphold the final comment as long as “clearly sets us off from” means “marks us out clearly as justified.”

  13. Anonymous says:

    Nick Barrett said, I would agree with you here, and maybe a bit beyond, where you are comfortable going with ecclesiastical identity. I think its important to remember that Galatians is about “getting in” while James for example, is about “staying in” (to use E.P. Sanders language). Its difficult to know if Paul is “ok” with circumcision. On the one hand, Paul didn’t want to persuade Jews from keeping “the works of the Law” since that was an act of faithfulness to God on their part. On the other hand, he didn’t want ANYONE to assume that they could stand justified before God apart from faith in Christ/ or the faithfulness of Christ, or perhaps both. I am sure you are aware of the on-going debate over the subjective or objective Genitive issue. Regardless, the primary issue is that Paul doesn’t want the Galatians to be circumcised. I would argue, that for Paul circumcision was not at all “OK.” This is where Paul gets a bit confusing, because he doesn’t seem to utter that corrective toward Jews. Nevertheless, it seems as though Paul wanted to dissuade circumcision because by doing so, one seriously undermined the new “epistemology”–for lack of a better term–that Christ had brought into the world. For Paul there was much more at stake in getting circumcised than issues of ethnic badges. To be circumcised undermines ones proper understanding of their identity as justified before God in Christ, because of their faith in Christ–all on the basis of Christ’s faithfulness. On that note, its difficult to see how the Christian cannot be marked off in some way or another. I think you are right to say that faith is not the new “ethnic badge.” I agree. Yet I would argue that we are marked off by Christ’s judgment and forgiveness enabling us to have union with Christ, and participation into an entirely new reality. future reality–breaking into this present age, that marks us off. Therefore, as participants in this “apocalyptic age” we embody this new reality while being simulteniously conjoined to this present reality. Our mystical union (eis christou, en Christou) allows for this tension. So in a sense, I think we are marked off from the world, but only in the sense that, we are marked off in the judgment and forgiveness of Christ (as you have so nicely argued), and by our union with Christ and participation in his Kingdom and new age “in-breaking” the present age. You are correct to say, that we are unique only because we recognize, that we are judged and forgiven by Christ. However, if by this you mean that all the world has been judged and forgiven regardless of their “recognition,” then you lean toward universalism. I know Barth leans this way implicitly–and I admit–I am attracted to it; however, I am still perplexed with passages that indicate a transference from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light–specific to those in Christ. If the whole of the world has been judged and forgiven despite their recognition, then why does Paul and others speak of their destruction? If the whole of the world has already been judged and forgiven despite their recognition, then why does the church matter? Or better yet, why does any proclamation of Christ matter? If the world is judged and forgiven despite their recognition, then humanities restoration is secure despite its participation in/ with Christ in the present age. Clearly, soteriology is important for us in this present age and the age to come. In that regard, I want to add that I am not implying a dualistic mentality concerning soteriology. Its just difficult to reconcile the idea that all the creation has been judged and forgiven despite their recognition of Christ’s judgment and forgiveness. It seems there are a couple options as to where this leads us. 1.) Soteriology and faith becomes an issue of recognition, which is essentially a from of mental assent (i.e., again waxing gnostic). 2.) Since all are judged and forgiven despite their recognition, all will be saved–despite their recognition of Christ’s forgiveness and judgment (thus leaning universalist). 3.) Since all are judged and forgiven despite their recognition, the churches imperative to embody the risen lord and proclaim his Kingdom and salvation is mitigated by the notion of universal salvation. Let me know if I am not following you correctly. I am just trying to rightly follow the implications of your argument.

  14. Nick, I’m going to try to respond briefly because there is a lot to think through and this will take time (and many more posts and conversations!). On universalism: whether or not someone can ultimately and permanently refuse to accept her judgment and forgiveness in Christ is, I think, an open question (I, like Barth, have an inclination to lean towards universalism, and think there is a trajectory in Scripture that supports this option, though not strong enough to make us able to declare it to be so, as a matter of doctrine). But I want to stick with how I phrased it: the matter is not whether the unbeliever was put to death in Christ’s body (judged); 2 Cor 5:14 and Rom 5:18-19 make clear that this is the case. The old man and the old world have been judged and forgiven in Christ, though they do not know and do not live accordingly. The Church, then, like the world, exists inside of this judgment and forgiveness (death and life) in Christ’s body. But the Church acknowledges and embraces its existence in dependence on Jesus. From here, I want to hold back on claims that the Church embodies the eschatological reality (these claims seem to entail some kind of Christian-churchly triumphalism and imperialism, no matter how soft we try to make it: the church now exists above the sinful forms of all other communities and it is only as they submit to church’s mediation of Christ that these other communities can be properly formed and valued). I’ve given a variety of reasons for trying to hold back on this claim (from the nature of Christ’s body/work to our dependence on Israel, etc) but I’m still working on that. Reading early Barth and late Bonhoeffer at the same time provides some different, not always compatible, ways forward–though both are struggling to take away from the Church its self-confident possession of the “right” and “proper” form of life.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Nick Barrett siad, Tim, Good thoughts. I am sympathetic to your desire to hold back on the church’s embodiment of the eschatological reality as well, because it CAN lead to triumphalism (but not always). As you think and formulate your responses, try to address the en Christou / eis Christou language in Paul and others. It seems to me, that mystical union must be dealt with properly in this discussion. I am sure you understand that I constantly point back to this, because the matter of union, is precisely why I cannot draw such a strong distinction between Christ and the church. To be sure, there is a distinction, but I would argue on the basis is eis Christou/ en Christou language, there is no utter bifurcation. The unity is certainly unique–thus causing Christian’s to be unique. You are right to be critical of “the church existing above other sinful forms of all other communities…” I would agree that this is highly problematic, yet I struggle here, because we cannot escape corporeal union. Interestingly though, despite the union, Paul doesn’t privilege the church over and against the world, but he does consider it to embody a eschatological reality. The eschatological reality being characterized by the resurrection and redemption, can in no way foster any type of triumphalism. The embodiment of the future age in the present age–means that Christians embody the virtues and ethics of the resurrected world. Anyhow, I just want to stress that I am on-line with your concerns and find this to be a fascinating conversation.

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