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The Resurrection and Pastoral Ministry

July 14, 2011

As a former pastor with a bit of a confused sense of what ministry was about, in seminary I was deeply impacted by Andrew Purves’ Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation (which he has since followed up with the more accessible volumes The Crucifixion and The Resurrection of Ministry). In these books the basic thesis is that ministry too often focusses on the imitation of Christ and forgets that it is always participation in Christ first. In his introduction to The Crucifixion of Ministry, Purves’ writes: “Ministry should be understood as a sharing in the continuing ministry of Jesus Christ, for wherever Christ is, there is the church and her ministry…. Swiss theologian Karl Barth said it: It is not Jesus Christ who needs our ministries; it is our ministries that need Jesus Christ” (12-13).

Perhaps that sounds pretty straightforward, but when I first read this stuff it was like balm to my soul. You see, while pastoring, for my ordination I had to read Mark Mittelberg’s Building a Contagious Church, and it simultaneously inspired and confounded me. Some of the impulses were right on, but there was something amiss. While I wouldn’t want to discredit him or the “seeker church movement” as a whole, I think I can illustrate where things went wrong by way of one of Mittelberg’s diagrams. Building on the well-worn image of God on one side of the sin-gap and humanity on the other side (with a cross to be inserted in the middle; we won’t get into the oversimplification here), it goes on to add another gap that I just don’t think ought to be there:


The idea pervading the book is that once one crosses the sin gap by faith in Christ one has then to cross this other gap – the culture gap – to get others over. I suppose that’s a way of saying we have to be witnesses precisely in our place and time. Excellent. But the problem with the diagram as it plays out in the book is that Jesus fills in the one hole only to set up the church on a mediating platform with the distinct task of filling in the other.

At the time it seemed odd to me that we evangelicals would reject priestly mediation for priesthood-of-believers mediation – switching sides in what Reinhard Hütter calls the ‘alternatives of institution and charisma’ –  but I wouldn’t have put it that way  at the time (see Suffering Divine Things, 95). I just remember struggling with the overwhelming task of figuring out how to set up a vernacular church culture that would get the neighbours flocking in the doors. The burden was heavy and I would have crumbled under its weight if my congregation was not so good at keeping it real.

At the time I could not put my thumb on the ecclesiological and missiological shortcomings. But according to Willie James Jennings’ The Christian Imagination, it might have something to do with what Lamin Sanneh calls “the unintended consequences of vernacular translation,” wherein the believer and the church begin to position themselves as “the inseparable carrier of the message.” When this happens they unwittingly ask people to first change cultures in order to then receive Jesus. In this move, says Jennings, the “scandalous particularity” of Jesus the Jewish Messiah is flattened into timeless truths and the “social and political materiality” we attach it to (i.e. our Christian culture) short-circuits the power of the gospel. In short we forget the resurrection and Pentecost, where the power of the gospel is seen in “the joining of peoples in the struggle to learn each other’s language in the process of lives joined, lives lived together” in Christ’s formation of “a new history for a new people” (See Jennings, The Christian Imagination, 156-160).

This doesn’t mean we make no attempt to embody the gospel in our particular contexts and to communicate it in the vernacular, but it does mean that we refrain from absolutizing any particular culture’s appropriation of the gospel. To be fair, Mittelberg put up warning flags regarding that tendency, but my observation of pastoral theology in the last couple decades suggests that these have not able to stem the tide (in many cases) of the wrong-headed theology represented in that diagram. I think this has put many pastors on a path that leads only to burnout on one side or undue hero-status on the other. It also has had the unfortunate side effect of attaching the values of the marketplace to almost every aspect of pastoral theology and, in my view, perverting them all in the process.

So what is the alternative? For starters I’d like to offer the outlook recommended by John Howard Yoder in For the Nations:

“The faith community and the human community are connatural; each is human, historical, social. No apologetic bridge needs to be built from one to the other. No deductive derivation of concrete specifications from general theories or metaphors is needed. If and when and to the extent to which women and men order their common life in the light of Christ’s lordship, they are already actualizing in, with, and under ordinary human forms the sanctification of creaturely life…. So it is that the order of the faith community constitutes a public offer to the entire society…. It is not that first we set about being a proper church and then in a later move go about deciding to care prophetically for the rest of the world. To participate in the transforming process of becoming the faith community is itself to speak the prophetic word, is itself  the beginning of the transformation of the cosmos” (27-28).

Perhaps this seems an uncontroversial point. I kind of hope it is. But I think that when you start to pan this out in practical ministry it actually ends up being pretty starkly different from what so often passes for pastoral theology today. In fact it reminds me of some words that kept me afloat in some of my most anxious days in the pastorate.

At a district prayer retreat I was at the end of my rope and so I cornered a senior statesman in our denomination, a man whom I had long respected, and pointedly asked him what he would do in a specific counselling situation. I completely expected that he would outline a kind of plan of attack or a little trick of the trade to getting these counselling sessions to “work” (such was the mantra of the books on my desk). I will never forget what he said. His carefully formed, simple sentence spouted wisdom with every baritone word: “Well, Jon, I usually just sit down and get comfortable in their living room, talk as friends do, and at the right time ask if it is okay if we open the Bible and pray together about what God might have us do.” It was not a recommendation toward proof-texting or a trite Sunday School answer to get me off his chest. This man simply believed in Jesus as the living Lord of the Church and the Holy Spirit as present and active in the world – no matter whose side of the “culture gap” someone’s living room was supposed to be on.

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30 Comments leave one →
  1. July 14, 2011 9:16 pm

    Jon – yes yes yes. Seeing ourselves as, in a sense, fully participant with society in general is the first step toward unleashing the power of what the church actually is.

    My two cents: I wonder whether, viz. pastoral manuals such as Mittelberg’s, the problem stems not so much from the presumption that the church (i.e., the congregation) is the bearer of the timeless truths, but more specifically the pastoral leadership. When I worked in a church, it seemed like there was a concern to reach the laypeople “where they were at” just as much as the people on the street. The assumption was that the pastor naturally has the ability clearly to see both the culture and the Word, while the riff raff are generally clueless and/or easily deceived (they are, after all, only sheep). In other words, I don’t think we really have traded in priestly mediation for priesthood-of-believers mediation – I think we’re still sort of stuck on the former. That’s why, I think, evangelicalism tends to be so personality driven; because the pastor supposedly lives in some kind of transcendent a-cultural sphere, his is the only voice that counts.

    Better to see us all – laypeople, pastors, and those outwith the church – as in a similar position of need before God, as you suggest.

  2. July 15, 2011 12:02 am

    Justin, what do you mean here by “fully participant with society in general”?

    And Jon, do you think Yoder’s quote there is sacramentally reductionistic (as Yoder would tend to be)? In other words, is the church merely “human, historical, social” in your view? If so, how helpful is that vision for churches with a more robust sacramentology?

  3. Sheila Klopfer permalink
    July 15, 2011 12:26 am

    I like this, Jon. It reminds me of what Lesslie Newbigin tried to work out in his theology of missions, “An Open Secret.” He said there is no dichotomy between “confession” and “truth-seeking” (168) – our confession of faith is our seeking and knocking. Similarly Barth said in his “Epistle to the Romans” that the righteous are prisoners become watchmen (156). What is it about the Christian faith that I would want to distinguish myself from the riff raff – as Justin says – and not drive me to see myself in truth and to call out to Jesus the Christ? It seems that it is often too easy to exchange “bearing the gospel” for “bearing witness to the gospel.” The love of God that meets us in the crucified and resurrected One calls us to take our place in, among and for humanity. Only there, at the foot of the cross, where we must stand “fully participating with society” and looking to the crucified, will we be transformed by the Gospel.

  4. Bob Pond permalink
    July 15, 2011 2:35 am

    I’m so glad your starting this blog Jon. I appreciate your reflections and I totally relate to the pressure of being culturally relevant. I resist it in some ways and trust that the Lord is showing me where I can join him in what he is doing in our community… looking for hints that points out where he is at work. I think it’s going to soon be the time to read Purves again. I remember reading it for our class and it was a time of refreshing for me especially in my prayer times. Great and encouraging book.

  5. July 15, 2011 6:38 am

    @Brad A. – what Sheila said.

  6. July 15, 2011 8:12 am

    Justin – Yeah, good point. The irony when you bring together the priesthood of believers with what Hütter calls the ‘charismatic’ kind of mediation, then you end up back into the hierarchy stuff, except it tends to play out according to perceived saintliness or stuff like dynamism and business savvy and so on. That’s not to say you end up totally lost, after all you have to appoint some leaders and hopefully the Spirit is graciously involved there, but it does slowly end up meaning the whole shape of spirituality, liturgy, church programming and measures of “success” warp into a new form. Some of that may be good and proper for a church obeying the Lord in its time and place, but some of it may not be good at all.

    Brad A – Well, I’m bracing to hear some of my co-authors rain down insults upon me accusing me of being a Zwinglian, but I don’t really go in for the way you’ve framed it — with one being sacramentally reductionistic (as if there is sacramental mediation and I am reducing it) and the other robust. But whatever, I know what you mean. I come from a background that sees the Lord’s Supper and Baptism as ordinances, and so while I’ve come closer to more Reformed views I’m still entirely comfortable with Yoder on this.

    My guess is that someone who wants a more “robust” sacramentology might be able to say everything I’ve said above by keeping the freedom of God in view and insisting that God is always doing the mediation. In other words, the “real presence” (or what have you) mediated in the sacraments is ordered asymmetrically according to agency or something like that. Heck, that’s what I’d say, and I don’t even think of them as mediating (in the strong sense of the word). I would tend to see them as two “centres” of the ordered life of the church that Yoder is talking about. But perhaps you can help me out here and supplement that or else dig further and show me where I’m a moron [but don’t call me a Zwinglian, I’ve heard that one ; )].

    Sheila – Yeah that’s good stuff. Awesome hearing from you again. I find what Barth says about a believer’s newfound (and altered) “solidarity with sinners,” wherein we recognize that whatever we are as “saints” is all wrapped up in a telos we share with everything around us. I think that’s right. I also appreciated Clark Pinnock’s doctrine of the Holy Spirit for convincing me that Christians need to be more aware of the Spirit working in the world around them, not less.

    Bob – So glad you came to the blog! Alas we had many long hours together trying to figure out how one should pronounce “Purves”, let alone make sense of ourselves in light of what he’d shown us. I highly recommend grabbing these other two books of his, they look like perfect refreshers, and are much quicker more accessible reads that you could pass around to your elders and such.

  7. July 15, 2011 2:44 pm

    Justin (and Sheila): I’m totally with “taking our place in, among and for humanity,” but I just don’t equate that with “full participation in society.” Much of “society” (a complex and pregnant term, to be sure) is determined, shaped, and directed by the powers in rebellion to God’s sovereignty as made actual in Jesus Christ (to allude to Yoder), so I always want to qualify statements like that. We must be for the world against the powers where necessary, and that very well might mean not fully participating in “society,” at least on “society’s” own terms.

    Jon: I was thinking of the Gerald Schlabach article on the differences between Yoder and Hauerwas when I wrote that. I would actually tend more toward Yoder than Hauerwas in certain ways (e.g., assuming the Holy Spirit can be active without institutions), though I’m always concerned about the ecumenical implications (e.g., the role of matter in how we are justified and sanctified – part of having studied at a Catholic school, I guess). I also don’t think, though this didn’t come through in my earlier comment very well, that sacrament is the only way in which the Spirit indwells, infuses, empowers, etc., the church as the community of disciples of Jesus Christ. So I reiterate my concern over language portraying the church as a merely human community, where ecclesiology is made synonymous with sociology. That question can be attended to to an extent without getting into disputes over sacramentology.

  8. July 15, 2011 4:13 pm

    Brad – yeah, “participate” was an inelegantly chosen term. I didn’t mean to imply that we should in all cases be affirming or giving ourselves to society, and by extension the powers, as Christians (I think our views are quite close here – I agree with Yoder). I just want to avoid the implication that standing against the powers involves erecting an ecclesial fortress and/or a city on a hill. In my view, we’re only “for the world” as we see ourselves as constituents of it, since we are all alike accountable to God.

  9. July 15, 2011 4:21 pm

    Brad A – I’m not sure how paying attention to the specificity of the Christian common life is synonymous with sociology. Do you mean that on my rendering it sounds like the Church is indiscernible from the surrounding culture?

    I guess on one hand I want to say that, yeah, society will always be able to look in and say, “yeah, that’s not necessarily God, that’s all explainable sociologically, that’s merely a human community.” And sociology would actually describe some of the dynamics that are playing out quite well. Is that an objectionable point to some streams of Christianity? I certainly don’t want to deny that this community will have visible aspects of its common life that stand out. It must obey on concrete points and understand itself according to a shared faith in certain promises and commands of God. But its witness to the world will have to do with that common-life, and not the translation and transmission of its structures or effects.

    Boy, I’m not sure I’m going where you are prompting me. I’m going to blame it on the fact that its Friday afternoon. Feel free to try again. Thanks Brad.

  10. July 15, 2011 4:41 pm

    Justin: Sure, we seem to be on similar pages here. I think we are a city on a hill, but in the sense of welcoming in rather than holding out against the rest of the world.

    Jon: I wasn’t accusing or charging you with anything. I was just asking a question, going off of the first sentence of the Yoder quote above. I’ve seen others who appeal strongly to Yoder take ecclesiology and render it into sociology – reducing the church to a merely human community – and then charge those focusing on the church with a sort of idolatrous “ecclesiocentrism.” I was just wondering how you took things – it was really just a question. Your first sentence here tells me we’re on the same page on this point, I think, and I think I’m with you on the last two sentences of the middle paragraph (“It must obey…”), although the Anabaptist notion of “middle axioms” does suggest an opportunity and means for communication between the church and the other structures of various societies.

  11. Sheila Klopfer permalink
    July 15, 2011 5:38 pm

    I’m not saying anything that hasn’t already been said here in one way or another. But, I too have trouble with the ‘city on the hill’ language. It draws a distinct and static line between the church and society, where we should instead distinguish the powers from Christ’s lordship. What distinguishes the church from culture is its obedience to and acknowledgment of the Lordship of Christ. Nonetheless, irregardless of our acknowledgment, Christ is Lord over all, even over the powers. The church is the community of faithful, in society, that bears witness to Christ’s lordship. And in so doing, the church stands against the powers that fight against God’s kingdom work. We must recognize that at times, the church stands over against Christ and with the powers. In either case, the church does so in society. The line is drawn between Christ’s lordship and the powers.

  12. July 15, 2011 6:33 pm

    Well, keep in mind that I’m talking about the church as it is called to be, not necessarily as it is in practice (the latter which is often incomplete and insufficient, marked by sin and unfaithfulness). I don’t think such language is inherently problematic, however, since it echoes biblical models of Israel and the church as a distinct people and nation. The church is, in fact, a distinct human community and culture that transcends the ways the powers have bounded current human communities and cultures, and it is marked by a certain openness and inclusivity that the powers cannot imitate without undoing themselves. That is entirely biblical.

    I think distinguishing between the powers and Christ’s lordship is entirely appropriate, but the distinction doesn’t stop there, or else you can’t then speak in any way of distinguishing church as a human community from other human communities defined by the powers. The problem I have with saying “the church does so in society” is that it raises the question: “which society?” Is the church bound by human societies? Can human society – besides the church – be defined without subscribing to the powers’ own ordering activities? I think not. What happens with Israel and the church is that a new community is created in part to show the world that the order of the powers does not have to be. This then entails us being the alternative, but that entails a distinct – though neither withdrawn nor closed off – community.

  13. July 15, 2011 6:33 pm

    Brad – That’s cool, Not sure if I sounded defensive. More just nervous I was missing the point. I see the warnings there (i.e. the potential critiques of Yoder or Yoderites (?)), thanks for raising those. I’ll have to think more about ‘middle axioms,’ as I haven’t really read much about that. By the way, where did you go to school? You said you went to a Catholic school?

    Great clarifications – Sheila, Justin, all – thanks.

  14. July 15, 2011 6:37 pm

    Jon, you just sounded like you may have misunderstood my concern, so I wanted to clarify. No worries. The “middle axioms” notion comes from a chapter by a mentor of mine who was writing on Anabaptist political theory (apparent contradiction intended). When I eventually unpack the right moving box, I can tell you his source for that, but it might have been something from Yoder.

    I went to Marquette University and wrote under Steve Long.

  15. Sheila Klopfer permalink
    July 15, 2011 6:52 pm

    Brad – I think the clarification regarding “the church as it’s called to be and not necessarily as it’s practiced” is helpful. And Society is being used in an ill-defined way. I’m not sure how to make it more clear just yet, but I’ll keep thinking about it. Thanks Jon, Justin, and Brad for the conversation – good stuff!

  16. July 15, 2011 7:04 pm

    That last bit was helpful, yes, I hadn’t seen that yet when I posted. I’d be interested to hear about the ‘middle axioms’ worry sometime indeed. To be honest I feel like I’m just discovering Yoder, so I’ve got lots to think about. When I read him I feel at home, though. At least on ecclesiology.

  17. July 15, 2011 7:11 pm

    Brad – I think we almost were colleagues. Are you one of the Garrett exiles? Do you know Jimmy Cooper? Chris Ganski?

  18. July 16, 2011 1:45 pm

    Sheila – I think part of what you’re trying to say is that we’re in the world and we’re not separate from the world, but neither are we of the world. Part of the confusion in these discussions is over what the word “world” means, and that’s due in part to its different senses in scripture itself. On the one hand, “world” is that which we are set apart from (and even against in certain cases), and on the other, it’s that which we love (as God does) and for which we proclaim the gospel. I tend to think of the powers (in rebellion) in the first sense and general humanity in the second. So we are very much a part of the second sense even while we proclaim and embody the gospel over against, in a very real way, the first. So when it comes to “society,” it’s not quite clear in what sense we mean it. It depends on to what degree the powers are involved in the ongoing ordering of a human community in a way that is still rebellious to God’s sovereignty in Jesus Christ.

    Justin – I’m acquainted with Chris, but I’m not from Garrett myself. I was at Asbury for a year (02-03) and then finished the MA at Marquette and went straight into the PhD program (04-10). We had several of Steve’s former Garrett students in a hermeneutics class he taught the first year he came (and Jimmy’s name rings a bell there), but otherwise I don’t have any connection with Garrett.

  19. July 18, 2011 1:34 pm

    The ‘middle axioms’ claim is from Yoder, in The Christian Witness to the State. Don’t have my copy at hand for page numbers, but it’s in the “typology” section later in the book.

    Brad — I can’t spell it out here, but just a note to say that in terms of Yoder, I think you are, in a sense, right in your reactions to / worries about Justin and Sheila’s “full participation” in society. But on the other hand — I’d want to say that, my reading of Yoder is such that, the “defintional” distinction of church/world you are advocating here (where “church” names not the fallen visible historical/practical reality, but the eschatological community in Christ), in fact requires something like a posture of being fully in/for society, In other words, the church’s “oneness” with “the world” (or “society”), where even religious barriers to human welfare are broken down, is in fact the eschatological goal, not the historical problem.

    I know you’d probably agree with this, in a qualified way — but I just want to note that Yoder not only has a church/world distinction up and running which makes “world” the domain of the powers, but perhaps more importantly, the logic of his church/world distinction and understanding of the powers is such that, “the church” in its distinction from the (rebellious) world designates not any human-historical institution, or tradition, or religious/religious practice, but a certain way of being in/for the world that is contingently practiced. Thus there is no visible historical/practical “site” of “the church” in its definitional/eschatological sense that is immune to the powers’ attack.

  20. July 18, 2011 2:05 pm

    Scott, I do agree to an extent, but I wonder if you are slightly overstating Yoder’s position and especially the biblical picture. I don’t really know what you mean by “religious barriers to human welfare” but I do recognize that Col 3:28, which is so key for Yoder’s emphasis on reconciliation (as it is for others) still says “in Christ,” and I think that is an important qualification, although we can be very expansive on what that means. Solidarity with the world God loves that is enslaved to the powers-in-rebellion is certainly part of what it means to be church, but there is a difference between being church and not being church, both of which are embodied states.

    Your second paragraph is confusing to me. How are you differentiating between “any human-historical institution, or tradition, or religious/religuous practice” and “a certain way of being in/for the world that is contingently practiced?” How does his Body Politics, with its discussion of practices (e.g., binding and loosing, etc.) fit into this? I agree that “there is no visible historical/practical ‘site’ of ‘the church’ in its definitional/eschatological sense that is immune to the powers’ attack,” but this is not to say that there is no visible historical/practical site called “church.”

  21. July 18, 2011 3:40 pm

    That verse should, of course, be Galatians, not Colossians…

  22. July 18, 2011 5:25 pm

    Brad — my basic point is the church/world distinction is first and foremost an eschatological one (i.e., it is determined by its being “in Christ”), and while I agree that being-church and -world, insofar as those two are distinct, are both “embodied states”, my reading of Yoder foregrounds that this “embodiment” is the embodiment of Jesus’ life-style, or a certain kind of ethos/political sensibility. I read his stronger ecclesiological claims about “sacraments” as certain forms of social practice, in Body Politics and elsewhere, as tempered by and gaining their coherence within a more-fundamental sense that the eschatological form of the church is pre-eminently a political or social form that is always *contingently* embodied, not a religious/sacramental form or any specific sanctioned “practice” that is timelessly valid. It’s a way of being with/for, that certain can be and is institutionalized in various times/places and ways (that’s the significance of the church’s “ritual memory” and gathered practices, etc), but what those institutional “signs” point to is the living confession that is itself enacted as a form of being with/for the neighbor in the concrete human need and victimizaiton.

    That’s my reading, anyway. I recognize there is an “other Yoder” which is more “sacramental” because it’s more confident about the institutional normativity or practical sanctioning of specific ecclesial practices (and this has largely been Hauerwas’s Yoder), but I’m self-consciously picking up on what I think is the deeper strand in Yoder’s claims about the pre-eminence of the political/social over the religious (“Constantinian”) differentiation of church/world.

  23. July 19, 2011 1:14 pm

    Thanks for carrying the Yoder discussion on further than I could have. Very informative.

  24. July 19, 2011 2:05 pm

    Scott, I really don’t disagree with the sense of your reading of Yoder here, except that I would argue even he saw baptism and the Lord’s Supper as timelessly valid and distinctive to the church (though not necessarily particular forms thereof). What I was pushing back on was a connotation of your earlier comment (and some other active arguments these days) that for Yoder, and especially for Scripture, being church was simply a distinct “way of being” that suggests merely a change in behavior/belief/sensibility (largely at the individual level) and not a distinctive community of people. That’s how I read your earlier comment, so forgive me if I mistakenly read too much into it. My concern was not so much with the sacramental aspect (though I did want you to address it) as with the “people” aspect. I’m wary of theologies that consider the church merely as an “event” or some such, which is sort of how I took your “way of being” comment.

    On your very last sentence, though, I wonder about your terminology. Is Yoder really dichotomizing “political/social” over “religious” (and I really don’t know why you’d tie Constantinianism merely to “religious” and not the other), or is he really (using some more contemporary parlance, perhaps) arguing about one theopolitical model versus others (hence his entire argument in Politics of Jesus)?

  25. July 20, 2011 1:10 am

    Brad,

    We’re probably mostly on the same page. I’ll just add that I certainly didn’t mean to imply that the church/world distinction occurs at an “individual” (as opposed to communal, or social) level. However, I detect we might still differ as to how to spell this out ecclesiologically, b/c I’m fairly comfortable talking about the church as a (socio-political) event that is always in-becoming, and never really *is* in a way that we could identify with any given human institution or practice.

    Finally, I wouldn’t want to suggest a “dichotomy” between the socio-political and the religious, for Yoder — but I would suggest that the church is primarily a socio-political reality for him, and only secondarily or derivatively a “religious” body. This is just to affirm that the “salvation” the church attests in its specific confession has to do first and foremost with the remaking of our shared human lives, rather than applying to some transcendent realm.

  26. July 20, 2011 8:57 am

    Scott, I’m not sure what all you mean by religious, but isn’t the common life of the church (as in, those unique aspects of it which serve as the cornerstone for its acts in the world) something different than the “applying to some transcendent realm” that stands on the down-side of your primarily/secondarily distinction there?

    Couldn’t you say that the “remaking of our shared human lives” is the kind of telos (not just in distant future but in the everyday) of the church, but as such it is “secondary” in terms of being derivative? Then you could say that the “primary” (unique common life of the church) is called into question if the derivation is not there. It seems to me that what I’m suggesting might be a pattern faithful to the way Jesus calls the disciples out to send them back in, to the way James talks about faith and works, and to the way that Abram is told his people would be blessed to be a blessing to the nations.

  27. July 20, 2011 2:07 pm

    re: the first question (about the common life of the church not just “applying to some transcendent realm”), I guess I’d say that the Christian church/traditions indeed has resources or capacities to be something different and theologically better than the human attempt to secure “our” salvation by way of transcendence (of eternity, of our private relation to God, etc). it’s just not guaranteed that what we see/name as the church in any given time and place is or has been or will be something “different” than mere religion.

    On the second part — I think you could say that — but if I said it, I’d want to stress that the telos of a new form of life-together is primary, not derivative. In other words, the social/political form of Christ’s body — it’s eschatological form as a New Jerusalem — precedes and conditions what the “gathered” church confesses in its own way. So the calling of disciples to send them back out, yes — but it’s perhaps not enough to say the church exists “for” the world. There also has to be a sense in which we recognize that whatever sphere in which our “salvation” is worked out is the sphere in which “the church” itself — not as a visible/human attempt, but *in its eschatological distinction from the (rebellious) world — happens.

    So what makes the called-out church “primary” to that on behalf of which it is called out? I guess that’s what I was initially worried about in Brad’s reaction to Justin’s claim that the church becomes the church in “full participation with society”.

  28. July 20, 2011 3:59 pm

    Scott, you again present a problematic dichotomy when you say “the ‘salvation’ the church attests in its specific confession has to do first and foremost with the remaking of our shared human lives, rather than applying to some transcendent realm.” You do better, imo, in your most recent post referring to eschatology, but then you’re sort of contradicting your prior post that I just quoted. The remaking of our shared human lives does not, of course, occur apart from the transcendent, but is rather the result and working out of the kingdom of heaven breaking back into this world in Jesus Christ. We can certainly spend some time parsing out exactly what that means, but it suggests to me the impossibility of saying this part is “human” and this part is “transcendent.” Hence my used of “theopolitical” rather than merely “social/political.” My hunch here is that I see eschatology as more realized than you do, though I’m far from seeing it as fully realized.

    As to your second post, a few brief points:

    1. It’s fashionable of late to apply a hermeneutics of suspicion to anything called “church.” But it’s not, in my mind, consistent with the fruit of the spirit or the virtue of love, which extends the benefit of the doubt. So hinging one’s approach on the assumption that the church is constantly screwing up unless proved otherwise (which is how several of your statements have come across to me) seems problematic.

    2. This touches on what is perhaps a difference in our view of the degree to which Christian eschatology has been/is being realized – and forgive me if I’m misunderstanding you – but I question your equation of “visible” with [merely] “human.” Why think that way? Doesn’t the Incarnation essentially negate that reduction?

    3. The church’s distinction from the world (in terms of the structures of the powers-in-rebellion) is not rooted only in the eschatological, but also in our prior story of Israel and God’s previous actions in the world. So we look not only forward for our norms, but backward as well.

  29. July 22, 2011 8:39 am

    Brad —

    Thanks for the continued engagement. Quickly:

    Re: the eschatology/transcendent point. I was responding to your question about the “dichotomy” b/t religious and socio-political salvation. My point was that a view of (yes, eschatological) salvation as coming to/being-worked-out in our given socio-political life contrasts with standard models of salvation as involving some realm or aspect of human being/life that “transcends” socio-political relations — the inidividual soul, or heaven as an after-life, and so on. You may well accuse me of “dichotomizing” again here, but I’m just clarifying that when I contrasted “the remaking” of our given life-together with models of salvation that “transcend” or are seen as more fundamental/prior to human social life.
    The notion of “remaking” itself implies that something stands outside or exceeds our given lives (namely, Jesus life-history), and you could call that a kind of “transcendence”, but it’s not the kind of “spiritual” transcendence in traditional accounts of salvation that Yoder problematizes and I was addressing by way of a critique of Christianity as “religion”.

    1. I’m not suspicious of “the church” as such. It’s just that my sympathies with both the philosophical (Nietzsche, Marx, etc) and theological (Kierkegaard, Barth, Bonhoeffer) critique of religion, as well as my reading of Yoder on the nature of salvation and Christian “confession”, leaves me with an account of the church/world distinction that cannot directly apply distinction to the historical institution called “church”. I think “church” exists wherever human life gives itself over to the way of the kingdom come in Jesus. And that exceeds what so-called Christians are and do, both because of their own fallenness/captivity to the powers and because of the comprehensive scope of God’s grace/Christ’s rule.

    2. I think salvation is fully realized in Christ, but the question it what it means for us/human history itself to be “in Christ”. I think this is a contingent, ongoing negotiation. Yes it has a prior history, but it is being worked out in our daily life together. This ties in with my earlier point; I’m just stressing that the redemption of our creaturely life doesn’t “reside” anywhere — Christ meets us where we are, in the thick of it, which is our grace and hope.

    On the visible/human thing, then — I’m not saying Christ doesn’t come to us or have “effects” in the world, or whatever. Nor am I saying God can’t and doesn’t “speak” through the visible/historical church. But given point 1 — it matters greatly that we have an agential distinction between the work of Christ and our human work up and running, or otherwise we will be tempted to define the church in such a way that we basically equate and sanction some human work or practice or sphere with divine agency. (This obviously has some tension w/ a view of sacraments, e.g., as “means of grace”.) I don’t think the incarnation sanctifies or renders incorruptible any particular sphere of human action or any specific set of practices. Conversely, all things are involved in and capable of transformation.

    3. Yeah — backwards as well. We agree here. But again it matters that we’re able to distinguish b/t divine and human agency, and how we do so will affect how we read what from the past is normative for our present history and identity.

  30. July 25, 2011 1:32 pm

    Well, Scott, I really don’t believe we disagree that much at all. We just tend to emphasize or nuance things a bit differently. How you’ve explained things here is helpful, I think. Thanks for the conversation.

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