- History as subject to the eschaton, updated
After discussing the modern notion of history, which assumes that all the events that transpire in time and space are fundamentally similar and therefore always to be understood in terms of analogy with other events with which the historian is already familiar, Moltmann notes that such a view of history is essentially incompatible with the Christian belief that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Orthodox Christianity very much believes and proclaims that Jesus’ resurrection was an event that occurred in time and space, but not one analogous to other events. Therefore, an authentically Christian understanding of history must set aside the presuppositions of the modern, Enlightenment view and build instead on very different ones: Only if the whole historical picture, contingency and continuity and all, could be shown to be in itself not necessary but contingent, should we come within sight of that which can be called the eschatologically new fact of the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection of Christ does not mean a possibility within the world and its history, but a new possibility altogether for the world, for existence and for history. Only when the world can be understood as contingent creation out of the freedom of God and ex nihilo—only on the basis of this contingent mundi—does the raising of Christ become intelligible as nova creatio. In view of what is meant and what is promised when we speak of the raising of Christ, it is therefore necessary to expose the profound irrationality of the rational cosmos of the modern, technico-scientific world. By the raising of Christ we do not mean a possible process in world history, but the eschatological process to which world history is subjected.1 1 Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 179–180. Moltmann is correct here, and the implications are significant. Placing history (and thereby our experiences of the world) within a larger, eschatological framework relativizes and limits the authority of experiential similarity as a guiding principle. It is not the case that all things must be like what we already know. It is not the case that the world is now already fundamentally the way it will always be. Rather, the world is still on the way to its final form and final dynamic. Now, we can also look at Jesus’ resurrection and see that there is much continuity between what was and what will be. The new creation is not a different creation but a transformation of this self-same creation we are part of now. The radical newness of the resurrection does not negate history and historical processes. Instead, it becomes part of history from the moment of its unprecedented occurrence. Moltmann does not address this latter aspect in this quotation (indeed, it is not a theme he pays much attention to in general, preferring as he does to emphasize the “otherness” of the eschatological intervention into history rather than the integration of that intervention into the history it invades), but the implication remains. If history is subjected to an eschatological process, then history has been, is now being, and will continue to be shaped by the eschaton. Conversely, therefore, the eschaton does not simply stand over against history. Eschatological reality becomes integrally involved in history any and every time it occurs. Whenever and in whatever way God acts in history to create conditions that more closely resemble his ultimate, eschatological goal for creation, those eschatologically directed events become part of the shape and course of history. Thus we see the essential dynamic of Christian faith: God must act in history, but also God acts in history. Christians, however devoted we may be to God’s purposes, cannot bring the eschaton to pass in this world by our efforts. But when he acts and as he acts, Christians are able to participate in the reality that his actions bring into being, and even to further their effects. Only God can enact his reign in our world, but when he does, he calls us to help.
- On bodies and souls, updated
Often people ask me about the relationship between our bodies and our souls or spirits. The explicit or implicit reason for the question is usually that people are wondering about what happens when we die, but sometimes there are other reasons. The following is an attempt to give an accessible explanation of this profound and complex matter. First, for orientation, it is helpful to describe at least briefly some of the major views that circulate in our culture. The default assumption in Western culture, including for many Christians, is that humans have two parts, the body and the soul. Some Westerners are materialists, believing that there is only the body and that the mind, will, emotions, etc., are simply the byproduct of neurological processes. Others take the opposite tack and say that the material reality is only an appearance whereas the spiritual is the truly real. Some Christians argue that we are made of three parts, body, soul, and spirit, with soul and spirit considered to be as distinct from each other as either one is from the material body. Yet others (including me) take the view that material and immaterial are not two separate parts of reality, but rather two real aspects of one, unified reality. There are all sorts of Scriptural, theological, and practical reasons to consider this latter view the best one for Christians to hold, but the task for now is to describe this view, rather than to explore its warrants and implications. This idea of material and spiritual as a unified reality is a bit difficult for Westerners to understand, so a few analogies might be helpful. This first analogy illustrates some key ideas that will be helpful in thinking about this subject. It isn’t a full-scale model of the relation between body and soul/spirit, and we will need to leave it behind once we’ve used it for its limited purpose. But within this limited scope, it is helpful. Imagine a sheet of paper. You can pick it up, turn it around, fold it, write on it, curl it into a tube, whatever. It’s just a piece of paper. Now pick a number between, say, one and five. Tear the paper in half that many times. Now your sheet of paper is in broken little pieces. This is similar to what happens to us when we die. While we live, we are a seamless whole. There is no division between our bodies and our souls. Instead, the material and immaterial aspects of our being are thoroughly integrated with each other. We will our bodies to move; a soothing touch calms our anxiety; excitement makes our eyes dilate and our pulse quicken; ingesting certain substances alters our mood or thought patterns; etc. There is no barrier, no disconnect, no discernible line between the two. But when we die, this integrated whole is torn asunder. What God intended to be whole is broken, and what remains are only scraps with ragged edges showing where the wholeness used to be. Once a person has been torn asunder by death, it becomes possible to perceive body and soul as separate parts of that person, just as we can see that two halves of a torn sheet of paper were both parts of the whole sheet. But while we can apply that mental abstraction to ourselves and others, it is only an abstraction so long as we live. This is true regardless whether we distinguish into two parts (body and soul), three parts (body, soul, spirit), or any given number of parts (arm, hand, stomach, brain, mind, will, emotion, heart, lungs, spirit, femur, humours, memories, veins, nerves, feelings, impulses, perceptions, etc.). While we live, we are one, integrated whole; only dead things are actually separated into parts. But our paper analogy isn’t enough to fully explain the relation of body and soul. When we tear a sheet of paper in two, the two torn halves are fundamentally the same sort of thing. This is not the case with the material and immaterial aspects of a human being. To go further in our understanding, we need another approach. You have probably seen a building that was partially or wholly demolished for whatever reason. Maybe it was a barn struck by a tornado, or an office tower collapsed in a controlled explosion, or a house that was being gutted by workmen in the process of an extensive reconstruction. What was the difference between the barn before and after the tornado? Simple. It was smashed to pieces. Likewise the office tower was reduced to rubble. The workmen at the half-demolished house carefully and methodically took it apart piece by piece, tossing the scraps into a bin to be carted away. In each case, though, the pieces didn’t stop existing. They remained, but they no longer formed a building. The building, meanwhile, ceased to exist in part or in whole because the structural relationship of its pieces was undone. The difference between a house and a pile of materials is order.1 Order is immaterial. Order can’t be touched or seen or measured—not directly. But order can be discerned through the things we can touch and see and measure. We can even measure order by proxy to a limited degree.2 It takes work to create and sustain order, and the effects of order and disorder on our lives are clearly perceptible. Order is immaterial, but it is a very real part of this world. 1 Long ago, the philosopher Aristotle spoke of this in terms of “matter” and “form.” Plato talked even more about matter and form (or rather, Matter and the Forms), and he did so before Aristotle. But Plato’s thoughts on this subject were pretty far out there, and for the purposes of this discussion they can and should be discounted. I prefer the term “order” over “form” because it has a broader semantic range and more easily suggests dynamic activity and relationships than “form” does to contemporary English speakers. 2 The concept of entropy in thermodynamics is very useful for measuring order in terms of energy distribution in a physical system, for example, though it is rather less useful in the realms of politics and poetry. The relationship that matter and energy have with order sheds some light on the relationship that the body has with the soul or spirit. There is a certain sense in which the presence of spirit within us makes us what we are. In Hebrew, it was having ruach (spirit; literally, breath) that made one a nephesh (a living being) and to lose ruach was by definition to cease to be a nephesh.3 The immaterial aspect of our being plays an indispensable role in shaping our material-spiritual existence. 3 Some older Bible translations tended to render nephesh as “soul” rather than “living being.” In modern English, this is simply wrong translation, which is why modern translations don’t do it. However, this analogy is also limited and potentially misleading if we don’t note some major caveats and qualifications. First and foremost, the spirit is not itself the ordering principle of the body. Rather, the interrelatedness of body and spirit is part of the overall order that makes us whole beings. The relationship between spirit and body has some analogy with the relationship between ordering principles of our existence and the overall structure of our being that includes both our material and spiritual aspects and their interrelation, but there is at least one key difference. Order is about the necessary structures and patterns for a thing to exist. Spirit, in contrast, is about the dynamic impetus that makes a living thing be a living thing. Our spirits are what animate us. Explaining what our spirits are is only possible by metaphorical extension from a description of the role it plays in our being and the literal, concrete effects it has in that role. Spirit is what enables and impels us to live, to move, to breathe, to desire, to respond, to think, to imagine, to choose, to act, to love, and all the other actions that mark out a living creature from an inanimate object. Because we are a single, material-spiritual reality, we can analyze the processes by which we perform these actions—physical, chemical, biological, psychological, social, etc. We can explain the means by which we act, describe the patterns according to which we act, the reasons why we act in one way and not another. Such analysis of how we engage in all these actions is immensely helpful, but in the end we are still faced with the question: Why do we act at all? Why are we not inert like rocks? From where does all the action ultimately arise? In answer we find only the raw and irreducible fact that the spark of life is in us. As a Christian, I believe that God, who is himself the self-existent Source of all Life, all Being, and all Action, gave us this spark of life. Even so, the fact remains that we have in us this fundamental spark, this source of action that’s just there in us and that we can never get around or see behind. This spark of life, this spontaneous source of action, is the core of our spirits. There is much more to our spirits than this—whole ordered structures that shape and form us as the people we are—but this is the key. While we live and our bodies and spirits are one, this spark can be expressed in the world that God has created. At death, our spirits are deprived of the means to act in the world we were made for. And we look forward to the resurrection because then, and only then, we will get our bodies back, which will allow us to become whole human beings again and to engage in the joyous, everlasting, life-giving, spontaneous activity that we were made for.
- On the flawed soteriology of the “sinner’s prayer”(published )
Recently, Daniel Heck made this statement: My problem with the sinner’s prayer really is that it is functionally super-Pelagian, even though it acts all anti-Pelagian. Funny the way we tend to become what we hate. When I’ve heard people use the sinner’s prayer for evangelism, they usually say a bunch of anti-Pelagian stuff about how nothing you do can set you right with God, etc etc etc, and then they say, actually, you know, there is exactly one thing you can do. Say this prayer. I responded thus: Regarding the sinner’s prayer and its associated problems, the underlying issue is the warped concept of salvation that it rests on. If one thinks that “being saved” means God saying “OK, when you die you’ll get to go to heaven,” and therefore that one “gets saved” in some punctiliar event—whether that is saying a certain prayer, or being baptized, or whatever—then this problem inevitably arises. Either we are in some irreducible sense responsible for causing that all-important event to occur, or else we have no role or responsibility because God just does it all himself. (Evangelicals are used to thinking of this dilemma as Arminianism vs Calvinism, but that is just one among the many permutations it has taken.) In contrast, things get much better when one recognizes that salvation means “everything being made good.” In one real sense we are still looking forward to our salvation, when Jesus returns to raise the dead and renew all things. In another real sense our salvation has already been won for us, because everything Jesus did the first time he came has enabled and initiated the salvation we are looking forward to. And in another real sense, we are in the midst of being saved now as the Holy Spirit acts among us today bringing specific instantiations of transformation and renewal into life now on the way toward the final transformation. In this past-present-future structure, there is no single moment when a person moves from a state of being unsaved to a state of being saved. There may be moments of conscious decision, of course. But those are moments where one decides to become an active participant in God’s ongoing project of saving the world and therefore becomes part of that group of people who reasonably expect to see salvation coming to pass in their lives and world now and ultimately in the future. They are moments of consciously entering into the ongoing salvation story. But if this is the case, then no one event is the cause of anyone’s salvation. What Jesus did is the cause, what Jesus will do is the cause, and what the Spirit is doing now is the cause. Our actions are caught up into this process and contribute in real ways to the result as he weaves them in, but our actions do not cause the process to occur any more than the threads cause the weaving to occur.
- On why “fully” is a bad description for divine presence(published )
In response to the statement that “If God’s presence was fully with us then surely the evil and alienation and suffering would end.” That depends on what “fully” means. Does it mean “concretely,” “observably,” “manifestly,” etc.? Does it mean “deeply,” “intimately,” or “in the heart”? Does it mean “transformationally”? “Gloriously”? “Victoriously”? “Ubiquitously”? Something else? If we are using quantitative metaphors (fully, partially) to talk about how concretely or manifestly God is present, then no, God being fully present doesn’t mean the end of the old order. It doesn’t get any more concrete and manifest than the incarnation—one could literally see, hear, and touch God in Jesus—and that did not bring the old order to its end. If we are describing God’s presence with quantitative metaphors as a way to discuss how he relates to us, then once again, no. The Holy Spirit dwells in us already (corporately and individually) and is “closer to us than our own hearts,” but the old order is not ended thereby. Paul does use quantitative metaphors to talk about how the Spirit’s presence now functions soteriologically (i.e. as a downpayment on our future inheritance of glory), but this indicates how our salvation is not yet fully realized, not that the Spirit is only partially present to us. The Holy Spirit’s real, full, and true presence in us today is precisely what enables us to face the ongoing reality of the old order with faith that evil, alienation, and suffering will end. If “fully” means “gloriously” or (more to the point) “victoriously,” then the statement is true. God’s ultimate triumph over evil will mean the end of the old order of things. ... But does God’s “full” presence properly mean his being triumphantly present? Was God less present at the stoning of Stephen than at Peter’s healing of the lame man outside the gate called “Beautiful”? Was God less present on the cross than at the transfiguration? Perhaps we need to understand the relation between God’s presence and the existence of evil in a different way. I suggest that it’s not a matter of how much God is present vs. how much evil and suffering there is. “How much” is not the right sort of relation at all; it isn’t a matter of degree, but of mode. The right question is “In what way is God present in the midst of this suffering and evil?” Or better, “How is God acting in the midst of this suffering and evil?” The cross requires us to see God himself nailed to it, God himself surrendered to death and submitted to it. Our God does not negate evil. He does not make it as if it never were. No, he takes it, goes into it, and from the depths, he changes it! He rises from the grave not as a negation of death, but as the subversion and transformation of death. He rises with the nail scars in his hands and the gash in his side, but now they are wounds of glory. They have not disappeared; they have not ceased to be wounds inflicted on him by nails and spear. But they no longer hold the power of death, for they have been transformed into wellsprings of life. The life that flowed out of those wounds into the void has proven to be inexhaustible, and now the void is changed. Eschatological new life arises where there was only death, new life where there was only destruction, because God is there, too. So, do we still see suffering and evil in our world because God is not fully present? No. Our world still contains brokenness because God is currently present in a mode of kenotic redemption, subverting evil into good and transforming suffering into new life. We look forward to the day when this work will be complete and he will be present in the mode of glory, having won his victory via transformation rather than negation. But in the meantime, we suffer not because he is only partially present, but because he is not yet finished the work he is doing in us and our world.
- Thoughts on fostering theologically rich worship music, updated (published )
On Dec 16, 2012, Dan Wilt posted this on the SVS Facebook group (now available on the SVS forum): I need some clear, benevolent, instructional statements from as many as possible for our Vineyard worship leaders. Worship leaders tend to have a more romantic, idealistic approach to other movements, and particularly the music that flows from them. For them, everything is simply a “style difference,” rather than a core theological or philosophical difference. In your own words, could you help us recover why music created from a uniquely Vineyard vantage point is so vital for us, and for the Body of Christ. (In moments, feel free to graciously compare that ethos to Bethel, Hillsong, and Passion). We’re trying to inspire our worship leaders to write well, and choose well, in their worship work. I gave a couple of responses in the ensuing conversation: ——— Phew, Dan, that is a big question! I can’t give as full an answer as I might like right now, but I would first point to the way that our congregational musical worship times function sacramentally for us. The chief function of the worship music is to create a sacred time and space for encounter with our God. The music serves in our church culture as the signal for the gathered community to focus attention on the Spirit, who is then faithful to respond. The result is often a heightened awareness of and interaction with the Spirit. This time of musically driven worship is thus one of the chief means—or perhaps even the chief means—by which we “partake of divine grace,” as older sacramental theologies might phrase it. This is a rather unique way to think about worship music within Western Christianity, but there are some interesting parallels with certain aspects of Eastern Orthodox sacramental theology (for example, the Orthodox use of icons and Vineyard use of music seem to have some common elements in terms of practice, if not necessarily in the theological language used to explain and support those practices). But regardless whether it is unique to the Vineyard or not, the importance of this sacramental function cannot be overstated for our spiritual life. Since this is the chief vehicle through which we experience the presence of God (rather than through, say, the Eucharist ritual or something else), losing a strong and intentional focus on this role would be terribly destructive to the spiritual health of any Vineyard church that did so. My charge to Vineyard worship leaders, if I could give one, would therefore be to make creating that sacred space for entering into the presence of God their chief concern at all times. Every other concern we might have about doing worship well flows from, and is therefore subordinate to, this. If there has been a reduction of lament, repentance, confession of weakness, exhortation to take up the cross, etc., in recently written Vineyard worship music, the first place I would look for an explanation would be the encroachment of non-Vineyard worship theologies and priorities. The same goes for any loss of intimacy and vitality. If musical worship becomes reduced to sung theology, or a collective expression of devotion and prayer, or (due to lack of any better theological reflection) merely a means of making church more appealing, the damage inflicted on our spirituality will always be immense, because we will find ourselves bereft of our chief means of connection with the life-giving Spirit of God. But when we keep the goal of creating a space and time for encountering the divine presence foremost in our theology of worship, then all the rest will fall into place. Good sung theology, the full range of devotional response (repentance, lament, and struggle as well as praise, joy, and excitement), and a truly attractive church environment will all follow from worship that centres on the sacramental function of entering his presence. That was how Vineyard worship became a driving force in the growth of our movement in the first place, and why so many others have sought to learn from it and to attempt to re-create it in their own traditions. If we lose this sacramental theology of worship music in favour of the theologies at work in traditions that have taken on the musical form without the undergirding theology, we will harm ourselves and moreover lose the ability to share this vital insight with those other traditions—which would be a sad loss for us and for the Body of Christ as a whole. Also, Vineyard metal and punk would be awesome. I was involved for several years in running a Vineyard electronica (dance, trance, techno, etc.) service, and it was FANTASTIC. Everyone always assumes that it would have appealed only to “the young people,” but this was not the case at all. Our attendance at these special events always reflected the full demographic range of our congregation. There is something quite marvellous in seeing a church grandmother, a 50-something seeker, a young mother, and a teen all lost in worship to the sound of throbbing DJ beats. Did that grandmother normally listen to electronica? No. But the Spirit of God was there, speaking through these finite sounds, and so we all bathed in his glory. ——— Okay, so here’s a more nuts and bolts approach than I took in my previous comment. Perhaps it is more in line with what Dan is looking for. I’ll take Casey Corum’s “Dwell” (2003) as an example of excellent, relatively recent, Vineyard-to-the-bone worship music. Lyrics: Dwell in the midst of usCome and dwell in this placeDwell in the midst of usCome and have Your wayDwell in the midst of usWipe all the tears from our facesDwell in the midst of usYou can have Your way Not our will, but Yours be doneCome and change usNot our will, but Yours be doneCome sustain us I consider this to be theologically an excellent representation of Vineyard’s heart and soul. First, the real meaning of maintaining the tension of the already and the not yet is well embodied here. This is not simply declaring that the eschatological power of God is here and available, as is typically emphasized in the songs of some of our more “kingdom already” brothers and sisters. Rather, this is asking for his presence in this moment. This entails the dual recognition that we do not have his presence the way we would like, but that if he should choose to come, we very well could. Neither does it only look forward to a glorious “some day” for the fulfillment of the kingdom promises, as is often emphasized in the songs of our “kingdom yet to come” brothers and sisters. The very same eschatological realities which will one one day be given their ultimate fulfillment when Jesus returns are truly able to be given fulfillment here and now, too. Note how the cry to have the Spirit “wipe all the tears from our faces,” which is drawn directly from Rev 21’s final vision, is asked in expectation that it can be given a fulfillment both now and not yet at the same time. In this song we see the true understanding of the already and the not yet at work, because it contains the absolutely vital recognition that the content of the kingdom’s enactment is not split into some pieces already and others not yet, but all of it now and all of it not yet. Asking for God to come dwell among us in this place, to have his way, and to wipe the tears from our faces, is simultaneously asking for the Spirit to come among us to do these things and for Jesus to return and do these things, because these are at once different things and the very same thing. Second, the lines about “Come and have your way” and “Not our will but yours be done” reflect the attitude of obedience that does (or should) characterize Vineyard in its search, not for spiritual power, but for God’s reign to be enacted in our world. This attitude of surrender and obedience, even at personal cost (think of who first uttered the line “Yet not my will, but yours be done, and in what circumstances), disappears altogether too quickly, and altogether too unnoticed, when triumphalist, “kingdom already” theologies are in play. In triumphalist traditions, the focus shifts subtly to the spiritual power given to us so we can do the works of the kingdom, and thereby away from seeing the works of the kingdom take place, for which we may, when necessary, be given access to the Spirit’s power. Closely connected with this is the pointed confession of dependence on God’s continuing, moment by moment grace. We do not simple have his power that sustains us, but rather we need him to come exercise his own power to sustain us. But then again, we also are not looking only to a future manifestation of his power to redeem us, as would occur if we leaned too far towards the not yet. That would recognize that our ultimate salvation is dependent on his loving presence and power, but would leave the matter of living today to be carried out under our own steam. The call, “Come sustain us,” is the recognition that our life now is entirely dependent on him and also graced and empowered by him. Of course, no one song can do everything. (For example, the sociopolitical implications of “Wipe every tear from our faces,” which are powerfully present in the original Revelation passage, are present only as resonances with the original and are not developed in any explicit fashion. The concern for social justice remains embedded within the song, even if dormant, and it could be drawn out without much difficulty, but the song doesn’t proactively lend itself to that purpose.) Nevertheless, I believe this song provides us with an excellent example and model for how Vineyard’s theological presuppositions and tradition can and should produce worship songs that differ subtly but profoundly from those of other, superficially similar groups.
- Interaction with Maria on theological anthropology(published )
Maria: Jon, my learned friend, do humans not come from spirit in your books… or is it from a terrible void that we arise… and is the robe of our genetics, animated solely by matter devoid of our eternal spirits or are our eternal spirits housed in the robe of our humanity? Jon: We are entirely both material and spiritual. Our origin lies in the act of God, creator of both heaven and earth, who formed us of both spirit and matter to be the image of God’s own being. Matter and spirit are not two different planes of existence, but one, single, unified reality. Rocks, angels, trees, demons, animals and humans are all part of one cosmos. Spirit cannot be reduced to matter, nor matter dismissed as illusion or whatever. Neither can they be separated. And as with the cosmos, so also with humans. We are utterly material and utterly spiritual. We are not merely spirits clothed in bodies, as if we could set them aside. My body is integral to who I am, and yours is to who you are. To separate body from spirit is to kill us, because to do so is to tear apart what is utterly one thing. What is left when we are torn apart like this is a rotting corpse and a mere shadow, cut off from the world and unable to participate in it any more. What we need is to be made whole, to be lifted out of this shadow state and put back together. This is why people are typically so surprised when they learn what the real hope of Christianity is: not to “go to heaven when you die” (the biblical texts say next to nothing about that), but rather to be resurrected (they talk about this constantly). This is to get our own, unique bodies back, to be reconstituted in wholeness once again, to have reversed the tearing asunder that we call death—and not only temporarily, but forever, so that death will never take us again, nor the powers of evil and chaos wreak havoc and destruction on the cosmos any more. This is important, because it means that this world of flesh and plants and mud matters for all eternity. What we do here and now, in the grit and particulars of real life, is utterly significant. Not just spiritual things matter in this world; so do the things that we think could never be important, because all of it is part of the story of this one, spiritual-material creation that has been made and will be made new and whole. Maria: Beautiful Jon. I’ve always thought that all would eventually arrive at the same place, though we walk different paths. I loved your first paragraph. I have alternative thoughts regarding your second, in that change is constant and the unique body you refer to emerges from the unique causes and conditions arising in our individual lives. It gathers about us, though the genetic tendencies and inclinations of our ancestors, in perfect resonance to the causes we’ve made, and is shed as a leaf in autumn... at least for now... and though imperfect, it is supremely precious, as is all life, and most wonderfully suited to our fundamental nature, and this moment, this now is incredibly powerful, a change in ones heart can transform everything. I don’t doubt that we are eternal and that the causes we make are essential to our joy, happiness, and well being. Ultimately, I imagine all phenomena are contained within one’s life, down to the last particle of dust... we encompass, sun, stars... all, from the eternal past to the eternal future, we are continuous. Our understandings, and fundamental nature can be translated into different cultures and times. I am a cosmic humanist, a fundamental humanist, and value every individual consciousness. I believe that we ourselves are fully enlightened ones... and our journey towards this truth is an endless odyssey into the innermost sanctum of our own lives. Jon: Yet that difference between us is significant, Maria. The first paragraph of what I wrote is the presupposition, while the second is the point for both Judaism and Christianity (and also Islam, albeit with some significant modifications). The world is a dynamic, growing thing, and we are made to be thoroughly part of it. But moreover, we are made to be part of it forever, not only for a time and then no more. When we are resurrected, we shall be part of its dynamic process again and without end. Now, we are clearly agreed that this world is precious, yet there remains a difference between us about that. From what you have said, it seems that for you the world is precious as something ultimately other from you, whether seen as something that gathers around you or as something experientially contained within you. The first image would suggest that the world, and even your own body, is precious to you in a way comparable to a precious stone: indeed valuable, but not ultimately vital to who you are in that you can set it aside without loss to your being. The second would suggest that the world, and even your own body, is precious to you in a way comparable to a meaningful story you have read: indeed valuable, but still something you can leave behind once you’ve experienced it. For me, the world is precious as something that I am fundamentally part of and that is not ultimately other to me, but rather greater than me. A good comparison might be to say that the world is precious to me in much the same way that my body is precious to one of the cells in my body: it is not part of me, but rather I am part of it; I cannot set it aside, for to be separated from it is my destruction. (Of course, this analogy is limited, and pressed too hard it will break down, but I hope it sheds light on the subject, so that we can understand one another better.) Who I am cannot be ultimately other from the rest of God’s creation, and I cannot find my identity by looking inwardly. Rather, I can find my own identity only by looking beyond myself, to the God who made me and the world God made me a part of. The only way to find oneself is to find oneself in the other. This is what is means when we Christians say that love is the ultimate reality and the ultimate truth and the ultimate goal. Indeed, for Christians this is the fundamental story of all. We believe that God literally became that which was other to God (i.e. one of the creatures God loves), and ultimately descended into that which is the very antithesis of God (i.e. death, the Nothing, Un-Being) in order to bring us out of it and so to reconcile all things to Godself. It is the very nature of the Source of all being to go out into the other and thereby increase the fullness of all being. This is love. And we are made, we are told, in God’s image, which means we must do likewise. Only by loving the other as ourself, by abandoning ourself to the other, by giving our life to see the salvation of the other, do we find our own life, receive back our own self, and come into the love that saves us. We must love God with reckless abandon, and therefore love what God loves with reckless abandon. Only thus can we and will we become who we truly are.
- Eucharistic christology and eschatological christology(published )
I think there is a connection between the development of eucharistic theologies like transubstantiation and consubstantiation and the loss of a future-oriented eschatology. As medieval Christianity turned from looking for a future hope to a transcendent hope, the expectation of meeting Christ shifted from the future parousia to the repeated sacrament. For all that certain traditions have much that is good to say about Eucharist, and I think low church Protestantism is deficient and rudimentary in its understanding, nevertheless it remains the case that certain forms of eucharistic theology are not consonant with the NT eschatological hope. Interestingly, it seem to me that transubstantiation is better off than consubstantiation here. Transubstantiation suggests that the elements somehow become the actual body and blood of Christ. Although this has odd and important ramifications for the nature of Christ’s body, at least it still keeps his body material. Consubstantiation, with its concomitant idea of the ubiquity of Christ’s body, effectively denies the materiality of Christ’s body, at least in its present exalted state. Now, one might of course reply that insisting on a material body for Christ now raises the problem of its current location. But it is one thing to say that his body is no longer part of our world the way our own bodies are, and quite another to say that his body is now a part of our world but in a very un-bodily fashion. The ascension certainly presents us with difficulties about Christ’s body, but ubiquity merely attempts to solve the problem by dispensing with any recognizable sort of body at all.