In a conversation with Derrick, who responds to my post on the church as the body of Christ, a discussion of Robert Jenson emerged which I think is helpful in shedding some light on how we might examine the ways in which we think about the church as the body of Christ. I thought I’d reproduce some of my comments from that discussion here.
One of the problems that has been identified with Jenson’s theology is that heconflates “body” with the idea of “availability”. Thus, if “body” is simply “availability” then “body” can be a great many things (like bread, or a community, or whatever). It also begs the question of of whether other not Jenson is letting a logos asarkos in the back door by simply allowing the body of Christ, his embodied reality to be quite malleable in its modality. Or in another line of critique, as George Hunsinger has argued, Jenson may be opening the door to theological liberalism, by minimizing the importance of Christ’s physical resurrection and the empty tomb.
However, it must be said that for Jenson the church is most definitely not some other logos than the man, Jesus. The body that the church is is not other than the body that suckled at Mary’s breast. For Jenson, the church simply is Christ’s physical body. End of story. When Jenson talks about the ascension, which he only does once or twice, this is how he configures things: Christ has ascended into God’s future. “Where” Christ is is in the “place” where God’s future (Triune communion) is. That is what “Heaven” is for Jesnon. Now, “where” is that future? The Eucharist/Church. The church in its eucharistic being is the “place” where the future of God “is” and thus it is the location of Jesus who embodies that future.
Now, the problem here is, of course eschatology. In effect, Jenson siphons heaven into the Eucharist and the ecclesial assembly. Now, his theo-logic is good as far as it goes, but he needs to make some distinctions as well as the important connections he is drawing. In fact, ironically enough, the Lutheran doctrine of ubiquity should actually provide Jenson with the distinctions he needs to preserve the dynamic of Christ’s identification with and distinction from the church, thus solving the problems his position raises.
If we embrace the comunicatio idiomatum, we should have no problem with seeing Christ’s humanity as participating in his divine perfections. If this is the case we don’t have to revert either to a logos asarkos or to a dichotomy between Christ and the church. Rather, we are able to say that Christ is able to be present precisely in his embodiment in a variety of spatial and temporal modalities, both as a member (the head) of the church-community, which thus stand in a relationship of ontological contiguity with him – indeed as one entity – and as an individuated human body which retains its integrity vis a vis the church.
This is the “eschatological reserve” (Torrance) in which Christ’s full otherness-in-relation retains its particularized reality. Heaven may be present in the Eucharist, and Jesus and the church may indeed by one body, one entity, one organism, but there is still the eschatological tension in which the future of God, though present is not yet consummated. There is an eschatological surplus of communion and union which obtains in the communio of the Trinity that the church does not yet participate in. This surplus of Triune Love is infinite in its depths, just as we see in Christ’s death, descent into hell and resurrection from the dead. In the Father’s house there are “many rooms” wherein Christ is preparing “a place” for us. That “place” is given to us now, in the church, but our ultimate inhibition of such Triune spaces awaits the eschatological consummation.
It is in those spaces that Christ exists at the Father’s right hand in his distinctive over-againstness, which is ultimately his preistly advocacy for us before the Father. Because the Trinitarian Son is the man Jesus, the reality of his bodiliness participates in the infinity of the Triune life, thus enabling Christ to, so to speak, ‘enflesh’ his embodiment under different modalities through the work of the Spirit. Thus, the Trinitarian Son is the man Jesus who was born of Mary, he likewise is the earthly-historical community that he joins to himself by the Spirit, and he likewise is the one who is with the Father in the Spirit, who is coming to bring all creation into the fullness of the Triune Future. In short, he is the One who was, who is, and who is the come. The First and the Last. The Alpha and the Omega.