The whole issue of nature and grace continues to come up in conversations of late. This is, of course, derivative of other long-standing conversations largely between the churches of the Reformation and the Roman Catholic communion regarding the severity of the effect of fallenness on creation. The conflict between Barth and Pryzwara over the analogia entis remains a paradigmatic case of this sort of discussion and the deep-rooted divergence within Christianity over the extent of sin and the nature of the continuity and discontinuity between creation and redemption.
I tend to fall instinctively on the Barthian-Protestant side of this whole issue on the basis of the descriptions of redemption in the New Testament, particularly its apocalyptic texts in which the picture painted is one of total inversion, radical disruption, and climactic new creation in which the old creation dies and is resurrected as a new reality. I am very resistant to notions of nature which posit some sort of potentiality pregnant within nature for redemption. There is no more inherent propensity in nature for redemption than there is in the dead, cold body of Jesus for resurrection. The redemption of nature comes, not from any inherent being-toward-redemption that lies within, but entirely from outside itself, being manifested in the apocalyptic intrusion of God into the world in Christ.
However, the radical apocalypticism of the New Testament, the radical novum of resurrection life should not lead us to some sort of Žižekian ontology of the void in which the concept of rupture simply becomes the reigning philosophical category. We must posit, as Alan Lewis does in his theology of Holy Saturday, a “resumption beyond rupture” in which the radical inversion of the crooked cosmos rent by sin is not merely torn further asunder by grace. The violent rending of the Temple veil in the hour of the cross did not occur merely as an iconoclastic event of condemnation, though it was not less than that. Rather it was the event of redemption. The rending of the veil of alienation occurred so that all alienation might end. The veil is not merely torn, we are reconciled in one body through cross. The apocalyptic rupture that Christ brings to the world is the intrusion of freedom. The freedom in which all things to be reconstituted in the future of the resurrected Jesus, and thus through him reconciled to the Father in the Spirit.
We must find a way to properly articulate the prevenience of God’s apocalyptic grace that neither imbues nature as such with a potentiality for redemption nor leaves us stumbling about in a dizzying fog of rupture without resumption, of apocalypse without new creation. Marcionism is not an option for faithful Christian theology. The radical apocalypticism of the New Testament must never be tamed, but neither must we interpret redemption as some sort of alien abduction. What is needed is neither a Žižekian sort of philosophy of rupture nor a seamless nature-redemption unity which skirts away from the radicality of the apocalypse of God in Christ. Still less needed is some sort of middle ground. Rather, what is needed is deeper penetration into the nature of Christ’s apocalypse on the basis of the messianic theology of the Old and New Testaments.
What I suggest is that a canonical reading of the Christian Scriptures will reveal a prevenience of the apocalypse that is witnessed to in the messianic speech and ministry of the patriarchs and prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures. The radical inversion of the cosmos that is culminated in Christ’s resurrection, while a complete novum is what it is within the framework of God’s whole economy of recapitulation. The coming of Christ in newness of life is truly new, truly unprecedented, truly irreducible, and radically singular in its significance. And it is such precisely in that it recapitulates, enfolds, purges, and enlivens all created history. Christ is the concrete universal who, in his resurrection, disrupts creation-under-sin in a way so radical as to annihilate all forms of death and sin even as he consummate, redeems, transfigures, recreates creation in a way unanticipated, even by any primal natural harmony. What we have in redemption is neither the obliteration of the first creation, nor merely its restoration, but an apocalyptic transcendence of the first creation which fulfills it precisely in superseding it.
What we need to bear in mind in understanding the radicality of the nature of apocalyptic grace is the whole eschatological economy of recapitulation that it consummates, as Douglas Knight has admirably shown in his recent book. The apocalypse is an utter novum, but it is not without any antecedent in the Trinitarian history of God and God’s people. Rather the apocalypse is prevenient in all movements of divine generosity and love as seen in the whole history of Israel and the nations. In short, the radical inversion of Christ’s apocalypse is the culmination of God’s eschatological economy of recapitulation, transfiguration, and new creation. We remain ever and again disrupted by the sheer novum of Christ’s apocalypse precisely as we continue to venture down the path of the holy pilgrims of Israel and the church, remaining on the way towards the New Jerusalem within which all things find their coherence, fulfillment, and transformation.