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The Apocalypse of Christ as Reverse Recapitulation

Recapitulation is one of the earliest theological ways of conceptualizing the nature of Christian soteriology. In this conceptuality the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, in some sense take all created reality into the person of Jesus, and thus into the life of God, transposing it into a modality of communion in the Trinitarian life of God. What is crucial about recapitulation is to see that it posits the whole event of the Messiah as a sort of microcosm of true worldly reality which, in the midst of the false reality of sin, lives out the truth of redeemed reality, thereby translating created reality out of the false reality of sin and into the new reality of beatitude and koinonia in the Holy Spirit, the very field of God’s own Triune love.

This notion of salvation as recapitulation remains, I think an indispensable one for Christian theology. However, I wonder if there are other modes of conceptualization which would allow us to explore the richness of salvation even further, while still remaining within the thought-world of a theology of recapitulation. If there is a problem with recapitulation, it seems to me that it is the problem of reducing Christ to a sort of microcosmic repetition of created reality which then absorbs us by virtue of his sinless perfection. In other words, recapitulation can come to sound like simply saying that Christ re-performs the human drama the way it should have been originally done by Adam, rather than seeing Christ as apocalyptically irrupting into the human drama of sin in all its brokenness and dissolution and miraculously purging, purifying, and reconstituting it.

This description clearly casts recapitulation in its most simplistic light, and I do not mean to so characterize its Irenaen form by any stretch of the imagination. However, what I do hope to do is point us toward a theology of recapitulation with a slightly (but critically) different cadence. Rather than seeing Christ as the microcosm in whom the history of humanity is re-performed, I suggest we should see the biblical history of Israel and the nations, as preverberations, if you will, of Christ’s apocalyptic recreation of the world in the event of death and resurrection. Such a theology of recapitulation would see the apocalypse of Christ as the macrocosom, the mesoform within which created reality has its being and freedom.  Christ does not so much recapitulate humanity’s past so as to re-render it in perfected form; rather the past acts of Yahweh constitute prevenient events of Christ’s apocalypse, being retroactive recapitulations, or perhaps what we could call precapitulations of Christ’s future, which is to say, the resurrection. The reality of Christ is not a re-performance of a broken past, rather the past is a proleptic pre-performance of the Trinitarian future of absolute freedom.

What we have here is a sort of recapitulation in reverse. The past events of the history of salvation that are determined and constituted by their ordering towards the end which is the Trinitarian epiphany of the eschatological Messiah. This is, of course, the grounding of a decidedly eschatological ontology. The being of things is located, not in their protology, but in their teleology. We are what we are because of what we are destined in Christ to become. Our past, both as individuals and as co-humanity, is a precapitulation in progress, a reversed beginning, a primordial death longing for eschatological resurrection which we taste in the irruptions of the future which constitute the life of the church: Word, Water, Wine, and Bread.


  1. Halden wrote:

    I should say at the outset that it is really the interaction I had with Ben Myers over the post on Nature, Grace, and the Prevenience of the Apocalypse that provided me with the ideas for this post. That said, all flaws and missteps in what I have just written, are, of course my own.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 1:28 pm | Permalink
  2. I can give a hearty Amen to everything said here. Jenson’s theology of time, as you know, helps a lot in getting this kind of doctrine of recapitulation up and running. Good work.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 2:20 pm | Permalink
  3. WTM wrote:

    I am, of course, sympathetic to what I take to be the fundamental move you want to make here, namely, starting from Jesus Christ and not from Adam. But, I also want to point out something:

    You write: “In other words, recapitulation can come to sound like simply saying that Christ re-performs the human drama the way it should have been originally done by Adam, rather than seeing Christ as apocalyptically irrupting into the human drama of sin in all its brokenness and dissolution and miraculously purging, purifying, and reconstituting it.”

    This sentence is merely saying the same thing in two different ways and loading up one way with much more sexy language. The first half of the sentance implies the second to flesh it out, and the second half of the sentance is simply fleshing out the first. In a very real sense, when all is said and done, what you offer us is merely a rhetorical emphasis on one way of talking about these things over another, even though the other is presupposed and necessary for the rhetorical emphasis to make sense.

    I’m not a fan of rhetorical theology.

    Thursday, July 24, 2008 at 6:56 am | Permalink
  4. Halden wrote:

    “I’m not a fan of rhetorical theology.”

    Then you must not like that Bart fellow too much!

    But seriously, I think in the context of the entire post the substantive distinction I’m making here is fleshed out. There’s a difference between saying that Christ re-performs human history and saying that he intrudes into human history, reconstituting it from within. The former language speaks of Christ as a microcosm that replicates creation’s intended protology; the second speaks of an apocalyptic intrusion into creation’s unintended lostness, which radically reconstitutes it. I don’t think I’m reaching here.

    I’m not saying that the two modes of speech are totally incompatible with one another, as I make clear in the post I am trying to remain in the orbit of the theology of recapitulation, but merely honing the language to more accurately portray the centrality of Christ and the apocalyptic relationship between the Messiah and the human history of sin.

    Thursday, July 24, 2008 at 8:53 am | Permalink
  5. WTM wrote:

    Re-performance and re-constitution are basically two words describing the same sort of phenomena. You are simply dressing the latter up with sexier language.

    A positive contribution: I think in the end you just need to say (and I would agree with this) that history as we experience or as presented in the biblical narrative is not ontologically constitutive. Rather, Jesus Christ is. So, Jesus Christ does not re-constitute, but constitutes.

    Barth does not do rhetorical theology – his theology is advanced by arguments, not merely turns of phrases. I am not against rhetoric in the presentation of theology, but it can’t merely be rhetoric.

    Thursday, July 24, 2008 at 8:58 am | Permalink
  6. Halden wrote:

    Barth doesn’t do rhetorical theology? Well, I’m unconvinced of that. His work is anything but an advancement of argument after argument. It is kerygmatic through and through and is advanced by proclamation, which is always rhetorical. If you mean Barth doesn’t just spin words, then to be sure I agree, but you’ve hardly convinced me that I’m doing something like that here here either.

    Regardless, you’re simply insisting that two terms which manifestly don’t mean the same thing do, and for what reason I’m not sure. It seems to me that you have some sort of material disagreement somewhere but don’t want to make a material argument. Not that you have to, you can just voice disagreement and that’s fine by me.

    Similarity in terms does not mean interchangeability, nor does it imply mere grammatical gymnastics. Certainly they describe a similar sort of conceptuality, but that’s the point of the whole post; one descriptor describes it more faithfully and accurately.

    Thursday, July 24, 2008 at 9:22 am | Permalink
  7. Doug Harink wrote:


    Excellent post! As you might guess, I am in basic agreement with what you are up to here. And yet, I think WTM has a point when he says re-performance and re-constitute say pretty much the same thing; and when he says that “Jesus Christ does not re-constitute, but constitutes.” Do not “re-” words always posit the primacy of what was first — i.e., are they not always protological? And then the coming of Jesus Christ is merely re-demptive.

    I have other worries about “eschatological” theologies, which also give too much reality to history as we know it. Such theologies tend toward “teleologism” and even progressivism. An apocalyptic theology, it seems to me, is an invasion and revelation of eternity into time, rather than of the future into the present (as in various historicizing theologies) . In the apocalypse of Jesus Christ we have something more like the dissolution and establishment of time in every moment (cf. Barth’s Romerbrief); only as such is time fulfilled in Christ. “Now the end of all things has drawn near” (1 Pet. 4:7). I don’t think Peter is mistaken about that in his time (i.e. by the supposed “delay of the parousia”), or in ours.

    While there is a troublesome immanentizing aspect in Giorgio Agamben’s, The Time that Remains, I think he can help us think about such things. Or, David Bentley Hart, who is more apocalyptic and less protological than you give him credit for.

    Thursday, July 24, 2008 at 10:06 am | Permalink
  8. Halden wrote:

    Fair point on the re-words. I’ll have to refine that further. Although I think I may have inadvertently drifted into such talk in the comments. In the post I stated:

    “Christ does not so much recapitulate humanity’s past so as to re-render it in perfected form; rather the past acts of Yahweh constitute prevenient events of Christ’s apocalypse, being retroactive recapitulations, or perhaps what we could call precapitulations of Christ’s future, which is to say, the resurrection.”

    I too want to avoid the re-words, and the attending problem of giving away too much to history as we think we know it.

    I’ll also have to consider the issue of the distinction between an apocalyptic invasion of eternity into time and an eschatological invasion of the future into the present. I think perhaps that Balthasar’s discussions in TD5 on the vertical and horizontal are quite helpful here in construing an apocalyptic eschatology that embraces the horizontal aspect of future-past while enfolding within an overarching vertical vision of eternity-time. His exposition of Revelation in TD4 is helpful here as well.

    Thursday, July 24, 2008 at 10:15 am | Permalink
  9. Nate Kerr wrote:


    I do like what you are doing here. But I also think Doug makes an important point regarding the need to avoid a certain kind of “teleologism,” as he calls it. That is, one danger of an apocalyptic theology so focused upon Christ is that it can so construe the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ as the “concrete universal” that it reinscribes the logic of world-historical development into “Christ” himself. This could run the risk of inverting the problem, which you have rightly located, that certain recapitulation theories run into, that is, the danger of conceiving Christ’s performance as God as some kind of return to the origin. The inversion happens when Christ’s “newness” is not conceived of as in relation to the future as also the past. A thoroughgoing apocalyptic perspective will not allow us simply to construe the future as merely the teleological outworking of what is always-already actualized with Christ’s death and resurrection — yet another mode of historical “development.” Eschatology is not just the opposite of protology

    I am not as convinced as Doug that you have fallen into this trap. And I’m also not as convinced as Doug that the answer lies with prioritizing “eternity” over-against the “future” as such. I think rather we need to try to think apocalyptic in terms of Christ’s own future. That is to say, we need to think more thoroughgoingly about the parousia as not just the teleological outworking of the resurrection, but as itself a kind of apocalyptic event that marks the ever-newness of Christ’s inbreaking in the ongoing work of God. One way in which to do this may be to think apocalyptic as much as a pneumatic happening as a Christic one, to think of the ascension of Jesus Christ and the Son’s sending of the Spirit at Pentecost as apocalyptic events that are no less constitutive of how we conceive the Messianic as cross and resurrection. To think of the Messiah to which Israel still looks as a people as no less an event of coming newness and rupture as is the event of incarnation, cross, and resurrection in which we as Christians claim the Messiah has already come.

    Now, that is a very packed paragraph (which needs significant unpacking). But let me say that one of the most helpful ideas of your post here I think is that of a kind of “precapitulation.” You have sought to think creation, Israel, etc. as precapitulations of Christ. But what might it mean to think of Christ himself as the ultimate “precapitulation.” Christ as a kind of paradoxical “precapitulation” of creation and Israel as also a “precapituation” of the coming New Jerusalem. Kierkegaard’s notion of non-identical repetition may help us here: Christ-as-event, as the irruptive Moment, “repeats forwards,” even in relation to “the past.”

    Thanks for these posts on apocalyptic. They give us much to think through.

    Thursday, July 24, 2008 at 8:16 pm | Permalink
  10. Doug Harink wrote:

    Halden and Nate (if you’re still following this blog-line);

    Thanks to both for the clarifications and expansions of the thoughts that Halden kicked off. I think you are both onto matters of real importance here, not only for thinking about time and history, but also, as I’m sure you’re aware, for biblical interpretation and the recovery of figural reading.

    Friday, July 25, 2008 at 9:09 am | Permalink
  11. Jon wrote:

    There is, of course, the notion that when God created Adam in His own image, the image in which Adam is created is none other than that of Christ.

    I believe it is Irenaeus who says that the Word would have become flesh even if there had been no Fall.

    If I’m following you correctly, Halden, would it be appropriate to speak of, rather than seeing Christ as God’s way of “starting over” but instead as that zenith of creative act–the wholeness of creation and history has always had, in its center, Jesus Christ. Jesus is that glorious epicenter in which, through which, and for which all things exist.

    If I understand what you’ve written, what you are trying to avoid is any possibility of seeing Jesus as a kind of “after thought”, who simply does right what Adam did wrong; but instead to see Jesus as the divine purpose behind everything to begin with, the Word really was in the beginning.

    Or is my thinking totally off the mark as to what you’re driving home here?

    Sunday, July 27, 2008 at 3:34 am | Permalink

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