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“Place” and ideology

A while back David Fitch posted some thoughts on the power of “place” to overcome ideology in the life of the church. He states his argument, briefly as follows:

. . . it is only through “place” that we can break the cycle of ideological church. It is only through engaging in the practices of being the local expression of Christ’s body that we can break out of the entanglements of ideological cynicism. It is only in being the church of Jesus Christ, whose belief and practice is grounded in the Triune relation of God in the world, that we can avoid being ideologized. It is only in building communities that have their own internal integrity built in the on-the-ground participation in the Reign of Christ – that we can escape the ideologization of the church.  No longer dependent upon ideological structure – we can then discern – resist- participate in the world in non violent non-antagonistic ways. This of course (I would argue) is the nature of the incarnation and incarnational communities.

Now, I want to say at the outset that I understand that Fitch is emphasizing “place” (as many missional and new monastic folks do, including myself) in an attempt to combat certain elements of the contemporary evangelical church, such as suburban commuter churches in which the congregates don’t share much in the way of meaningful common life. In the face of churches whose members may live anywhere and not necessarily anywhere near one another, the call to “place” seems to make some sense. Certainly the church is not faithful if it construes itself as a sort of abstract meeting place that does not call us into common life and mission together.

However, I’ve grown increasingly less confident in the notion of “place” to do the sort of heavy lifting that is often asked of it. First of all, in contrast to what Fitch seems to suggest, I don’t see how its possible for us to construe “place” in and of itself as giving us a way to “break the cycle of ideological church.” “Place” speaks of location, stability, longevity, peoplehood, cultivation, it conjures up the images of land and home. But this seems to be part of the problem: Is not commitment to “place” the greatest source of ideology in human history? Are not wars fought precisely in the name of “place”? Is not the effort to carve out and secure “place” at the very center of ideological conflict? To speak of “place” is speak of establishment, and as such, far from becoming a site of resistance to ideology, it forms the place of its very birth. Could not the call to seize upon “place” have the exact opposite effect as Fitch intends? Might it not drive the church towards a territorialism, a possessiveness, that insists upon securing its own “internal integrity”?

We do well to remember that “place” is not neutral. “Places” are created by blood, by division, by violence. It is decidedly easy for the images of belonging and stability that “place” conjures up to imagine that it is simply benign and beautiful. But the truth is that it is not enough to call the church to embrace “place.” Rather the church must be called to critically question and act in response to the forces and powers that divide the world. It is not enough to say “place”; rather we must critically examine the nature of the different spaces in which we find ourselves. The “place” that is the urban ghetto is a decidedly different space than the suburbs or the uptown. They are not really “places” at all, but rather are spaces, created by various forces of social and political (and spiritual!) power. Embracing the “place” that is the urban ghetto is decidedly not the same thing as embracing the “place” that most middle class churches inhabit.

It seems to me that the more pertinent call to the church is not simply to embrace “place”, as if that were some overarching category. Rather the church must discern how different spaces are created in this world, how the principalities and powers seek to divide, enslave, and dehumanize those for whom Christ died and in whom he still suffers. It is into those spaces, the spaces claimed by the idolatrous powers that the church must be found if it is to be counted faithful to the Messiah who proclaimed salvation and restoration to “the least.” In entering these spaces we are not promised the security of “place.” Quite the opposite: “The Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Discipleship calls us, I believe, not into the security of place, but into the insecurity of obedience, of suffering with and bringing the good news to those who are being ground under the oppressive wheel of the powers. It may be that “place” is not a gift we will always be able to claim or assume upon. It may be instead that we are called to die to the security of “place,” and be driven, by the Spirit to pour ourselves out as a drink offering with, for, and alongside those who are driven out of “place.”


  1. christian wrote:

    I’ve had thoughts on this percolating for a while now. Especially as it pertains to the Wendell Berrian vision quite prominent among folks in my circles. I mean, I love Berry because he does offer a vision that is secure and rooted; he offers us a picture of a life where we have a very secure identity based upon place. But this vision is pretty clearly established over against the outside, modern world. His short story, “Fidelity,” hammers this point home quite clearly. So we end up, I believe, with another form—perhaps an older and more gentile form—of ideology.

    Monday, June 6, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    Yeah, I think there’s a particular romance to that kind of agrarian vision of “place.” And it is all predicated a lot of silenced blood, specifically the blood of Black slaves and First Nations peoples. That’s kind of what made me less enthusiastic about Wendell Berry.

    Monday, June 6, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Permalink
  3. Stephen wrote:

    Halden, you should read Berry’s essay “A Native Hill.” I agree with the critique here on some level, but Berry is pretty explicit in that essay about the sins of his Kentuckian ancestors – against the land, against its natives, and against the people whom they enslaved – and about the ways in which these violences are part of a pattern of communal sin that must be remembered and reversed. There’s a lot more than nostalgia at work in Berry’s thought, even though there is a bit of it in some unhealthy ways.

    Monday, June 6, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Permalink
  4. Halden wrote:

    Stephen, I agree that there’s more going on in Berry’s work as you say. At its best it is showing the violence inherent in claiming and inhabiting “place”, at least in the sort of agrarian context out of which he writes.

    Its more that those who find him compelling often tend to find in “place” a locus of peace, or, as in the case of Fitch’s piece a site from which we are able to overcome ideology. And that seems to be precisely the mistake.

    Monday, June 6, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Permalink
  5. Theophilus wrote:

    This resistance to “place” as a panacea has resonated with me for some time. As an ethnic Dutch-German-Russian Mennonite, the history of my ancestors is one of periodic and painful dislocation, roughly every century and a half, as they fled political persecution for “virgin” lands bequeathed to them by governments that ignored the interest of the prior inhabitants of these lands. “Place,” for me, is therefore intrinsically caught up with tragedy, both experienced and inflicted.

    One of the most shameful times of Russian Mennonite history was the acquiescence of too many to German ethnic propaganda and ideology during the First and Second World Wars. That sort of rootedness led in many people to the betrayal of the Mennonite pacifist tradition and a fall into anti-Semitism.

    Monday, June 6, 2011 at 8:28 pm | Permalink
  6. Christian wrote:

    The hiddenness or history of violence in “place” is certainly a reality for all agrarian cultures in North America (all of Western culture period?). And, to his credit, in books like The Hidden Wound Berry tries to address this.

    What I think is a more pernicious, and more directly related to your post, however, is not this kind of violence. What seems more germane is the violence by forming an identity, at least in part if not in good measure, by defining yourself as Not-them. In Berry’s case, it is the Not-them of city folk. Of the modernized world.

    Berry sees that country folk are a persecuted group in America. In the Unsettling of America he argues that the greatest forced migration in American history was not that of natives forced from their lands onto reservations, but of small farmers off their land and into cities. Much of what he writes in his fiction is fighting against this Power (the agri-business, anti-communitarian, modernizing world that IS North American culture). And thus he writes as a victim against the culture that is victimizing him.

    However, in claiming this victimized status, he is creating an ideological barrier between “us”—those in his community (wherein, btw, he does a beautiful job of demonstrating the power of including the weak into the richness of life together)—and “them”—those who have been “modernized.”

    Thus, I think this really gets at the heart of your post: place is no safeguard against ideology. In fact, it may be one of the greatest causes of ideological differentiation and exclusion. Though it is a very seductive idol.

    Monday, June 6, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Permalink
  7. adamsteward wrote:

    I agree that Berry’s “place” is very prone to ideological abuse (though I do think a good deal of this is from his enthusiasts hijacking the notion). As you mention, Halden, the endless history of indian/settler conflict testifies to the power of “place” to convince people that they are fighting for the just and the good when they are really just using hostile power to seize land. There are bright spots as “A Remarkable Man”, in which he narrates the life of Ned Cob, a black sharecropper (very much NOT in possession of any land), as basically the ideal upon which his “Good Farmer of the Old School” is based. But I agree, the violent ur-history of the land is too often forgotten in the focus on the modern history of agri-business pushing out small farmers.

    However, “place” for Berry doesn’t just mean “I’ll defend this patch of dirt till I die, come hell or high water.” It strikes me as much more of a cipher for contentment, or refusal of ambition of the sort that bred manifest destiny in the first place. In Jayber Crow especially, place is about refusing the modern drive for new land, new markets, or just greener pastures. It’s about embracing where you find yourself in all of its pathetic brokenness. Jayber never idealizes Port William–it never ceases to be in many ways awful even as he comes to embrace his life there. I think that at least there, place might actually be much closer to what you are calling “space” rather than “place.”

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 12:04 am | Permalink
  8. Brad A. wrote:

    Berry aside, I think there is something to be said for place here, though either (1) the attempt to secure a particular place and/or (2) the exaltation of a particular place with no regard for how one or one’s “own people” (defined however) both lead to the very dangers Halden cites.

    I wonder, however, if Fitch isn’t simply arguing place vs. non-place, concrete life in community (with all its messiness) vs. idealized vision. It seems to me place has quite a bit of importance in light of Incarnation, and even in light of diaspora. As Harink would argue, the dispersion is a key element, and it strikes me that diasporic mission would be rendered moot without the concrete “place” that Fitch envisions here. So perhaps a mindfulness of “place” without an obsessive holding-onto a particular place (cf. Christ’s kenosis) is what Fitch is after.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 5:01 am | Permalink
  9. Brad A. wrote:

    I left a clause unfihisned – apologies: first paragraph should say “and/or (2) the exaltation of a particular place with no regard for how one or one’s “own people” (defined however) came to occupy that place…

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 5:19 am | Permalink
  10. David Fitch wrote:

    Thanks to Halden for engaging me. I’m a bit wrapped up for the next two weeks … so all I can do is offer this tiny piece of provacation back at Halden. When he says “To speak of “place” is speak of establishment, and as such, far from becoming a site of resistance to ideology, it forms the place of its very birth” has he denied the essence of the incarnation? In other words, God’s incarnation in Christ is God inhabiting a culture via kenosis, taking on vulnerability and humility. The church, then, I contend, inhabits place in the same form. If it does not, then it is not church, it is territorial, and the denial of being God’s presence. However, via the practices of Eucharist, serving the poor, mutual subordination to each other and all “others,” we become the social means to extend Christ socially, participate in His mission. We incarnate “kenotically” This is not only NOT territorial in the way described here? It is indeed the opposite.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 6:23 am | Permalink
  11. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    Why does “the incarnation” also automatically entail that through certain “practices” “we become the social means to extend Christ socially?” Does the doctrine of the incarnation function somehow to sanction human communities to socially extend Christ? It seems to me that the central point of the doctrine of the incarnation is not the abstract affirmation of creation or human community as such but rather the singularity of God’s act in Christ. This act is singular and unrepeatable and as such resists universalization/social extension. The point of the incarnation is not that “God became human,” but that God became that human. This is a point Yoder often made as a way to stress the ethical/political significance of the particular shape of Jesus’s life, but I think it also functions as a criticism of the abstraction of the incarnation from the singularity of Christ. Your suggestion that Halden denies the “essence of the incarnation” is very revealing, and it is suggestive of a common, but I think, seriously problematic understanding of the implications of the incarnation. Notice that the incarnation shifts from its proper focus on the action of God in Christ to a more universal doctrine that functions to sanction and affirm the world in-itself (and effectively “culture,” “place,” etc.). This, it seems to me, also often becomes the theological basis for the very high sacramentology of otherwise anabaptist-inclined communities.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 7:35 am | Permalink
  12. Halden wrote:

    David, thanks for your reply. First let me say that I think we are after, in many ways, the same call to faithfulness, mission, self-giving service, etc. (pace Brad’s remarks above, which I hope this comment will also address). However, I certainly don’t think I deny the “essence of the incarnation” by questioning the use of “place” as a panacea (to use Theophilus’s apt term above). My point is not that the church should not concretely dwell its location and culture (something akin to Yoder’s “Jeremian vision” for the church in the world). Rather my point is that we need to look not for “place” but rather ask “What place? Which spaces?” Inhabiting the culture of suburban affluence is not the same thing as inhabiting the culture of the urban ghetto, and we cannot include them both under the rubric of “place”, at least not if we are talking about how to avoid ideology.

    As to the use of “incarnation” I think that is part of the problem as well. The incarnation does not sanctify “place” (rootedness, cultural identity, etc.), though it continues to be taken that way. Rather we need to remember that the word became flesh and tabernacled (skenoo) among us. The mode of God’s “dwelling” is not that of rootedness, of Temple, but rather of Tabernacle, of sojourning without a secure “place.” And thus Jesus never “roots” his ministry anywhere but rather is found traversing all sorts of places, going to the Samaritans, Galilee of the Gentiles, and even to the houses of the Romans. His ministry is not one of “inhabiting place” but rather of traversing place, venturing into abandoned spaces with the unclean and the marginalized. As such I don’t think we can jump from “incarnation” to a vision of rootedness, a sanctifying of place. That is decidedly what Jesus does not do. Rather his whole ministry consists in the relativizing of “place”, especially the Temple, which of course was a major cause of his crucifixion.

    Likewise, in the NT the incarnation never functions as a way of describing the scandal of the Gospel, rather it is more of an afterthought, a doctrine that is a mere consequence of the resurrection of the Crucified. The notion that God would come and dwell with his people is not the scandal of the Gospel, that was Israel’s earliest hope as well attested throughout the Old Testament. the Scandal of the Gospel was that God would come among Israel as the Crucified one, the one cursed under the Law (Deut 21:23). It is Christ Crucified, not “Christ incarnated” that is the scandal of the Gospel. And it is always to crucifixion-resurrection, not “incarnation” that the Apostles call the church. That’s why I’m hesitant to allow “the incarnation” a sort of independent status to determine the nature of the church and its ministry. The pattern of the NT is not from incarnation to “incarnational ministry”, but is rather from crucifixion-resurrection to cruciform self-abandonment. We need to understand “incarnation” from the cross, not the other way round.

    Thus I think again that the call to discipleship of the crucified leaves us in an unstable relationship with “place” and “rootedness” and “culture.” I’m haunted by statements like those in Hebrews: “Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Hebrews 12:13-14). Jesus comes among us, not as one who “inhabits place”, but as one who is driven out of the security and peace of “place”, rootedness, culture, etc. He is found outside the city gates, driven into the abandoned spaces along with the lepers, prostitutes, and the godforsaken. If, as Hebrews suggest, our calling is to “go to him outside the camp”, I think that should orient us, not towards the lure of stability, place, and culture, but towards the forgotten and hidden spaces in this world, the spaces that “place” crowds out and paves over, where the despised and the worthless of the is world, “the poor of Jesus Christ” are abandoned, having no “place” to lay their head. That, it seems to me is where the church should be found, and towards which it should continually move.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 8:27 am | Permalink
  13. Halden wrote:

    Thanks for the good comments, guys. I certainly didn’t intend this post to really be about Wendell Berry, about whom I’m really not qualified to speak as I haven’t really plumbed the depths of his oeuvre. Rather, the problematic use of “place” I run into tends to come from a certain kind of enthusiasm for reclaiming “rootedness” as if that is a good in itself.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 8:33 am | Permalink
  14. It seems there is such a knee-jerk reaction to the word “practices” these days (just like “place” I guess). To move from the mention of practices to the “sanctioning of human communities…the world in-itself” is rather quick, and itself abstract. Surely God’s action in Christ is to inaugurate the Kingdom of God, not merely to be a singular, unrepeatable instance of the Kingdom (i.e. “resists universalization/social extension”). Did not Jesus live his life in a particular way, which certain values, and certain goals? If so, are these not repeatable? (of course I don’t want to reduce Jesus merely to a moral exemplar…). The non-repeatability of Jesus in his life in these contexts is beginning to feel very much like Lutheran/Reformed atonement theories that Jesus death is the non-repeatable act par excellence (which issues in the strict separation of justification and sanctification). But now Jesus’ non-repeatability issues in the strict distinction of his life and the life of his followers.

    Likewise, the fear of “universal” (oh, Bad…Abstract) and the celebration of “singular” (yeah, Good…Concrete) I find completely misguided. The turn to the singular is abstraction “as such” (to use a common turn here) because one must first abstract from living communities of faith (church), abstract from the history of faith (tradition), abstract from the record of faith (scripture) to arrive at the supposedly ‘essential’ and ‘singular’ life of Jesus in which alone God has acted as that human.

    We can only affirm the truth of God’s “singular” act in Jesus because of the “universal” declaration/truth that “Jesus is Lord” proclaimed/lived by “particular” followers of Jesus.

    So I also desire to affirm the singularity of Jesus, I just don’t want to play this off of particularity and universality and attribute goodness and badness to them.

    So, can we please put a moratorium on polemic uses of these words to merely indicate “bad” or “good” and use them with some actual rigor? (I say this know there are perfectly justifiable arguments for associating the “universal” with coerciveness as in “universal reason” in the Enlightenment, etc. etc.)

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 8:55 am | Permalink
  15. adamsteward wrote:

    Embrace the subquestion!

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 9:01 am | Permalink
  16. As in my other comment, it seems we need to clarify what we mean by concrete and abstract. The ideological use of “place” certainly functions abstractly as a stand in for stability, security, permanency, etc, which, in fear, we seek to hold off the unknown.

    But I think the non-ideological use of “place” is concrete in the acceptance of being present to the instability, insecurity, and transience of each moment, of each place I find myself in, but in being present in this way I am able to affirm Jesus’ declaration that “The kingdom of God is ready-to-hand” (if I might add a Heideggerian gloss) temporally and spatially. To be present to each “place” is to not demand the presence/permanenc of that place.

    With this distinction in mind I would broadly agree with Halden’s concerns about “place”, but disagree that you use Fitch’s comments as an on-road to those concerns.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 9:04 am | Permalink
  17. Brad A. wrote:

    Geoff’s final two sentences here (“To be present…”) are very much what I was thinking. I think Halden’s concerns are quite correct to a degree, but I don’t see in the quote above Fitch using “place” in the sort of permanent, security-driven sense that Halden’s worried about, but merely as the concretization of participation in God’s kingdom.

    Halden, I’d also press you on your portrayal of the incarnation in the NT. Can it be so separated from crucifixion/resurrection? They seem intertwined, such that the scandal of death on the cross is impossible without the kenosis leading to it. You write “the Scandal of the Gospel was that God would come among Israel as the Crucified one,” but there are two aspects of that claim, namely that God would be crucified, but also that God would come at all.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 9:38 am | Permalink
  18. Halden wrote:

    Brad, I just don’t see any of the accounts of the Gospel in the NT as giving the incarnation that sort of importance in itself. It certainly wasn’t scandalous, especially in that the promise of God coming to dwell with Israel was their most fundamental hope (“I will be their God and they will be my people and I will dwell among them”, etc.).

    I think that its actually those who want to use “incarnational” as a sort of ecclesial quality that are doing the separating. My point is that the incarnation must be understood only in connection with Christ’s death and resurrection, and that’s why the Gospel proclamation in the NT is always “Christ Crucified.”

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 9:43 am | Permalink
  19. Brad A. wrote:

    Was incarnation Israel’s hope, or was “Immanuel” the hope, its realization in the incarnation being a rather abrupt surprise? Aren’t the Jewish leaders criticized at several points for not recognizing God in their midst (e.g., Lk 19:44)?

    Again, my point is not that incarnation is sufficient by itself, but that it is inseparable from Christ’s death and resurrection, which is also insufficient by itself, i.e., Christ’s death and resurrection must be understood in connection with the incarnation.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 10:20 am | Permalink
  20. Halden wrote:

    I think the abrupt surprise was the crucifixion. And the cruciform life that made it necessary. The scandal wasn’t that God could come among them as a human being, but rather that it was this human being who proclaimed and embodied his own cross.

    My point is simply that in the New Testament “the incarnation” is never according the kind of importance that it is in the comments using it above. Rather it is a consequential affirmation that is made possible by the crucifixion-resurrection. That’s why the things of “first importance” that Paul proclaims (1 Cor 15) as Gospel are “that Christ died for our sins . . . that he was buried, that he was raised . . . and that he appeared. . .”

    There is actually a startling lack of interest throughout the NT in “the incarnation.” It is just assumed, never proclaimed as something that has a message of its own, or that conditions the message of the cross and resurrection.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 10:29 am | Permalink
  21. Brad A. wrote:

    Ry, why are the only choices the singularity of God’s act in Christ (without community) and some sort of universal, generalizable, merely sociological community? Why isn’t there a singular socialization made so directly by God through Son and Spirit? Why should such discussions of the social outworking of the gospel be assumed to be merely “human community”? Do God’s own actions end with the cross and resurrection? Could not the specific incarnation of the Jesus Christ as “that human” have rather significant implications for human community and relationality as tied to that event, and in a way that is entirely reliant upon – rather than taking away from – a focus on God’s action in Christ?

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 10:30 am | Permalink
  22. Halden wrote:

    Come on, who said anything God’s action meaning being “without community”? That’s an absurd reductio.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 10:35 am | Permalink
  23. Brad A. wrote:

    I think this is a bit reductionistic. The gospel accounts (esp. infancy narratives), as well as passages like Phil 2:6ff. and Col 2:15ff. actually give the incarnation considerable significance. Never is it separated from the cross, to be sure, but those profound statements indicate anything but a “startling lack of interest.”

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink
  24. Brad A. wrote:

    Halden, I think that is a logical question given Ry’s first three sentences. I’m seeking clarification here, if nothing else.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 10:39 am | Permalink
  25. Halden wrote:

    Phil 2 certainly speaks of Christ “becoming like other men” “though he was in the form of God.” But this is all tied to the specific event of the crucifixion which is then given as the reason for his exaltation. There’s nothing here that hints that the incarnation itself has a message of its own or conditions the message of the cross. Rather it is understood as being important precisely only insofar as it is merely a part of the story of the cross, of Christ’s humbling of himself “to the point of death, even death on the cross.”

    Col 2:15 is all about what Christ has done through the the specific act of the cross as well, so that certainly doesn’t make your point.

    And sure, two of the Gospels tell of Christ’s birth, but that’s kind of the point: if its so important, why only two? Why does Mark think he can write a Gospel that doesn’t even mention any of it? Why does the rest of the NT say basically nothing at all about Jesus’s birth? Moreover, the Gospels that do mention Jesus’s birth are primarily concerned, not with establishing that God can become human, but rather with Jesus’s specific genealogy and how that relates the biblical story.

    Anyways, none of those Scriptures make the point you want them to. I’d also again recommend the Harrisville book which speaks to this issue quite nicely as well.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 10:46 am | Permalink
  26. Halden wrote:

    Its not a logical question at all unless we assume, for some weird reason that the only things we can have are either ‘community as the corporate social extension of Christ’s incarnation’ or ‘no community at all.”

    Why on earth would we assume those are the only possibilities?

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 10:47 am | Permalink
  27. Halden wrote:

    Again, my point is not that “incarnation” is bad or meaningless. My point is that incarnation has meaning only as it is thought from Christ’s crucifixion and death, which is exactly what Paul does in Phil 2. The incarnation is meaningful in that it is completely transparent to Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. It has no independent meaning of its own, it is simply the presupposition of the kenotic, cruciform work of Christ. It only is something in that it participates in the movment of Christ to the cross and resurrection. Thus, rather than sanctifying “place” or “culture” it calls us in into crucifixion. That is the true glory of the incarnation.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 10:59 am | Permalink
  28. Brad A. wrote:

    I meant Col. 1:15ff, which is more substantive on my point. Pardon the typo. I think you’re reading too much into what I’m “wanting” these passages to do. I haven’t been arguing for incarnation as doctrine independent from cross and resurrection, but rather part of what makes cross and resurrection intelligible (as cross and resurrection does, perhaps even moreso, for incarnation). Would you argue that Jesus’ divinity can be dispensed with here? If not, then that’s really my point. Just as with Israel and Jesus (since you mention geneaology), we cannot properly understand one without the other, even if the latter in each relationship takes precedence.

    The point with regard to this post is that I don’t see how Fitch, in your quotation of him, makes the mistake you’re concerned about.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 11:16 am | Permalink
  29. Brad A. wrote:

    With regard to your penultimate sentence here, how precisely does Fitch sanctify a particular place or culture? Of course incarnation has no independent meaning of its own (haven’t I said that repeatedly) and of course it calls us into crucifixion, but that crucifixion isn’t the end of the journey.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 11:19 am | Permalink
  30. Halden wrote:

    Well, Col 1:15 isn’t about the incarnation either, but anyways.

    And yeah, I’m saying that it is the cross and resurrection that makes the incarnation, the history of Israel, the history of the world, absolutely everything intelligible and not vice versa. So maybe that’s the disagreement.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 11:19 am | Permalink
  31. Halden wrote:

    When Fitch says “it is only through “place” that we can break the cycle of ideological church” — that statement seems to me, very clearly to be false. “Place” doesn’t do that.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 11:21 am | Permalink
  32. Brad A. wrote:

    “In him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (v. 19) has nothing to do with the incarnation?

    And yes, that is the disagreement: what you see as linear I see as reciprocal, though not necessarily equally so.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 11:22 am | Permalink
  33. Brad A. wrote:

    Given his context, I see his point, though I also see how you’re uncomfortable with it. So in very concrete terms, how is the cycle broken by Christ (more obvious), and how is that worked out in our midst (less obvious)?

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 11:24 am | Permalink
  34. Brad A. wrote:

    I’m not getting your question here in relation to my comment. I think I’d prefer to get Ry’s response here.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 11:25 am | Permalink
  35. Halden wrote:

    Its not about some alleged scandal of God being able to become human, rather it is about the majesty and preeminence of Christ’s person, though whom we understand everything else (cf. 2:3) and all of which is focused on Christ’s death and resurrection (cf. 1:20).

    But, to get beyond that, I think maybe this could actually be something helpful in terms of at least clarifying what’s at work in some of these discussions. The real disagreement is about whether or not Christ’s death and resurrection stand as completely unique, and it is from them that we understand all other things (my position), or if the event of Christ rather stands within a larger continuum, which it illuminates, but is also conditioned by (your position, which hopefully I’ve stated fairly).

    Establishing that might at least be helpful to avoid unnecessary repetition in the future.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 11:27 am | Permalink
  36. Halden wrote:

    Well its broken by Christ in his resurrection and it is worked out in our midst by following him into crucifixion, and thus resurrection. I fill this out a bit more in the secondary expanded post, but of course you can’t just draw up a template for this since it is always going to be contextual.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 11:29 am | Permalink
  37. Brad A. wrote:

    Yes, I think that’s been the disagreement for much of this time. Again, I’d recognize the preeminence of the cross and resurrection over the incarnation, for example, but I would not agree that it is essentially free-standing, the incarnation then being rather incidental.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 11:30 am | Permalink
  38. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    The point I was trying to make is really a rather basic one: the doctrine of the incarnation is first and foremost about a singular act of God, not some general statement about the goodness of creation or the inhabiting of a “place.” I raise this specifically in response to David Fitch’s provocative (and truly asinine) suggestion that Halden is denying the “essence of the incarnation.” I find this revealing–that’s all. There seems to be this underlying assumption about the general meaning and metaphysical significance of the incarnation. I think it’s really misguided. Interestingly, I pretty much always hear it from students and graduates of Marquette. I am not sure what that means exactly.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 11:38 am | Permalink
  39. R.O.,

    So is there no “meaning or metaphysical significance of the Incarnation”?

    With the reference to Marquette, if you mean that many students haven’t imbibed the wholesale rejection of metaphysics, then you are generally correct. But what this might mean is extremely diverse.

    But I would be quite happy if there were a “Marquette School”, but I think the prospects of this slim… ;-)

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 11:50 am | Permalink
  40. Brad A. wrote:

    Ry, I see what you’re saying, though you haven’t really answered my questions. I read Fitch to be asking whether Halden’s blanket equation of “place” with “establishment” (and everything ill that portends) – an equation Halden does seem to make and that does seem to be unwarranted – does not, in fact, deny the essence of God coming to our “place.” Doesn’t strike me as asinine at all, but rather points to what might be an overstatement of the problem on Halden’s part with regard to Fitch.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 11:55 am | Permalink
  41. Brad A. wrote:

    And Ry, your suspicions of Marquette notwithstanding, we might often ask similar questions but that doesn’t mean we have the same starting points or motivations. We’re a rather eclectic department in many regards.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 11:57 am | Permalink
  42. Halden wrote:

    Well I’m happy to at least have that clarified.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 12:01 pm | Permalink
  43. (Brad, don’t agree with me any more…they might think the Marquette school is taking over…)

    But seriously… :-)

    It does feel a tad to me like this non-essential-emphasis of the incarnation is going down the road which ends up denying the Trinity. Neither have irrefutable textual support, but both are valid and important theological inferences.

    but I will read the next post and comment there.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Permalink
  44. Halden wrote:

    Yeah, that’s we’re doing. Denying the Trinity.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink
  45. David Fitch wrote:

    I would argue that the church’s capitulation to Nazi (nationalist) forces was made possivble by the church’s giving up the poitics of what it meant to be church locally, where neither Jew nor gentile are not excluded from the church but instead are united in a real place and time reconciliation. This can be learned I assert by reading one of the Bonhoeffer biographies of last year.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Permalink
  46. I’m just saying the argumentative structure is similar.

    I didn’t say you were outright denying the Trinity.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Permalink
  47. Halden wrote:

    For the record, I think that both the incarnation and the Trinity do have irrefutable textual support.

    I never said the incarnation was “non-essential” only that (I believe) it needs to be understood via the cross and resurrection.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Permalink
  48. Nate Kerr wrote:


    Are you meaning intentionally to invoke Hegel when you think universality-particularity-singularlity in the way that you have above? Or is it just the spectre of Hegel that almost-always haunts the essentially Sittlich account of Christian community that you are espousing here making its unwelcome appearance?

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Permalink
  49. Brad A. wrote:

    Well, that’s good – I honestly thought we had both known that for some time.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Permalink
  50. Halden wrote:

    I just think it helps to have it stated succinctly so as to avoid future instances of trying to talk about related issues that we can’t really get at given this fundamental disagreement about the centrality of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Permalink
  51. CCP wrote:

    Geoff, I’m drawn to your posts in particular today with respect to the incarnation. It’s hard for those trained in the habits of nominalism not to celebrate the concrete against the abstract, but I wonder how this relates to your concerns about Christ’s divinity and humanity. Isn’t the desire to read incarnation *in light of the resurrection* something one only feels this great burden to do if one is fighting against a view of the incarnation that is really just Arian? And isn’t there something Arian, then, about the valorizing of the local and particular over the universal (or catholic)?

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Permalink
  52. Halden wrote:

    Sweet, now do we get to be Arian too?

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Permalink
  53. Brad A. wrote:

    Well, Halden, I’m not sure we disagree on the centrality of the cross and resurrection so much as the autonomy of it from other factors.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Permalink
  54. Brad A. wrote:

    Could you unpack that, CCP?

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Permalink
  55. Halden wrote:

    But that is certainly relevant to how “central” it is possible to construe the cross and resurrection as being.

    At any rate, I think this particular thread has been helpful at showing this difference concretely if nothing else. So I’m grateful for that.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Permalink
  56. CCP wrote:

    I’m not sure how to, exactly. i certainly don’t think there is anything necessarily “Arian” about being a localist. But the modern attentiveness to “particularity” does bear a striking resemblence to “Haeccitas” which in 13th is very much connected to Scotus’ arguments concerning the incarnation. Perhaps the desire to fuse questions about the incarnation to questions about the resurrection is related to antique problems with how the incarnation became an epistemological key for privileging the local, ‘thisness’, and particularity (the William Carlos Williams sentiment that ‘everything depends on the red wheelbarrow’). The appeal to the resurrection in the invocation of the incarnation seems legitimate to me, but it also seems to be performing a certain corrective function. I’m not saying that well, but perhaps that will help to unpack what I was drawn to in Geoff’s distinctions.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Permalink
  57. CCP wrote:

    To put it differently, why not read the incarnation in light of the Ascension, in which, humanity is raised to the right hand of the Father (universal!).

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Permalink
  58. CCP wrote:

    Or to revise that last question, perhaps it is better to say that the particular has to have the character of a sacrament if it is to avoid being reducible to the merely local.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Permalink
  59. CCP wrote:

    Argh, this comment was put in the wrong place…hope those interested can work out where it belongs!

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Permalink
  60. CCP wrote:

    Refers to this sentence above: “And isn’t there something Arian, then, about the valorizing of the local and particular over the universal (or catholic)?”

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Permalink
  61. Nate Kerr wrote:


    Forgive my bluntness, but this has got to be one of the most misguided comments (not to say mis-representative of the position it is purportedly speaking against) I have read in a long time.

    So as someone whose own work (along with others) has done something to put these questions of singularity in relation to universality and particularity at the forefront of these discussions, allow me to say a bit of what I mean by my use of the term “singularity.”

    First of all, whenever I use the term “singularity,” I am not using it in the abstract or conceptually as such. The key point for me is what I call “the singularity of Jesus.” To insist upon the singularity of Jesus is to say that in the lived historicity of Jesus we are confronted with an event of such radical concreteness and such radical contingency that it resists being rendered explicable in light of something else. That is to say, the singularity of Jesus suspends and short-circuits any generative process whereby a proper self-consciousness concerning the “logic” of his existence might be achieved, even where that logic is purported to have been extracted from the Christ-event itself.

    Thus, secondly, for me singularity is not thinkable in abstraction from Jesus of Nazareth; there is no “singularity” as such apart from Jesus. This is what I mean when I say in my book that the logic of singularity is internal to the apocalyptic historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. It is to say that the “truth” of history’s contingencies and particularities is not rendered according to a mere external “relation” (of difference productive of identity) to the lived historicity of Jesus; they are rather established by a purely positive (non-dialectical) relation “internal” to Jesus’ person as involved in a mystery that encompasses them. It is precisely in this way that Christic singularity is perfectly “catholic.”

    So let’s be clear: my use of the term singularity is meant to move beyond any felt need “to celebrate the concrete against the abstract” (your well-worn concern regarding nominalism), as well as beyond the felt need dialectically to mediate Christ’s singular identity via the participability of particulars within the universality of Christ’s essence. The point regarding the singularity of Jesus is not a “valorizing of the local and particular over the universal,” as such, but is rather a refusal of the notion that Jesus’ identity is rendered universalizable in any kind of way that requires mediation by particulars for its singular “truth” to be rendered. It is not nominalism that drives this refusal on my part, but rather the identity of Jesus Christ as rendered in the event of his cross and resurrection. Thus it is for me that singularity and catholicity are not to be played off against one another, but rather perfectly coincide in the apocalyptic historicity of Jesus. And thus it is for me that the emphasis upon Jesus’ singularity no more entails playing the concrete or particular off against the universal than it does identifying “catholicity” with “universality” as such. In fact, it is my concern that this identification of “catholicity” with “universality” is driven more by the felt need to combat the presumed errors of nominalism than it is by the positive theological concern to articulate the truth of Jesus’ identity as Lord.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Permalink
  62. CCP wrote:

    So Scotus writes:
    “God remains in immediate sustaining attentiveness to everything that exists, precisely in its ‘thisness.’”

    He thinks God would have become incarnate whether humanity sinned or not — thus a “metaphysical necessity” of the incarnation. Thomas says that the incarnation is not a metaphysical necessity (the second person of the Trinity is another question), but is a fitting to heal humanity from sin. Bonaventure sides with Thomas, but says that one answer appeals to reason and the other (Scotus’s in fact) appeals to piety.

    Just putting those distinctions out there as they seem eminently relevant.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Permalink
  63. Brad A. wrote:

    Nate, if I could, I’d like to set aside for the moment the universalist/nominalist argument and just focus on something central you claim in your third paragraph here. You state, “in the lived historicity of Jesus we are confronted with an event of such radical concreteness and such radical contingency that it resists being rendered explicable in light of something else.” Now, I want to be sure I’m reading you correctly here, and I think I am given my previous readings of your work along with conversations with Halden and Ry: you are not merely saying that the “event” of Jesus defies our ability to fully comprehend it, but rather that it cannot be understood at all by anything outside itself.

    I simply fail to see how this move is necessitated by Scripture. When Jesus reads from Isaiah before the congregation and then proclaims himself as the fulfillment of that prophecy, is he not using Isaiah in part to give some sort of shape publicly to his mission? Surely it can be said that he fulfills Isaiah in new, surprising, counter-intuitive ways that perhaps require a reinterpretation of the prophet(s), but isn’t the explication moving both directions? This is one of very many NT appropriations of the OT to give some sense of meaning to what Jesus is about (even while defying conventional understanding of those passages), so I simply can’t understand a claim that the event of Jesus – which is accounted for the church in a narrative and a canon (unless those were somehow mistakes) – cannot in any way be rendered intelligible by other things outside the direct Christ-event itself.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Permalink
  64. CCP wrote:

    I have not read your book, and I am certain I don’t understand your terms, which is surely a deficit in me. I hesitated to enter the fray here as you clearly have a specialized discourse. I am just trying to relate it to my interests in the 13th century. Forgive my naivete.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Permalink
  65. CCP wrote:

    Just a quick question concerning your account of mediation: how does your view of the singularity of Jesus being internal to his ‘apocalyptic historicity’ (did I get that right?) shake out in terms of the Eucharist?

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Permalink
  66. (for the record, I can’t tell if CCP is speaking in earnest or farce, so I’m ignoring the comments from that source–which, btw, don’t represent my concerns)

    So, Nate,

    To your wondering about the “spectre of Hegel that almost-always haunts the essentially Sittlich account of Christian community”, it would change it that it is the Christian community that haunts Hegel, but that would be another matter.

    For the record, in a sense, as Milbank wrote, I’m both “for and against Hegel” because I’m for mediation, but not the way Hegel does it. The aim of my dissertation is basically that Hegel is wrong on most accounts, but wrong in a way that almost seems right. But that one doesn’t view some form of Sittlich as bad doesn’t make anyone more or less Hegelian.

    So all that said, yes I’m currently in the depths of Hegel’s logic and phenomenology so its entering my discourse. But for the most part, and where my research hopefully will land me, is more in agreement with Badiou’s understanding of universal, particular, singular, and his singularity is very close and yet very different from your conception of singularity (but I’m not prepared to argue that right not in regard to your position…and by not prepared I’m not begging off, but I’m literally not prepared. If any wants I can point you in the direct of something on Badiou that relates to this).

    Anyway, from what you said immediately above regarding singularity and its relation to abstract and concrete, I think we agree (although that might not be evident from what I said above). And for the most part I feel like we want the same ecclesial end (mission) but pursue it by different means.

    I think the real issue returns to the question of mediation vs. immediacy (although abstract and concrete are close by). You seem to argue for an immediate, unconditioned singularity in Jesus, from which theological articulate flows. I view this immediacy as untenable without reverting back into a pietistic “direct encounter” with Jesus (by the Spirit of course). With Hegel (so you are right), I ask, how do we actually get to this “bare” singularity in not through scritpure, church, tradition? How does this singularity present itself from among other singularities as THE singularity?
    So I guess I’m asking the theological epistemology question that I always ask, just in slightly more Hegelian terms (which neither makes more nor less valid as a question).

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Permalink
  67. Charlie Collier wrote:


    I’m trying to wrap my head around a couple of things you’ve said here, so I hope you might indulge me with a follow up. I worry a bit about any debate being front-loaded in the definitions of technical terms, but I’m doing my best to track your argument in your own terms.

    You write, “To insist upon the singularity of Jesus is to say that in the lived historicity of Jesus we are confronted with an event of such radical concreteness and such radical contingency that it resists being rendered explicable in light of something else.” Claim 1.

    You also write, “for me singularity is not thinkable in abstraction from Jesus of Nazareth; there is no ‘singularity’ as such apart from Jesus.” Claim 2.

    But what would be wrong with saying “in the lived historicity of Nate Kerr we are confronted with an event of such radical concreteness and such radical contingency that it resists being rendered explicable in light of something else”? I mean, you’re human, so surely you are also radically concrete and radically contingent. And if I can say that about you, you would appear to partake, on your own terms, of singularity and thus Claim 2 would appear to be false.

    But the obvious rejoinder: “Nate is explicable in light of Jesus whereas Jesus is not explicable in terms of Nate or anyone/thing else.” I’m not sure (yet! b/c you’re going to help me out with this) why that would follow as a consequence of the claims about contingency and concreteness, but I suspect it has to do with the “radical” part; the talk of “radical contingency” and “radical concreteness” is your contemporary gloss on the hypostatic union, or something like that.

    I guess I have three questions at this point. 1) Is what I’ve said so far even remotely accurate? 2) What is it about Jesus’ concreteness and contingency that is, in your obviously technical use of the terms, “radical” and thus “singular”? And 3) doesn’t this deployment of a highly distinctive, highly technical, highly contemporary vocabulary to parse ancient claims—the Lordship of Christ, two natures christology, etc.—undercut somewhat the claim that “it resists being rendered explicable in light of something else”?

    Thanks for adding your thoughts to this post. Halden, I don’t want to hijack your thread, so if you’d rather we discuss this via email, I’m fine with that.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Permalink
  68. Theophilus wrote:

    In Germany this makes sense, but I’m referring to an ethnically German community in the Soviet Union who had been forced underground by official state atheism and suffered through two genocidal campaigns within a decade (the broader Ukrainian Holodomor and the systematic rounding up and execution/exiling of nearly all Mennonite males in 1936) prior to their “liberation” by Germany in the 1940′s. For Russian Mennonites, German ethnic politics led to a reprieve from the brutalities of Communist rule. And it is really only after the rise of German nationalism, and especially after the German occupation of Ukraine, that notions like “blood and soil” became entrenched among Russian Mennonites.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Permalink
  69. I believe Charlie asked concretely what I ask abstractly.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Permalink
  70. CCP wrote:

    Thanks, Charlie. These questions (esp. your third one) gets at the question I was (badly, but not farcically) aiming at.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Permalink
  71. Tim McGee wrote:

    To Geoff’s question on mediation/immediacy: it seems that the stress on the need for churchly mediation is something that, were it true, would have rendered the formation of the church impossible (e.g., not only does Paul claim an unmediated revelation in Galatians, he claims that even his own authority as presenter is subordinate to this gospel, which came to them at the beginning through the work of the Spirit in them, not as they came to know God but as they came to be known by God).

    Nate said he rejected an abstract notion of singularity or singularity as a generic human trait explicable outside of Christ; you just countered and basically said that if we assume singularity is some kind of general attribute, then his claim is wrong. You do that again with the question of repeatability and singularity: Nate’s not trying to draw out “consequences” of some logic of singularity but is trying to begin his thinking with the historical work of Christ. On your third question: I fail to see how using language means that we are now explaining Christ in light of something else. Again, Nate isn’t trying to explicate “ancient claims” but the reality of Christ’s work which exists independently of these ancient claims (which the Church Fathers knew quite well given the sheer amount of confusion over the terminology, especially between Greek and Latin trinitarian terms).

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Permalink
  72. CCP wrote:

    Christ calls the church to baptize in his name, institutes the Eucharist, and gives keys to Peter. How does this not amount to churchly mediation? It is all a participation in Christ, the one true Mediator, but I don’t understand the denial of ecclesial mediation. The catholic and orthodox differences over language (presumably you refer to filioque, which stresses mediatorial trinitarian predication vs. the co-ordinated predication of the East) certainly are real, but this can be used as a dismissal of their ecclesiologies (which were hardly detached from the reality of Christ).

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Permalink
  73. Tim McGee wrote:

    Please don’t just throw up a couple vague references (I mean, “Eucharist”? come on…) and not actually engage the points I made from Scripture.

    On the other point, I’m simply pointing out that the church fathers realized that the chosen term wasn’t the issue and was not what was being explicated; the question was whether the reality of God in Christ was being faithfully articulated in those terms (I had in mind the Trinitarian debates and confusion over person/substance/essence).

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 7:30 pm | Permalink
  74. CCP wrote:

    I hardly think baptism and Eucharist are vague points. Your point about Paul’s “unmediated revelation” is exceptional, and it is not the normal way in which people receive revelation.

    Representing the content of revelation (the reality of Christ) requires human reason and language…and the differences in language certainly do raise questions of faithful representation.

    I hope the point about ecclesial mediation is taken up again, but for now, I am happy to remain “passed over in silence” rather than disdain.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 8:38 pm | Permalink
  75. Charlie Collier wrote:


    Thanks for your response. I’m not sure why my comment was taken by you to represent some sort of “counter” to Nate’s position, as I was fairly clearly approaching the whole thing in an exploratory mode, trying to explicate Nate’s position in his own terms, asking for clarifications where I had misunderstood him, advancing not criticisms but questions.

    As for your points, I didn’t say what you think I said. Rather, I tried to ask why Nate’s construal of the meaning of Jesus’ singularity would not apply to another human being. It’s one thing to disavow such a move as theologically inappropriate—fitting Jesus into some prior scheme; it’s another thing to show why that disavowal makes sense in one’s own terms. Nate’s description of Jesus’ singularity—this is why I quoted him directly—would seem to apply to any human being, disavowals notwithstanding. Unless, that is, “radical” is doing some important work to modify “concrete” and “contingent” in ways I don’t yet understand. That’s why I asked about it.

    You say that Nate is trying to to begin his thinking with the historical work of Christ, but you also say he isn’t trying to explicate ancient claims. Perhaps my use of the word “parse” was misleading, as I certainly don’t think Nate is doing historical theology in the strict sense. I wasn’t meaning to suggest that he’s simply explaining Chalcedon to a new audience. I was, rather, suggesting that he might be doing something analagous to, but also dependent upon, early Christian dogma about the fully human, fully divine Son of God. For I’m not entirely clear why one cares so much about the historical Jesus without the dogma that “in him” (i.e., not in everyone or anyone but in this one human being) God was reconciling the world to himself. I always thought it was the dirty little secret of historical Jesus scholarship that at the same time they were questing after the historical Jesus in ways they were sure would undermine traditional doctrine, they were actually inhabiting the dogmatic declaration that this fully human man was also Lord and God. Why else care so much about the real historical Jesus?

    As for “the work of Christ” existing independently of ancient claims, did you miss where Nate said he has been trying to articulate the truth of Jesus’ identity as Lord? This is an ancient claim, and I take Nate to be trying to restate the significance of this and other ancient claims about Jesus in terms of contemporary issues in New Testament studies, systematic theology, and philosophy. Clearly, the “Christ event” (already a description far removed from early Christianity) is being illumined, articulated, whatever, with a very different set of concepts than the Fathers had at their disposal, let alone the disciples.

    I think Nate would agree with this but point out that his concern was not to prohibit the development of new conceptual grammars for articulating the Lordship of Christ, but rather to build into his own conceptual grammar an apophatic moment: this is, at any rate, how I read the following sentence: “That is to say, the singularity of Jesus suspends and short-circuits any generative process whereby a proper self-consciousness concerning the ‘logic’ of his existence might be achieved, even where that logic is purported to have been extracted from the Christ-event itself.”

    But I’m still brought up short by the earlier sentence: “To insist upon the singularity of Jesus is to say that in the lived historicity of Jesus we are confronted with an event of such radical concreteness and such radical contingency that it resists being rendered explicable in light of something else.” And here Brad’s comment tracks with my own questions. I have a hard time understanding why we’d make much of a deal at all about the singularity of Jesus’ historicity without doing so in light of something else—namely, the history of Israel, its scriptures, its war with idolatry, its refusal to worship anything but the creator, the tetragrammaton, etc.

    That said, the question of continuity is a tricky one, and it’s why I’ve always liked Herbert McCabe’s account of revolutionary transformation. I’d be curious to know how Nate wold relate his apocalypticism to McCabe’s account.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 9:35 pm | Permalink
  76. Nate Kerr wrote:


    I really do think that the explication is not “moving in both directions,” as you say. For I really do think that what we are to say in light of Luke 4 is something again to what the the Gospel of John itself says in 1:18: Just as it is Jesus Christ alone who “exegetes” God for us, so the law of the Old Testament, the scribes and the prophets, is to be exegeted by the life of this one alone, and not vice versa.

    I think the problem here has to do with thinking the notion of “fulfillment” as having to do with some externality, as if what Jesus fulfills is something that is given apart from and outside of himself. On my reading of the New Testament, this is precisely what Jesus is rejecting (and with Jesus, Paul), viz., the idea that there is something prior to or apart from Jesus — whether that be law, prophecy, etc. — that can somehow be used as a foothold by which we might render the way in which Jesus is salvation for us. It is this idea that Jesus shortcircuits throughout his ministry. And it is this that is so profoundly offensive about Jesus’ interpretation that “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” to the Scribes and Pharisees throughout the Gospel of Luke. There is no Jesus and and the law, Jesus and the prophets. There is only Jesus, as the one who alone gives us true law and true prophecy with his fulfillment of them. That is, the law and the prophets are not themselves some condition of possibility given apart from Jesus’ coming; they are rather, paradoxically, only genuinely given at all in light of his coming, as events within the event of that coming, if you will.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 9:51 pm | Permalink
  77. Brad A. wrote:

    Tim, you mention the “historical work of Christ,” but how are we brought to learn of and participate in that historical work without various points of mediation along the way?

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 3:43 am | Permalink
  78. Brad A. wrote:

    To wit, even Paul states that faith is impossible without hearing, which necessitates preaching/teaching (which is not at all, incidentally, voided by the apostles’ own immediate encounters with Jesus).

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 3:46 am | Permalink
  79. Tim McGee wrote:

    They are “vague” in the sense that simply mention them doesn’t answer the questions but instead just piles on more questions (as these will have to be unpacked according to various traditions). It muddies the water instead of addressing the argument. The point from Galatians was not only that Paul received direct revelation.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 3:53 am | Permalink
  80. Brad A. wrote:

    Nate, for the sake of discussion, let’s grant your point here: if this is true – if Israel/Torah/OT is given only as part of Christ – does it not render null and void every attempt by Halden to pit the law/Torah/Israel/whatever over against Jesus, Paul, and “new creation”? Doesn’t our entire debate in the other thread becomes nonsensical? After all, if these are all part and parcel of Jesus, then as I’ve held up elsewhere, there’s no reason not to consider Torah, etc., as likewise apocalyptic.

    Yet it still seems strange that Jesus would continue to refer to these things – Torah, prophets, parables, daily life of his audience, etc. – to explain himself to them if (1) he is so utterly singular as to be inexplicable by anything else, and (2) his own immediate presence, unexplicated by aught else, is sufficient for human understanding and faithfulness.

    Of course, this also makes me wonder further about your claim that I mentioned in my previous comment: if (1) Jesus is so singular as to resist being rendered explicable by anything else, but (2) the “anything else” in question is actually a part of Jesus, doesn’t your claim become tautological?

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 4:08 am | Permalink
  81. Tim McGee wrote:

    Thanks. “Counter” wasn’t the appropriate choice. Perhaps what I was trying to address was that you kept beginning from a different point than Nate does and so were not adequately representing or thinking through his thoughts in his own terms but instead showing how his thoughts don’t track if one thinks if one thinks from another position.

    The object of Christian theology, and this is me speaking for myself (not Nate) is the crucified and risen Lord. Obviously, there are “ancient” thoughts and claims as people have been doing this for quite a while now. However, I don’t take it that our task is to be faithful to these previous claims but to the person these claims were attending to in their own time.

    You say, “As for “the work of Christ” existing independently of ancient claims, did you miss where Nate said he has been trying to articulate the truth of Jesus’ identity as Lord? This is an ancient claim, and I take Nate to be trying to restate the significance of this and other ancient claims about Jesus in terms of contemporary issues in New Testament studies, systematic theology, and philosophy.”

    “Jesus is Lord” is not just an ancient claim. It is a present, actual reality (I assume we all agree). I was trying to draw attention to the theological mode of inquiry which was not trying to explain Christ’s work according to a philosophical scheme worked out independently (singularity) or according to the unfolding of a particular theological grammar (tradition) but was trying to begin again, always beginning again (as Barth would say) from the living lordship of Jesus Christ, and from there, interpreting the other things you mentioned (Israel, Scripture, etc).

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 4:15 am | Permalink
  82. Brad A. wrote:

    Pardon the middle paragraph (“Yet it still seems…”) above – I wrote it before rewriting my first and third and should have edited it accordingly. My point was it often seems that it is Christ’s historical person and life alone that is sufficient in this schema, something that strikes me as odd given his allusions to so much else.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 4:17 am | Permalink
  83. Tim McGee wrote:

    I don’t think anyone here would argue for the non-participation of the Church in Christ’s work but simply want to maintain that the work of salvation is the work of Christ through the Spirit (no one can say Jesus is Lord except through the Spirit). Spiritual formation is, as Bonhoeffer argues, formation by the Spirit into the form of Christ and is not based on some kind of “direct” access from us (the church) to the person being formed. As Paul continues (your point below), the hearing comes from attestation (proclamation) which is based on God’s election (being “sent”): “what is heard comes through the word of Christ.”

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 4:24 am | Permalink
  84. Brad A. wrote:

    But Tim, honestly, who involved in this discussion would deny any of this?

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 5:08 am | Permalink
  85. Tim McGee wrote:

    I know but such a broad statement felt necessary as many of the reproaches here (they deny the Trinity, the Incarnation, are Arian, reject the church, etc) seem to miss this fact.

    Where we depart could perhaps be better seen through the Scripture you mentioned (Romans 9-11), where the majority of the community with Scripture, tradition, liturgical practices, prophets, etc–Israel–do not have faith because God has chosen to harden them according to God’s mysterious work of bringing mercy to all. The “witness” then of faith is not a pointing inward at these signs but pointing away to the one who visits us in these signs but who is not bound by them or to them and thus free to be outside of them and even against them (e.g., Paul on Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper being a presence of judgment; or in the OT, of God rejecting properly offered ritual sacrifices).

    To your question: ” how are we brought to learn of and participate in that historical work without various points of mediation along the way?” I am saying that the church’s role might not be necessary (not that it is unnecessary or necessary) and this “possible non-necessity” hinges on the mystery of Jesus Christ’s work through the Spirit to draw all persons to himself.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 5:38 am | Permalink
  86. CCP wrote:

    Robert Jenson states my basic worry best:

    “Kerr ends with a remarkably disembodied Christ. According to the New Testament, the church is the body of the risen Christ, and can be someone’s body precisely in that it is now an actual gathering, always identifiable by specific mandated practices. But according to Kerr, the apocalyptically historical Christ acts indepedently of all that.

    The resultant docetism shows up in several phenomena; two are perhaps are most noteworthy. Kerr manages to present a doctrine of the church’s “mission” and “litiurgy” without evoking baptism or the Supper – a remarkable feat for one who presumably has read the New Testament. And closely related: in Scripture Christ’s body is a Jewish body, but Israel and her Scripture play no role in Kerr’s argument – with the telling exception that he appropriates Yoder’s claim that Israel’s existence is intrinsically exile from her own center, and applies it to the church. Even Kerr’s category of “apocalyptic” appears simply by linguistic decree, owing little to actual characteristics of the biblical apocalypses.”

    So Baptism and Eucharist are hardly vague, they are in fact a rebuttal to the vague.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 6:43 am | Permalink
  87. Brad A. wrote:

    Tim, a couple of things. First, the “reproaches” you mentioned have, for the most part, been stated as trajectories of the arguments being made, not at the current state of those making them. I think folks have tended to be a little overly sensitive and defensive (I’m certainly guilty of that myself). I think we can sharply disagree in friendship.

    Second, and this touches on my most recent response to Nate, I think there’s a false dichotomy being made here (or at least contradictory arguments): if Scripture, tradition, liturgy, prophets, Torah, etc., are part of Jesus as Nate claims, then there is no “pointing away” from them to Jesus. If Jesus is their fulfillment, it is a pointing to them in their truest divine intent, which is perfectly personified in Christ, who is both Israel and Yahweh incarnate. Thus, it is not in fact possible for Jesus to be “outside of them and even against them,” but rather outside and against their adulterations, which is what I’ve been arguing all along.

    As an aside to your last paragraph, because I’m not a high sacramentalist, I actually concur that the Holy Spirit is able to work outside the bounds of the church to accomplish salvation or “spiritual formation,” as you put it. The question is whether that’s the rule or the exception. (And saying the church is still central is not to subscribe to a high sacramentalism, either, as I’m sure you’re aware, just as saying the working of the Spirit outside the church does not necessarily invalidate certain views of the sacraments.)

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 6:46 am | Permalink
  88. Halden wrote:

    CCP, since as you say you have not read Nate’s book and don’t understand his terms, perhaps you’ll find this interview I did with him a while back helpful:

    As to the quote from Jenson, I think it rather ironically shows who the real docetist is. If Christ acting independently of the church would render him “disembodied” that entails that the ascended Christ is no longer himself incarnate at the right hand of the Father. To construe any independent action of Christ (as is manifestly attested in the Book of Acts) as “disembodied” is to be the real docetist. It is to deny that Christ became and remains truly human in his concrete person. Collapsing Christ’s embodied humanness into the church’s sociality is the docetist move, not the confession that Jesus, in his singular lordship became and remains truly human in all he is and does.

    As such, Jenson’s concerns are ill-founded and rest, disturbingly on the very heresy he tries to affix to Nate.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 8:19 am | Permalink
  89. Brad A. wrote:

    Why can’t Christ be embodied in both ways, Halden?

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 9:03 am | Permalink
  90. Charlie Collier wrote:

    Halden, this is a creative defense, but I don’t see how it works. Claiming that the church is the body of Christ in no way entails a rejection of the claim that the ascended Christ incarnate Christ, yet that seems to be your meaning. Please correct me if I’m wrong about that. Rather, the church as Christ’s body means that the human body of the raised and ascended Jesus is new and wild, but we already knew that from the post-Resurrection accounts. Jenson’s worry about Nate’s work in his first book, if I understand it correctly, is not that Nate affirms the sheer possibility of, or the sheer existence of, an agency of Christ outside of his body, the Church, but rather that Nate seems intent on defining Christ’s apocalyptic historicity over against his body, the Church. I think Nate is working on this in the second book, so maybe this will become much clearer soon.

    And surely some response to Jenson’s point about baptism and eucharist are in order, as well as his point about Israel and Jewish flesh. For he says it’s the absence of any attention to these that make the alleged docetism in Nate’s position an issue. I don’t doubt that a response can be given, and, again, I presume Nate is working on one in the second book.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 9:06 am | Permalink
  91. Charlie Collier wrote:

    Sorry, should have been: “. . . in no way entails a rejection of the claim that the ascended Christ IS THE incarnate Christ.”

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 9:07 am | Permalink
  92. Halden wrote:

    Really my only point is that there’s no reason to construe Christ’s independent action as implying any sort of docetism unless we have previously linked his humanity so thoroughly to the church that he can only be active in the world in an embodied way through the church. This to me sounds like the real docetism, the claim that Christ’s humanity is in fact constituted by the church, rather than by God’s own action of taking on flesh. It establishes, oddly, the notion that Christ is only truly human “in us”, that is in union with the church, rather than, more biblically confessing that we are only truly human in him.

    But the main point is simply that if we concede that Christ can be active outside the church, and that this activity is not “disembodied” then the force of Jenson’s criticism is null.

    To be sure there is plenty of stuff that Nate’s book doesn’t fill out, but to turn its lack of total comprehensiveness into some sort of evidence that he rejects all those things or can’t account for them (as Jenson seems to do) is clearly a cheap shot. As Charlie mentions, there are other projects in the works and sadly they can’t just all appear immediately, but must be thought through and written.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 9:17 am | Permalink
  93. Halden wrote:

    Sorry, to follow up, Charlie, as I read Jenson’s work his problem is precisely with the notion that, post-Ascension, Christ could have any mode of activity in the world at all other than through the church. That is why he accuses Nate of docetism, because he believes, explicitly that the church IS the physical body of Jesus in the strongest possible sense (in his ST2 he claims that it literally is the body that was born of Mary). So his problem is with any notion of Christ’s independent action, not just with it being too strongly “over against” the church. For Jenson Christ ascends into the church and thus the church constitutes Christ’s humanity. That is the position that I think my critique above applies to. There are obviously other positions that could be taken in between Nate’s and Jenson’s.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 9:26 am | Permalink
  94. CCP wrote:

    Halden, thanks for the interview. I read it with interest, and with some sense of needing to catch-up.

    As I read the interview, I kept thinking “this reminds me so much of Joachim de Fiore’s Age of the Holy Spirit. But it’s too modern for that. Mind you, I do appreciate parts of this project. I appreciate that it’s trying to recover dogmatic theology (though I am not sure what that means without standing in a tradition that defines dogmas). And I do appreciate the “preferential option for the poor” here, and the recognition that was is being done here is a “contextual theology of doxological action.” But I think the author is wrong to think that the criticisms are not about ecclesiological differences (but, arrogantly, some refusal to “hear”). In Kerr’s typologies of ecclesiocentric theologians, it’s surely obvious that I would stand with Hauerwas, Marshall, and Jenson: “the gospel as something imparted, something delivered over as a kind of deposit,” and standing with them in this is also standing with how the fathers and schoolmen understand the deposit of faith. And that’s the tradition of interpretation I want to stand in. I want to read the scriptures according to a rule, and according to a tradition of interpretation. That rule is eminently Christological-Trinitarian, and it is given to the Church by the mission of the Holy Spirit. And likewise, I want to stand in a tradition that understands liturgical action differently. Kerr puts his finger on a crucial point when he writes: “This is not to say that we are not to be concerned with the church’s liturgy, her sacraments and institutions. No, it is to say that this is the church’s liturgy, and any account of the church’s sacraments and institutions that does not serve this work of the people is bound to foster a way of living and working by which the church witnesses against herself.” You will say this is just the (apocalyptic) logic of the Gospel, I will say this is just the interpretation of Menno Simmons and John Howard Yoder, and if it is only you and I who get to decide how we read the Gospel, then we’ll just think the other is wrong, and that will be “the end of ecumenism.” I regret using any heretical markers, as it is impossible to know what heresy is unless you have a stable mode of defining orthodoxy over time.

    But I am brought back to an admiration of the project: it remembers the poor. I hope that inspires action with respect to the poor, and that the project will inspire the work of charity.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 9:54 am | Permalink
  95. Brad A. wrote:

    Halden, the burden of the argument you, Ry, and especially Nate share is not simply that Christ can act outside the church. Saying that’s really your only point is, in my mind, a bit disingenuous. Your collective argument has been, rather, that the church is really only ever an event, occurring “ever-anew” (which seems to mean recurring without any continuity other than Christ’s/the Holy Spirit’s effecting the “event” of church in each new moment ex nihilo) in particular moments under particular circumstances. That’s a much stronger claim than saying simply that Christ can act independently of the church.

    And it’s a claim that has yet to be substantiated, given that many of your respondents are pointing out the ways in which Yahweh/Christ actually effected other forms of continuity, according to other interpretations than yours. Yet whenever this is mentioned, those forms are dismissed as “sociological” or some such, and not as a free act of God. This is why I have stated repeatedly that you are attempting to convince non-Anabaptist of a narrowly Anabaptist point of view, which simply doesn’t have any purchase for them. Tim himself says on this thread in Nate’s defense, “Perhaps what I was trying to address was that you kept beginning from a different point than Nate does and so were not adequately representing or thinking through his thoughts in his own terms but instead showing how his thoughts don’t track if one thinks if one thinks from another position.” That is PRECISELY what I have been arguing to you all since you first posted the theses.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 10:26 am | Permalink
  96. Halden wrote:

    Brad, all I meant was that my point was limited in that particular comment dealing with Jenson’s spurious critique of Nate’s book. For Jenson Christ acting outside the church at all is impossible, as I’ve noted above.

    As to your other complaint I’m really sorry that you feel we haven’t exhaustively proven everything we believe to you in our blog comments. I truly wish that were possible. Our points have been well substantiated and argued for in a variety of ways insofar as that is possible in blogs. To suggest that all we do is thoughtless dismiss those under critique (critiques, rooted I might add in significant engagement with these interlocuters’ works, an effort that folks like yourself consistently refuse to reciprocate) is simply false and I’d really appreciate it if you’d be a bit more honest about what’s happening in these conversations. I realize you have a “project” of your own that you want to protect, so I get that you feel strongly about it, but these self-serving summaries you tend to regularly toss out help no one, nor do they strengthen your case.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 10:38 am | Permalink
  97. Brad A. wrote:

    Halden, that’s patently unfair, and I’m honestly surprised that you’d stoop to this. As usual, you’re acting overly defensively. I did not say I expected you to “exhaustively prove” everything you say, or that “all you do is thoughtlessly dismiss” anyone. I was not attacking your character; I was critiquing your arguments thus far. As to refusing to engage with you, that’s incredibly uncharitable. I offered one of the longest and most substantive responses to your original theses, something I worked on for quite a while and posted without receiving any substantive responses on your part (though I did appreciate the kind personal email afterward). I have engaged you multiple times, with substance (as you have pointed out before). Here, I was attempting to objectively point out what I see to be a key problem with your overall approach. I simply don’t see how that warrants this type of response, especially one that then deliberately attacks my own character by suspecting me of trying to disingenuously protect my so-called “project.” Your own boss is reviewing that project – one that I’ve already had eight other scholars examine – and I expect him to tell me if my argument’s full of crap. Until then, don’t impugn my integrity but applying to me motives that have not entered my mind in this conversation whatsoever.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 10:55 am | Permalink
  98. Halden wrote:

    Dude, in the last comment alone you said I was being disingenuous, which was false. You said that “whenever” other views are brought up in contrast to my own “they are dismissed.” This is also false. They have been critiqued and you may not agree with the critiques but to cast them as mere dismissals is not to make an “objective” observation as you pretend. It is rather to insinuate that none of our arguments have any merit since they are just “dismissals.” To cloak this under the guise of making an “objective” observation is dishonest.

    Likewise to say that we’ve never “substantiated” (ok you don’t use the word “exhaustively,” sorry) anything is a rhetorical maneuver designed to discredit and dismiss. I believe we have substantiated all sorts of arguments (insofar as that is possible in blogs and such) and you just don’t accept them.

    Finally, its silly for us to pretend that the projects on which we are working and in which we believe don’t matter to us. What I’m working on with Nate and Ry certainly matters to me, as I’m sure your work matters to you. That’s no evil thing, nor does it make any of us horrible people. But to ignore the fact that we are all “interested” not “objective” (as you cast yourself in the last comment) is to create the sort of problems that attend your rhetoric in the last comment. You couch all your statements as if they are obvious facts that you arbitrate, when that is not the case. The attempt to cast it that way doesn’t help the argument, it obscures it and prevents it from happening fruitfully.

    And speaking of defensiveness, I don’t know why you thought I was saying your work was crap or not scholarly or something. I certainly said nothing of the kind. Not sure what nerve I touched there, but I wasn’t saying anything about your quality or competence and I don’t know where you got that from.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 11:12 am | Permalink
  99. Nate Kerr wrote:

    I still need to respond to Charlie, CCP, and Brad A. on their respective concerns, and I am looking for the block of time to do so. Thank you, Tim and Halden, for your very constructive responses to their queries in the meantime. They are very helpful, and in some cases there’s very little that I’d add.

    While I am finding time to respond, can someone tell me where I might find Jenson’s review of my book?

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 11:40 am | Permalink
  100. Charlie Collier wrote:

    Halden, I think you’re reading Jenson in terms of your own disjunction between an identification of the church as Christ’s body, on the one hand, and an affirmation of the possibility of Christ’s independent action, on the other. Jenson, as I read him, operates with the identification but not with the disjunction. I’m still not clear on the disjunction, i.e., on why the identification obviates an affirmation of the independent agency. You and Nate seem to be convinced that it does, and this is why you seem to reject the identification. It’s this rejection that invites Jenson’s critique of an alleged docetism, but I think the rejection only makes sense against the backdrop of a disjunction that I continue to doubt Jenson presupposes.

    Again, there’s been no demonstration that Jenson affirms it, presupposes it, or whatever. Just a restatement of his strong affirmation of the identification.

    You write, “So [Jenson's] problem is with any notion of Christ’s independent action, not just with it being too strongly ‘over against’ the church. For Jenson Christ ascends into the church and thus the church constitutes Christ’s humanity. That is the position that I think my critique above applies to.” But surely Jenson would not say that the church constitutes Christ’s humanity but rather that God in Christ constitutes the church, thereby incorporating the humanity of the children of God, through baptism and eucharist, into the humanity of the Son. Surely for Jenson an emphasis on the church’s action is always at the same time an emphasis on God’s action, for the former is entirely derivative of and dependent upon the latter.

    But in saying that, it does not follow that “God has no hands but our hands,” or whatever. Why would it mean that? I cannot imagine Robert Jenson saying anything remotely like that.

    So maybe we should reverse the questioning and ask, Do you think an affirmation of Christ’s independence entails a rejection of the identification of the church as Christ’s body “in the strongest possible sense”? Must we not think of the “radical concreteness” and “radical contingency” of Jesus’ “historicity” and thus his “singularity” as incorporating within itself the contingency and concreteness of the church? The apocalyptic Paul, who is otherwise the source of this entire direction of thought, certainly seems to do just this in 1 Cor 12.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 11:42 am | Permalink
  101. Brad A. wrote:

    In that last comment on the argument, Halden, I should have said “inconsistent” rather than “disingenuous.” Sorry about that mistake. Otherwise, I certainly did not say whenever views are brought up other than your own they are dismissed. Nor did I say that you have failed to substantiate “anything” or that none of your arguments have merit. If you reread, I was actually pretty specific on the aspect of the argument I had in mind at the time. Why do you continue to misconstrue my comments like this?

    Of course, all of our “projects” are dear to us. But I’ve read you (collectively) to refer to your critics as entrenched scholars afraid to embrace criticisms of their work for fear they will undermine their career “projects.” I thought that was uncharitable the multiple times I read it, and I took this in the same vein. Pardon me if I misunderstood.

    I also didn’t say you thought my project was crap – I was speaking self-deprecatingly about the editing of my work. That’s all, man – sorry if it was lame. And when I say “objective,” I’m going off of as honest an account of what was going through my mind at the time I was writing. Obviously, I couldn’t approach total objectivity, but I was arguing vis-a-vis the “object” of the argument in question.

    I regret that our interaction has turned into another personal confrontation. I didn’t intend that at all. I look forward to Nate’s and Tim’s responses to my last questions/comments to them.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 11:53 am | Permalink
  102. Brad A. wrote:

    Thank you, Nate, for taking the time, whenever you’re able.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 11:54 am | Permalink
  103. Halden wrote:

    Charlie, I don’t have my copy of Jenson’s works with me at the moment, but from my reading of him (and I was way into Jenson for a long time) he makes clear that the church is literally the only body that Jesus has (I believe that’s actually a quote from his Story and Promise).

    So I do indeed think Jenson says that God (or at least Christ) has no hands but our hands. I take this to be an extreme position on the identification of Christ and the church, and I think other positions (which include different construals of identification and differentiation/disjunction) are quite possible. So I’m not saying that the charge of docetism would apply to all who have a stronger ontological notion of the meaning of the “body of Christ” than I do, I’m only saying that it applies to Jenson pace his criticism of Nate’s book. So again, its a point limited to Jenson’s own particular oeuvre. And I do think it can be amply substantiated from Jenson’s work, though sadly I don’t have access to it at this very moment.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 11:55 am | Permalink
  104. Halden wrote:

    Brad, I did not intend this to become a fight either, and if I did anything to make it into one, I am sorry. I am admittedly frustrated with the abundance of heresy-tossing and other remarks that have gone down in this thread, but I don’t mean to take that out on anyone.

    As to this comment (and this will be my final point):

    “But I’ve read you (collectively) to refer to your critics as entrenched scholars afraid to embrace criticisms of their work for fear they will undermine their career ‘projects.’”

    I would say two things. First, I believe that becoming entrenched and careerist is a problem that all theologians and servants of the church face, and we all need to be mindful of its danger. Second, I don’t believe that we have ever argued that our interlocutors disagree with us merely out of fear for sustaining their careers. I do not remember ever making that argument, nor do I think it directly relevant to the theological issues under debate. If you have seen me make a statement to that effect, please direct me to it.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Permalink
  105. Halden wrote:

    Starting at the bottom because of how ridiculous the comment threading in that last thread was getting up above.

    Regarding Jenson’s position on the church as the body of Christ, as Charlie has inquired about, consider:

    “The subject that the risen Christ is, is the subject who comes to word in the gospel. The object — the body — that the risen Christ is, is the body in the world to which this word calls our intention, the church around her sacraments. He needs no other body to be a risen man, body and soul. There is and needs to be no other place than the church for him to be embodied, nor in that other place any other entity to be the ‘real’ body of Christ. Heaven is where God takes space in his creation to be present to the whole of it; he does that in the church.” (Systematic Theology 1, p. 206)

    I can find further material in Jenson’s other books if needed. This one I was able to pull up on Amazon. Anyways, I think the point is fairly clear: For Jenson the church/sacraments are the sole and only form of embodiment that Christ has. That is why any talk of Christ’s independent action outside the church is impossible for him, hence his opposition to Nate’s construal. Jenson completely collapses Jesus into the church, identifying them without remainder, as I think this quote shows very clearly.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 12:30 pm | Permalink
  106. CCP wrote:

    Extra ecclesiam nulla sallus!

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Permalink
  107. Nate Kerr wrote:


    I explicitly deal with your question in the section on “Incarnation, Contingency, and the Logic of Excess” (pp. 144-58) in my book.

    But to sum up the point that I make there, and to address your question as straightforwardly as I can, it is the event of Christ’s cross and resurrection that renders his historicity radically transformative of contingency itself, in a way that is constitutive of Christic singularity. At issue for me is the way in which “contingency” (and here I am following the lead of modern historicists like Troeltsch) functions as an historical category. The logic of historicism can only think the realities of history as relatively contingent, if you will. That is to say, any given particular act in history is not necessary in that it could have been otherwise, and thus is contingent, as it were. But according to the logic of historicism, this act has no “identity” in its contingency as such; that is to say, any such contingency is given its identity by the way in which it is arranged with respect to every other given contingency, and so rendered as particularly participatory within the universal-historical concatenation of events.

    Yet when one attends to the historicity of Jesus, one must attend to the fact that here there occurs in history one whose identity is rendered entirely independent of such an immanent historical framework: viz., according to the miraculous resurrection of this one to new life in the power of the Spirit. The resurrection is the one singular event that radicalizes both contingency and concreteness. For in the event of the resurrection you have an identity that is rendered solely according to a genuinely free and contingent act (the free coming of God’s life-giving grace), and yet you have the resurrection of this man Jesus, who in this resurrection is revealed as God precisely insofar as he is seen to have lived his life in history unto death in such a radically contingent way. That is to say, every moment of his life is one in which Jesus is kenotically given unto death in such a way that in that dying he lives each moment by way of a power that is no less new and no less free than the power of resurrection itself.

    And so, it is because we say of Jesus, and not of, say, Nate Kerr, that he is risen as Lord that I aver that Jesus radicalizes and transforms the notions of contingency and concreteness. And it is because Jesus is precisely this human being as God that I say that there is no genuine singularity outside of Christ. For what I want to say is that Jesus singularity operates, by the power of the Spirit, in such a way that every human being is given by the Spirit to be what it is in its contingency and singularity only as it is given to move into the way of cross and resurrection that is opened up in the historicity of Jesus Christ. And so the contingency and singularity of each one is only what it is as the contingency of Jesus Christ’s singular death and resurrection is constitutive of each one’s identity in relation to God.

    I’ll leave it there for now. I’m happy to address your question below of how I relate all of this to McCabe’s account of revolutionary transformation, but I am not immediately familiar with that to which you are referring. If I have read his account, it has been some time. I’m happy to do so and comment upon it, if you could point me to where in McCabe’s writing you are referring.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Permalink
  108. Nate Kerr wrote:


    As both you and Jenson note, the question of the sacraments, particularly of baptism and eucharist, are particularly important questions to be addressed from the perspective of the kind of apocalyptic Christology I am advocating. And Charlie is right in saying that I am currently working these out in my next book (Halden, Ry, and I will also be working these questions out a bit in a collaborative project as well).

    But let me say something about how I approach the question of the Eucharist in light of your question regarding mediation. For me, the problem with much “sacramental” talk about the Eucharist is that it depends upon a certain idealist account of mediation, whereby the eucharist is the concrete, particular means by which Christ in his universality is mediated to us. The problem I have with most eucharistic accounts of mediation is precisely with the “universalization” of Christ’s person that it presumes. The problem, as I see it, is that Christ is universalized in such a way as to require the mediation of another to be salvifically present as such. The problem with this, as I see it, is that it cannot conceive of Christ as active here and now in the mode of Christ’s own lived and living singularity. Furthermore, such an account of eucharistic mediation binds Christ’s presence to the church in such a way that the presence of Christ in the world just is the church as this configuration of socio-cultural practices. This ends up making the primary referent of the sacraments ecclesiological — the church is what is rendered objectively present by the sacraments as such. Sacramental mediation is articulated in such a way that it is the church that guarantees Christ’s presence to us. Christ’s presence as Lord is to be found “here,” and not “there.”

    What I want to do is to turn this way of thinking on its head. It is not the church that guarantees Christ’s presence to us, but rather Christ’s ongoing action in history, via the Spirit, that gives us the church as the a sign of the reality of the Kingdom that is to be received ever anew by way of our missionary movement into the liturgy of Christ’s own life, death, and resurrection. For me, the church’s sacramental practices are thus meant to indicate visibly (in this way to be a “sign” of) the church’s freedom from itself and for kenotic, cruciform solidarity with the world, for the sake of that world’s transfiguration in Christ. So the eucharist is a sign of the way by which the Spirit gives the church always unto death in solidarity with those dying under the weight of the powers and principalities of this world, for the sake of receiving her life anew as the gift of that world’s transfiguration in Christ. In other words, the church’s sacraments are part of what is involved in refusing to say that Christ is present as Lord “here” in a way that he is not “there.” The eucharist is a sign of the fact that Christ gives himself by giving us unto living in Christ’s death in solidarity with the world, for the sake of receiving Christ anew — and so the church itself as an event within the event of the new creation that is Christ — from “outside” itself, as it were, in the gift of that world’s transfiguration.

    The way I am working this out currently is to say that the eucharist is the sign of the way in which Christ, through the Spirit, gives us kenotically unto death, for the sake of receiving the crucified and risen Christ anew in the liberation of the poor and marginalized of this earth with whom we are given to live in solidarity. Eucharist is not a mediatrix of Christ’s presence so much as it is an event (a ricochet, if you will) of Christ’s self-giving in the poor of this world. Eucharistic celebration is rooted in and arises out of the new life that the church receives from outside itself in the poor with whom it is driven into solidarity, and not vice versa.

    As these are just outlines of what I am currently working to flesh out in more detail, I suppose that will have to suffice for now. I hope it at least helps to give you an idea of how I’m thinking through questions such as you and Jenson raise.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Permalink
  109. CCP wrote:

    Thank you, Nathan. There is an internal coherence to your view of the Eucharist. We, of course, disagree. The Eucharist is more than a sign, it is itself a cause of grace (as all the Greek fathers thought, and as the Latin church received as well). For those who have been raised to the royal priesthood by baptism into Christ, the Eucharist is the celebration of Christ with us, and in us, our passover. As the ‘source and summit’ of the Christian life, the Eucharistic celebration is rooted in God’s divine action in Christ, and so it does indeed come from outside ourselves, in order to heal us, conform us more fully to Christ’s real presence so that we may know him and be known to him in resurrection. In receiving the gift of the Eucharist, in being in communion with Christ, the believer is sent (missa) to share the good news, to share gifts with those in need (the poor). And so I think on this point we agree: the Eucharist sends us out to the disenfranchised, the poor, the dispossesed.

    But this sending is possible only because the Eucharist not only mediates Christ’s presence, but *is* Christ’s mysterious and real presence. This is an article of faith for catholic and orthodox Christians.

    So from this perspective, your position looks heterodox, which is not to say unintelligent or without merit (neither Ratramnus nor Berengar was ever excommunicated, and their views were immensely helpful to the church in the development of sacramental teaching). So, I think it clarifies a great deal to see your apocalyptic position through the sacramental lens.

    Thank you for attending to my question. As well, the Jenson review is out in the summer issue of Pro Ecclesia.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 8:36 pm | Permalink
  110. Nate Kerr wrote:


    Okay, I’m flagging a bit here this evening, but let me try to address your concerns as best I can.

    Let me begin by saying that if we are careful to make the proper distinctions, I do not see any necessary contradiction in saying that the Christ-event is a singular event that resists explication by anything outside itself, and that Jesus himself is constitutive of realities that witness to the singular truth of his Lordship, by pointing beyond what they are in-themselves, as it were.

    But this requires being clear (with a precision that I am not sure I can parse fully in a blog comment) on the way in which the singular person Jesus of Nazareth is constitutive of reality as such, that is, of how he is the one through whom all things are created in whom all things “hold together.” As long as we do not ontologize this moment (that is to say, render it according to some kind of notion of Jesus’ being in which things are participable — and this might be the crux of the issue, in fact), then we can indeed say that Jesus is constitutive of reality in a way that renders this reality internal to the mystery of Christ, without being forced into the position of saying that this reality is “a part of Jesus” (a phrase I don’t really like at all). This is to say that Jesus can give something to be what it is (and only as such to be what it is), only as it is given to witness to who Jesus is as the singular one whom he is, and subsequently to what it has been given to be in Christ.

    And so, let us take the example of Torah. It is not at all contradictory (even if it is paradoxical) to say that Jesus is both the singular embodiment of the law of God’s perfect love, while also saying that Jesus is constitutive of the Mosaic law as that which is given to point beyond itself to the coming of Christ, and even to belong to that which is passing away, as Paul suggests, in this pointing and by way of this coming. I am not refusing the idea that Jesus gives himself to be witnessed to in such realities. But I am saying that this witness is constituted by Jesus himself, such that there is nothing in these realities themselves, as such, in their bare givenness, that can be said to explicate the truth of Christ’s identity for us. What I am saying is that neither the mosaic Torah, nor Israel, nor the prophets, nor the church, nor the creeds, are anything in-themselves, as such, but they are given to witness to the truth of Christ’s singular reality as Lord insofar as Christ’s apocalyptic coming is constitutive of them in this witness. And what they witness to is precisely the reality of the fact that Jesus is Lord precisely as this singularly crucified and resurrected one, that he is who he is and is known as such only in himself, and that these realities are what they are as witnesses only in light of that fact, as constituted by it.

    So I think this does perhaps open a way of understanding Torah, Israel, etc. apocalyptically. But I think it also does not necessarily run counter to Paul’s understanding of new creation in which Torah, Israel, etc. are given to be understood as passing away in themselves, as they are given with the cosmos to be crucified with Christ and given anew with the singular reality of his resurrection. These realities are now given to witness to the singular truth of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection as Lord, but only as they are not taken as in themselves necessary to the explication of that truth. That is what Paul refuses in Galatians, against the teachers, as well as in Corinthians and elsewhere, in regards to the food and purity laws. And I take it that this is the upshot of Paul’s claim to his hearers that he is given to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 9:39 pm | Permalink
  111. Nate Kerr wrote:

    Thanks, Geoff. This is helpful. Hopefully my response to Charlie helped to address your final question about Jesus as “the singularity” (your phrase).

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 9:44 pm | Permalink
  112. Nate,

    Thanks for the response (and the ones to Collier and CCP). I don’t really have a problem with your articulation of the singularity of Jesus, but more the “independence” which you see as necessary for establishing said singularity. I think it possible to articulate the utter singularity of Jesus without needing to claim utter independence (from society, history, politics, tradition) that you seem to require. This independence is why I turn to the question of “immediacy.”

    Regarding Hegel, it seems that your project is also framed by a Hegel, via Troelsch’s historicism which relies on some form of historical progress via the universal. I think this is often the source of our disagreements, that this “Hegel”, for me, is not the Hegel I’m engaging with.

    So perhaps many of our philosophical difference stem from different understandings of the meaning and significance of German Idealism (particularly Hegel). But all that to say, to repeat myself, I comfortable being “for and against Hegel” while is seems you are “against and against Hegel” even though you are in reaction against Hegel’s progressive historicism.

    Thursday, June 9, 2011 at 7:59 am | Permalink
  113. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    So Catholics are no longer calling protestants “separated brethren?”

    Thursday, June 9, 2011 at 9:14 am | Permalink
  114. CCP wrote:

    Still separated (lament) but also still brethren (hope!)…

    Thursday, June 9, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Permalink
  115. CCP wrote:

    For the record, I entered these threads without paying much attention to its main referent — Nathan Kerr’s apocalyptic. I apologize for that inattention to the topic at hand. Arianism may well enter a discussion about localism but it relates to Kerr’s work in no way (though now having read a little more can see that docetism does hit a nerve even if we take heretical predication with a grain of salt). In any case, I regret my initial inattentiveness and misdirection as a blogosphere neophyte.

    Thursday, June 9, 2011 at 8:16 pm | Permalink
  116. Brad A. wrote:

    Thanks for responding. This is helpful, and not entirely unexpected given what I’ve read before. I find myself in considerable sympathy on certain points, but then very wary and/or confused on others. Forgive what might come across as elementary questions below.

    Along with Geoff, my issue is Jesus’ singularity (which I would wholeheartedly embrace) requiring independence from all else (which I don’t see as either necessary or justified, if one grants that any connection/interrelation is by God’s own free choice).

    First, a point of confusion, which goes back to the question of tautology. I’m wondering about statements like, “Jesus is constitutive of reality in a way that renders this reality internal to the mystery of Christ.” If Jesus is constitutive of reality, isn’t that reality already internal to the mystery of Christ, i.e., it cannot exist external to Christ’s mystery? What, then, is this intervening “rendering,” as though it were previously external and then made internal? If Jesus can “give something to be what it is (and only as such to be what it is), only as it is given to witness to who Jesus is,” is there a “something” outside of its witness to Jesus? If not, then how is he “giving it to be?” If it is at all, it simply is as a witness to Jesus. The language here seems unnecessarily confusing.

    Second, could you clarify what, precisely, is the problem with participation and why participation necessarily subverts Jesus’ singularity?

    Third, and perhaps most importantly, I’m concerned about your paragraph on Torah. My concern is not, of course, with the idea that Torah, Israel, prophets, church, etc., point beyond themselves to Christ, but rather your notion that they are nothing except witnesses to Christ. Since I detect a certain narrow sense of “witness” in these arguments (perhaps mistakenly – that would be another fine point for clarification), I perceive a certain instrumentalization there of God’s actions in the Old Testament that I’m really uncomfortable with, as though there is nothing constructive about Yahweh’s activities with Israel in themselves; everything is deliberately made inadequate so as to set the stage for Christ. This hints at a certain view of the OT that would portray Torah essentially as entrapment, a divinely ordained structure under which Israel is destined to fail at the expectations given it by Yahweh, for the purpose of pointing to the perfection of Christ. This comes up again in the notion of Israel “passing away,” which it certainly does not do in scripture. Then again, you say “passing away in themselves” to point to the reality of Christ, which brings back up the confusion of your language: how can something pass away in itself if it never existed in itself from the get-go, but only as a witness to Christ?

    I guess my concern is that if we believe that the God of the New Testament is the God of the Old, then what happens in the latter has to have some apocalyptic character to it as well. What Yahweh does with Israel has to count , in and of itself and in its own context, as an irruption into this world of the redeemer God. Certainly, that irruption points to and culminates in the person of Jesus Christ – who is, in fact, the incarnation of Israel (thereby further disallowing Israel’s “passing away” as such) – and is therefore incomplete by itself, but that is not to say it has no substance in and of itself, or else that would seem to deeply problematize Yahweh’s actions there.
    I continue to have concerns over what you all mean by “new creation” and “ever-anew,” but I’ll save that for another discussion.

    Friday, June 10, 2011 at 6:40 am | Permalink
  117. Do youall think that if Colonel Qaritich’s mission to destroy the “Tree of Souls” on Pandora had succeeded that the Na’vi would have been defeated or destroyed? Or, would their faith be able to find new forms as a persecuted and diasporic community? (or else as slaves to earthlings, or ‘born again believers’ on small reservations, or as mercenaries for further planetary conquest?) Augustine (prof. Grace Augustine that is, aka, Sigourney Weaver) is too wounded to resurrect (though her energy is returned to the spiritual grid), but could the transubstantiated Jake become a new/new Adam in a Quintrinty that included Mother Eywa, YHWH, Sophia, and Jesus? Jake’s incarnation may not be everything, but it is not nothing either. I would wait for the sequel before overstating how things might ultimately work out. I reckon we haven’t heard the last of the ‘RDA corporation’ either, but the Na’vi have passed the first temptation, perhaps they will pass the next two as well and then Jake and Neytiri can live together a life of Oseh Shalom, let us keep them in our prayers, obliged.

    Friday, June 10, 2011 at 8:00 am | Permalink
  118. Brad A. wrote:

    Well, if nothing else, we can all agree on Daniel’s singularity!

    Friday, June 10, 2011 at 8:41 am | Permalink
  119. Charlie Collier wrote:

    Thanks, Nate, for taking the time to flesh out your thoughts in response to so many different questions. Brad has already raised some of my own questions (esp. re: participation). As I told Halden via email, it’s helpful to know that resurrection is doing the heavy lifting in your account, not “radical concreteness” or “radical contingency.” It’s the resurrection that makes Jesus’s concreteness and contingency radical and thus singular. No objections from me on that front.

    But having reread the section you pointed to in your book on this, and now also the Flett article which clearly lies behind the repeated invocations of Hoekendijk in the Kingdom-World-Church post, I’m still not clear on why resurrection (and ascension) do not for you (or Halden, Ry, Hoekendijk, or Flett), as I think they do for Jenson and Yoder (and Hauerwas, Hütter, and Lindbeck), make possible, even necessary, a non-ideological account of culture-forming ecclesial actions/practices as internal to Jesus’ “singular historicity,” the latter of which you yourself insist we’re thrown back upon in light of the resurrection. From my angle of vision, it’s almost as if you are locating events within Jesus’ own life—baptism, the supper—as “outside” the way of cross and resurrection. Or to put the matter polemically in the hope that I can be instructed about why it’s wrong, it’s as if Jesus is not quite Lord enough of history to make my history internal to his own singular historicity, even if I do participate in his historicity (pneumatologically) through baptism and eucharist.

    Or it’s as if, however internal they might be to Jesus’ own historicity, they cannot be allowed to be culture-instantiating or gospel-embodying.

    I draw this conversation back to the question of practices, because if I read you rightly, it’s Jesus’ “independence” that leads you to disavow the “church as polis” stuff. I very much appreciate Flett’s concerns about colonialist corruptions of mission, but when he affirms the following from Martin Kähler, I have idea what he’s talking about: “propaganda occurs when those who ‘think that in bringing their particular Christianity, they are bringing Christianity itself, and thus the gospel itself’.” If I don’t think my Christianity is genuinely Christianity, I have no reason to bring it anywhere. Is Flett really suggesting that authentic mission begins with a recognition that we do not believe and/or practice “the gospel itself”? This way of stating the problem makes the gospel truly sound like a disembodied core (Jenson’s worry about Nate’s apocalypticism), which Flett disavows just a few pages earlier. The appropriate response to the problem of colonialism, it seems to me, is to affirm that “genuine Christianity” is always already inflected by the flesh of the people who have received it. That is “Christianity itself” (cf. the diverse proclamations about Jesus in the N.T.), and colonialism betrays Christianity not by projecting particularity but by neglecting, denying, lacking self-awareness about the role of reception in each and every preaching and hearing of the gospel, but even more fundamentally by betraying in its preaching and witness the particularity of Christ’s vulnerability unto death in the crucifixion.

    In affirming that “the world is half of the reconciling event,” Yoder goes at this problem much, much differently, I think. The disavowal of Constantine is Yoder’s alternative to colonialism in mission. Would Flett see Yoder’s strong advocacy for a nonviolent body politics as just another form of propaganda? And why not see Flett’s avoidance of “propaganda” as itself a form of post-war, post-Nazi Western propaganda—this word has its own “historicity”, no?

    There’s obviously lots more to say, and this post and the many comment threads have already become bewilderingly complex, so I do not expect a response. Thanks again for taking as much time as you did to respond to questions.

    Friday, June 10, 2011 at 10:04 am | Permalink
  120. dbarber wrote:

    Reading Charlie’s comment, I’m now curious what would be made of the possibility that there’s something of a liberal protestant “kernel and husk” or “essence and actualization” duality going on. Specifically, i have in mind the idea that any sort of communal expression of gospel would need to become aware that it’s not the gospel itself.

    And along these lines, I wonder, additionally, if this is not something like a Platonic, and anti-Judaic, sense that bodies will always fall short of truth.

    I’m curious if Nate and/or Halden and/or Ry have any thoughts on this … Not trying to be polemical, etc., just wondering how these issues would be addressed.

    Friday, June 10, 2011 at 10:20 am | Permalink
  121. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    Brad, just a couple of comments with regard to your concerns about the singularity of Jesus and his relationship to the Torah and Old Testament. The singularity of Jesus is not another way of saying that Israel’s history (or universal-history) “culminates” in the event of this human being. That is, God’s covenant with Israel and OT prophecy does not “witness” to Jesus by pointing toward his coming, as if God’s self-revelation in Jesus was always already internal to it; nor does it act or function as a mere “instrument” in service or preparing the way for Jesus. In fact, I think just the reverse is the case: it is the event of Jesus’s coming that points us backward to God’s promises to Israel. And as Halden has mentioned, Roy Harrisville’s Fracture is really helpful here. He argues that the relationship between cross and scripture is more than dialectic, it is diastatic–there is, in other words, a deep fracture in the language and very conceptuality of the early Christian community that is effected by the event of the cross. As Harrisville puts it, “The fulfillment [of scripture] does not automatically follow from the promise; for the promise cannot be what it is, cannot emerge as promise, without first being shattered, or fractured” (272). The coming of Jesus, then, is not one step (not even the final, culminating step) in a process or narrative history of salvation. Jesus and Christianity do not and cannot “supersede” Torah and Judaism precisely because the event of Jesus cannot be located or set alongside of a chronological-historical continuum (as salvation-history accounts try to do). The God of Jesus Christ is indeed the same God who delivered Israel from Egypt, but this is only ‘intelligible’ eschatologically, viz., in light of the resurrection. For it is from Christ that we read the Old Testament precisely because it is through Christ that Israel and the world are included in the life of God. To speak of Jesus’s singularity, then, is not to negate God’s relationship to Israel–it is rather a way of positively speaking of Israel’s and, indeed, the world’s inclusion into the historicity of Jesus Christ.

    Friday, June 10, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Permalink
  122. Charlie Collier wrote:


    The best account of “revolutionary continuity” in McCabe is probably in “Law, Love and Language,” 24ff.

    Friday, June 10, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Permalink
  123. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    Also, I would point people to Peter Kline’s exposition of Jenson’s theology of the church in his excellent article “Participation in God and the Nature of Christian Community: Robert Jenson and Eberhard Jüngel” in the International Journal of Systematic Theology 2010. It highlights all of this stuff very well.

    Friday, June 10, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Permalink
  124. Nate Kerr wrote:


    I’m not sure how the “kernal and husk” issue would be at stake necessarily, especially as I understand the kernal and husk issue as relating particularly to the question of Jesus of Nazareth, the historical Jesus, and the extent to which the externalities of such a history as told in the gospels — miraculous works, virgin birth, the bodily resurrection — are “essential” to the core idea of the gospel (such as, e.g., “love”) or are historical vehicles of expression that are to be discarded. That is to say, the kernel-husk issue is within the recent history of theology an issue as to how it is that Jesus Christ is an embodiment of the kingdom of God, and of extracting the “ideal” of that kingdom from out of his historical particularity. So, in relation to the way in which the kernal-husk issue gets worked out in liberal Protestantism in relation to Jesus’ historical person, I deny the distinction. There is no “kernal” to the gospel in terms of some Kingdom ideal that is being embodied in Jesus life or expressed in the church’s witness. There is only Jesus of Nazareth crucified and risen, who in his very person, his very lived historicity, is the very kingdom of God itself. He is the gospel. So, no, there is no “idea” of the kingdom apart from the lived and living history of Jesus of Nazareth.

    Now, it is also not being denied on my part that the reality of the church, the reality of a people who gather as a living witness to Jesus Christ and to the truth of the kingdom’s presence in him. This is why it is wrong to say that I don’t affirm the church as Christ’s body. What I do say, however, is that attending to Jesus of Nazareth as the gospel of God in his singularity does not lead us to affirm that given with Jesus is a church that is identifiable with a single cultural-linguistic form. And so I deny that we are to identify the “body of Christ” with any notion of the body as a cultural-linguistic form that is in the first instance to be sociologically discerned. The body that is given with the gospel is the body that happens by way of movement into the event of Christ’s cross and resurrection. Of course, I’ve yet to offer an account of that body in my writing. But just because I have not done so does not mean that I do not have such an account.

    Okay, I realize this is more than what you asked for, but let me just get back the kernel-husk question. The reason why this sounds like a kernel-husk issue is because the position of people like Jenson’s is that the reality church is actually the body of Christ in toto in such a way as to render the church the objective presence of the gospel now in time. That then renders a particular cultural-linguistic form constitutive of the gospel itself. And that is what I reject. It would be a kernel-husk issue only if we were to identify the church with Jesus in such a way as to say that the church is the gospel of the kingdom of God. And that is what I reject. The church is a witness to the kingdom of God that is the living person Jesus of Nazareth who is the resurrected crucified one. There is nothing “in” the church that is to be identifiable as the gospel and the church does not have the gospel in possessione, as some kind of ideal or way of living, etc. If it did, it would be necessary to strip away at the husk to get to the kernel.

    (And yes, I’m hinting at the fact that it is precisely Jenson, Hauerwas, Lindbeck and others who are more clearly in line with liberal Protestantism and its modes of cultural Christianity.)

    Friday, June 10, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Permalink
  125. CCP wrote:

    Jenson’s view of the visible church as the mystical body surely has weighty patristic precedence. Ignatius of Antioch (an early father, d. 107), and Augustine’s interpretation of John 21 (a late work, circa 418):

    “Where the bishop is, there is the community, even as where Christ is there is the Catholic Church.” -St. Ignatius of Antioch

    “Let us rejoice and give thanks that we have become not only Christians, but Christ. Do you understand, brothers, the grace of Christ our Head? Wonder at it, rejoice: we have become Christ. For if He is the Head, we are the members; He and we form the whole man . . . the fullness of Christ, therefore; the head and the members. What is the head and the members? Christ and the Church.” – St. Augustine, Tractates on John’s Gospel 21.8

    Ignatius closely associates the Bishop and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and Augustine’s reference to “thanksgiving” in his commentary on John is similarly linked to the sacrament of the Eucharist.

    Those who push against this visible identity of Christ and the Church that Jenson asserts must also push against the whole way in which the Christian faith was passed on in its earliest apostolic mission (an embodied mission of the Holy Spirit).

    Certainly elements of the truth are to be found outside of the church, and the Holy Spirit is active in the world, but the operations of the Holy Spirit are trinitarian, and thus “from the Father and the Son.” This is the heart of mission, in the Father’s love for humanity the Son becomes flesh in order that humanity might partake of a new nature in Christ. And just as Christ is both fully human (visible, bodily), as well as fully divine (invisible, mystical), so is the church, as the Body of Christ, also visible and mystical.

    To say that Christ is active outside the Church, to assert his “independence,” is to say that the ekklesia that he instituted is not really part of him. To say that Christ has other or multiple forms of embodiment is not only to misrepresent Christ’s institution (“this *is* my body”) but it is to suggest a grotesque Christ, with multiple bodies, rather than the true Christ, with one body, and many parts.

    Saturday, June 11, 2011 at 11:10 am | Permalink
  126. Nate Kerr wrote:


    Once again, you are a bit overreaching in summation, attributing positions that aren’t being taken on the basis of things that are not being said. The issue here is not whether Christ is present on earth without his church, nor is the issue of Christ having multiple bodies. The issue is what kind of body the Church is, and how that church is visible in the world as Christ’s body. Christ “is not” without the church as his earthly-historical presence in the world. But that church as such is not Christ. In other words, I genuinely affirm that where Jesus Christ is there is the catholic church. I reject any reversal of that formulation. So the question really must be a priority of Christology. We must discern theologically the nature of Christ’s presence and then discern theologically the nature of the church’s true visibility of which that presence is constitutive. But we cannot define and discern that presence ecclesiastically. The church is not constitutive of Christ’s presence as such. And that is the crux of the issue, it seems to me.

    Saturday, June 11, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Permalink
  127. CCP wrote:

    Yes, I understand your position (which seems to over-reach in no way), and look forward to hearing more about the visibility of Christ’s body from you…esp. with respect to the way the visibility of bishops and sacraments were seen to be internal to Christ’s bodily presence in the early church.

    Saturday, June 11, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Permalink
  128. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    What would it even mean to say that bishops are internal to Christ’s bodily presence?

    Saturday, June 11, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Permalink
  129. CCP wrote:

    In the same way that all sacramental action integrates humanity into Christ’s body, and since only Christ himself can do this, I say this is internal to Christ’s presence. St. Ignatius of Antioch also calls the bishop a “typos tou Patros”: he is like the living image of God the Father.

    This is all fairly typical of patristic thinking about the bishop. All I mean by “internal” is to stress the participatory nature of humanity being conformed to the divine nature. I only highlighted this because it’s crucial to St. Ignatius who I cited above.

    Here’s the comment I responded to: “For Jenson the church/sacraments are the sole and only form of embodiment that Christ has. That is why any talk of Christ’s independent action outside the church is impossible for him…” So my question is, What would it even mean to say that the “church/sacraments” were not the only embodiment of Christ?

    I don’t think the early church fathers would know what that meant.

    Saturday, June 11, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Permalink
  130. Nate Kerr wrote:


    I didn’t mean to come off as snarky in that last comment. I just don’t think it is right to insist that since neither I nor Ry nor Halden have yet to articulate fully our position on the nature of the church as the body of Christ that such an account is not forthcoming and is not consistent with Scripture and the nature of Christ’s reality. Now, to be honest, you should not expect me to necessarily articulate the nature of that body as participatory in Christ in precisely the way certain of the Church Fathers did (and I am leary of lumping Ignatius and Augustine together in this way — such broad appeals to the “Church Fathers” always seem like a trump card to me). That I will seek to articulate an account of the church as Christ’s body that is consistent with the New Testament witness to the reality of Christ’s person and crucified and resurrected, and that at once both resonates with certain trajectories of early Christian tradition and runs against its grain at others, you should expect of me.

    At any rate, I appreciate you taking me seriously and taking the time to understanding and work through my position on its own terms. I am grateful.

    Saturday, June 11, 2011 at 6:26 pm | Permalink
  131. CCP wrote:

    Likewise! Hopefully these exchanges help make us all better theologians.

    Saturday, June 11, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Permalink
  132. Nate Kerr wrote:

    Amen to that. And all the more faithful for that.

    Saturday, June 11, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Permalink
  133. Steven wrote:

    Insofar as such enthusiasm for reclaiming rootedness in a particular place is a critical response to a sort of cosmopolitanism that attempts to be at home everywhere at once (and hence nowhere in particular), then it may be a very important recovery for the church–a recovery of the relevance of the Incarnation for mission. We live in a day when the mission is understand primarily in terms of short-term trips that often amount to a form of charitable tourism. American churches are drastically cutting support to long-term cross-cultural missionaries and, at the same time, neglecting their own backyard to fund their next exciting short-term trip or project. In such a time, a missionary approach to place that is at once committed to and critical of the place a congregation inhabits may be an important form of faithfulness.

    Tuesday, June 28, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

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