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“Through a Glass Darkly” by Traci Brimhall

You counted days by their cold silences.
…………At night, wolves and men with bleeding hands

colonized your dreams. The last time I visited,
…………you said you trapped a dead woman in your room

who told you to starve yourself to make room for God,
…………so I let them give your body enough electricity

to calm it. Don’t be afraid. The future is not disguised
…………as sleep. It is a tango. It is a waterfall between

two countries, the river that tried to drown you.
…………It is a city where men speak a language

you can fake if you must. It’s the hands of children
…………thieving your empty pockets. It’s bicycles

with bells ringing through the streets at midnight.
…………Come up from the basement. It’s not over.

Before the sun rises, moonlight on the trees.
…………Before they tear the asylum down, joy.

(You can see the original post and listen to the author read her poem here.)

Eccentric Existence 12 (the Spirit)

[We’re continuing our series on David Kelsey’s Eccentric Existence: A Theological Anthropology.]

With chapter 12, Kelsey is ready to move on the second part of his 3-part approach to theological anthropology. As we discussed a while back, Kelsey takes an intentionally Trinitarian approach to theological anthropology: “It is the Father who creates through the Son in the power of the Spirit; it is the Spirit, sent by the Father with the Son, who draws creatures to eschatological consummation; it is the Son, sent by the Father in the power of the Spirit, who reconciles creatures” (122). Having completed his reflections on God relating to create as Father, he is now ready to move into his discussion of God relating to draw his creatures to eschatological consummation as Spirit.

And, since Kelsey sees each of these three perspectives as different narratives with their own narrative logic, each also serves as a legitimate starting point for a theological anthropology. They are all “equi-primordial” (449). In other words, for Kelsey, you basically have to start the anthropological enterprise over again every time you move from one narrative to another. Having recounted the basic shape of a theological anthropology told from the perspective of creation, Kelsey now wants to narrate a theological anthropology from the perspective of eschatology. Thus, “part 2 promotes an analogous set of anthropological proposals that are held accountable to canonical Christian Holy Scripture’s narrative of God relating to all that is not God to draw it to eschatological consummation.” And, for Kelsey, this means that particular attention must be paid to the role of the Holy Spirit in theological anthropology.

Kelsey argues that a primary function of the Spirit in the NT is to draw humans to eschatological consummation and that this “is an aspect of creatures’ most embracing and most necessary context” (443). As part of humanity’s ultimate context, human persons simply cannot be understood adequately apart form an understanding of the Spirit in his relation to human beings and their destiny. This in itself is notable in Kelsey’s theological anthropology.  Many anthropological projects make no effort to reflect on the importance of pneumatology for anthropology. And, Kelsey does more than any other recent theological anthropology that I am aware of to probe what this might actually mean for the shape and content of a truly Christian theological anthropology. Thus, although Kelsey was clear at the very beginning that theological anthropology must be christocentric, it is also quite evident that he thinks this christocentric shape requires a strongly pneumatological emphasis as well. (Indeed, Kelsey’s work serves as a great example of the fact that a truly christocentric theology will always also be both trinitarian and pneumatological. Done well, there is no real tension between these.)

As we’ve noted several times in our discussion of this book, Kelsey is fond of complexity. At least, he’s very comfortable with it, and he feels no need to reduce the complexity by offering systematic ways of organizing complex data. And, this is no exception. So, surveying the NT data, Kelsey concludes that there is no simple way of categorizing the diverse ways in which the Spirit relates to human beings.

New Testament texts, both by the structure of their narratives and by the metaphors they employ, characterize the Spirit’s way of relating to human persons in a wide and not entirely consistent variety of ways. However, a certain bipolar pattern is consistent. The Spirit is regularly characterized both as persons’ environing context always already there and enveloping them, and as intimately interior to them. (444)

This bipolar pattern will guide much of Kesley’s reflections. He reflects on the many ways in which the Spirit serves as one who is always-already shaping our proximate contexts while at the same time shaping us as human persons in the most intimate ways. Thus, unlike other anthropologians who take the time to reflect on the significance of pneumatology for anthropology, Kelsey does not do so by reflecting exclusively on how the Spirit affects the “inner” person. Indeed, Kelsey rejects any such simple dichotomy between inner and outer.

Unsurprisingly, Kelsey argues throughout that this pneumatological approach requires us to see both the “already” and the “not yet” of human being. Although the Spirit is already with us as both proximate and ultimate context, the fact that the Spirit is the one drawing us toward eschatological consummation means that there must always be some element of futurity in the Spirit’s relation to us.

Finally, the fact that the Spirit comes as both gift and promise means that we can rule out any idea that the human person alone has the responsibility to bring about the eschatological consummation through his or her own efforts.

The adventus character of eschatological blessing rules out use of metaphors of human creaturely action to build or co-create the eschatological kingdom of God. It also rules out use of metaphors of a cosmic physical or spiritual evolution into the eschatological kingdom. (453)

We certainly have a role to play in our own development, but the gift-character of the Spirit and the already/not yet nature of eschatological consummation means that we must anticipate the future as gift and promise. Grace is not an addendum to nature, but has been there from the very beginning.

Miroslav Volf on the eschatological significance of human work

I was recently re-reading portions of Miroslav Volf’s Work in the Spirit: Toward a Theology of Work, and I was struck again with his vision for relating human work in creation with the eschatological new creation. Volf devotes considerable attention to rejecting the idea that there will be an eventual “annihilation” of this world following by an entirely new creation. Instead, he contends that a more faithful interpretation of the biblical narrative would be to affirm that this present creation will be renewed and transformed in the eschaton. Thus, the new creation flows from the current creation, rather than being entirely discontinuous with it.

One of his concerns with the annihilation/new creation framework is that it threatens to rob human work of its intrinsic significance. On that framework, any work that we perform with respect to this creation has only an instrumental value insofar as it improves me as an individual or the believing community as a whole. The effect on creation itself has no lasting significance.

In a renewal/transformation framework, though, he contends that we can understand human work has having eschatological significance in that it participates in the transformatio mundi.

The picture changes radically with the assumption that the world will end not in apocalyptic destruction but in eschatological transformation. Then the results of the cumulative work of human beings have intrinsic value and gain ultimate significance, for they are related to the eschatological new creation, not only indirectly through the faith and service they enable or sanctification they further, but also directly: the noble products of human ingenuity….will form the ‘building materials’ from which (after they are transfigured) ‘the glorified world’ will be made. (91)

Thus, human work has eschatological significance even beyond its instrumental effect on the person performing the work. Indeed, Volf argues that this gives us grounds for affirming that even the work of non-believers might transformatively carried over into the new creation. Any “noble result” of human endeavor may be judged by God as having value for new creation.

Volf wants to be careful, though, to make sure that we don’t begin to think that we are actually the ones who bring the new creation into being. For Volf, new creation is clearly a work of God, but in a way that retains the significance of human work.

Through the Spirit, God is already working in history, using human actions to create provisional states of affairs that anticipate the new creation in a real way. These historical anticipations are, however, as far from the consummation of the new creation as earth is from heaven. The consummation is a work of God alone. But since this solitary divine work does not obliterate but transforms the historical anticipations…one can say, without being involved in a contradiction, that human work is an aspect of active anticipation of the exclusively divine transformatio mundi. (100)

Drawing largely on the resources of eschatology and pneumatology, Volf presents a compelling vision for the significance of human work and how it contributes to the transformatio mundi, while retaining a clear sense of the divine prerogative in new creation.

To that extent, it reminded me of the semi-apocryphal quote attributed to Martin Luther (at least I can’t find where he said it): “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” Given Volf’s framework, this becomes more than rhetorical flourish. Planting an apple tree just might have eschatological significance in its own right. Johnny Appleseed would be so proud.

Flotsam and jetsam (8/28)

Some good links for your Saturday reading pleasure:

  • Sharon Baker explains why she thinks we need to seriously rethink our understanding of hell.
  • Carl Trueman wraps up his reflections on Luther’s writings against the Jews by reflecting on what we can learn from all of this today.
  • Peter Leithart discusses the shame/guilt dichotomy and summarizes Douglas Cairns’ argument that the classical external/internal framework usually used to understand shame and guilt simply does not hold up to scrutiny – unless you understand it as a political move to make the private spirituality of the Enlightenment look superior.
  • Jonathan links to some free book giveaways. You can pick up books on biblical theology, leadership, and apologetics.
  • Boyd Morrison has some good thoughts on the decision of whether to self-publish.
  • Steve Holmes discusses the New Perspective, arguing that the criticism that the Protestant tradition has prioritized justification over union with Christ is wrong. Instead, he suggests that union with Christ has been central (at least to Reformed theology) from the very beginning.
  • Fred Sanders has an outstanding reflection on the passing of Donald Bloesch. This is a must read if you want to understand who Bloesch was and why he’s important.
  • And,  if you’re a Star Trek TNG fan, you should check out this casting memo discussing actors originally considered for key roles. Wesley Snipes as Geordi? What, is there a terrorist on the Enterprise somewhere?

Flotsam and jetsam (8/19)

Flotsam and jetsam (7/30)

Here are some “helpful” (i.e. competely random) links for your Friday morning enjoyment.

Flotsam and jetsam (7/23)

Flotsam and jetsam (6/20)

Many thanks to Brian LePort for handling these posts while I was at the Acton conference. I have returned and will be posting some more reflections on Acton over the next day or so. But, for now, here are some interesting links.

  • Peter Leithart has a very helpful post on whether we should continue to use the label “Arian” despite recent historical studies suggesting that Athanasius’ opponents were far too diverse to be covered by a single label like this.
  • There’s been a lot of discussion lately about Ron Hendel’s decision to relinquish his SBL membership over concerns that the society has changed its position on the relationship between faith and biblical studies, and that it has done so for largely financial reasons (i.e. they’re trying to recruit more evangelical and fundamentalist scholars). John Hobbins, Mike Bird, and Jim West have all offered comments.
  • Jim West asks if someone can be a committed Christian and a practicing homosexual. In the process, he presses on the popular notion of what it means to be a “committed” Christian and how this relates to ongoing sinful practices in general.
  • Diglogtting reviews Don Schweitzer’s Contemporary Christologies. It sounds like a good, brief resource for familiarizing yourself with a variety of recent less-traditional approaches to Christology. The apparent lack of material dealing with more traditional Christologies, though, belies the back-cover claim that the book deals with the “chief approaches” in Christology since WWII.
  • CT has posted its June 2010 interview with Al Erisman, who contends that “we need to think about ministry in the digital culture the way missionaries think about the culture of the people they serve”. They’ve also posted the responses by Wha-Chul Son, Haron Wachira, Nigel Cameron, and Juan Rogers. If you’re wanting to understand some of the pros and cons involved in using technology in ministry, this would be a good conversation to follow.
  • With the growing use of the rosary in popular culture, Alan Creech offers a helpful primary on the rosary.
  • Stuart discusses some recent claims that fundamentalist Christians are using the BP oil spill to support their eschatology. Joel Watts offers some thoughts as well.
  • C. Michael Patton offers some thoughts on his two days as an atheist. His story raises some interesting questions about the nature of faith, doubt, and disbelief.
  • And, apparently if you jump onto a moving semi on a dare, you should have some plan for getting down.

Flotsam and jetsam (6/5)

Beale on the “Adams” of the biblical narrative

Many thanks to Dane Ortlund at Strawberry-Rhubarb Theology for posting this excerpt from G. K. Beale on the adamic flow of the biblical narratives:

The first Adam should have obeyed and subdued the entire earth, but he did not.

After the flood, Noah was commissioned to subdue the earth, but he had his own ‘fall’ in a garden-like environment, also in connection with the image of nakedness.

Subsequently, God creates a corporate Adam, Israel, who was to be obedient to God in the promised land, which the OT refers to repeatedly as ‘like the garden of Eden.’ They were to go out from the promised land and subdue the rest of the earth. Appropriately, Israel was called by Adamic names, like ‘Son of Adam (Man)’ and ‘Son of God.’ Israel had her ‘fall’ at the golden calf episode, the effects of which were devastating for the nation’s destiny. Instead of subduing the earth, she was subdued by it.

Lastly, God raises up another individual Adamic figure, Jesus Christ, who finally does what Adam should have done, and so he inaugurates a new creation which will not be corrupted but find its culmination in a new heavens and earth. And his names ‘Son of God’ and ‘Son of Man’ also allude to him, not only as the Last Adam, but also as true Israel.

G. K. Beale, ‘The Eschatological Conception of New Testament Theology,’ in The Reader Must Understand: Eschatology in Bible and Theology (IVP 1997)