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.

Mapping the 7 Deadly Sins in America

Keeping on the theme of sin after yesterday’s  The 7 Deadly Sins and All Their Combinations, here’s an infographic from Wired on American Vice: Mapping the 7 Deadly Sins. They actually provide seven different maps showing how each of the sins is distributed throughout America based on specific measures. For example, Greed is calculated based on average income compared with number of people living below the poverty line. The map below is an aggregate of the first six sins, because they think that’s a good picture of Pride.

Based on this, pretty much every major city on the west coast is in trouble except Portland. Yet another reason Portland is such a great city. And, most interestingly, it looks like the largest proportion of sinners in America reside in the Bible Belt. Hmmmm.

Of course, the accuracy of their calculations has to be called into question by the saint-like representation of Nevada. Seriously? Not even a little blemish right around Las Vegas? And, the decision to make Pride an aggregate category instead of giving it its own measure surely protected Texas from coming off worse than it did. Pride alone would have catapulted Texas into the lead of the 7 Deadly Sins Sweepstakes.

The 7 Deadly Sins and all their combinations

Here’s a great chart of the seven deadly sins and all of their various combinations. I particularly liked the idea that gluttony + greed = “last donut” and glutton + sloth = “fat men in speedos.” Actually, as I look a little closer, most of my favorite ones involve gluttony. What does that say about me?

HT

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.

Science fiction Saturday

I’ve come across several lists lately about science fiction, so I thought it would be fun just to bundle them all together. Here you go:

More on Influential Figures in American Religious History

Last week, Joe Carter posted his thoughts on The 50 Most Influential Religious Figures in American History. He intentionally limited that list to people who were born in America or who spent most of their lives working in America. As many people pointed out, though, many of the most influential religious figures in American history simply don’t fit those parameters. So, this week he follows up with The 25 Most Influential Foreign-Born Religious Figures in American History. (I’m not sure if the list is half as long because he couldn’t think of as many, or because he ran out of time.) As with our discussion last week, I’d curious to know:

  • Is there anyone you think is missing from the list?
  • Who do you think should top the list as the most influential person?

I’d give my own choices on these, but my daughter’s after me to play a game with her. And, that sounds like a better use of my time right now. I’ll try to give some comments later.

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?

N.T. Wright on the worldwide hunger for worship

Here’s an interesting video from N.T. Wright on the tremendous hunger that exists in the world for worship and what we can do about it. Specifically, he calls on us to work on two things:

  1. More regular worship. As he says, “frankly, one day a week ain’t good enough.” We need to educate people on individual and family worship so that worship can become a regular part of their daily lives.
  2. More emphasis on liturgy. Wright argues that liturgy can be very helpful in educating people for worship, especially when they are just learning how to do it. He rightly points out that the “imperative to be spontaneous” can be a terrible burden, constraining people from engaging in individual and family worship.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiWV8eIbUGw&feature=player_embedded

HT

Stephen Colbert “University” and the rise of for-profit higher education

Stephen Colbert has a great (as usual) piece on for-profit higher education. According to Colbert,

The average college graduate earns twice as much as a person with only a high school degree, which in this current job market works out to…zero dollars.

And, of course, non-profit colleges don’t know anything about making money. So, we need to turn to for-profit institutions. Sure, they may use deceptive advertising and manipulative recruiting practices, but they’re profitable. And, students at online schools can stay in bed and attend classes looking like level 55 death knights. Bonus.

So, Colbert is going to open his own for-profit university, which is “open to anybody with an interent connection and a letter of recommendation from Benjamin Franklin or two letters from Ulysses S. Grant.” He proudly states that Stephen Colbert University is where “we put the U in ‘we make money off you.’”

He goes on to interview Andrew Hacker about his book Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids—and What We Can Do About It, who apparently thinks that college is good for teaching kids how to become good “middle class” citizens and to reason with the lower class people when they rise up and attack them with pitchforks.

(By the way, does anyone know if you can embed videos from Comedy Central in a WordPress.com blog?)

Donald G. Bloesch (1928-2010)

Donald Bloesch, professor emeritus at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary and a longtime conservative voice for renewal in the United Church of Christ, passed away on Tuesday. Bloesch had been influential evangelical voice for over 40 years through a wide range of writings, but particular his Essentials of Evangelical Theology and Christian Foundations series.

I first encountered Bloesch during my seminary years, and he quickly became one of my favorite evangelical theologians. I appreciated his careful thinking, his critical engagement with a wide range of biblical scholars and theologians, and his evangelical appropriation of Karl Barth’s theology. In many ways, he modeled how a committed evangelical can and should engage a broad range of theological voices. I’m sure that I’m not alone in saying that his contributions have been greatly appreciated and his voice will be missed.