2005-03-14

Who brings the Kingdom, part II

This is a follow up from "Who brings the Kingdom", so if you want to really understand what is going on, please read it first (posted March 2005). My professor replied with the following:

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Nathan,
Thanks for taking the time to share with me your theological outlook. Although I do not entirely share your rather pessimistic historical theological anthropology, your interpretation of points in my classroom lecture and remarks attribute a perspective to me that suggests revelatory religious language is devoid of meaning---"we cannot expect God to intervene."

Most assuredly, we would do well to sit down together and discuss how we pray, manifest a practical commitment to God, do theology and conceive God's self-disclosure in history. Lamentably, sin, evil and suffering find expression in history more deeply than the 20th century you name.

That you attribute sin, evil and suffering to God in your theology raises questions than clarity of position. If addressing the wounds of injustice and brokenness in our shared creation and finding more just patterns of life in the very modern world you describe, is not a more exact reflection of discipleship than passive waiting for divine intervention, then I am afraid Hebrew-Christian tradition speaks to me of God in history differently.

I will cast my theological lot here with the One who showed us that God does not give up on humanity, but goes to the Cross for the sake of our lives and to advance the cause of a God of life who promises to renew history and people. Before you stumble down the street of misinterpretation any further, lets find time to talk about the new narrative offered in history to us by the rejected, disdained, falsely accussed, executed and ascended One who asks us to live compassionately and vulnerably---yes in this world of sin, suffering and evil---for God's reign.

On the matter of the "poor you will always have with you," exegetical work will yield a very different theological outlook from the one you suggest here---that too requires a wonderful sit down converdation in the context of our shared Christian community. By the way, your vision for a conversation across theological camps has a great deal of promise and this I believe would issue forth in a fruitful process of faith maturation.

Have a blessed break, and I look forward to sitting down with you to talk in person.

Paz, Dr. Recinos

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My reply was as follows:

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Dr. Recinos,

Thanks for the beautiful reply! It was quite refreshing!

I am sorry if I was unclear about my concept of divine causality in the evil and suffering in the world. I do not mean to attribute the evil and suffering in the world to any active choice or "perfect will" of God. I do not think that He causes or desires suffering in any active way. I think that he has allowed freedom in His creation from the very bottom (in the free and non-determined movements of quarks and electrons), to the very top (in the free and non-coerced choices of both humans and spiritual powers). This, at least in my view, is so that God may share His love and abundance with free creatures, without forcing anyone (or anything) to accept Him, for love is not love if it is not free. As such, I think creation is a tremendous risk for both God and for us... a world filled with tremendous potential and tremendous consequences.

As a kind of theological shorthand, I often speak of God's will in three ways:

1. God's perfect will: for all creatures to be in harmony, shalom, love, and abundance, in Him, and with each other.

2. God's permissive will: allows free creatures to deny His love and abundance, and fall into sin, injustice, disharmony, and suffering.

3. God's redemptive will: acts in and through the suffering world, ultimately by becoming one of us and one with us in suffering and injustice, in which God-incarnate was crucified for us. But, as an eternal sign of how death is redeemed and turned into life, Christ defeats death and ascends to the Father, to pour out His resurrection power into those who follow Him by means of the Holy Spirit.

As such, Christ speads His Kingdom right now, right here through His Spirit enabled Body: the Church. But the success of the Church in bringing the Kingdom of Light will cause the final confrontation with the kingdom of darkness. Just as God intervenes in personal death by bringing resurrection and decisively destroying death, so also God will intervene in our final struggle to bring the Kingdom and decisively destroy evil.

Not only that, but I do not think there is ANY passivity or yeilding to the principalities or powers of injustice in our Age, because that will only allow darkness to continue, and cause the final manifestation of the Kingdom to tarry. In my view, the coming of the final conflict and the coming of Christ and His Kingdom is ONLY brought about by God's people struggling against evil for the liberation of the world. We do not get to the Kingdom by passivity in any way, nor by hiding in a bunker... but I also do not believe that the Kingdom will come without a cataclysmic, cosmic struggle against the forces of darkness in which God will bring the final victory for His people, for His creation, over evil.

Is this pessimistic? Yes, in that it expects suffering and struggle. No, in that it expects that the Kingdom WILL make significant advances over evil in this Age. No, in that it expects that God will crown our efforts with a final victory at the eschaton when He brings His Kingdom in fullness.

I really hope and believe this is a possibility to overcome the impasse between realized and apocalyptic eschatology... and speaking as a "post-evangelical" I actually hope and believe that there is a way to Christian unity beyond false dichotomies that have developed between liberals and conservatives, protestants and catholics, evangelicals and liberationists. I believe there is a way to read Scripture that is largely "both-and" instead of "either-or". I further believe that how I see eschatology allows me to stand side by side with both those who struggle for liberation and those who expect the immenant return of Christ.

I have thought about what my tag-line for eschatology might be, and I think this might express it:

Without God's intervention, we cannot build the Kingdom... But without our action, God will not bring the Kingdom.
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This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.