abba, absolute, adventure, baptism, basileia, catherine keller, christ, christian, Christianity, commonwealth, dissolute, gandhi, god, gospel, incarnation, infinite, intimacy, jesus, jesus christ, jewish, johannine, john, John Cobb, king, kingdom, logos, Love, martin luther king, messiah, messianic, messianic age, metaphysical, mlk, on the mystery, pontius, pontius pilot, process theology, Religion, resolute, revalation, risk, romero, son of god, wisdom
I just finished reading On the Mystery by Catherine Keller. It’s a fantastic book, and I’d highly recommend it. In then vein of Process Theology, Keller explores the tension between the perspectives of the absolute (frequently fundamentalist, conservative evangelicals) and the dissolute (frequently liberal, progressive agnostics). She shines a light on the problems within each interpretation and attempts to offer “a third way,” as she calls it. Not absolute or dissolute, but resolute. Unlike the absolute and the dissolute, the way of the resolute opens doors rather than closes them. I found her reflections on scripture and other sacred stories to be refreshing and beautiful. Here are a couple quotes from the book which stood out to me.
It is not Jesus’ death that transforms but his life–a love-life that had the power to persist beyond death, as the stories of the resurrection mysteriously suggest. Granted, that mystery has been almost ruined by dogmatic “I believes.” But for those with ears to hear afresh–the purpose of a Christian life is not whatever sacrifices it entails. That purpose is a way, a life, and a truth. It will entail sacrifices of various kinds, and sometimes, in the face of Pontius power, terrifying ones. But they are never the purpose. They are the risk. No more than Jesus did Gandhi, King or Romero want or seek to die. Even when they could predict their imminent death, as each seems to have done, they were not choosing to die, but to persist in love. Love “risks the adventure.”
In order to avoid the misunderstanding to which “kingdom [of God]” can now give rise, I often stay with the original Greek term. The basileia is not a political programme. But neither does it leave politics alone–especially when a contemporary empire draws upon Christ for legitimation. “The best English translation,” argues John Cobb, “may be ‘commonwealth.’ This term, besides not emphasizing the controlling power of a ruler, suggests that the realm may be organized for the common good.” The “commonwealth of God” resists every human superpower. Jesus meant it “to be a world in which God’s will is done, God’s purposes are fulfilled.” He saw his work and that of his community as “foreshadowing” that world–by beginning to actualize it here and now.
Within the Christian narrative, the incarnation in Jesus of that divine Logos, that world-creative Wisdom, is portrayed as a distinctive event. Indeed, it may be considered unique in this strong sense: only this person, as far as we know, has so realized the divine lure as to become “at one” with it. That intimate union or “sonship” is not a metaphysical given but an event of becoming, itself symbolized by Jesus’ baptism. But does this make the incarnation an exclusive revalation of God in the final or competitive sense usually meant by identifying Jesus as the “only Son of God”? To the contrary: the whole point of the unique incarnation is to open up a new intimacy with the infinite. The one Gospel that features the incarnation, the “becoming flesh,” signifies this open process powerfully: “to all who received him,” writes John, “he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:13). In other words, to embrace this logos is to become a son or a daughter of God. The standard notion that only Jesus is the son of God directly defies the same Johannine text!
When we say that Jesus is the Christ, we mean that from our point of view the Jewish expectation of a Messiah was in a certain sense realized. If it was fulfilled in the person of Jesus–it is because he resolutely realized the possibilities tendered him by what he called abba. We might say that the initial aim for him moment to moment was to realize the messianic age, or the basileia, in the midst of his own limited circumstances. But this is precisely not to say that the messianic process was completed or exhausted. On the contrary: the possibility of its actualization in our own limited context was given a supportive communal shape and therefore a new imperative.