Renewing Theology: Stunning Chapter

Renewing Theology: Stunning Chapter April 22, 2019

It’s a short book and chapter three is not a long chapter but it may prove to be one of the most enduring chapters one can read.

It’s flat-out that significant, or provocative — it depends where you stand.

Buy the book just to read this chapter over and over.

Miroslav Volf and Matthew Croasmun, in For the Life of the World, contend for the following major ideas when it comes to what theology is or what it ought to be doing today:

The heart of our proposal concerns the purpose of theology. It is to discern, articulate, and commend visions of and paths to flourishing life in light of the self-revelation of God in the life, death, resurrection, exaltation, and coming in glory of Jesus Christ, with this entire story, its lows and its highs, bearing witness to a truly flourishing life.

They recognize that how one articulates the flourishing life is diverse in church history and in the Bible itself. They are not seeking the one language that says it all. But here is a bold and powerful claim:

The subject matter of theology will depend on the basic character of flourishing life.

Until we comprehend what God’s design is we can’t know God or God’s redemptive work in Christ as we ought. Therefore, articulating the flourishing life shapes theology itself.

Which means theology is not first about God or first about redemption! It’s about what God wants to do through that redemption.

First, though we are theologians for God’s sake, Christian theology shouldn’t be mainly about God because the mission of God isn’t mainly about God—neither about God apart from the world (theologia in the patristic sense) nor about God in God’s relation to the world (oikonomia in the patristic sense).

Second, Christian theology shouldn’t be primarily about the redeeming relation of God to the world, whether we mean by redemption forgiveness of sins or liberation from suffering and oppression, or both together. This is decidedly not to say that redemption isn’t an indispensable and central theological theme.

Notice what they are saying: theology is not first about God or about redemption. What is God’s redemptive work in Christ about: the flourishing life. Yes, God. Yes, redemption. But why? Flourishing.

The creation of the world is the beginning of God’s rule over the realm consisting in everything that is not God: the consummation of the world is the fullness of God’s rule.

They turn to Jesus and the kingdom of God.

The most basic and the most consequential conviction about the kingdom of God is the obvious one: it is neither kingdom alone (a world apart from God) nor God alone (God without the world), but the two together. The kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed and enacted is a particular kind of dynamic relation between God and the world: it is “the world-with-God” and “God-with-the world.”

Human beings and the world come to fulfillment when they become in actuality what they have always been in intention: when God rules the world in such a way that God and the world are “at home” with each other— more precisely, when God comes to dwell in the world and when the world has become and experiences itself as being God’s home.

As the identity, proclamation, and practice of Jesus along with the images of the primal garden and the eschatological city suggest, God’s goal for the world and for humanity is not God. God’s goal for the world is the world—though not a secular world apart from God but the world with God as a residing “owner” rather than absentee “landlord,” the world having come truly into its own and flourishing by having become God’s home.

Yes, for sure, God is at the core.

To imagine flourishing life without God is to embrace false immanence, an impossible God-less creation; to affirm God without relating God to flourishing life is to embrace false transcendence, an impossible God of love who is nonetheless indifferent to the work of God’s own hands.

If this account of flourishing life is compelling, then the subject of theology is not God, whether in Godself or as the origin and goal of creatures, but God as the creator and consummator coming to indwell the world and the world as God’s creation and God’s home. The purpose of theology is then to help human beings identify God’s home as their home and to help us journey toward it. The key aspect of the journey is redemption from oppression and sin.

Yes, for sure, redemption is at the core.

Redemption, or the repair of the human condition, is the Christian faith’s subsidiary theme, contingent on the actuality of brokenness and sin in history. Its two primary themes are creation (expressed paradigmatically in the image of the garden of Eden) and consummation (expressed paradigmatically in the image of the new Jerusalem).

“Redemption” as a removal of a lack (i.e., of sin or of evil) is always a means, never the final end. Redemption helps us get where we are meant to be, but the vision of life established through creation and promised in consummation sets the destination; redemption is a condition of consummation and an effect of the consummation’s inauguration.

The revelation of that core is Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ—in his person, his life, and his mission—is both the embodiment of God’s home among mortals and the promise of its full and universal realization.

In Jesus we see the intent of God in God’s revelation and redemptive work in Christ.

Why should Christian theology be about flourishing life and serve flourishing life? Because Christ came to call people to flourishing life. Guided by God’s kind of love and empowered by God’s Spirit, all of us are called to flourish fully in the world-becomeGod’s-home and partially on the journey there—rejoicing even while having to mourn, accepting lack willingly so that the needs of others can be satisfied, leading lives of courage and integrity as we struggle against the evils of this age, trusting and loving God, participating in God’s mission in the world, and in all this growing into our own human fullness.

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